"oh, hello."
January 7, 2019 1:39 PM   Subscribe

"She stared at a single set of footprints in the snow ahead of her. She fixated on the tracks and realized they had been made by a pair of sneakers. She silently scolded the absent hiker who had violated normal safety rules and walked on."
posted by bondcliff (81 comments total) 237 users marked this as a favorite
oh man, this is way better than I thought it could be. Wonderful. Thanks for posting.
posted by corb at 1:47 PM on January 7 [23 favorites]

WOW....jaw dropper. Thank you.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 1:48 PM on January 7 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, I cried.
posted by Ruki at 1:51 PM on January 7 [6 favorites]

Oh fuck me. Sniff.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:56 PM on January 7

Total hero. What an amazing person. I like to think that I would have had the bravery and selflessness to follow those footprints in those conditions, but man I really don't know.
posted by saladin at 1:56 PM on January 7 [7 favorites]

Wow. Very powerful, thank you! This is getting bookmarked for the next time I find myself staring into the abyss.
posted by ensign_ricky at 1:57 PM on January 7 [3 favorites]

Amazing story.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 1:57 PM on January 7

That was wonderful, thank you. Here's hoping John is better now.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:58 PM on January 7 [3 favorites]

I was not expecting that ending! Both sad and happy.
posted by pangolin party at 1:59 PM on January 7 [1 favorite]

When he said he's been up that mountain before and he didn't answer why he didn't take more clothes, I kind of started to suspect.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 2:00 PM on January 7 [8 favorites]

We recognize you are attempting to access this website from a country belonging to the European Economic Area (EEA) including the EU which enforces the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and therefore access cannot be granted at this time. For any issues, contact news@unionleader.com or call 603-668-4321

Bah humbug.
posted by knapah at 2:02 PM on January 7 [14 favorites]

Archive.org link, for our European comrades.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:06 PM on January 7 [46 favorites]

Shit. I did make sure there wasn’t a paywall but really had no way of knowing it wasn’t available in the EU. My apologies.
posted by bondcliff at 2:07 PM on January 7 [2 favorites]

Way amazing.
posted by Oyéah at 2:07 PM on January 7 [1 favorite]

Well, that was a surprise!
What an excellent story.
posted by SLC Mom at 2:09 PM on January 7

Hell of a thing.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:10 PM on January 7 [2 favorites]

Archive.org link, for our European comrades

Thanks, tobascodagama. That's a useful tip.

And no worries, bondcliff. I blame the lazy website owners.
posted by knapah at 2:12 PM on January 7 [3 favorites]

I don't know what to say except thank you for sharing!
posted by wellifyouinsist at 2:12 PM on January 7 [1 favorite]

Amazing, as other have said. Thanks for sharing
posted by greenhornet at 2:13 PM on January 7

Aw, that's my favorite route on Washington, too... in June when I have sun as long as possible and ideal conditions. So many folks don't pack right for Washington that I was surprised. She did great work, getting them both safely down.
posted by ldthomps at 2:23 PM on January 7 [3 favorites]

Wow, I've just read it at the archive link. Amazing.
posted by knapah at 2:24 PM on January 7

Wow - what an amazing story, even without the ending, and then what an ending. And what a heroic and amazingly prepared hiker Pam Bales was, too. This is something to remember next time I'm feeling annoyed about having to pack first aid kits and gear I'll likely never use when I'm going on a long hike.
posted by rogerroger at 2:25 PM on January 7 [27 favorites]

as someone who lives in New England, has hiked the Whites, owns and has read a copy of Not Without Peril, and therefore, like bondcliff, has digested more than one's fair share of stories about how Mount Washington And The Great Gulf Are Beautiful But Will Fuck You Up, I went into that with one kind of expectations, and, oh man, I was not ready for where that would go.

I also love the phrasing of "Summiting (Mt. Washington) was an option, but returning to her SUV was a requirement." which is somewhat similar to what I say to my wife whenever I go outdoors in the winter "if I get a good view, that'd be nice, but no matter, my only firm plan is to come home to you."

Thank you so much for sharing.
posted by bl1nk at 2:27 PM on January 7 [61 favorites]

I like to think that I would have had the bravery and selflessness to follow those footprints in those conditions, but man I really don't know.

The article emphasizes it, but you probably shouldn't unless you're as capable as Bales.
posted by edeezy at 2:28 PM on January 7 [19 favorites]

also, as someone who studied Wilderness First Aid for the purpose of helping myself and my friends when I travel with them, I know abstractly that I may have to make the same choice that Pam did at that intersection, and god, yeah, they lecture you heavily about the importance of not going from being a rescuer to being someone else in need of a rescue. And that is a really tough and heroic choice to make. So many kudos to Pam for doing the right thing and getting herself and her patient down safely.

(ETA: on edeezy's comment: the main thing that they also teach you at Wilderness First Aid is knowing when you can fix something to get someone mobile or when you should go for help because you are not trained to handle anything more than a twisted ankle or a broken bone. All of our hypothermia training assumes stuff like hiking w/ a group where you can all carry someone a short distance to place of warmth (ie. someone wandered away from the campsite and got lost and spent the night unsheltered outdoors and you and your friends need to bring them back to the fire) . Solo rescue off a ridge was solidly labeled for us as Go For Help)
posted by bl1nk at 2:30 PM on January 7 [20 favorites]

I read the comments first but was still surprised! Dang! Excellent.
posted by Glinn at 2:31 PM on January 7

That clunk was my jaw hitting my desk.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 2:48 PM on January 7 [1 favorite]

The sense of connection to other people, a feeling that we matter/have a purpose/are competent, and/or a fear of death can be enough to prevent an attempt. The letter writer expressed this well, and the article author did as well.

The lack of those three things, together for even a short amount of time, can lead to a suicide attempt.

If you feel these three things at once, please seek help. There is a link in the MeFi wiki. If someone you know or interact with expresses these three things at once, please seek help and support for yourself, and clencourage that person to do the same.

If someone you know attempts, please know it is not your fault.
posted by bilabial at 2:51 PM on January 7 [40 favorites]

This hit hard in a good way.

Also, just in case. There is help.
posted by Fizz at 2:55 PM on January 7 [5 favorites]

I'm impressed that he was thinking clearly enough despite his hypothermia to reason out that he needed to cooperate with her in order to save her life, if not his own.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:55 PM on January 7 [81 favorites]

Wow. Just wow. I don’t have better words than that.
posted by obfuscation at 3:03 PM on January 7

Thanks, bondcliff! That just brought tears to my eyes!
posted by Agave at 3:06 PM on January 7 [2 favorites]

>he needed to cooperate with her in order to save her life, if not his own.

Yeah, I thought that was very funny in a grim way. "Fuck ME... but it'd be a shame if anything bad happened to this nice lady."
posted by Sing Or Swim at 3:27 PM on January 7 [41 favorites]

Oh wow. I did not expect that.
posted by a halcyon day at 3:57 PM on January 7

Wow. Thank you for posting this, bondcliff.
posted by sarcasticah at 3:57 PM on January 7

I grew up with the Useless Misleader (or the Union Liar) as my local paper, and I never expect any sort of journalistic integrity or quality in their pages. But this was really good.
posted by ChuraChura at 4:25 PM on January 7 [4 favorites]

Amazing story. Thanks bondcliff for sharing.

I have a story as well, not nearly as impressive, but also in the northern Presidentials in mid-October, over 15 years ago now (foreshadowing: I was younger and dumber). A good friend and I went out to bag some peaks in what seemed like nice fall weather. An ambitious plan had us visiting the summits of Jefferson, Adams, and Madison in that order, based out of Osgood Tentsite.

We had some minor issues with swollen stream crossings early on but soon got back on track. Then we hit some wet snow, slippery and slowing us down in the exposed sections. At one point at least I had to grovel on my hands under snow-laden branches up a steep slope to follow the trail.

When we reached the top of Jefferson and were behind schedule. The snowfall and wind picked up. Near the summit of Adams we faced essentially a whiteout. At this elevation there were no trees to protect us and little sense of there the trail was. It was now mid afternoon and we knew it was time to get off the peaks. I knew we could pick up the Buttress Trail if we descended to the east.

Visibility was so poor that I had my friend walk in the direction of our travel as determined with map and compass to as far away as I could see him (50 feet? 100 feet?) and direct him with hand signals to move or stand. Then I would walk to him and repeat. We inchwormed our way down to tree-line this way where visibility improved. The brush was dense but we managed to bushwhack and find the trail around dusk. I had just gotten a fancy headlamp with an LED and a bright halogen light which was critical at one point, as we had to cross a bolder field with painted blazes widely spaced on otherwise indistinguishable rocks. Hours later we reached our campsite, wet and a little cold but otherwise fortunately intact.
posted by exogenous at 4:32 PM on January 7 [16 favorites]

...I never expect any sort of journalistic integrity or quality in their pages. But this was really good.

"This appeared first in Appalachia, the country’s longest-running journal of mountaineering and conservation, published by the Appalachian Mountain Club."
posted by edeezy at 4:39 PM on January 7 [14 favorites]

Holy shit.

My wife is a clinical psychologist who dedicates her life to helping people.

We are both hikers having done our fair share in Yellowstone, the AT, and elsewhere.

I leave in two days to take a 10 day NOLS Wilderness First Responder course in hopes that we can integrate hiking and camping into the some of the therapy her office provides.

This is timely and gut wrenching, in a good way.

Thanks for posting.
posted by RolandOfEld at 4:40 PM on January 7 [21 favorites]

Dang. I am doing exactly this hike in the next month or so (depending on weather) albeit in the opposite direction. I am not doing it alone—I'm going with someone much more experienced than me. We're going to hit Mt Clay for sunset and then take Jewell down in the dark.

Now I'm off to read the story.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:58 PM on January 7 [2 favorites]

Wow - amazing story! And yeah when I got my wilderness first aid certification this sort of situation was definitely discussed in terms of don't become an additional person needing rescue. I always carry a pack with the 10 essentials and often think grumpy thoughts about the weight - have never needed to help someone in this much trouble. The way she dealt and the gear she knew to bring was impressive. Uplifting on an evening I needed it - thx!
posted by leslies at 5:04 PM on January 7 [4 favorites]

Oh god, I have had people sit down in the snow and actively resist my attempts to get them moving again. That kind of despair is incredibly contagious and frustrating. I can sympathize pretty heavily with Bales here; everything she's dealing with—the unprepared hiker, the snow, the wind, the darkness—are things that are commonplace in the Whites. The trails she's on are trails I've hiked myself. The situations she's in are ones that I've been in, or at least seen the potential for. I've been in the Prezis when visibility was so bad I couldn't see one cairn from the next. I've seen hikers in the snow and wind wearing jeans and t-shirts—groups of them beating hasty retreats, thankfully, rather than single ones close to their deaths. I've escorted injured hikers in the northern Presidentials. I've taken the WFR and WEMT courses that trained me to act just like she acted in this situation. I've sung songs to keep people's flagging spirits high, I've cajoled and needled and pushed and pulled people along. I've been in the snowy woods at night when getting back to my car was non-optional.

None of my experiences are exceptional. This is just the story of the Whites.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:31 PM on January 7 [32 favorites]

Excellent story, thanks for posting it.
posted by theora55 at 5:38 PM on January 7

I'm glad people enjoyed this. I thought I was reading another story of a hiker getting in trouble or a rescue but the twist at the end was something I wasn't expecting. A very famous writer about the White Mountains, Guy Waterman, committed suicide in a very similar fashion on Mt. Lafayette, which is not far from there. He just sat down and let death take him.

Like others, I've hiked those trails myself, in similar conditions. They can go from being the best place on Earth to the worst place on Earth in a matter of minutes. I've been fortunate to never find myself having to rescue someone, I mean seriously rescue someone. I've helped people limp out and I've limped out myself. I've stopped to warm someone up or hydrate someone who needed hydrating, but that was to prevent them from getting too far rather than having to bring them back to life.

If you ever think you'll be hiking anywhere cold, learn a bit about hypothermia and how to prevent it and treat it. I don't mean necessarily winter hiking, just cold. Some of the worst conditions to hike in are when it's 40 degrees and raining.

While reading this article, everything she did to treat him was something I leaned in a WFA or leadership class. The heaters under the armpits, the dry clothes, the wrap in a bivvy sack, everything. Basically wrap them up like a burrito, though not too tight.

And yeah, I've been up there in my Gore-tex and Polypro, winter boots and crampons, and have passed people in jeans and sneakers. Most of them get away with it, some don't. I always hike with enough gear so I could survive the night. Maybe not comfortable, but at least survive. I get annoyed when I see trail runners, knowing that if they sprained an ankle they may have to rely on others just to survive.

I wonder where John is. I hope he's well.
posted by bondcliff at 5:45 PM on January 7 [32 favorites]

Dang, I just got to the twist at the end. Quite a story indeed.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:48 PM on January 7

Yeah, I thought of Guy too.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:48 PM on January 7 [1 favorite]

Pam is a bad ass!
posted by stinkfoot at 6:04 PM on January 7 [2 favorites]

One of the things you can see on display in this thread and in this article is that if you find yourself in trouble in the Whites, other hikers (if they find you) will drop everything and save your ass and they will not take no for an answer. For a pastime that is centered around wilderness and solitude, there's an incredible camraderie up there. I know I was nodding along with all the things that Pam was doing, and I don't say that because I think I'm some kind of exceptional badass. Something about hiking in the Whites manages to bring out the inner badass in totally ordinary people. It's a really cool place, and counterintuitively enough a lot of that is because of the people.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:22 PM on January 7 [9 favorites]

If you ever think you'll be hiking anywhere cold, learn a bit about hypothermia and how to prevent it and treat it. I don't mean necessarily winter hiking, just cold. Some of the worst conditions to hike in are when it's 40 degrees and raining.

If you're hiking in the White Mountains, this includes July. Especially in the Presidentials.
posted by Daily Alice at 7:53 PM on January 7 [6 favorites]

I am not a hiker. However, if I ever take up hiking, based on the discussions here, I'm staying away from the White Mountains.

I did a tour in a van to the top of Mt. Washington once. I remember the tour guide saying it was the deadliest mountain in the U.S. even though it wasn't the highest. The highest mountain amateurs know enough to stay away from, but lots of people think they can show up with a cell phone/GPS (previously a map and a compass) and go up Mt. Washington and those people tend to get in trouble.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:57 PM on January 7 [3 favorites]

My dad says that maybe the scariest experience he ever had outdoors was when he went on a summer hike in the Appalachians. Most of the crowd was dressed in shorts and t-shirts and so on... and then the weather turned, and suddenly the hike leader, my dad and a couple other people who had prepared better were trying to herd a group of seriously hypothermic people back down the trail. Even though it was only a couple of miles to the parking lot, he really thought they might lose someone.
posted by tavella at 8:01 PM on January 7 [20 favorites]

the tour guide saying it was the deadliest mountain in the U.S.

There aren't too many places where you can park your car on a sunny day and in a couple of hours potentially be in arctic conditions.

But the Whites are a blast. No need to be afraid of them. Just respect them, is all.
posted by bondcliff at 8:16 PM on January 7 [6 favorites]

The coldest I have ever been in my life was in May in Maine. And we weren't even on a mountain. We were wherever LL Bean is. I don't remember the name of that town. I think it was in the 40s. Holy crap is the rain in Maine cold. The wind drives the cold right past your bones into your soul.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:20 PM on January 7 [5 favorites]

"Fuck ME... but it'd be a shame if anything bad happened to this nice lady."

He saved her life. Good on him.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:38 PM on January 7 [4 favorites]

I've never hiked Mount Washington but I've been to the weather station at the top. Cold doesn't even begin to describe it.
posted by bendy at 9:58 PM on January 7 [2 favorites]

Great story. Link followed link followed link and I ended up here, one hell of a story of life and death in these same mountains. Fatal Attraction by Nicholas Howe
posted by dancestoblue at 10:56 PM on January 7

Thanks for posting. I will echo all of the previous comments. Great article. Great story. Better ending.

Thanks bondcliff.
posted by AugustWest at 12:16 AM on January 8

Oh God oh wow.
posted by lokta at 1:30 AM on January 8

Thank you for sharing this! I just burst into tears at 5:45am. It was worth it.
posted by nightrecordings at 2:48 AM on January 8

I think it was in the 40s. Holy crap is the rain in Maine cold. The wind drives the cold right past your bones into your soul.


So you’re saying...

The rain in Maine is painfully inhumane.

Also, incredible story — thanks bondcliff!
posted by darkstar at 3:48 AM on January 8 [17 favorites]

Wonderful story.

This struck me "The entire time she treated me with care, compassion, authority, confidence and the impression that I mattered".

I've always fantasised about a place for people with depression that was like a big old house with active grandparent types who were compassionate but also bossy enough to make me under take joint projects with them, like crafts, cooking, whatever. I know for me that a combination of care and compassion along in a personalized structured environment is really good for me when I'm sliding away from the world and feeling utterly useless.

So it touched me that it's essentially what she provided in her rescue and that it really helped him. She supported him in a joint project she spontaneously devised (we are both going to live!), supported him the whole way and they achieved it. And it was his turning point.

I wish them both the very best.
posted by kitten magic at 3:57 AM on January 8 [26 favorites]

I was earlier hesitant to share stories about trekking in the Whites since I didn't want to derail from the powerful theme of mental health, but since we seem to be moving on in the thread ...

earlier last year, I quit my previous job and was about to start a new one. I had negotiated for an extra week of time between my last day at my old gig and the start date at my next one, and I planned to use part of it backpacking in the Kilkenny, a small range in the Whites neighboring the Presidentials. I wanted to flush my mental cache and unload the head baggage of my past office, and a few days of solitude in the outdoors was just what I needed.

I have a friend who once told me, "you're always five sketchy decisions away from getting yourself killed. The first one is choosing to go into the mountains." It isn't intended to be literal, but I've often found that useful for thinking about risk and considering how incremental choices that seem small in isolation compound on each other as you choose them. So, like, for this trip, my risk budget was already taken up with.

1. Going into the mountains
2. Solo
3. In the winter

Going above treeline would've been another sketchy decision, but I'm at three sketchy decisions already, so I decided that I wouldn't spend it on that. Hence the choice for the Kilkenny, since the summits were all pretty low and within the trees. The weather forecast was for rain turning to sleet, which isn't great, but I only had this week for this head clearing trip and I had to go, so I'll spend the fourth sketchy decision on "In bad weather"

(just to be clear, the ideal is not to go into a trip with four out of five sketchy decisions spent. You always want more buffer. I had my reasons for going into this maxed out, and I seriously considered postponing the trip when I saw the forecast, but I decided to go anyway)

So, I go up, and I've been in the Whites in the winter before. I've got my snowshoes. I've got my multiple layers. I've got my tent. Loaded for bear. My aim was to head for the Cabot Cabin, about 7 miles in and just past the summit of Mt. Cabot. I thought I knew what to expect, but I realized that I've never been in the Whites this late into winter/early into spring, and I do not realize how much softer and slushier the snow is at this time.

Snowshoes are great in the depths of winter, when the snow is hard and semi-frozen and you can just glide over everything, but with the thaw and melt turning everything into ice cream, the entire hike is a slog. Even with snowshoes, I'm just posthole-ing through snowbanks, and having to extricate my now clumsier feet from tree roots that seem to have a hunger for my ankles. Plus, there's also the general fact that it's harder to navigate in winter. The painted blazes that one normally uses are buried by snow, and a trail like the Kilkenny is so lightly trafficked that you can't just use the footprints of prior travelers to navigate by. So I get lost a few times. I bushwack. I struggle. And, yes, it's sleeting the entire time.

It's close to 4pm by the time I get to Unknown Pond, which is, like, two hours behind my actual schedule. I'm in a saddle between two peaks, having just climbed and descended from Rogers Ledge, and I'm going to have to start climbing Cabot if I proceed. I'm still two miles away from the cabin, and it isn't far, but I have to be honest with myself and admit that if this next two miles were going to be like the last five, it's going to be night before I get to the cabin. I've got energy and I've got my headlamp. There's a part of me that thinks I don't mind a bit of night hiking, but I just remember the risk budget and the fact that I've already made four sketchy decisions and this would definitely be my fifth. If I wasn't solo. If it wasn't winter. If the weather wasn't crap, maybe a night hike would be allowable. But also, if it wasn't winter and if the weather wasn't crap, I probably wouldn't be so slow and needing to think about a night hike.

So I make the call and decide to camp at Unknown Pond and retreat in the morning. The nice thing about this site is that there's a side trail that short cuts me back to my car, so it's an easy exit. The pond isn't a summit view, but it's pretty, and I get a nice afternoon and a quiet evening to flush my cache and read a bit before I descend in the morning and get some pancakes.

Just another couple of days in the Whites.
posted by bl1nk at 5:25 AM on January 8 [25 favorites]

Postholing eats up huge amounts of time and energy; I've turned back on many hikes due to excessive postholing. The one time I didn't (The Sisters, headed toward Chocorua) it was because by the time I realized how bad the conditions were I was already almost as close to the very popular, well-packed Piper Trail as I was to the point on the Carter Ledge Trail where things had started to get soft and crusty, so I ended up basically groveling on hands and knees through the snow for almost a mile. I figured that if I was too tired or it was too late by the time I hit Piper, I could just bail out from there rather than going up to the summit of Chocorua and back. In the end I did make Chocorua, but two hours late. I ended up catching sunset on the mountaintop instead of being halfway down before dark as planned.

It was definitely a bit sketchy and I'm still not sure if I actually made the correct call, even though it worked out fine in the end. The best thing to do might have been to just turn back earlier on. If I hadn't had a known-good trail to make for (Piper is pretty much a slam dunk for being packed out, and I'd already hiked a bit of it at the bottom of my hike earlier in the day) I would certainly have aborted and gone back down the way I came. As it was, I made an assessment and decided I definitely had enough time and energy left to at least make Piper. But was that the right decision? I dunno. It worked out fine, but if I'd had a partner with me who had wanted to turn back, I'm sure I wouldn't have argued to continue.

There have been lots more times when I've started postholing and then said "Eff this, I'm not prepared for this today," and then turned back and either done a different hike or just had to go home in defeat. Every time I've made that call I've been sure it was the right decision to make. It's the one time that I pushed through that I still have doubts about, even though it was a much more satisfying hike in the end.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:26 AM on January 8 [5 favorites]

Thanks for sharing, and thanks to the folks who helped those of us in the EU read it, too.

I love a solo hike, and I'm certainly not adverse to doing so in the winter, but I'm nowhere near confident enough to solo as far away from civilization as this woman is. Nonetheless, about three years ago I found myself in "the right place at the right time" when, while out exploring some Alpine trails, I came across two lost, under-equipped, pregnant walkers on a route forked from the one I was following. Communication was hampered by each of us having only a smattering of the others' languages, but one's statement that "we do not want to die" was sufficient to ensure that I provided all the help I possibly could to navigate them back to civilization and safety.

They were never in even remotely as much danger as "John" from the article: things could have gone wrong for them quickly and tragically, but they were at least mobile, optimistic, and had told others in their group broadly where they'd planned to go (so a rescue team would probably have found them regardless, at some point). But it was nonetheless a scary thing to find myself suddenly the caretaker of two vulnerable strangers on a snowy rural mountainside. I can't begin to imagine what Pam from the article's experience must have been, but I'm ever so impressed by how she reacted to the situation in which she found herself.
posted by avapoet at 7:40 AM on January 8 [6 favorites]

That's an amazing story! Thank you, bondcliff, for posting it. I once had to help someone suffering from incipient hypothermia get down from a mountain and it is frightening how quickly lassitude and apathy set in and how hard it is to get them moving again. Much respect to Ms Bales.

I get annoyed when I see trail runners, knowing that if they sprained an ankle they may have to rely on others just to survive.

This is a natural reaction, but whenever I'm tempted to think along these lines I remember that there are people more prudent than me who could make the same criticism of me: if I go into the mountains at all, then however well prepared I am, there is always some mistake I could make that would leave me depending on the help of others to survive. If I have what feels like a good answer for these people, then the trail runner may have a good answer for me.
posted by cyanistes at 7:41 AM on January 8 [2 favorites]

I love a solo hike, and I'm certainly not adverse to doing so in the winter, but I'm nowhere near confident enough to solo as far away from civilization as this woman is.

The thing about the Prezis is they are not far from civilization. You can literally drive your car or take a tour bus to the top of Mt Washington, and when you look down you can see towns and stuff down in the valley. In the summer they are swarming with hikers, and they are very popular even in the winter. That's part of what makes them so dangerous—they can go from somewhere that you'd drive with your young family for a nice picnic to the harshest place in North America south of the Arctic Circle, sometimes in a single day. People underestimate them because they are so accessible and well-trodden that they can almost feel like a public park, the kind of manicured place where you just know that They wouldn't allow anything genuinely dangerous to happen. They can lull you into complacency, or inspire people to get way in over their heads before they realize the danger they're in.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:18 AM on January 8 [10 favorites]

Plus, in good conditions even hiking Mt Washington is actually not very difficult as hikes go. Jewell up/Ammo down is basically the quickest, easiest, most well-trodden route for a Mt Washington day hike, especially in the winter when Huntington and Tuckerman become walls of ice. It makes total sense that it's the route she would choose for a solo hike in winter conditions—it's a loop which is always nice, it minimizes your risk, and you still get to summit the tallest mountain in this part of the world. On a good day, it's not a hike that would pose a major challenge for someone like Bales. Even on a not-so-good day and with a patient in tow, it didn't sound like she was ever in great personal danger—the main risk was that she might not be able to get her patient back to his car in one piece. It sounded like she was doing the math in terms of time, energy, and level of preparedness and that she was well inside her own performance envelope the whole time. She's obviously a very strong hiker, I don't want to minimize what she accomplished here, but there are a lot of strong hikers up there who can do that level of hike. People do exactly that hike pretty much every single day that the weather allows it.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:49 AM on January 8 [4 favorites]

That's part of what makes them so dangerous—they can go from somewhere that you'd drive with your young family for a nice picnic to the harshest place in North America south of the Arctic Circle, sometimes in a single day.

Which is why they have these signs.
posted by exogenous at 10:23 AM on January 8 [9 favorites]

I didn't think I would cry, but yeah, I did.
posted by slogger at 11:34 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]

Not a cold weather rescue, exactly the opposite, but we once went primitive site camping up at Taum Sauk in Missouri. With the camping, we decided to hike the trail down to the falls. It was late summer.

Some of my friends were...shall we say, unprepared and not particularly acclimated to hiking. Future husband and I were dressed appropriately with plenty of water, sturdy shoes, and long pants to protect against ticks and brambles.

We didn't find out until we were almost to the falls that our friends hadn't brought water.

Missouri heat can be deceptive, and this trail started as a steep decline followed by a steep incline (topography nerds can check out the map here). So the way down was relatively gentle, but thirst-inducing because of the humidity. By the time we got down to the falls, we were out of water because we'd shared what had been meant to be ample water for two adults among five.

As we started back up one of our number was going slow, and then suddenly stopped every five steps. Literally, every five steps.

At first I was annoyed, and then I was concerned, and then my concern turned into alarm when his speech slurred and he asked me who the half-naked woman wearing blue jeans in the forest was (there was, of course, no one there). We also asked for an armchair.

We made some fast decisions because it was pretty clear he was suffering from heat exhaustion, possibly the start of heat stroke. Another in the party and I jogged the last mile and a half up the trail, filled the campsite's five gallon water canister, and hauled it back down the trail. We dumped half of it on his head.

I don't know if it was the right thing to do, I'm not trained S&R and I haven't taken my EMT courses in 20+ years, but it got him back to the campsite, and he made it home the next day.

I always ask people now if they have water when they go on a hike with me.
posted by offalark at 1:49 PM on January 8 [14 favorites]

Tahoe snowshoer, 80, says GPS app stranded him overnight in near-blizzard
A lost snowshoer spent a frigid night shivering in near-blizzard conditions at Lake Tahoe after he says a GPS app on his phone failed to point him in the right direction.

Wendell "Raymond" Murdock, an 80-year-old dentist and avid sportsman from Gardnerville, Nev., told the Tahoe Daily Tribune he set off Sunday on a hike on the Tahoe Rim Trail near the top of the Kingsbury Grade. The conditions were challenging to say the least: heavy snow punctuated by 100-mph wind gusts.

But Murdock had installed a new GPS app on his phone and was eager to try it out.
posted by Lexica at 4:51 PM on January 9 [1 favorite]

"Fuck ME... but it'd be a shame if anything bad happened to this nice lady."

That's not a partularly unusal thought pattern for someone with depression. If you think you're too worthless to live, then you'll think you're certainly too worthless for someone else to be hurt on your behalf.
posted by Karmakaze at 9:00 AM on January 10 [4 favorites]

There's a weather observatory at the top of Mt. Washington (previously) where they measure the extraordinary weather there. For example, right now they're showing -7°F, wind 82 mph, wind chill -47°F (-22°C, wind 131 km/hr, wind chill -44°C).
posted by exogenous at 4:00 PM on January 10

OK, I just posted a comment in the other hike-rescue thread about how reliable my GPS app is, but if you expect it to save your ass in 100mph whiteout conditions, you are a fool. Even operating it under conditions like that would be a huge challenge—you'd probably need to find shelter before you could even take your phone out and use it at all. Not that a paper map would serve you any better. Your best bet in a situation like that is to just not lose the dang trail, and the moment you do lose track of it you should hunker down and wait for the storm to pass. You do have an emergency shelter, right?
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:26 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]

The MWOBS people are legit heros. Having reliable weather data up there has saved more lives than will ever be counted, simply by giving people a way of knowing (to a reasonable degree, anyway) whether it's too dangerous to go up there in the first place.

Also, at least one of them is a pretty great photographer and regularly posts pictures of the surreal landscape up there.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:32 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]

That was an amazing story, but the comments here have convinced me this is the worst place on Earth, to be avoided at all costs.
posted by bongo_x at 1:51 AM on January 13

If Mt. Washington is the worst place on Earth it's only because the summit is a giant hellscape of pavement, cars and tourists.
posted by bondcliff at 8:52 AM on January 13 [4 favorites]

I just now got back from there (Lafayette though, not Washington) and I'm here to say that it is a goddamn paradise.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:03 PM on January 13 [5 favorites]

My dad was very outdoorsy -- hiking, climbing, camping, sports. He had so many books about climbing and mountaineering. I like walking and seeing cool things, but even as a kid I was more of the stereotypical nerdy homebody who would rather be indoors reading or on the computer, than camping. I found this article engrossing and it's something my dad would have loved to read, too. I never thought about it until recently, but he probably had a ton of his own stories about dangerous situations or people not being properly prepared, and I wish I'd have asked him about them while he was still around.

A few things struck me in particular about the story:

- The letter from John was very well-written. It made me wonder about his background and who he was, to write such a thoughtful letter. It certainly, at least for me, made his survival more poignant, and made me think Wow, the world was dangerously close to losing a person who could be that considerate and well-spoken. Glad he got the help he needed.

- This is more of an editorial observation about the article, but I wish there had been more direct quotes from Pam Bales. For instance, telling us "Bales was deeply moved" and "It’s a title she never sought or wanted" -- I would have liked to have read more of her own words reflecting on what happened. I dunno, it just felt odd that she was such a big part of the story in the beginning and the follow-up quotes didn't include any from her.

- In his letter, John mentioned therapy, and it made me think about the professionals who helped him with his recovery. Pam Bales saved him that day, and then there's the next part of the story that I'm really curious about -- the line connecting that point from where he drove off, and the point where he wrote the letter.

Thanks for posting this, bondcliff.
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 4:14 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]

bondcliff, thanks for the link. I don't know how I haven't heard this story before, but Pam Bales is a name I won't soon forget -- nor "John." Bless her for being prepared, and for sticking out her neck, and for persisting -- and him, for taking her hand and validating all her effort.

I have hiked up there in the autumn with Boy Scouts, and the muy macho leaders always gave my big backpack pitying looks. Well screw you, boys, but when those kids get cold/wet/hungry/hurt, and when the weather changes, I am not going to tell them to man up and walk it off.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:04 AM on February 5 [3 favorites]

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