Katharina Groene had phoned friends to apologize for dying
January 10, 2019 9:05 PM   Subscribe

In October 2018, in northern Washington Sate, Pacific Crest Trail thru-hiker Katharina Groene met Nancy Abell, a local day hiker, on the PCT. Despite warnings from Nancy that she wasn't equipped to handle the final 125 miles of the PCT to the Canadian border in possible snowy conditions, Katharina continued her trek. A few days later, when weather turned bad, a concerned Nancy called called Snohomish County Search and Rescue. She was found and survived. Read the story as it unfolded in the nwhikers.net forum, "The last northbound PCT thru hiker"
posted by ShooBoo (40 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
Christ.
posted by wotsac at 9:10 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


So i wonder if she's going to get her own version of "Into the Wild", with corresponding hero worship? Probably not, since she survived, and women tend not to get salutary books and films like that.

But good job for Nancy and the community, looking out for this one.
posted by happyroach at 9:28 PM on January 10 [6 favorites]


I got a pretty good laugh from the article. If you're going to make bad choices that are more likely than not to end in death, this one is a lot more fun than the usual "driving into oncoming traffic while texting" or any other number of mundane ways to go.
posted by MillMan at 9:45 PM on January 10 [7 favorites]


So i wonder if she's going to get her own version of "Into the Wild", with corresponding hero worship? Probably not, since she survived, and women tend not to get salutary books and films like that.

From TFA:

Groene, who is half-German and half-Russian, learned about the trail from Hollywood. She’d seen “the movie.” Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir, “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail,” had been adapted into a Reese Witherspoon biopic in 2014. Since then, hordes of new hikers have been testing themselves.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:55 PM on January 10 [21 favorites]


Wow. I...uh...wow.
posted by medusa at 9:56 PM on January 10


She is one very, very lucky woman. Hiking is always one bad thing away from being deadly. I'm so glad that she had that encounter with Nancy and that Nancy cared and was worried enough to convince the Sheriff to send out the SAR pilot.
posted by drewbage1847 at 10:14 PM on January 10 [5 favorites]


With each paragraph I needed to take a deep breath. No maps?
posted by k8t at 10:15 PM on January 10 [6 favorites]


Damn, I could see myself doing that. Not the inexperienced and underequipped part but rather the "I’ve come 2500 miles and screw it if I’m not going to finish the last 120" part.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:26 PM on January 10 [11 favorites]


No maps?

The belief of many in the long-distance hiking community that phone apps are sufficient for navigation is really weird to me. I want to scream when someone new to backpacking posts asking what they should do for maps and a bunch of people say, "You just need your phone!"
posted by edeezy at 11:03 PM on January 10 [14 favorites]


Wow, these hiking forum people are a lot more understanding than I would be. Since Katharina refused to listen to solid local advice, she ended up needing a predictable and presumably costly rescue. More importantly, the SAR team had to put their own safety at risk to go out there and fetch her. It's beyond infuriating, and by page 13, not one person has ripped into her for it.

Great that we have people like Nancy in the world, though.
posted by ktkt at 11:24 PM on January 10 [13 favorites]


Wow, these hiking forum people are a lot more understanding than I would be.

To some extent that's a function of moderation. Past threads on missing persons cases got really ugly when the resident jerks would get personal and worried family and friends found the thread through Google and signed up to defend the missing person. A couple years ago the guy who runs the site instituted a rule that threads on active searches have to remain mostly criticism-free.

If you want to see NWHikers with knives out post about hiking with guns.
posted by edeezy at 11:45 PM on January 10 [23 favorites]


The lack of respect for nature is... special.

Mind you, over here a Polish boxer just got evacuated by mountain rescue from a shelter on Śnieżka because he went hiking in the snow with a pitbull cross dog and the dog got hypothermia. There's no helping some people.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 12:54 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Holy wow. My nephew did that through hike a couple of summers ago, and I am so glad he has more sense than this woman. Whew. Those three weeks when she scrambled to get her Visa renewed, though. If it hadn't been for that, sounds like she'd have made it to the end okay. In spite of her foolishness. So many people truly do not respect winter, or high mountains. I lived near Mt. Shasta for a while, and every year saw numerous rescues, both successful ones and failed ones where the unprepared climbers died.
posted by luaz at 3:51 AM on January 11


The belief of many in the long-distance hiking community that phone apps are sufficient for navigation is really weird to me. I want to scream when someone new to backpacking posts asking what they should do for maps and a bunch of people say, "You just need your phone!"

Having skimmed the discussion in the linked thread I see why maps have a downside - 2,650 miles worth of map at sufficient scale to be useful would be a non-trivial weight to carry. I'm wondering if there could be a system to hire/loan/swap map sections at intervals on the route so that people don't have to take the whole route all the way with them but I can't be the first person to have had that idea so presumably it either exists and not everyone uses it or there are barriers I haven't thought of. For the inexperienced navigator GPS apps also remove the risk of getting your location wrong and then navigating incorrectly.

The whole thing is fascinating in that it seems that many very inexperienced and poorly prepared people do manage what is a considerable challenge without incident but not all of them. I'm torn between admiration for the willingness and determination it must take and shaking my head at the level of risk-taking.
posted by *becca* at 4:14 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


I haven't done a long-distance hike, and I do carry a paper map and a compass buried in my Emergency Stuff bag (and I do know how to use them) but I must have done a hundred hikes in the last couple years and my phone-based GPS app has failed me exactly zero times, ever.

Thru-hikers generally don't carry maps because (as mentioned) it's kind of unweildy to carry a useful-scale hiking map that covers multiple thousands of miles of trail. At least on the AT (I am not very familiar with PCT culture) thru-hikers are just following the white blazes and the trail signs, with their phone as a backup.

In fact there's longstanding friction between thru-hikers and White Mountains hikers because in the Whites we don't always make the "Appalachian Trail" part of the sign as prominent as the thru-hikers are used to. Our portion of the AT predates the AT and was strung together from multiple pre-existing trails, which generally still have their original signage, although there are still the white blazes and most
of the signs have had "(Appalachian Trail)" added parenthetically. Thru-hikers sometimes take offense to this because they feel entitled to have their trail be the most prominently marked one, and will occasionally even vandalize signs. This is every bit as obnoxious as you would think.

Anyway, thru-hikers don't use maps and they seem to do just fine.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:36 AM on January 11 [12 favorites]


Damn, I could see myself doing that. Not the inexperienced and underequipped part but rather the "I’ve come 2500 miles and screw it if I’m not going to finish the last 120" part.

It doesn't help that there is a whole culture industry churning out motivational hogwash with the message that there are no limitations except what you impose on yourself by not being adequately devoted to the Will.
posted by thelonius at 4:56 AM on January 11 [14 favorites]


It is extremely internetty that that forum thread turned into a a multi page and slightly contentious back and forth about apps vs maps.
posted by entropone at 4:59 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]


It's common for hiking and mountaineering threads to turn into arguments about how much risk people are allowed to accept. When you hear about a close call, it's natural to want to figure out what went wrong and what precautions could have been taken, and without good moderation this can easily all too easily escalate into oneupmanship and name-calling. Let's hope that doesn't happen here!

It doesn't sound as though apps vs maps was relevant in this case, but rather inexperience about how quickly and severely the weather could change. The Pacific Crest Trail Association has some great comparison photos showing how difficult the conditions can get even in midsummer.
posted by cyanistes at 5:28 AM on January 11 [10 favorites]


Groene waved, thinking they were sightseers.

It was worth the read for that.
posted by cribcage at 5:51 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


No maps?

Most PCT hikers use the guthook guide, which is an app so it depends on you have a working phone and juice to power it, but it has offline maps, plus all the trail info, waypoint data, road maps, and nearby town info. Users can even check in with current trail conditions like which water sources are good (important in the desert portions), which stream crossings are sketchy, where there's snow, bear activity, trail closures, etc.

The maps vs apps debate is pretty ugh, people have opinions.
posted by peeedro at 5:58 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]


I do SAR stuff in the mountains.

Any outdoor activity carries some amount of risk. You can't possibly prepare for everything, and so you need to make some choices about what risks you are willing to accept. And of course, everyone will choose a different bag of compromises given the same set of constraints.

Personally, I take the attitude that if everything goes according to plan, it's an activity and not an adventure. A story where everyone ends up home, and safe, is the best possible story. And every SAR mission is a chance to practice and hone skills, use equipment, verify call lists, etc... - there is value in even the dumbest callouts.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:08 AM on January 11 [11 favorites]


Eventually she convinced [U.S. Customs] she was not high on a drug called PCT.
posted by heatherlogan at 6:12 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]


I grew up near Sacramento and in school all through the '80s we were regularly dosed with stories of the Donner Party. That was the first thing I thought of seeing this, and the constant background thought as I read it.

Now I live in Canada and cringe every time I see a sign for donair kebabs.
posted by heatherlogan at 6:19 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


We did a 100 mile section of the AT in October and brought maps, guidebooks, and used the Guthook app. We ditched the guidebooks first (maybe 30 miles in), then the maps (75 miles), and did the last 25 or so just on the Guthook app. We still had our compasses and a good understanding of where we were at all times (there was a constant back-and-forth of "how many miles left today?" and a grumbled answer that was accurate to a tenth of a mile). Our packs started out way too heavy, too. Mine was 35, his was 45. At the end we had shed 10 lbs off each.
posted by domo at 6:51 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


>> Damn, I could see myself doing that. Not the inexperienced and underequipped
>> part but rather the "I’ve come 2500 miles and screw it if I’m not going to finish
>> the last 120" part.
>
> It doesn't help that there is a whole culture industry churning out motivational
> hogwash with the message that there are no limitations except what you impose
> on yourself by not being adequately devoted to the Will.


True, although with me it would just be tunnel vision. Could you imagine being engaged in an activity 24 hours a day for months only to be told you couldn’t wrap it up? I would be driven not by will, not by determination, but by a pathological need for task completion.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:17 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


About 16 years ago, three friends and I planned a three-day winter ascent of Mt. Whitney via the Mountaineers' Route -- camping both nights at Upper Boy Scout Lake with the summit attempt on the middle day. Needless to say, we were appropriately equipped.

As we were climbing from Upper Boy Scout to Iceberg Lake -- probably in snowshoes, which is always a bit of a slog -- we were passed by a young man in sneakers with a day pack containing just a loaf of bread and a supermarket gallon jug of water. His goal: a single-day ascent.

We ended up turning around after Iceberg because one of us was feeling the effect of the altitude a bit too strongly, so we got back to camp pretty early. As the day dragged on, we begin to wonder about the kid. He finally came back down close to 4pm. It turned out that he had encountered another party who helped him out with a rope and allowed him to reach the peak. But it was going to be dark soon, and he didn't have any kind of illumination. We were worried he would have some trouble with the Ebersbacher Ledges, but he didn't want to spend the night. So we give him a flashlight and off he went. I assume he survived because we never heard about him again.

I'm reminded of him because he, too, was German. I think there's something about the scale of the American West that Europeans sometimes have trouble grasping.
posted by Slothrup at 7:19 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]


I think there's something about the scale of the American West that Europeans sometimes have trouble grasping.

The old saw about Americans thinking that a hundred years is a long time, and Europeans thinking that a hundred miles is a long way, applies here.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:09 AM on January 11 [26 favorites]


I think there's something about the scale of the American West that Europeans sometimes have trouble grasping.

Now I'm remembering this harrowing story about the family of Germans who disappeared in Death Valley.
posted by Funeral march of an old jawbone at 8:14 AM on January 11 [10 favorites]


The maps vs apps debate is pretty ugh, people have opinions.

It is ugh, but it's better characterized as maps + apps vs. just apps. Everyone I know uses mapping apps, they're beyond convenient, they just think it's a good idea to have a backup that doesn't need electricity (and to know how to use it).

My opinion on this is colored by doing trail work on a (non-Triple Crown) National Scenic Trail. I think it was Guthook that released an app for that trail in the last couple years that is way more barebones than the Triple Crown apps with a ton of out-of-date info. More than one person has seen there's an app, downloaded it, and only discovered it wasn't going to cut it for navigation after getting on trail. I just can't get my head around that mindset.
posted by edeezy at 8:42 AM on January 11


I've remarked upon it before, but lo these many years ago a young version of me was quite ... impressed by a small group of european tourists who were remarkably agitated that they couldn't just hop on the next intercity train to Yellowknife.

Yellowknife.

They expected there to be regular passenger service to Yellowknife.

The young, inarticulate me just sorta stared blankly, said something about how there was a probably a freight line to High Level and that nobody "just went" to Yellowknife. They stared back frustratedly at me before stomping off.

In the years since I've occasionally envisaged them wandering around the Swan Hills trying to find the bullet train to Hay River, going slowly mad, waving their arms wildly and demanding strange fruity drinks. Having since been to Europe I can now understand their category error a bit better, but at the time it was entirely confusing, like visitors from another planet wondering where our Atmosphere Processing Towers were.
posted by aramaic at 8:53 AM on January 11 [16 favorites]


I think there's something about the scale of the American West that Europeans sometimes have trouble grasping.

With distance constantly, but with height they have the Alps as a reference.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:23 AM on January 11


they have the Alps as a reference

Or, in England, the Peak District. I've a lot of fun out in the American West, but it's a constant necessity to remind myself that the route on the map no longer than my thumb will actually be half a day's drive.
posted by YoungStencil at 9:39 AM on January 11


Given the facts of winter and summer, wouldn't it make more sense to hike this trail north to south? Do the northern part in good or at least getting-better-instead-of-worse weather and reach southern California after the worst of heat passes?

I am no a hiker, so if that's stupid somehow...well, I'm not a hiker.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:55 AM on January 11


Yeah I don't get the maps argument. She could have had a boatload of USGS 1:24k quads and might have gotten into the same trouble. The problem was (apparently) she hiked into a remote area in worsening weather with inadequate gear—enough so that another hiker thought she was at risk.

Like some others here, I'm more familiar with East Coast hiking than West, and lots of people get themselves in trouble (or dead) on Mount Washington. This is not because they don't know where they are, at least to a reasonable approximation. It's because of a combination of very fast-changing weather and—more critically, IMO—a sort of familiarity-breeds-contempt thing that happens on high-traffic trails / mountains, where people get started late, or move more slowly than they think they will, and fall behind schedule, but really want to get to the top and push beyond when they should be turning around and heading back down. So they get stuck on the mountain at night without the right gear. And in the fall or early spring, that can be really unpleasant.

I did a R2R hike of the Grand Canyon and saw people making this same mistake, only inverted (going down into the Canyon rather than up to the top of a mountain). Despite the literally dozens of (impressively graphic) signs telling you not to try to go down to the Colorado River and back up to the South Rim in a day, we passed lots of people doing exactly that. As it was starting to get dark, we were just about down to the river—we had a campsite at the bottom, so we were in no hurry—but we saw other people still going the same way without any camping gear, flashlights, etc. Some of them seemed to barely consider that with every step down towards the river, they were buying themselves another step they'd have to take back up, in the dark, eventually leading to a fairly steep set of switchbacks up the rim in the middle of the night. It seemed like an... unpleasant... way to end a hike to me. And the Rangers are about as humorless about that kind of thing as you'd expect, because people do it every day.

If you want a really ugly argument, get people started on trail runners in the Canyon or other difficult-to-extricate areas. Trail runners are like the BASE jumpers of hiking; they basically have zero safety margin for anything going wrong. They're going out into the wilderness in their underwear, with a fanny pack, some energy goo, and maybe two pint-size water bottles. Nuts. My dog goes hiking with more gear than some of the people I saw doing R2R attempts.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:07 AM on January 11 [7 favorites]


Given the facts of winter and summer, wouldn't it make more sense to hike this trail north to south?

Some people do it, but it's still a challenge. Here's the PCTA's page on a southbound hike. There are challenges with starting in the Cascades instead of getting your trail legs in the desert, mosquitos are bad in Washington, chance of spring snow storms, a tighter window for the Sierras, and fewer resupply options.
posted by peeedro at 10:13 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


With distance constantly, but with height they have the Alps as a reference.

Perhaps, but as a guy who grew up near the Canadian Rockies, I was astounded by my experiences in the Swiss Alps; you go for a walk, even at fairly high elevations and on slopes, and every time you turn the corner, there's like a herd of cows placidly mooing and their bells dinging or a little quaint teahouse or something.

Here, if they've paved the highway down the bottom of the valley and put in a couple of pit toilets, it's no longer thought of as true wilderness; if there's also a place to exchange money for goods and services and more human permanent residents than grizzly bears, we start to complain that an area is "overdeveloped".
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:30 AM on January 11 [15 favorites]


The thing about taking a risk in the wilderness is that you're not just making that decision for you, you're also making it for the people who will have to come save your reckless ass or recover your body should you lose your bet. If you respect your local S&R people (and you damn well should) then you need to bear them in mind when you make your choices.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:14 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]


Heard an interview with a cold weather explorer type a while ago--this was probably around the time of Into Thin Air when that sort of disaster story was getting more PR.

This particular person, asked if he'd ever been close to disaster, said matter of factly "no." The reason was when they made plans they had check points, along the lines of "we will be here by this date with at least this much food left, or turn around." And then they stuck to the plans. He said every disaster started with people a little behind schedule, low on supplies, or otherwise at risk, but knowing they started with a safety factor, made a life or death decision to continue when they were tired and emotionally invested, then hit some bad luck.

I don't say this to criticize Groene. Quite the opposite. 2500 miles on the trail, exhausted, but by then having been through a lot, gets one more "this next stretch is going to be dangerous" warning. She made the wrong decision but it's a lot more understandable than some of my boneheaded stuff.

Abell, the nwhikes community and search and rescue though, they are awesome.
posted by mark k at 8:11 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]


Many thru hikers didn't make it last year because the trail was closed on the American side for long periods because of forest fires. People just plain ran out of time (vacation/Visa/money/ whatever) waiting for the trail to reopen. We really noticed a drop off in hikers arriving at Manning. Even when the trail was open the smoke made outdoor activity difficult.

If only I had a penguin...: "Given the facts of winter and summer, wouldn't it make more sense to hike this trail north to south? "

Snow doesn't disappear from higher elevations until mid summer. So either you are starting way late and still dealing with heat down south. Or you start on snowshoes. Also there tends to be less water in the fall even when temperatures aren't high. And there is a lot of elevation change at the north end; way more than at the south end so the north end is a harder place to develop your conditioning.

Plus the Americans have made it illegal to cross into the US at that point. Canada allows you to phone in your border crossing once you make it to Manning Park Resort. So going north to south means starting in Canada, hiking to the border, back tracking to a manned border crossing, crossing into the US, and then making your way back to the trail where it crosses into Canada. Not really in the spirit of thru hiking.

People do do the north to south route but my understanding is they are pretty hard core hikers who can make it south before it gets too hot
posted by Mitheral at 9:47 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


I grew up near Sacramento and in school all through the '80s we were regularly dosed with stories of the Donner Party.

I read "Winterdance" by Gary Paulsen as a kid. This was sufficient warning for me that attempting anything involving long stints outdoors requires careful planning and acceptance of risks, and even then you might get dragged through the brush by hyped-up sled dogs chasing skunks, or, less entertainingly, caught in an unexpected blizzard. Granted hiking on foot is not the same thing, but there is something to be said about requiring people to have some kind of exposure to the realities of being outdoors before letting them proceed on their merry way. Of course, some people will refuse to listen irregardless, no matter what they're told.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 7:28 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


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