What the Four Peaks taught me

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pfredricks
Posts: 253
Joined: Oct 18 2002 10:59 am
City, State: Glendale, AZ

What the Four Peaks taught me

Post by pfredricks » Dec 22 2003 8:05 pm

I have always thought it is important to learn for one's mistakes. I also think it is important to learn from the mistakes of others so as not to repeat them. That is why I am telling this story

A group of nine decided to make a bid to summit the four peaks in one day. The information about that hike is found here:
http://hikearizona.com/decoder.php?TN=F ... her%20Lode
For different reasons, eight of the nine elected to stop this pursuit after summiting two peaks. I know that some wished to continue on but chose not to for their own reasons. I chose to make a solo bid for the remaining two peaks. I am certain most will say this was a foolish choice. I am aware that this could have been a dangerous decision. However, it was a VERY PERSONAL DECISION that probably only some can understand and one that I do not regret. Judgment of that decision is not the purpose of this post. I hope to recount my experience and share it, so that perhaps someone can learn from my decisions or my errors. I also wish to thank the group of guys that went on this trip, those who unselfishly waited for me, and gave me the time to talk about this on my own. Classy group and I appreciate it greatly.


Here is the rest of the story:

I arrived at peak 4 (aka Brown's Peak) at 5:45 pm. The final peak of the day! There was still a fairly good sun on the horizon and I was certain that I would make it close to the trailhead by sundown. Even if that did not happen, I had a headlamp with me, that had fresh batteries, so i was not concerned. I radioed down to the rest of my party to tell them of my position. I heard someone respond back thru the crackling FRS radio that they were half way back to the cars. I told them I was heading down the scree chute and to expect me soon.
I started down the mountain. This side of the mountain was the north face and completely covered in show. I had never been to Brown's Peak but knew the scree chute was a one way trip to the trailhead. Things were going very well and I thought that I was making excellent progress down the hill. After a longer than anticipated journey, I began to notice that the sun was setting. I made some quick mental notes about my postion in relation to the sunset. As I did that, I also became somewhat concerned. The ridgeline ahead of me appeared to be higher to me than I thought it should be from what I remembered from the Trailhead that morning. I had likely descended too far!! I also began to consider that I may have descended a draw different from the scree chute. As I thought of all of this, I noted the constellation in the opposite sky from the rapidly disappearing sun and marked the little dipper as my East bearing. I was also painfully aware that during my haste to leave the meeting point that morning and catch my shuttle to the trailhead, I had left behind my first aid kit and compass. (DOH!)
As the sun continued to set, I tried unsuccessfully to radio the group. It was at that point when I realized I was lost and alone with a long, cold night staring me in the face. Having long rehearsed and prepared for such an event, I knew that there were several things that I needed to do in order survive, and either make it out or be rescued.
First of all, I had to admit to myself that I was lost. That was not easy to do! I didn't want to hold the guys up any longer, and I honestly felt pretty embarassed about the whole thing. I was even fairly certain that the correct trail was to my east, but, I was not sure. (I knew I had to be honest with myself and not be in denial about the circumstances-) Considering the alternatives, the humble pie tasted okay-and I stayed put. What I knew already, and George had also mentioned earlier in the day is......many, many people die from making poor choices or obviously bad choices. So, the next order of business was to make some good decisions. I made sure that I did not panic and made some initial actions. I moved from the draw to the spur (wall of the draw) This made me more visible and made it much better to hear and be heard. Next, I rembered reading a survivalist writing something to the effect: If you get lost, stop, build a fire (for warmth, comfort, and signalling), make a hot beverage, and consider your options and develop a plan. So, I did just that.
I collected some fuel and lit the fire. I was afraid that my lighter might quit working, due to struggling with the wet wood, so I light my stove and put it on low as a failsafe. I DID NOT want to do the night without fire as I approximated that the low was probably going to be in the 30's or perhaps lower.
After finally getting the fire going, I had a cup of cocoa with the last of my water. I decided that I had to stay put and if I was to move again, it would ONLY be to retrace my steps and not until the next morning. -In fact, stopping was the hardest thing to do-my mind did not want to stop. I wanted desperately to keep going. It must be the natural tendency.
After deciding to stay put, I set my watch to run a countdown timer every half hour and blow my whistle throughout the night on that mark. That gave me busy work. Based on that countdown timer, I rationed out my snacks to eat one every hour-thus giving me something to look forward to. I set my sights on making it through the night, rather than being found. I reasoned that if I hoped to be found but was not, that would severly diminish my spirits.
Of more pressing concern, as I was re-evaluating my supplies, I noticed that I had lost my fleece top, as well as, my top and bottom thermals somewhere on the day's hike. (bad to worse) That was a bit of an alarming note, but, just had to deal with it. Next, I began to melt water with the stove and fill my nalgene bottle. (Snow takes FOREVER to melt and boil) I wrapped my feet in my muffler then wrapped myself up in my space blanket and started drying my shoes and socks by the fire.
Beyond that, I noticed a pair of glowing eyes hanging around me when I shined my headlamp (this caused me to blow my whistle more often) Then I noticed that I had no knife because it was with first aid kit. I will never know what that creature was. I thought coyote, mtn lion, or racoon because it was so low to the ground.
I guess the rest was mental. I knew that I would make it-just didnt know when or how. The guys had told me over the radio that the scree chute was "Down and to the left" So, I just kept making fun of that, thinking of the spoof of the movie JFK, where they mocked Kevin Costner saying "Down and to the left." Anyway, it kept me going making fun of them- I was thinking ...."OH, down and to the left, huh?!"
I had time to notice the sky, the shooting stars, the beeline in the distance, and the planes flying overhead oblivious to my situation. They were comforting things to think about nonetheless. I also revelled in how quickly things went from no problem to big problems. Hiking IS a dangerous sport.
After a couple hours I thought that I heard one of the guys yelling my name in the distance. It was so faint that I almost didnt notice. I yelled and whistled back and heard someone say, "Radio!" I turned it on (it was off to conserve the little battery I did have) and heard them talking to me. Two of the guys had doubled back for me when I didnt show up. I quickly cleaned up the campsite, put the fire dead out, and started moving.
Tom came towards me and met me in the middle of the divide. We hiked toward each others' headlamps-while another person (please remind me of the name) smartly stayed on the trail with a light to guide us back. How great it was to hear and see them. I guesstimate that I was about 1/2 to 3/4 mile off the trail. Had I gone in the direction that I thought the trail was instead of staying put, I would have been much further away. I doubt that I would have been seen or heard from that night. Since the whole hillside was covered in snow, sound did not travel very far. If the wind had been even slightly the wrong direction, I would likely not have heard them. Bottom line is alot of things happened right to get me out that night. Many things could have been better. Thanks to the guys that waited and those that got me out. I owe you guys!
Draw your own lessons
Below is what i got
-Pete



Things that went wrong or could have been better
1. I rushed to get my gear without thoroughly checking my equiptment list(I had promised never to do this to myself)
2. Fire too small for signalling ( I tried to conserve my fuel-though more was available)
3. Should have blown whistle more often and had a better whistle
4. Did not have a GPS (with good waypoints and fresh batteries EVERY time.)-could have eliminated the whole situation
5. I will use a space bag not a space blanket from now on. (way better with the drafts)
6. could have stayed with the group-



Things that went right
1. Others knew where I was and backtracked for me
2. I knew what the terrain looked likeand paid diligent attention to it- I just couldnt see it- so I would have been out in the morning.
3. Had reasonable supplies; eg radio, stove, fire, food, space blanket, clothes (sort of)
4. STOPPED Moving
5. Didnt panic!!
6. Had a plan
7. made a decision to survive
"I'd feel better if we had some crampons. Oh, what the hell, let's go for it..." — Common climbing last words.

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ADGibson
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City, State: Phoenix, AZ

Post by ADGibson » Dec 29 2003 7:39 pm

Great post Pete.

I had some questions. I hope to understand your thinking when you realized there was a problem. This way I can try to make sure I'm mentally prepared for a situation like this.

When you decided to stop how long do you think you stood there and weighed your options? I always feel I take to long to make decisions that could turn out deadly.

After you made camp how would you rate your mental condition? I assume you may really have been fatigued at that point and your mental capacity may have been diminished greatly. Were you "kicking" yourself mentally?

I really amazed you were only a half mile off the trail. Your ability to recognize your position was not correct is beyond that of the any average person.

Anyone else that has been in a similar situation should post a response. I would love to hear about it. I hope to learn from all of you and pass it on to my kids. I'm planning on taking each of my boys on separate backpacking and I think they can learn a lot from this group.

Thanks in advance!

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Abe
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Post by Abe » Dec 29 2003 10:26 pm

DoFear wrote:Anyone else that has been in a similar situation should post a response. I would love to hear about it. I hope to learn from all of you and pass it on to my kids.
I do not know if this qualifies, Pete P.M. me and asked if I was in a similar situation, so I related my tale, briefly, in another place, 25 years ago. So I guess I will share my experience with all.

I was a young strapping Corporal serving with Marine Barracks on the Aluetian Island of Adak. I even had a nickname, "Tundra Stomper", although we had no tundra, to far south for that. However, the island was a harsh, vocanic, unforgiven piece of earth, where two air masses from the Artic and Pacific collided creating nasty weather. You learn to live with the clouds, fog, and winds.

Mid-August I took ten days leave to do some exploring in the interior. I had been on the island for six months and considered myself a salty hand already. What I did not count on was a sergeant had asked if I could guide him in as well so he could do some Caribou hunting. I said sure.

So we started. The weather typical, cloudy and breezey. I wish I could recall the name of the pass, but once over it, we were on the other side of the mountain where few ever go. No roads, no trails, no trees, just valleys and mountains. The one thing you learn quick in Adak is once you leave a road or trail the ground can hurt you, with either cracks or holes. The grass "tundra" could cover it up in most cases, so you learned how to read the grass colors, dips in the grass, and even hear water running in the cracks. But, every once in a while you may fall in. I had numerous times while station there.

On the fourth day out he went one way to hunt and I went another to check a SAR cabin out near the coast. A SAR cabin was a small cabin located along the coast around Adak. It serve basically two purposes, if you are in a dire situation you can stay until rescue, or when during a search rescue mission if the cabin was closer than the base we would take the lost party there so we could be picked up by Navy tugs. We agree to meet at a point on the map, although I do not recall the time. It was just nice to be alone and explore the area and old SAR cabin.

Anyhow, we met back up and continued to our camp.

It was during our walk back when I began to realize we might not make it back to camp. No matter how I tried to work the equation we were not going to make it. I had either miscalculated the time or terrain, I'm afraid I don't remember. What I do remember is the sinking pit in my stomach and the fear pumping in my heart when I knew we would not make it back to our cozy tent and hot chow. You see we packed only the essentials for a day hike, not an overnight emergency.

The sun set, dark was coming quick, clouds helped that out and I knew we had to stop. The sergeant started to really show signs of panic by then and that had me concern because he is senior to me. However, I suggested to him we needed to stop and get out of the wind by finding a depression in the ground and hole up until morning. Hell, I was on the verge of panic myself because I did not want to spend a night in Adak's element. Adak does not have trees in the interior, we could not build a shelter, could not even build a fire; but my mind said stop. He wanted to continue, so I suggested it was to dangerous with the terrain, the cracks, the holes, not to mention a cliff somewhere around. He finally agreed.

It was a long night. Hearing the wind howl above me, crawling into the wind breaker I had on as much as I could, and forcing my body next to the sergeant in the hopes of getting some warmth. Hypothermia was a constant buddy up there. Believe it or not though, I still manage to pull Z's, although I was scared to do that as well.

Morning finally come. Gray and light enough to see. I worked my way to standing, felt every bone, joint, and muscle in my body. But I was glad to see a new day.

http://www.bouwman.com/world/alaska/adak/adak.html

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sherileeaz
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Post by sherileeaz » Dec 29 2003 10:42 pm

Abe, thanks for the recount of that experience.
I think all of you should write a book telling of each experience!
It's so fascinating to learn about the terraine, your personal thoughts and emotions while encountering these situations and much more! I feel a bit guilty as I read them tho, I am sitting in a nice warm house, hot tea and can only imagine what you went through. I'm so happy all turned out well and you are here to tell us about it 25 years later!

Sherileeaz 8)
The value of life lies not in the length of days, but in the use we make of them.

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GeorgAZ
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City, State: Scottsdale, AZ

Amazing!

Post by GeorgAZ » Dec 30 2003 8:02 am

Great post,Pete. Glad you are here to recount it. I think panic is the worst and first thing we face. If you can control that factor,usually the rest falls into place. Scarey, but monumentous adventure! So glad that you all did well and are here !The pics were awesome! Thanks! :)

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ADGibson
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Post by ADGibson » Dec 30 2003 7:32 pm

Thanks so much Abe. I have read many accounts of people getting stuck and always wondered how I would handle the situation.

I did help a couple who got stuck in the Lake Pleasant area when we were offroad. We could not get there Ford Taurus out of the area we were in because they had spun their front tires until they ruptured. I had misplaced my tow strap and we ended up having them camp with us until morning. We got their front tires off and had one vehicle take them in to be replaced and also picked up a tow strap. They were only stuck for a few hours, but they had a 5yo with them so they were starting to panic before we came accross them.

I had started a number of years ago of telling the people I help to pass the favor on. If someone ever needed their help then they should stop and help. Someone told me about a movie based on the same concept called "Pay it Forward". Since I watched it now I feel like an idiot for suggesting this anymore.

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Abe
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Post by Abe » Dec 31 2003 6:21 am

sherileeaz wrote:I feel a bit guilty as I read them tho, I am sitting in a nice warm house, hot tea and can only imagine what you went through. I'm so happy all turned out well and you are here to tell us about it 25 years later!

Sherileeaz 8)
Thanks sherileeaz, my was many years ago in a different place far away; I was young and dumb, which is why I hesitated to relate anything about it. Pete's post in my opinion was awesome. I was envious of his evening prepping for his overnighter, his buddies picking him up and his eventual completion of his hike that evening. A SNAFU that ended up successful. Challenges, teamwork, completion. Beautiful!

And you lass, no need to feel guilty, I peeked in your hiking log and you have racked up an impressive 139.25 miles worth of burning up the trails. The risk and possible hardships when you are hiking is nipping at your boot heels as well. Why in Prescott this year alone we had three occasions where folks got lost in Granite Mountain! Granite mountain, just a stone throw from Prescott. Search and rescue went out and found them, all fine, though a bit shaken by the experience.

No sherileeaz, you are in the thick of things when hiking. As well as all the HAZers who tramp the trail. We learn from each other, we joke with each other, we challenge each other, we argue with each other, we get mad at each other, we make up with each other, we share our experiences with each other; what a cyber family. I wonder if there are those on the outside who would consider this family dysfunctional?

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pfredricks
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thanks

Post by pfredricks » Dec 31 2003 9:46 am

DoFear wrote: When you decided to stop how long do you think you stood there and weighed your options? I always feel I take to long to make decisions that could turn out deadly.

After you made camp how would you rate your mental condition? I assume you may really have been fatigued at that point and your mental capacity may have been diminished greatly. Were you "kicking" yourself mentally?

I really amazed you were only a half mile off the trail. Your ability to recognize your position was not correct is beyond that of the any average person.
Thanks for the kind responses everyone. Boy what a difference a couple weeks makes. Abe, I am glad you decided to go public, you made the right decisions also, in clearly much more dire circumstances. I appreciate all the congrats from everyone, but, more importantly, I hope it caused you guys to go get that whistle or GPS that you have been putting off buying. That gear is worth every penny. You are only as good as your weakest gear.
The people that deserve the credit are the ones that came back out. They thought they were done for the day, and to head back out took alot of effort, I'm sure. The reason that I shared this whole thing is that I learned a tremendous amount. The decisions were as not as cut and dry as I thought they would be.
I always thought that I would get lost out bushwacking in the middle of nowhere. Truth to tell, I wasnt even really lost. I pretty much knew where I was, just ran out of daylight, and yeah, that did make it extremely difficult to stop. . I am pretty diligent about constantly observing where I am and where I have been-marking mental landmarks and such. 1/2 mile isnt far, you are correct. But that was really the whole point of the post. I KNOW (NOW) that had I kept going that I would have continued to angle away from the trail. I might not have recognized my surroundings by morning. Getting in a jam is not what I imagined. I imagined something a little more exotic. Michael Ijams was found dead a few weeks back only about 1/2 mile off trail.

TO answer your questions Do Fear:

From the time I first considered that I may have been in the wrong draw to the time I stopped moving was probably about ten minutes. Yes, I was exhausted. The four peaks mother lode was a kicker. I basically collapsed into AZ hiker96's jeep afterward. I can't even remember what we talked about on the ride home. I think the fact that I didnt more carefully examine my route down Brown's peak BEFORE leaving the summit is testament to my exhaustion. I dont do that stuff.
NO, I wasn't kicking myself mentally. There was no time or place for that. Stricly focused on the task at hand. If anything, I kinda enjoyed the situation and even laughed about it. It was almost as if a switch flipped and everything changed from hiking to survival and everything became almost automatic. I just kept re thinking and re analyzing everything that I had read and practiced. That's the second point of the post. The things that I had read and learned served me very well. I simply did what I practiced. Nothing ingenious about it.


I have recommended this book before, but, I will mention it again:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/ ... 38-8409755


What's cool about this book is that it doesnt just explain how to spear a fish, it gets into the mindset and decision making process. It underscores how bad decisions will kill you (repeatedly) And it really forces oneself to consider the importance of some decisions and reinforces critcal decision making. You asked the questions that I asked. You would probably like this book. Let me know what you think

If you are really interested in the mental decisions and thought processes of the survivor, as I am, read "The 12 Habits of Highly Successful Survivors" by Laurence Gonzales in National Geographic Adventure magazine, November 2003 pp 88-92
"I'd feel better if we had some crampons. Oh, what the hell, let's go for it..." — Common climbing last words.

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ADGibson
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Post by ADGibson » Dec 31 2003 7:06 pm

Excellent. Thanks for responding. Sounds like you knew this situation would happen at some point and had already made the decision to survive now matter what it took. I always "know" this can happen to me, but until I face that situation I can't be 100% sure that I will make the right decision. Hopefully I can learn from other hikers mishaps.

I keep thinking that this is a good example of Murphy's Law. :D

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