Who’s Responsible for Your Mountain Safety?

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 26 June 2019


The Folks Who Pull Us Out:
California Mountain Rescue Association

MRA met in Mammoth Lakes California to test in "Snow and Ice" for their yearly Re-Accreditation test, hosted in 2016 by Inyo County Search and Rescue. Credit Adorabutton.
I'm Seeing Red! MRA met in Mammoth Lakes California in 2016 to test in "Snow and Ice" for their yearly Re-Accreditation test, hosted by Inyo County SAR. Map. Photo Credit, Adorabutton, Wiki.


Who’s Responsible for Your Mountain Safety?

Should we stop rescuing people in wilderness?
Adirondack Explorer, February 12, 2019.


New York Wilderness
New York’s 288 conservation officers and 134 forest rangers participated in 346 search-and-rescue missions in 2018.

A NY Ranger: “...the more time rangers spend on rescues the less time they have to patrol the backcountry and help visitors stay out of trouble.”

In Darwin’s Garden:

A Mountain Climber
Robert Kruszyna, essay, “The Case Against Search and Rescue.”

Kruszyna, High Cost of Search and Rescue, 1992 in, “Wilderness Ethics,” p.149.

“Kruszyna argues that people who venture into wilderness should accept the risks and the consequences. “Climbers who exercise good judgement and who know their limitations rarely need to be rescued,” he writes. “Those who are unprepared, cocky, irresponsible do not deserve our concern. Let their sad fates serve as a warning, rather than bringing them back to cause us trouble another time.” “

“In the essay, Kruszyna recounts the foolhardy exploits of hikers and mountaineers and the perilous and expensive efforts to rescue them.”

“Now 87, Kruszyna stopped climbing a dozen years ago, but he hasn’t altered his views. “People need to take responsibilities for their actions in society in general,” he told the Explorer.


The Bottom Line

Hierarchy of Needs
By my experience, there are two types of people in the wilderness. There are those who are superior to the difficulties, and those who are not.

Those who are not are suffering to various degrees. Most in that category are most likely to need help, while being least likely to give it.
Those most capable individuals, those who are above the environmental challenges, are indispensable in any emergency situations encountered, and typically assist those who are not, those who are having various degrees of difficulty, freely.

The Question
That said, every emergency situation involves a simple balance: can I pull it off without killing myself? That includes individuals in self-rescue situations, as well as rescuers confronting a rescue. Risk assessment should always be your first thought. That approach would alone prevent the majority of idiot rescues every year.

First Question
Thus, in an emergency situation, we always first find ourselves confronting the basic physical question of, “can I do it,” can I pull myself (or them) out of the problem without killing or further injuring myself?

Second Question
The, “moral,” question, of, “should I do it,” is always the second question we ask ourselves, after we’ve answered the first question, sometimes being forced to, "answer," that first question very quicky...

Balance Point
The balance point between risk and responsibility first failed with the rescuee, whether by negligence or bad luck it does not matter, as the risks inherent in wilderness pursuits will eventually manifest themselves over long periods of time: Shit Happens, and Will Happen, to even the best prepped adventurers… which brings us to the deep range of dangers brought to themselves and rescuers by the irresponsibilites of folks unprepared for virtually every aspect of life required for wilderness engagement.
The good advice these folks should have been given is, "Get yourself up to speed, before jumping into the deep end of the pool...or you may well drown...and take others with you."

Well, there it is!

Natural Result
Darwin’s Hammer
The arguments in this article, “to rescue, or not to rescue,” are moot to me, as it is quite apparent that Mother Nature, “knocks off,” a hell of a lot of idiots every year before rescuers can even put themselves at risk, so many in fact, that it’s hard to figure it out. Most States with major Parks and Forests seem to have at least forty or fifty, “backcountry,” fatalities a year.

Nature wields, “Darwin’s Hammer,” quite effectively every year in wilderness, even with full SAR services and support. Only the luckiest survive their own stupidity in Darwin’s high altitude mountain Gardens.

Indiscriminate Killer
On the other hand, when Nature is, “fired-up, it, “knocks off,” both idiots and pros alike, without distinction, keeping our nation’s SAR teams busy rescuing people from their own stupidity, as well as the sometimes unpredictable furies of Nature. Nonetheless, being an idiot puts you at much higher risk in Nature’s playground during both its calm and intense periods. Your stupidly makes you a, “target,” for every kind of trouble.

Proper Recognition
Stupid should be recognized, and properly rewarded, but short of the, “Darwinian Solution!” I’m all for giving those who put others at unnecessary risk a, “stupid medal,” and making them cover the cost of their rescue.

Mountain Moron Medals
It’s without dispute that idiots in the wilderness put SAR teams into uncalled for, preventable risk. Thus we should consider having an SAR, “stupid tax.” Or maybe, the awarding of an, “accommodation,” a medal, for idiocy, that involves a, “negative,” cash award payable to the SAR team and agencies who spent money and put themselves at risk rescuing that particular idiot.

Degrees of Stupid
The second-class idiot medal would be, “awarded,” to idiots who required a rescue due to their own negligence, but not for random accidents or, “Acts of God.” The first-class idiot medal would be awarded to idiots who not only required a rescue due to their own negligence, but who’s rescue caused further injury.

Shit Happens
Folks who require rescue due to the unexpected fury of Nature, typical accidents, or any, "reasonable ," breakdowns & incidents that they did not cause by their own negligence, should just be rescued. Shit happens...

The Point
Inform and Prep Yourself
Prepare yourself physically and mentally for the possible wide range of rigors your objective can throw at you. Bring the gear necessary for the possible, as well as the expected. Anticipate that the things you depend on will fail, and know the history and trajectory of your gear.

My motto is, “Everything will happen to you on the trail, if you’re out there long enough.”

Build good observation, decision making, and response capabilities before engaging Nature. Observe clearly, decide properly, and respond effectively to our ever changing environmental demands. That alone would prevent the majority of dumb-ass errors and rescues.

Next Balance Point
The real deal in this article here is having a responsible balance between individual self-reliance and group responsibility. We are, simultaneously, both individuals and members of the group. Independent of your particular perspective, you are both, at the same time.

Let’s make that relationship between our group and individual aspects mutually beneficial, so both can reach their potentials, rather than being the, “mutual suicide pacts,” that our greed, selfishness, and desires to dominate can transform these group and individual aspects of our identity, into.

Mutual Voluntary Restrictions
Community powers not restricted in favor of individual characters, especially those that put themselves deeply into Nature, are as toxic as an individual who puts themselves above the fundamental shared values that created our community, in the first place.

In other words, the society that outlaws, "risk," or does not rescue its risk-takers who have gone over the edge, is as bad an offence as those individuals who take irresponsible risks that endanger our society's SAR teams.

Limits of Engagement
The wilderness is the laboratory in which these individual and group characteristics and their balances were first evolved. Let's live up to these, our ancient potentials, by responsibly engaging our adventurous activities, as to never require SAR because we did not properly evaluate the risks associated with our adventure.

Proper Prep
Train and practice locally with your body and gear, getting both up to speed, before bringing them onto the PCT, JMT, or TYT. Be able to easily carry your pack weight over your daily planned backpacking distance, at your elevation, before hoping to do the same at High Sierra altitudes and angles.

Safe Independence
I look for a healthy relationship between individual and group experience in both wilderness and society, though only the wilderness makes the fundamental importance of this relationship to human life so starkly, and beautifully, clear.

In society the group typically restricts the individual, while in Nature the group gives the individual a solid foundation from which to explore.

It is good to know we have heroic SAR folks that will give it their best shot at pulling our broken asses out of trouble in the High Sierra, when things do go wrong. That knowledge is reciprociated by the fact that we have done, and will do everything in our power to prevent that from being necessary.
That's the balance that sets me free in the mountains, while holding me within my, hopefully, ever-expanding limits.

The bottom line is that we are each fundamentally responsible for our own mountain safety, and ultimately can depend on no one but ourselves. You should be an asset to your community, and your community should support your natural engagement.

And if wishes were horses, we’d all be riding!

Future Relevance
A messy Spring Thaw might be in our near future, which means the decision-making skills of lots of PCT hikers could be tested by when they calculate their start dates, subsequently requiring SAR to be called-in to mitigate the many potentially bad decisions that could, and will, be made.

The time to train your body and brain is now, before the trail hits you...


March 9, 2019 Update

Conditions Indicate a Late Start for Wise & Observant PCT-JMT-TWT Hikers
With a Review of PCT hiker Problems in the HEAVY Spring Snow of 2017


Last Year in the High Sierra
partial list of SAR activities...

Inyo SAR Thunderbolt Peak Rescue  2018

Inyo SAR Thunderbolt Peak Recovery 2017

Inyo SAR Middle Palisade Fatal Hiker Fall Recovery

2018, Injured Climber on Mount Conness Located, Freed, & Evacuated (Injury Update)

Mono County Sheriff Search & Rescue: Third Pillar of Mt. Dana

Mono SAR 2018 Benefit

June, 2018: Serious Spring Snow Accident on Mount Whitney


Dogs too

High Sierra Hiking Dogs: "Ace,"Another Lucky Dog, Survives Wilderness Adventure



High Sierra Mountain Safety News & Topics


February 2019 Trail News




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High Sierra, mountain safety, who's responsible, rescuing people, wilderness, SAR


Originally Published
2019-02-14 16:22:58

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