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High Sierra Rescue and Disaster Log Index | High Sierra Backpacker

Rescue and Disaster Log Index

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 01 December 2015

Also See
High Sierra Safety News 

Every year the Sierra experiences a different transition from Winter through Spring into Summer conditions. Every year there is a different pattern of "overlap" between the seasons, with bits of warm happening early, and bits of snow and rain happening late.

We learn from reviewing the past, and carefully observing the present. We follow this year's High Sierra Safety News on another page, and observe all wilderness-outdoor-mountain-rescues & incidents below.

We are concerned with walking into a classic, "trap."

 TRAP 1> The "Unexpected"
These are the times backpackers get, "caught-out," when "unexpected" conditions exceed their gear or fitness or capacity to take cold, wet, & incliment conditions while exhausted. These are the times when different miscalculations converge.

TRAP 2> Expectations Vs. Reality.
Prospective backpacker entertains idealistic, emotional notions about the physical and environmental challenges in the High Sierra. Then they run into Ma Nature having a "bad" day, and she swats you like a fly?


 Imperative, or what I call the heading of our, "Internal Compass." We need to be able to align ourselves with not just information, but a basic understanding the underlying logic of this run of Natural Terrain and its climatic potential.

This information guides us through a logical evolution of our fitness, gear, and trips required to build the judgement necessary to properly identify and address all potential Natural hazards before they can catch us out.

Even considering all that, "Shit Always Happens." Always factor that into each aspect of your trip planning.

The problem is that the idealized nature of Trap 2 tends to blind folks to the harsh realities of Trap 1.

We address the range of factors governing proper preparation for long-distance backpacking in the Introduction to the Tahoe to Whitney trail guide.

Here's our discussion of the weather factors at play during early 2015.


 These are the factors determining the broad character of each year's unique transition of  seasons. We track them through Backpacker Alerts. The last Backpacker Alert examined the factors conditioning the transition from Fall to Winter conditions with a super-heated atmospehere, super-charged El Nino Ocean temps, and a weak Arctic Vortex.

 On this page below we record the individuals who have crashed and burned along the trail requiring rescue. This is as much a tribute to those who experience adversity and overcome, if just survive, as it can be a bold indictement of Human Stupidity.

Everyone does stupid shit. We strive to assure our mistakes do not take our lives.

AT the very least these accounts offer warning to all of us to observe and analyze the objective risks (and rewards!) inherent in any Natural situation.


I have a series of personal disasters and self-rescues that I will be posting up here for your edification and enjoyment, as you too should post up yours!

There is nothing like a good disaster story, especially when well-resolved through self-rescue, to bring all hiker's awareness up.


Long-shot Ice breakthrough self-rescue

Emergency Self-Arrest:





Also See 
High Sierra Safety News 

 The point of this exercise, of reviewing accidents and rescues is to review the range of risks, understand their sources, recognize and mitigate them in the field, and deal with them properly when all else fails.

Most accidents happen because a sequence of events lined them up. Or not. Accidents happen. Seeing, recognizing, and understanding potential dangers both within and outside of ourselves allows us to detect changes in our threat environment before they can hurt us. 




We note wilderness accidents & incidents from all around the country and world here, on the list below. The point of this general review of safety issues is to make ourselves aware of safety issues we may have not considered.

Our attention is focused on conditions and incidents in the Sierra on the High Sierra Safety News page, though we do cite recent incidents occuring the Sierra below,  to highlight the changing nature of risk as the seasons change in the Sierra. 



October 2

Closure of Life

Officials identify hiker who died in September, Appalachian Trail




August 28

Dangerous Places

Fifth climber dies on Capitol Peak this summer,
Sierra Sun, August 28, 2017.





August 10 

Mountain Safety
National News

Climber’s body removed from Capitol Peak after ‘difficult’ recovery; Parker man ID’d,
Sierra Sun, August 10, 2017.




June 6 

2 Mount Rainier Rescues

Park Service warns of risks after two major rescues on Mount Rainier in last week,
KOMO NEWS, June 2, 2017.


Army helicopter rescues Canadian cop, 27, from Mount Rainier,
Seattle Times, June 1, 2017.




 June 1, 2017 


Climbers rescued off 14,265 ft Quandary Peak in Summit County, Colorado recall feeling near brink of death,
Sierra Sun, June 1, 2017.

Rule Number One

Don't put yourself into situations that your skills, experience, strength and fitness cannot get you out of. Evolving good decision-making requires excellent observation and analysis skills evolved with experience. Good decisions do not involve, "leaps of faith," where somehow you will magically become endowed with the skills and strength necessary to reach your objective. That is a plan for failure, not success.

But most importantly, good safety practices require restraint, the ability to say, "no," that is too much, when our objectives exceed our capabilities, or the risk/reward ratio becomes too steep.

This is especially true this year's June, now that Summertime Sports-Folk are coming out to find trecherous conditions in snow covered mountains after seven years of clear, warm June weather. Many backpackers have an expectation of clear trails and clear conditions during June that do not exist this year, and were freak events when they did.
These climber's story is just one of the earlier in what is going to be a sad series of incidents of improperly prepped Summertime hikers and climbers moving into "unexpected" trecherous Spring snow conditions.

That merits an, "Idiot Alert," as well as our standing Backpacker Alert: Don't be and Idiot! Properly assess the risks!

Let me be the first to tell you: The Sierra Crest is packed with wet, soft, energy-sucking snow. This sopping snow pack is feeding furious flows across all the major and minor fords. I say go check it out, but don't under-gear for wetness in the snow, bouts of bad weather, and be ready to turn around at a dangerous ford or otherwise modify your hiking plan in respect of conditions on the ground.

High Sierra Backpacker's Calendar: June 2017

All HIgh Sierra Nevada Snow reporting stations and watershed snow pillows

The Weather Page Snow Reports

Many trails carved across mountain flanks are walls of hard, slick snow during morning, and offer no support with afternoon softening.

These are the things you should know before you go, and make specific inquires to the Wilderness Ranger of the Ranger District you enter, experienced locals, and anyone else with experience in the area you can find, before entering.

 This is exactly the scenario I wrote about above, in. "The Setting and the Trap." 



May 15

Mountain Rescue
Mount Whitney
Improperly geared and skilled hikers


Atop Mount Whitney and battling frostbite, these hikers sent out an SOS,
Fresno Bee, May 15, 2017.



May 12

Water Rescue
Stanislaus River

The kayakers entered the Stanislaus River. They quickly found out it was a mistake.
Modesto Bee, May 11, 2017.



May 10

Water Rescue
American River

Two rescued from American River,
Mountain Democrat, May 10, 2017.



May 8


Kaweah Commonwealth, May 5, 2017.



May 3



Kaweah Commonwealth, May 1, 2017.



Equipment Failure, Improper prep & gear for journey?

Cause of death released for man found at Eagle Meadow,
Union Democrat, April 27, 2017.

Two factors combine: snowmobile equipment failure, with inadequete gear to cover for this "unexpected" event. Always thing about how you will fare if the things you depend on, like your form of transportation, fails. A sprained ankle or a broken snowmobile...



April 22

Family: Merrell Shoe Founder's Missing Wife Has Survival Skills.
EkpsVoice, 19 April 2017.

Search for the two missing hikers at the Grand Canyon continues,
Inquisitr, April 18, 2017.

Note this accident very carefully. This is the most dangerous season for Spring Travel due to the vast snow pack, stream undercutting, extreme runoff, dislodged timber and rock, and extreme fording dangers.



April 7


Raw: Hiker Rescued From Under 1,500 Pound Rock,
AP, April 7, 2017. Goog Video.

We are entering a period of extreme terrain instability-as well as fording dangers-as this massive snow pack begins to melt. The tens of thousands of drought-killed timber are about to swept down-mountain by the thaw. Falling snags and timber are going to become an increasing risk all Spring and through Summer.

This movement, and the Spring Thaw itself will destabilize vast lengths of the Sierra flanks. Much rock will move as this snow pack thaws. Keep your eyes on the surrounding mountain flanks as well as the forests, for both are under greater pressure than normal from this quick switch from extended drought to extreme precipitation and thaw.



April 1


Dickiebird, Accident and Conditions, PCT, Fuller Ridge Mile 178-190,
Whiteblaze, March 24, 2017


Men post selfie while trapped in avalanche on Highway 89
Sacbee, January 23, 2017.




Stupid Human Tricks: 
Death by GPS 
Why do we follow digital maps into dodgy places?
ArsTechnica, May 3, 2016.
Navigation Intro and Info





Folsom hiker found alive after 9 days in Sierra National Forest,
Sac Bee, August 29, 2015.



Calculated Risks

LAT on Grahanm Hunt's Death with Dean,
LAT, May 18, 2015. 

 Extreme athlete Dean Potter hailed as 'a visionary' by fellow climbers and friends,
Guardian, May 14, 2015.



Moron Alerts
3 Ohioans rescued on Pacific Crest Trail, May 18.

Rescued Alpine County hiker, May 5.

“It seemed like a fun experience,” Driscoll said. “To my surprise, this trail was very rugged and difficult.” 
(Quote from the Idiot rescued on May 5 from the Sierra Crest at the top of Alpine County.)





PCT hiker used SPOT, self-rescued, failed to call off SAR.

Lack of PCT hiker gearing and prep, scouting info...




Experienced marathoner, hiker dies in California storm
October 06, 2008, The Oregonian. 


Also See 
High Sierra Safety News 


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