According to a member of his party, Mr Kato suffered from altitude sickness for about 90 minutes before the accident and fell on his way back from the summit. Published accounts report he fell over a "cliff" at an altitude of 13,500 feet approximately one mile from the summit.
|View of trail approximately 1 mile from the summit|
|The Main Trail at 13,500 feet approximately 1.9 miles from summit. More trail visible on the sunlit midground outcrop. Note steep dropoff.|
In this article on the website bakersfieldnow.com, Mr Rockwell calls for better cel phone service on Mt Whitney in hopes of saving lives. I will disagree respectfully with Mr Rockwell. As my colleague, friend, and respected mountaineer Tony Yeary says, "Find safety between your ears, not in your backpack."
Nobody wants to see the backcountry studded with cel phone towers as well as the infrastructure required to service them. The wilderness is what it is; a wild place preserved as pristinely as possible for the plants and animals living there and for future generations to get a sense of what the country was like before man put his stamp on it. The wilderness is not an amusement park. Therefore, we ourselves take responsibility for preparing physically, mentally, and materially to assure the safest journey possible.
I shudder to think about the other consequences of greater cel service. People don't pay enough attention here in town already. Imagine someone walking off a cliff while texting, "I'm having a great ti......."
We must also listen to our more sensible side because many of us suffer from what degreed professionals call "non-productive persistence." Despite our deteriorating physical and mental condition we struggle onward, fixated on achieving our goal. Unfortunately, we reach a point where we can go no further. Yet we are still short of our objective and farther from home than ever. So all we did was place ourselves in more jeopardy and turn a tough day into a potential rescue situation.
Given the sketchy information we have regarding the circumstances, Mr Kato may have pushed through several warning signs of altitude sickness in his desire to summit but did not leave enough reserve for the trip home. Know this: 80 percent of all mountain fatalities all over the world and throughout history happen on the way back down. As Ed Viesturs so aptly put it, "Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory."
Find the latest copy of Accidents in North American Mountaineering. The publishers assemble and print a new one each year. Note how few injury accidents or deaths are due to faulty equipment. Most injuries and fatalities occur because equipment was used improperly, used past its proper life span, or the users did not have the experience to attempt what they were attempting. These are all preventable. Some simply by the addition of experience. In other words, learn to fix solid belay anchors from seasoned climbers and much practice in less dire circumstances, not from your smartphone while hanging off a cliff.
Even if you never plan to climb class 5, experience and training are important. Learning how your mind works at altitude under stress cannot be overstated. We all lose a few IQ points up high. Knowing that about yourself and making good decisions is a skill acquired with practice.
Rather than more cel service, let's all acquire the skills, knowledge, and experience necessary to ensure our safe return. The best way to signal a rescue is avoiding the need for one.
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