A young climber perishes on Mt. Adams

Sunday night while I struggled with figuring out a productive field course location for the third day of an AIARE 2 Avalanche Course Kate Matrosova, a 32 year old climber from Russia who lived in New York City as an investment banker on Wall Street, was struggling to stay alive. Her husband had dropped her off at the Appalachia Trail-head at 5:30am for her solo-attempt at a Northern Presidential Traverse; Mount Adams, Madison, Jefferson, Washington. A seemingly fitting objective for the Presidents Day Weekend.

Kate was no neophyte to mountaineering. Her Facebook page showed someone who had passion, skill, and quality gear for recreating in the mountains:

katemastrova

Photo from Facebook; previous tripkatecamp

Photo from Facebook; previous expedition

She was also quite bright. A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and the Haas School of Business, she must have had a solid head on her shoulders. So why did she attempt this exposed alpine traverse with this weather forecast?

From Mount Washington Observatory:

In the clouds with snow and blowing snow. White out conditions. High temps dropping to -20F. Winds NE shifting NW 45-60mph rapidly increasing mid-morning to 80-100mph with gusts up to 125mph. Wind chills 65-75 below zero.

Wind speed is not as much of an issue as wind direction when attempting to go above treeline in harsh weather. I have summited Washington with clients in conditions similar to these. The difference here is careful use of terrain to “block” yourself from these debilitating winds. In this case she most likely ascended “Valley Way” and once she broke tree-line had a 80+ mph wind at her back.

map-madison-adams

The “yellow” in this simplified map represents above-treeline. Only a few hundred yards in that direction could be hard to reverse in those conditions. Star Lake, the vicinity of which she was located, is just on the lee, or sheltered side of this alpine ridge. An escape out of the Great Gulf Wilderness, even with snowshoes, could be impossible with our current deep snow-pack. Around 3:30pm she activated a Personal Locator Beacon indicating distress, and that would be the last communication she would have with anyone.

I received the automated Mountain Rescue Service call at 4:58pm while driving home from our Crawford Notch field location. While I could not respond due to the commitments of the current avalanche course I knew fellow Mountain Rescue Service members and friends would be heading up the mountain that night. While I know they are all tough as nails I wished who ever went up would stay below tree-line, as the Sunday night forecast above treeline was one of doom.

At some point that night the rescue efforts were suspended until 8am the following morning. Fellow rescue service members took some footage of conditions the following day:

At some point Kate was located, lifeless, having succumbed to exposure. With heavy hearts, and probably cold hands, rescuers began the long process of bringing her down the mountain.

I intended to mention this tragedy within a post about the AIARE 2 Avalanche Course but this has consumed my thoughts over the last two days so this tragedy will consume this post. I’ll post up about the AIARE 2 Avalanche Course in a few days. In the mean time we need to reflect on how we live our lives. Balance of risk vrs. reward is subjective. I must tell myself Kate did not know what the weather forecast was for the day of her ambitious traverse attempt. With her experience and knowledge she should have known gaining this ridge in these conditions would be horrific.

Or maybe not. Our “little” mountain range has a long history of claiming both the seemingly ill-prepared as well as those who were quite prepared.

Did she overlook the forecast? It’s quite likely she didn’t see that day’s forecast given her departure time. Of particular note is the low Nor’ Easter that was the major weather maker during this period travelled 100 miles further southeast than anticipated.

This caused a shift in the predicted wind direction for Sunday from South shifting East on Saturday Night to East shifting North Sunday morning. If Kate was aware of the forecast from Saturday it may have been reasonable to move forward based on the expected winds coming from the East, as most of her route would have been more sheltered, but more importantly retreat back down the north side of the range would have been manageable. It is quite likely she did not have access to the updated forecast Sunday morning.

But why did she push on past the point of no return with the winds at her back? Making observations in real time should take precedence over predictions. Having a conservative plan to fall back on can help stem human factor issues that can cause us to push on when Mother Nature is doing her best to turn us around. Did summit fever play a role? Commitment? Did the Personal Locator Beacon provide a false sense of security? None of these questions are likely to be answered. But they are worth asking.

kate-matrosovalinkedinMy heart & thoughts are with Kate’s husband and family this week. While you can’t really get to know someone through Facebook & LinkedIn I feel this person was full of life, and made an untimely mistake that took all. I pray we all move forward in life pursuing our passions with a reasonable degree of zest, inhibition, and due-caution, as hard as balancing all those things can be…

90 thoughts on “A young climber perishes on Mt. Adams

  1. Thank you for this article. It puts a face and life to this tragedy and hopefully quiets some of the negative comments . As someone who lives in this town, the weather is very unpredictable ever changing

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  2. David Lottmann, thank you for your heartfelt analysis and compassion. We will never know Kate’s planning, preparation, true experience (perhaps her husband can lend some insight here), and decision making within her own crisis event that resulted in her passing. We have seen this scenario many times in these mountains. We know these mountains and there intricacies and sudden un-expectant weather changes. Even armed with all our knowledge and high tech equipment and technology we can succumb to one fatal mistake. Yet, I say, that those of us that have lived and played in the extremes of our beloved White Mountains know better than even the most experienced outsider when to say no and turn home to safety and the warmth of our loved ones. We have an edge on survival in these mountains but are not immune to disaster (yet, our odds our much better). These White Mountains and the Adirondacks, underestimated by many, prepare us very well for making good decisions in ranges we visit. I am not trying to sound brash or arrogant here…. but I look at our band of mountaineers who call these mountains home, who have exposed their selves to high risk in the greater ranges time and time again, and climbed and continue to climb into their senior years. Many of these tragic events are those who have planned for a specific weekend and will go hell or high water no matter how well equipped or experienced (the Gagne and UPS driver rescue/recovery on the Franconia Ridge come to mind). Some are brash A-types who think they are invincible and will face the teeth of death and survive (usually the young and foolish-Hugh Herr for one….though he more than payed back his brash adventure with his work in prosthetics). Then there are the ones who have no experience or deeper mountain sense who blindly march into harms way. Look at the history. It tells us a lot. The wise learn from these horrible outcomes. Even the wise are prone and can succumb to a trap they may never survive.However, their chances of survival are far greater, through hard won knowledge and experience. Some of us who know we have been on the brink of a crucial life or death decision know this. That is the allure and risk of climbing and mountaineering. What makes the difference between a Reinhold Messner or Doug Scott and their dead contemporaries? Kate’s decision to do this hike this weekend was clearly a very poor decision and overly ambitious. I doubt that there were many other hikers up there this past weekend and if there were they limited the scope of their objectives and turned back at tree line once they read the conditions on the ground. Mountain sense counts for so much. It is awful to see such a vibrant and intelligent human being lost in the prime of their life. My heart goes out to her loved ones. ….And I commend and greatly appreciate the unselfish commitment and sacrifice of the S&R Community and the outstanding leadership of NH Fish and Game. RIP Kate.

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  3. David, I want to thank you for such a gracious response to this very sad, tragic story. Your writing reflects a genuine kind and caring spirit. From your description above, I can see you have a ton of experience, and could easily sit there and criticize, as many others have done, yet you chose to take the highroad, cause others to think, but not tear down Ms. Matrosovo in the process. She seemed like a wonderful personthis unthinkable tragedy is very sad. Thank you for your humble spirit! Take care, and God bless.
    John Ryder
    Hollis, NH

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  4. David,

    Really nice writing, and some good insights. We were at IME as the MRS call came in; the look on Rick’s face gave a pretty good clue as to what the odds were. Kudos to all those who tried so valiantly to bring her back alive.

    -Chris

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  5. David this was a very thought provoking article that I’m still trying to get my head around. It seems that she had the skill, experience, gear and a good head on her shoulders to make the proper decisions. So why did she do it? or why did she continue on? Those are the questions that I want the answers to. The only thing that I have come up with is what Jamie said, I’ve got this trip planned and to hell or high water I’m doing it. It’s a brash decision one that I have made myself I just hope that we can all learn something here. Again great article and thoughtful responses.

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    • Good comments, Jamie. She was not in any way an experienced climber, however, nowhere near up to planning a solo trip, let alone undertaking it. She had no extreme climbing experience. A walk-up route on a big mountain, with professionals in the group, can be completed by complete novices. I would like to comment as well, after decades among other climbers and hikers, that it is only lack of experience and knowledge that creates “that moment” in which brash decisions and lack of mindfulness creates danger. Expert climbers do want to go home at the end of the trip and plan on it. This hiker did not. She didn’t have sufficient supplies and equipment for an emergency. Only a novice or someone on the extreme end of extreme experience would set out on a day tour in that fashion. And she was no extreme climber. Experience means safe decisions, none of which are shown by this hiker’s actions. The most experienced and capable climbers are safe on the mountain.
      Amateur climbers may also be tempted to misrepresent themselves and others.
      She was not a “Russian climber.” She was an occasional hiker from Palm Springs, Florida. I have to say this so that, perhaps, other novice climbers are not set up with high expectations by their friends to live up to an innacurate, outsized story. Hubris is deadly.

      Life is indeed precious. For that reason wilderness athletes need to observe one another more closely, listen more closely.

      I looked at the photos posted online. A show of some appropriate gear in some photos still does not prove ability, not a capacity to prepare, plan a route, nor solo. Seeing the photo of her roped up on a 5.3 face, and with that super tensed-up brow in spite of the rope and the easy grade, really made my heart go out to her. It gives us some clues. Calling her a Russian climber in spite of her real background – Florida and NYV – creates an appealing legend that is shed with actual hikes and climbs.

      It’s important to note that confusion, lack of experience, depression, substance abuse, many factors underlie the hubristic legends which lead to death on famous mountains.

      I’m speaking up because it’s really hard on rescuers to find and remove a dead body from the terrain that they themselves love and regard as homeland. It’s scarring and traumatizing, and the experience can reshape your own life as well as that of everyone around you. It’s also painful for those who knew and cared for her, even casually.

      I don’t think we should elevate and honor confusion and lack of adequate social support. If only she had had connections with mountaineering experts, checked in and shared her plans

      Harsh light is cast on the story, I know, but it’s a necessary comment, because troubled people, abused people, and alcoholics from all backgrounds, even financial and social privilege, can yearn for a eulogy of the kind posted above.

      The fantasy of bravery and addiction to challenge which likens the final, painful and frightening moments of any wilderness tourist playing with a deadly idea even before she gets into the car to drive to the mountain, with that of a world class climber does indeed lure others to the experience, not necessarily in your beloved mountains, and perhaps not for years to come. Respect for a life lost is one thing, but elevating the troubling aspects of this tragedy to that of a an unstoppable passion for climbing certainly does not apply to this sad event.

      This is a tragic story, not an honorable adventure. She was mistaken for a “Russian climber”, not who she really was at the time. Perhaps social pressures compelled her to live up to that rumor, that fiction.

      There’s a cautionary tale here. Friends who don’t want to see you for who you are can cost you your life.

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      • Could you please post some URL to the source of your information about her experience and planning? What do you mean by, she was not a “Russian climber”? She was Russian by heritage. The rescue team can be quoted from the Boston Globe article (link below) as saying she was properly equipped. I accept that as fact.

        I reserve judgment, except for the fact that the Higher Summit Report was absolutely dire, for an accident report that includes an interview with her husband and full forensic evaluation of data gathered by the rescue team, including an autopsy. She might have fallen and been injured etc.

        I see no new information online from which you could justify your rambling conclusions, feel free to correct me.

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      • http://northeastexplorer.com/wordpress/?p=1931

        Mike Cherim, a member of Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue’s Above Treeline Winter Team said:
        “But, outside from being out there, Matrosova seems to have done everything right. She probably did everything just about the way that we would have. She acted smart. She acted with courage and conviction.”

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      • I am inclined to reserve judgement as well.
        Matrosova came to the US in 2002 at age ~18. She was born in Omsk which is in southwestern Siberia where average lows Dec. – Feb. are subzero. She attended DePaul University in Chicago graduating in 2006. She then worked for JP Morgan in Chicago until January 2008. Matrosova was then in Florida from March 2008 to December 2012. Matrosova only moved to NYC in March 2014.
        To refer to her as someone from Florida/NYC is misleading given the comparatively short period of her life she spent there.

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  6. Pardon me for being an inarticulate writer but I saw this post and wanted to comment. I was taken in by this story because of a fascination with humanity facing difficult/life-threatening challenge, etc. I also work in New Hampshire LE so am familiar with some NH F&G officers and have participated in some very simple searches with them.
    Some people I know have commented on this lady and how “she put others in danger when they were forced to go help her”. First, without any knowledge of her I made the assumption that she was probably a hiker of some experience who would be prepared for the conditions at some level. It also occurred to me that she was a person of free will who made a decision to live her life on the edge. So be it. The tragedy of her death should not deter others from trying to LIVE a life. Some choose to sit on the couch while others risk it all. This young woman met her fate in a place she apparently loved to be or she wouldn’t have been out there. God bless her.

    Second and in regard to the people involved in the search. People choose lines of work or paths of service for their own reasons. That is what they do. The rescuers expect to encounter these situations and respond out of a need to BE THERE when the call comes. I cringe when people make comments like the one above and think to myself “You just don’t understand why they do that and never will”. Rescuers of every sort do these things out of a sense of duty and responsibility. If you get yourself in a spot and need help well then, dammit, there are people who will come for you. if you don’t want to do that then get back on the couch.

    Anyway, God speed Kate Matrosova and her family.

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  7. David, thank you for this very well written and sympathetic article. There has, of course, been much debate about this ever since the news came in that she was missing. Your article puts into words what I (and I suspect many of us) are feeling.

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  8. That was a very thoughtful and knowledgeable layout of this regrettable event. As an experienced outdoorsman with a wide range of skills familiar with the White Mountains, do you know people who have attempted the same solo winter hike as Ms Matrosova? Personally, what struck me the most about this account was the fact that she was alone.

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    • Thanks for your comment. Hiking alone & in winter is a powerful and often delightful experience. I know dozens of people who would attempt this route, myself included, under more forgiving conditions. I also think had she not been alone we may have dealt with a double fatality.

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      • Interesting perspective on this tragic event. Yes, winter hiking alone can be wonderful but requires an ability to accurately assess the dangers. Possibly if she had not been hiking alone a more accurate assessment of the dangerous conditions would have resulted in turning back before reaching the point of no return.

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      • Hi David,

        On the other hand, it is my experience while hiking the Whites that having two people seems to increase the chance that one will say “time to turn around” (my wife says this is why she brings me along!). This is another reason why hiking by yourself under such conditions is (how shall I say this) a very poor idea.

        Also the Mt. Washington weather forecast comes out around 5 am so easily could be accessed in the car with today’s modern electronic devices.

        I feel sorry for her husband but this is plain and simply something called the “expert syndrome”; that is, the expert who feels that the normal rules of mountain safety don’t apply to them. This is the cause of a surprising number of mountain tragedies.

        Also, how can someone be so unaware of the extreme dangers an accident or miscalculation will bring to potential rescuers … see above on expert syndrome.

        Tom

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  9. Your article was written with much empathy and sympathy. Noone will ever know what was going on in the mind of this woman. We only know the results.
    Hiking high peaks in the winter calls for common sense, fortitude, and a willingness to accept nature’s wrath even when our will pushes us forward.
    In my prayers is her family. Equally, though is my appreciation for the SARS groups that sacrafice their own lives to prevent these situations from coming to a tragic ending such as this one.
    From every tragedy comes the realization that we are not invincible. We are at the mercy of the mountains.

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  10. David, why are you saying that “Only a few hundred yards in that direction could be hard to reverse in those conditions?”
    Why can’t you move these “few hundred yards” backward?
    Descending that type of a slope backward seems reasonable to me.

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    • If you have walked in gusty 80+ mph winds you would know progress can be made with the wind, though it is quite difficult. Winds at the time she may have broke tree-line may have been even higher at her back. Turning around to face these types of winds has led quite a few climbers to unintentionally descending into lee areas. It’s the reason most people who get blasted off Mount Washington end up in the Dry River Wilderness. It’s almost a S&R joke “They always end up in Dry River” based on the reality of NW winds and how they can effect someone slightly disorientated. In this specific case, one could assume that after she crested the ridge the winds then ramped up to the 100-140mph range that was recorded. That ferocity would pin the strongest climbers down in the lee areas (Star Lake).

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      • HI David
        I think people should watch the video you attached to this post. It is a powerful statement that shows how ferocious the wind can be. Starting at about 20-30 seconds, you see rescuers in the background being knocked down and dragged by the wind.

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      • Thank you David.
        My original interpretation was that people moved in the direction of wind to prevent frostbites to open face.
        At the same time you are saying that they may not have enough physical strgength and traction to move against the wind. I never experiences such strong winds myself and never thought about such interpretation.

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  11. I wonder if she was carrying a GPS that might have been recording her track? The weather might have rendered it unreliable, but I’m incredibly curious just where all she went before she activated that rescue beacon. I can’t account for the time. For a healthy, experienced hiker with relatively lightweight gear, it sure isn’t a 9 hour tramp from Appalachia to Star Lake. I wonder if she got lost/disoriented in whiteout conditions and wandered around?

    This is just awful.

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  12. Well done David. My thoughts are with Kate’s family. Three cheers for the dedication and professionalism of the MRS and AVSAR folks who have been stepping up for decades now, regardless of the weather. As a caretaker emeritus at Gray Knob, I know that place very well, and always respected the power of the weather up there. Washington’s B-Day weekend has always been a good time to try a traverse. In good weather we have run around those summits mid winter, at midnight by full moon–then an amazing wonderland; and also have stumbled down to tree line buffeted and weary, the relentless cold and wind telling reminding us we are not infallible. To me, back in our Knob days, a day like that one was one to stay in the cabin, read a book, and maybe drink a Guinness or two. The mountains are always there and they will wait for you.

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  13. More on Makedonov’s question: remember, the force exerted by the wind scales by a square of the wind velocity (recall the drag equation). This means that going from a wind speed of, say, 60 mph and 80 mph, the force you’re experiencing is nearly doubled (6^2=36, 8^2=64!), and at 100 it would be nearly triple that of 60. For reference, a sustained 60-mph wind is about as much as most people could handle comfortably while hiking, and at 70 it becomes very difficult to walk upright. A 100-mph wind is the equivalent of a category 2 hurricane, and is capable of breaking large tree limbs or even trees. The point being, a sustained wind of 80mph with 100+ gusts is an absolutely life-threatening situation to find yourself in the mountains.

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    • As visual example; terminal velocity for a skydiver (wind sufficient to resist falling) in the standard “belly down” position is around 120mph.

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  14. Having over 50 ascents on Mt. Washington and its sister mountains, the one thing you need to have with you even in a day hike is a sleeping bag rated to -40 below. Even on an exposed ridge with winds over 100 mph and sub freezing temps, one can usually find boulders or krumholz to hide in/behind, to provide some wind respite, then burrow in your bag to warm up and sort things out. Sadly, even the most experienced hikers do not take sleeping bags on day hikes in the White Mountains and the results are sometimes tragic.
    .

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    • I don’t know if it’s necessary or reasonable to carry a -40 degree sleeping bag with you for a day hike. The thing is unwieldy and heavy. It’s also usually rare for temperature to actually drop that low, a good -10/-20 sleeping bag should be enough… Especially considering that you would normally have a puffy with you to add to the sleeping bag.

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      • In addition to a sleeping bag, you also need a sleeping pad and a bivy bag. The whole set would be really unwieldy.
        It seems to me that a puffy jacket with puffy pants and some wind protection should be sufficient (and less unwieldy).

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      • SLEEPING BAG OR NOT: It totally depends on the skill level. For the extreme athlete and, a fast, strong climber, one needs supplies to wait out weather trouble: out of the wind and bivvy and pad and lite stove and pot and some calories, fats, are far more essential than sleeping bag. Pad definitely, no sleepig bang. Hydration fights stress and cold.
        For the less experienced and/or more wary, when going solo please take an arctic bag. So what if you don’t have the lightest pack on record? Laugh about it.
        WEATHER: Since when do climbers just follow the weather report and not the sky? Weather changes all the time, so a window of low wind over a few hours can arrive late and also leave soon – or not happen at all! It’s called weather (whether!). It’s not a building code, not a traffic law. Weather is uncertain. If you don’t want to pack a sleeping bag, be prepared to accept that weather may change your plans.
        As for trying to have an influence on a stranger’s idea of adventure and preparation, that does save lives. It’s always a good idea to approach a stranger attempting an iffy adventure to check in and even talk them out of the plan.
        Twenty years ago on a crowded trail I saw a very strong man taking a break alone before resuming a pretty rigorous route. There was just something about his posture and stiff walk, his too-tight pack cutting below his arms, that gave me pause. He seemed to be under stress. Did he mean to continue that way putting all that strain on upper body and chest? I thought of going up to tell him to adjust it, but delayed, and then he was gone.
        Not twenty minutes later he collapsed on the trail. Cardiac arrest. I was there as he died. Too much pressure on his chest. If I had gone over and said hello to him and spoken up I would have saved the man’s life. It’s not noble and brave to make a simple mistake and just not know what you’re doing. Speaking up prevents tragedy. His death had nothing to do with doing what he loved most in the place that he loved most.
        Little lightweight people on solo need to stay off ridges where the wind blows down anyone above 140lbs. Small-shoudered climbers with no upper body strength and good shoulder mass can and do get blown down by gales and eve wobble on flat terrain at 50 mph – especially if they begin to experience even mild cold stress. That’s a fact that expertise can’t change. Nothing to be ashamed about. Cold stress affects balance and clear thinking.
        Novices may compare their inflexibility, including blind trust in weather forecast and technology and even local route info to what world class climbers feel. But it’s a mistake. Experts adapt.
        The top climbers are the safest to be with on a mountain.

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  15. Too often, I hear that a PLB leads to risk-taking. Let me offer my personal countervailing view. I take a PLB when solo, or in winter, or when planning a trip off trail. It’s not to call the cavalry if I get in trouble – if they should happen to arrive, that’s an unexpected side benefit, but I don’t expect that I’ll be rescued. It’s for the sake of you and your colleagues. By far the most costly and dangerous part of any SAR operation, as I’m sure you’re aware, is the search. Once the subject is found, you can make do with many fewer personnel and you’re evacuating on a known path. So I want to help you as much as possible, and lighting a PLB gives you a head start on finding where I went down.

    I’d much rather that you all didn’t risk your lives on my account – but I know that I don’t get to make that choice. If I don’t come back, you’re coming after me, because it’s what you do. I try very hard not to have the accident that would make me the subject of your activation – but if the worst happens, I will light the PLB, less in hopes of rescue than in hopes it will make the recovery – which you’ll do whether I want it or not – less risky and laborious.

    I write this from the perspective of a man whose family history includes a mountain disappearance. The body of my step-grandfather was never found, despite a multi-hundred-person search effort over a period of months. I surely don’t want to do that to any SAR organization!
    http://dftscript.blogspot.com/2014/11/2014-11-02-north-dome-pilgrimage-or.html

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  16. Thank you for this excellent post. My party spent the weekend at the RMC Gray Knob Cabin and attempted to summit Mt. Adams via the Lowe’s Path on Saturday. The conditions were in hospitable and we were forced to turn back at Thunderstorm Junction. Fortunately, we made it back to the safety and warmth of the cabin. When we were driving back to North Conway on Sunday, we couldn’t believe the snow blowing off the mountain and thought there is no way anyone could survive in those conditions. Little did we know, someone was trying.

    We used the Lowe’s Path, and did not encounter Ms. Matrosova. I wish we had, perhaps we could had dissuaded her from continuing; however, there in no sense in replaying “what-if” scenarios. Kudos to the rescue team that recovered her, they put themselves into harm’s way to help a stranded hiker and deserve our utmost respect.

    The mountains were here before us, and will be here after us: turn around when conditions are poor and live to climb again.

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  17. I’ve seen no mention of AMC Madison Hut cellar open and available to all which looks like Ms. Matrosova went right by. Perhaps she did not see it in a white out? A sad and tragic event. My condolences to her family. Looking for comments on this. Thanks.

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    • I am only aware of the Lakes in The Clouds Hut emergency “dungeon” as it is referred to. I personally have no knowledge about a similar opportunity at Madison Hut, but if one was to crest the ridge in those winds getting back to Madison Hut could be improbable, despite how close it would be.

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      • Thank you for your response. I personally had the pleasure of the last overnight of the season at Madison Hut this past Fall. I believe it was stated the cellar was still available after the building was closed. I think it would be worthwhile to investigate this with the AMC, because if it still is useable and available, the word could be spread verbally and written so as to have this as a known sanctuary for emergencies such as this one. By the way, the hut is at the beginning where you crest the ridge from Valley Way, practically right on the trail within a few feet !

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      • I’m not sure I agree. The presence of shelters above treeline often lures climbers higher when the best course may be retreat. Even reaching these “basement” shelters if one doesn’t have a -30 degree sleeping bag and stove survival may be challenging. I’ve heard stories of people getting trapped at Lakes in the Clouds.

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    • Chris Clifton – With all due respect, people who do mountain rescue in the Whites don’t need to be told where the huts are. Dave is giving a lesson in his reply, notices for shelters, like locator beacons, provide false security. A hiker in this situation has to be prepared with what they have in their pack.

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    • The Madison Hut “dungeon” is caged up. Your only protection there is on the back side of the hut, and you are right, I stumbled right by it one time in a white out and i knew it was there ! Luckily “my gut” told me that I went too far past it from the “Valley Way” and turned back. It can happen to anyone. God bless her soul……

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  18. David, thanks for your compassion, clarity and insight. There’s an essential quality to your experience and your ability to describe this woman’s death in perspective as a terrible tragedy. I share the questions you’ve raised and am particularly sensitive to the 5 am start and the (approximately) 3:30 pm signal and what might have happened to her in that time period that she had moved only a few miles. Your 2/19-7:50 am entry is probably an accurate description of what happened to Kate. From all accounts she was an extraordinary person. Reminds me of Frosts “We love the things we love for what they are”.

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  19. David, I meant to send this last week. Thank you very much for your post. I was saddened and appalled at the arm chair critics who were just plain mean spirited and in many cases not knowing what they were talking about. Your hypothesis about not knowing the shift in weather makes a lot of sense. A terrible tragedy for a fellow mountaineer. I cannot thank you enough for your knowledge, compassion and understanding. You are a great credit to mountaineering.

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    • It’s a kindly way of suggesting she had an excuse, but in fact I posted the higher summit report below. Nobody should decide to hike alone in triple digit wind expecting to go 18 miles at -30F. It’s indefensible from my pov and a risk to search teams. This was not a large powerful person either.

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  20. I was up late Sat 14th and checked the Higher Summits Report for Sunday off of the Mt Wash observatory around midnight. I emailed it to a friend because it was so dire, this is most of it:

    “As low pressure moves offshore tonight, the strengthening system will continue to produce exceptional winds ripping through New Hampshire from the north. Temperatures will be the coldest of the season thus far with wind speeds becoming sustained in the triple digits. This movement will drive the influx of cold Arctic air moving in from the northwest, producing extremely cold temperatures and producing wind chill values near 100 below.
    With severe conditions expected from summits to the valleys, hiking will be extremely risky Sunday through Monday and hiking above tree line is strongly discouraged. If search and rescue needs arise, help will be slow going or postponed until conditions improve. All SAR assistance if needed will have to come from below, as summit staff will not be able to assist in any way, shape, or form. A single injury will potentially put several lives at risk not just your own. Additionally, driving to locations will be risky with whiteout conditions expected along roadways and possible downed tree limbs in areas. Hiking in the woods will also have the risk of falling limbs or trees. Blowing snow will also be limiting vis in all areas of the state too. And as previously mentioned, frostbite and hypothermia risks will be present statewide. This means that if goggles whip off your head in the winds, you run a high risk of injury.”
    ~~~
    I’d like to learn otherwise, but I question that this young woman was a wise/experienced hiker. She seems to have multiplied risk factors, rather than set herself up for success. Alone, in that weather, and if reports are correct, planning an unrealistic 18 miles, with the worst exposure coming at the end of the day when she would be most tired. The chances for catastrophic problems in this scenario are so high they must have either been ignored, or she was unaware or them, neither scenario speaks to wise travel above treeline.

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    • https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/02/21/the-young-woman-and-mountain/SEBPucaGpA1Fun4R5uoj7K/story.html says:

      1. “My first thought was that it was really inappropriate for anybody to be up there,” said Max Lurie, 28, who responded to the second Mountain Rescue Service call and began his ascent around 10:30 Sunday night.

      2. “It was negligent for her to be up there,” Lurie said.”

      3. “Her decision clearly speaks to her inexperience,” Lurie said.

      4. “It was cold — one of the coldest nights of the year — and the wind was howling,” Lurie said. “I don’t go up there when there are conditions like that.”

      Thank goodness the Globe story does not mince words and pander. There is an alarming amount of kindly excuse making going on in commetns and in other reports, the sort of dreamy analysis (victim of unforeseen events) that gets more people killed.

      The Daily Mail of London had a large photo spread. Because it’s a tabloid it included an irrelevant photo of Ms Matrosova in a towel. This turns out to be useful, because we can see she was quite petite (surely under 125lbs) ie not the powerful person physically you need to be to fight your way against triple digit winds. One more risk multiplier, unfortunately.

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      • While much of what Max said could be true, I’d argue that even if it is, “dreamy analysis” does not get “more people killed”. Lack of education/experience might. Pointing out errors in a tragedy isn’t as effective as positive education when it comes to high-risk sports, un-protected sex, or drug use. And claiming her petite stature had any effect on her ability to survive is quite a stretch. I’d introduce you to former EMS Guide & Mountain Rescue Service Veteran Sara Reeder who could hold her own in any “walk in nasty wind” contest. Being smaller, and fit, can actually help you move in high winds, but this isn’t the place for a lesson in aerodynamics. When it comes to triple digits winds… size does not matter.

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      • Had Ms Mastrosova been privy to Max Lurie’s advice, she’d be alive today. He did not address whether more experience would have given her what she needed at the time to survive, he said experience would have stopped her from doing what she was trying to do. You can’t be “wrong” about that. If this woman had asked you whether she should do this hike, what would your advice have been?

        I stand on the Higher Summit Report’s advice as enough for any hiker of sufficient caution to have punted her planned day. Had I been on the scene when she was dropped off, my conscience would have compelled me to interfere to see if they were aware of the weather prediction, and then demand she not go.

        I never say criticism is more valuable than for-pay safety education or compare the two. But in fact, more people will read popular reports of this accident than attend all the safety training held this year. Soft pedaling disasters of any sort after the fact should be associated statistically with more disasters, that’s how statistics work in large population sets, to the best of my understanding.

        Did you see the photo I mention? She was not, “athletically” built in fact she had little muscle definition. At any rate, I simply suggested that her apparent strength was a possible, “risk multiplier.” That is not a stretch. Strength like willpower can be all the difference, and more is always better than less. As for aerodynamics, I certainly hope she was not carrying that mainsail she has on her back in the photo.

        ~~~

        I would be interested to read the final evaluation of this accident, by whatever organization publishes these things (American Alpine Club?) If you happen to know where I might look for such a report, I’d appreciate the reference.

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      • My advice would have been sample the winds at treeline and turn back. I’ve done that at least 5 times this winter, and 30+ times in the last 6 or 7 years. It would not have been “Don’t leave the parking lot”. Demand she don’t go? Regardless of the weather forecast heading up to treeline can be a very valuable lesson in how and why to turn around. There will be no “final” evaluation that will add any more then the Boston Globe article or what has been reported so far.

        There is no ruling court that is going to cast its final judgement on Ms. Mastrsova, at least not one of this world. If you are truly interested in reading reports though, I would highly suggest you join the American Alpine Club and review the annual publication of “Accidents in North American Mountaineering”. I have read each annual report going back to 1946. I was happy to purchase a collection of these from a collector years ago.

        http://www.americanalpineclub.org/p/anam

        Reading just the last few years should be enough to realize Ms. Mastronova is not alone in making a bad decision that cost her her life. I’m not arguing that she didn’t make a mistake. I’m arguing we are all fallible.

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      • Hiking to expect to turn back at treeline seems reasonable, except that she’d have no car when she returned.

        You tack a “?” onto my “demand” (as I put it) that she not go. From my point of view I’d suffer no loss being either wrong or unwelcome in such advice, and I’d be sleeping better the rest of the week for it whether or not she made it. I consider it being a good Samaritan, based on what I read in the higher summit forecast as -100F wind chill.

        As I understand it there may be a useful “final evaluation” available, most likely via data submitted by the rescue team and interview of her husband, to a body such as the AAC (I am familiar with their accident reporting thank you, I still wanted your advice on the subject.)

        There is every reason to believe enough evidence will be gathered to make a substantial forensic evaluation of the nature of this accident in real terms that will benefit other hikers. It may be a confluence of circumstances, like opportunity and excitement plus a missed weather report. She and her husband might have talked about the danger or we may find they were unaware. A detail of note is that her beacon was not rated for the temperatures at the site, which may be why the first rescue party was misdirected. The wind direction change, as you note, may play a part in a final report.

        Human fallibility is inarguable. If judgments can be made they must be made in the only world there is, this world. Thanks for the conversation.

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    • I completely agree with this post. I have several decades of back country experience, which means as well the experience of knowing and meeting many who venture into the back country and aim to have extreme experiences. It also means knowing my own limits and when to push them, if that’s the point of an adventure. Most of the time I am really just on a quest for exquisite beauty and the joy of being alive.
      Last weekend the plan was a trip to the Whites for some solo nordic skiing. Looking at the weather, not to mention witnessing the snow drifts and wind firsthand, I did what any mindful winter athlete would: I chose to do something else.
      Wearing the right gear does not mean a hiker is experienced. A photo of a person roped in on a 5.3 face – looking extremely nervous – would indicate the opposite of readiness.
      My heart went out to this young woman when I saw that photo. There’s more to say but family and friends are grieving.
      I’m posting this comment in the midst of gentle, ennobling elegies because of a greater interest in preventing death than in elevating a terrible tragedy to the glorified vision of someone dying doing what she loved. The kid was only 27. She probably loved doing many things.
      Let us please save some lives, both of victims and grieving survivors. When someone wants to go solo and challenge herself, friends need to take a close look, listen in, and also follow the weather themeselves, especially if the adventurer is unaccustomed to the region’s winter season.

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      • Not everyone is an expert who happens to live in the locality of the mountains, and has “decades of experience” as you claim. To say someone’s mistake is not being in their 50s, with a lifetime of experience is absolutely ridiculous.

        It is even more ridiculous to assume friends and family would have enough understanding of some far off mountain range they never heard of, or that the husband would be a more experienced mountaineer than she was to advise her in any way.

        Obviously the best thing to do is to prevent further tragedies, but to point the finger at people who could not possibly be expected to be experts in how weather patterns effect climbs in the White Mountains is an example of “Hindsight is 20-20” to the extreme and frankly not helpful.

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  21. The hiker’s ambitious goal for President’s Day was to bag all the summits up to Mount Washington north-to-south solo, and then come down the Ammonoosuc Trail.
    She came up to the Madison Hut just a bit behind schedule. Even took the side trail to bag the summit of Madison. But coming out on the ridgeline along Mount Adams she got clobbered with the predicted weather from the north: minus 20 degrees, and 75+ mph winds. Not even close to getting past Adams around Jefferson over Clay and up to Washington, she turned around — too late. 3 p.m. realizing she was in trouble, she activated her emergency beacon — never made it back to Madison Hut alive dying right up on there the Adams ridgeline.
    I can see that happening: having an aggressive plan… not wanting to miss bagging the first peak… getting behind schedule… starting up the ridgeline with the wind behind you… then getting far up the ridgeline realizing no way you are going to make Washington no less get down off the mountain… turning around only to face an oncoming blizzard much worse than you expected… making little progress and activating the emergency beacon… and then just being stuck up there — a victim of confidence, capability, and unaware that this time might be different than what you successfully handled in the past.
    When I think of my trekking hardships they are due to the same thing: primarily not realizing the extent of the challenge before me, not recognizing the turning back point, and something that happens (unfortunately after the turning back point) that was unexpected and defeats me — a bigger than expected mountain, a missed way-point, or simply not taking the time to read the map carefully (you make up the reason — too cold, too dark, not enough time, or just too lazy to dig out the map) and taking a wrong turn.
    Fortunately, my skill level and thrill point is a low bar. So I end up coming off the mountain after dark (sometimes I remember my headlamp) or spending a chilly, summer night uncomfortably outdoors. Though I understand how those smarter and more fit than me die out there.

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  22. I see three comments by me in this thread – an error. The very first was not posted for several days, and why I posted the next two in its place. I assumed the omission was because was my first remarks perhaps seemed “too soon” and critical of Ms. Matrovska, not my intention. My topic is us, “people who know better.”
    Here are my responses to some remarks.
    –It is possible to save lives and decrease rescues when we learn to ignore irrelevant but charming details (born in Siberia) and instead check in and listen to the actual plan and ascertain with impartilaity, the circumstances by which someone plans any solo adventure that will involve risk.
    –Some women and smaller framed men possess measurable biomechanical advantages over larger framed men due to the slightly higher muscle-bone ratio typical of shorter muscle-bone development in females. Small women can be much stronger climbers than big guys if they develop sufficient upper body strength, however conditioning for this is a greater challenge for women. As far as gaining skills to climb, balance, and resist being knocked around in a big wind there’s no simply substitute for actual experience. That being said, how can anyone suggest that, by virtue of their similar small size, Ms. Matrovsa’s ability to negotiate terrain, cold, and high winds compares that of a (presumably) experienced mountain rescue guide? I don’t know why anyone would leave experience and conditioning out of the comparison. Siberian dreams again?
    –Whatever compels a person to take deadly risks may have little to do with a legendary passion for wilderness and outdoor experience, or symptoms of summit fever. Rather the desire could be related to substance abuse or other personal difficulties.
    –Understandably some adventurers will elevate their experience of the back country and this woman’s tragic end with references to Messner or Mallory’s sacrifice on Everest, for that matter. And why not? On the other hand, I think we always have the opportunity to educate the public and save lives by referencing McCandless.
    –Ms. Matrovska very likely cared for many other things besides hiking. Given the planning and execution of this adventure, to me she comes across as an enthusiast, not a pro.
    I would like the moderator to remove my first comment which was posted after three days’ delay, as the second and third elaborate its meaning, thank you.

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    • Ironically the topic is errors of judgement. Optionally you might have used “reply” to post a SHORT note to the post you wish to disown, rather than compounding the effect of it, with this ramble.

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    • Moderator, on second thought, I request that you leave all of my comments on this post. They are more informative than I expected. Thank you!

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      • After rescuers recovered the body of hiker Kate Matrosova on Mount Adams last week, several gathered together to share deep feelings about the incident with one another. The death of Matrosova in extremely cold and windy conditions was terribly tragic. But, as people who love spending time in the White Mountains, perhaps what the rescuers found most unnerving about the incident was that in Matrosova – being trapped alone in the mountains, desperate, afraid – they could see themselves.

        “It scares the hell out of all of us,” says Mike Cherim, a member of Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue’s Above Treeline Winter Team.

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      • Saw this at http://www.wingsdailynews.com/tag/kate-matrosova/ but should be treated as unconfirmed:

        “The email was from a family member of Kate Matrosova thanking me for being truthful about her and for defending her. I will not include the email in its entirety because it is confidential. Here are some additional facts about Kate:

        Kate has climbed four summits (McKinley, Elbrus, Kilimanjaro, and Aconcagua) as well as many other 15-25k ft mountains, and had the very best gear that is available. She has done this mountain (White Mountains) range before in the winter, about a month ago and had no problems. Most of her free time over the last 5 years had been spent climbing difficult mountains and training. She has run many marathons and could not have been in better physical condition. She was also the number 2 ranked female for Judo in the USA for her age group.”

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      • I’m becoming more intrigued about this humble, brilliant, wildly adventurous woman. What a heck of a loss!
        She had a good mind, respect of peers, education, accomplishment, money, marriage, a sense of play, and a thirst for experience on the world scene.
        Sports federations: she belonged to a judo club, thus she could join its affiliate tournament organization. IJF. IJF events are not the highest ranking championships by country. They are privately funded. IJF’s ongoing intl. competitions are at the amateur level and higher.
        There are multiple masters and champion categories by experience, weight and age class. In fact IJF members compete at various ranks – green, red belts – not just black belt
        She might have been top green belt competing in May 2012. And why not? I think this is still a fabulous attainment in its own right. There was much more to living for this young woman than nabbing that corner office with gold-filled fixtures in the powder room.
        The four mountains mentioned in her relative’s email to the sweet-tongued blogger are among the four easiest big ascents in the world. Even Denali. All are fairly uncomplicated trips to plan and offer famously nontechnical walk-ups.
        For anyone who is aerobically fit and who takes a week or two to acclimate at 7-9K before a moderate higher ascent, the insidious, cloying, damp cold of the White Mountains is by far more uncomfortable and difficult to withstand than working with a breathlessness at altitude in wonderfully noninvasive dry air.
        Denali is different from the other three in that it’s more difficult to reach – a strict flight schedule, landing area is on glacier, weather uncooperative. I has a few lower summits to climb and the grand peak has a walk up route, Two lower summits are accessible to the awesomely inexperienced at about 13-14K. Compared to the humid cold of the Presidential Range, thin dry air at twice the altitude is light and energizing as champagne.
        Taking on the Whites in foul weather would be much more forebearing and inscrutable than a great big no-brainer like Anacon and Kilimanjaro.
        Matrosova’s choice to visit the world’s easiest big peaks seems to fill in the puzzle a little more. Why not bag the easiest big mountains on every continent? She must have been so much fun to know.

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      • We all have an internet connection. You will at some point need to end your furious research and reposting, & get a life.

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  23. I think someone ought to find out how much experience she really had, and either way it will be a useful, powerful lesson for others. That is, either –even a person who climbed K2 a half dozen times can get into trouble, or –spending a few thousand bucks at REI doesn’t turn you into a mountaineer. Some version of one of these (probably toned down as I chose two extremes) is likely the truth, and I think it would be a powerful lesson to the appropriate audience. If the reporters didn’t find out, I am not sure if we’ll ever know though.

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    • I believe there will be an accident report, although I an not an insider. They’ll interview her husband, have all the details from what they found where she died (for all we know she had a fall,) investigate her background, and come up with conclusions. If you read these comments, you will find this issue discussed.

      These are sometimes published in American Alpine Club. In general it’s way too close to the accident to ask for conclusions.
      http://www.americanalpineclub.org/p/anam

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  24. This post of yours Neal is right on target: “what the rescuers found most unnerving about the incident was that in Matrosova – being trapped alone in the mountains, desperate, afraid – they could see themselves. ‘It scares the hell out of all of us,’ says Mike Cherim, a member of Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue’s Above Treeline Winter Team.”

    Beyond empathy and curiosity, thus the desire for details of the tragedy and the profusion of postings: either distancing ourselves from this outcome saying, “I’m not like that.” or identifying with the sequence of events and concluding, “Holy Moly, that could be me!”

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  25. When I heard about this tragic incident a week ago, it bothered me a lot. It is easy to say that “You should have been more careful,” or “You should never put yourself in that situation.” Yes, I fully agree to all those remarks. But from time to time, we pushed ourselves a little further and got into uncomfortable situations. Walking away from somewhat serious danger, you might have said to yourself that ” I should not have done this,”, especially if you are a serious hiker. At least that’s my experience.

    Having say this, what’s bothering me all along is, “How can I save myself in that situation?” Very experienced David shoot down most my conceivable options in his responses above. Still I would not give up; I may crawl to Madison Hut, if I have strength left or dig in under snow. South side of the Adams ridge should have enough snow depth for dig in. Is it feasible?

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    • From previous David’s response I got a perception that a wind was so strong that Kate was not able to move against it.
      However after a few days of thinking about it I noticed an inconsistency.
      On Sunday night and on Monday (when the wind was even stronger) quite a few SAR members were able to walk there almost normally.
      It seems to me that Kate should have been able to return to the Madison Hut unless she was severely injured or severely hypothermic.
      It seems to me that the wind in that area was significantly slower than reported by Mt. Washington Observatory and was not as bad as was implied by previous comments.

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      • Another nagging question, at least to me, was where had she been between 12:00 pm and 3:30 pm? The GPS track indicated, according to the Boston Globe report, she had never made to Adams. This might suggest that trail condition was really bad and/or she was totally exhausted very quickly. Either way not a good sign.

        I calculated the 100 MPH wind dragging force, came out around 25 – 40 pounds per sq. ft, depending on your body position. It’s probably manageable if you hunker down your body. 150 MPH would be around 56 – 90 pounds per sq. ft. Digging into snow might be the only option in this case.

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  26. I bailed on my Mt Lafayette climb yesterday. I was sitting in my hotel room looking at the forecast questioning whether or not I could make the summit. When I saw a news article about Kate that I had saved on my desktop and I decided to bail. The mountains are beautiful and they are my home. However they will always be there and you can always come back. In other words sometimes you need to turn around. https://andrewubaldi.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/turn-around-or-die/

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  27. Wow Mona. Way to be a crappy version of human. Kate was a delight of a person and everyone thought so. That is what she leaves behind. And you get this comment section. What would make a person leave these comments regarding a tragic death? My guess is depression or substance abuse.

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  28. The fact that we’re filled with compassion and empathy for her and her family doesn’t change the fact that this was suicide – suicide that also endangered a bunch of other people. I’ve lost a couple dear friends to suicide, this is how it feels afterwards.

    Just take a walk up from Pinkham Notch any weekend day and you’ll see lots of NYC’s wealthy patrons in all their finery. I will withold my true feelings on these folks and their attitudes, suffice it to say It’s a miracle we don’t lose more every year. Fortunately the Presis gather them all into one place.

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    • I’m allowing this post as I hate censorship, but I’ll strongly disagree with you on a few points. First, suicide, is a deliberate act to ends one life. Kate’s actions were FAR from intentionally trying to end one’s life, and comparing this to suicide, especially when you’ve lost people to it, shows you know little about how climber’s value life.

      Second, “endangered a bunch of other people”… those people are all VOLUNTEERS, myself included. Many of them solo climb ice climbs hundreds of feet long because they love the joy of moving through the mountains unencumbered and in control. She only endangered herself with her actions. The volunteers who went looking for her knew the risks, and chose to accept them as she was a fellow climber, regardless of wealth, background, social status… she was out there to enjoy the mountains.

      Kate had a zest for life, and her “go get it” personality may have been detrimental in her decisions this day, but “suicide” this was not.

      I don’t want to get into a long debate about things like “acceptable risk”, which is a very personal thing. Your definition of suicide would probably cover me for the amount of un-roped solo ice climbing I have done, but we don’t see the mountains though the same filter.

      Everyone one, even the “NYC’s wealthy patrons in all their finery” has an equal right to “Freedom of the Hills”, which to me means you are allowed to learn some lessons the hard way and you might just end it all if to reckless…

      I don’t see much “withholding true feelings” on your part, but a tremendous amount of casting stones. If you are a climber, reflect on what the sport means to you. It is a huge part of who you are. Risk is everywhere in life. In the words of Helen Keller “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all”… for climbers this holds quite true… For armchair critics, not so much…

      I’m sorry you feel this kind of loss is the same as suicide… and sorry you’ve had to deal with that kind of loss as well.

      Like

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