Last week I caught a program on NHPR’s Exchange centered on this high profile 2015 White Mountain climber fatality. My connection to this story started with a Mountain Rescue Service call-out on the late afternoon of February 15th, 2015 when I was driving home from teaching an AIARE Avalanche Course. My commitments to the on-going course would prevent me from responding to the call-out but I would follow the rescue attempt carefully over the next 48 hours and shortly after post this blog post about the outcome and my initial thoughts.
This tragedy would go on to capture the attention of the national media and local interest and has now been brought back into the limelight with the publication of this book, Where You’ll Find Me; Risk Decisions, and the Last Climb of Kate Matrosova.
I received the book from Amazon this past Monday and by Thursday I had carved out enough time to read it cover to cover. I want to dive into a bit more detail about this take on the well publicized story rather than just say this is a “must read”.
The author, Ty Gagne, points out this particular rescue attempt gathered a lot of media attention for multiple reasons. First there was the real-time media engagement of an active search and rescue attempt occurring during a well forecasted “perfect storm.” Second was the victim seemed to not fit the typical “flat-lander” stereo-type that causes some in the north country to quickly cast blame on those who end up floundering a bit in the mountains. She was equipped with high end gear and clothing and multiple electronic safety devices… so what went wrong?
In an eloquent and respectful way Ty manages to walk us through Kate’s back-ground, planning, and finally execution of what would be Kate’s last mountain adventure. Having summited a few of the tallest peaks in the world many perceived she had a lot of experience, however through careful retrospection it becomes clear that her previous mountain achievements were mostly guided ventures, allowing someone with more experience and local knowledge to make critical go/no go decisions. For all intents and purposes it appears this was her first non-guided high risk adventure…yet as Ty documents she was quite meticulous about her planning.
Much of this book however was not actually about Kate but about those who work tirelessly on search and rescue. Some are paid state employees while most are volunteers from all walks of life. Ty is able to describe multiple timelines from these heroes and their own struggles while Kate’s epic unfolds in a clear and engaging manner from start to sad finish. This re-telling from multiple perspectives is well done but he goes beyond simply just saying what happened when and to whom…
Throughout the book Ty instructs the reader on the incredibly complex topic of “risk management”. This should be easy for Ty as his career is in corporate risk management, but the way he converts high risk corporate strategy to what we do in the mountains is quite amicable. He draws upon lessons from multiple walks of life from high stakes corporate decisions to the most current recreational avalanche safety and mitigation theory. The reader is left with no choice but to think more intentionally about how they manage their own risk whether planning a solo hike in the White Mountains or a day cragging with friends, we are all left with the reminder that nature is indifferent in her response to our often very personal decisions.
Ty has done an excellent job researching and presenting this tragic event in a very respectful yet honest manner. For those who have read and enjoyed the acclaimed “Not Without Peril” this is another “must read” for your library. We can all learn something from Kate’s story and Ty’s re-telling of it is a powerful and fitting tribute to her final mountain adventure.