Thursday, December 21, 2006

Winter in the mountains

Besides being the Unattended Space Heater Sparks Deadly Fire season, now is also the time of year for adventurers to perish in some godforesaken gully on a snowbound mountainside.

The usual responses to the missing-climber stories are two: What a tragedy for the family! and What a bunch of idiots!

The current high-profile iteration involves three men, one of whom has been found dead, on Mount Hood, Oregon's tallest mountain.

My line of work makes me leery of labeling deaths "tragedies" willy-nilly. Many untimely deaths are indeed tragic, but I don't think this counts. Three men, doing something they wanted to, something inherently dangerous, die (assumably, in the parlance of one of my little sisters) on their way down the mountain. Sad maybe, but tragic?

The bunch-of-idiots depends. Reports during this whole fiasco suggest the trio tried for a fast-and-light ascent of the mountain, which is mountaineer code for "We're sure we'll make it, so we're not taking enough gear to be safe." The pretend explanation tendered to worried spouses, etc., is that traveling light is really safer because you're less encumbered and can make good your escape with greater speed.

I'm no expert, but I have done a few fast-and-light hikes in places dangerous enough to kill a fool, or a person less lucky than myself. But never when the weather was anything but sunny and warm, and never in such a godforesaken place.

At least they made it to the top before disaster struck. It must have been quite the view.


lulu said...

I think I wrote a post about space heater fires a while ago, I can't remember if I did it, or just thought about it, and I am too lazy to try to search it out.

Small unattended children dying in easily prevented space heater fires is sad certainly, but it isn't news. Why does it rate 5 minutes in the local news at least twice a week this time of year?

Johnny Yen said...

As much as I feel sorry for anyone dying unnecessarily, especially if they had families, it sounds like these cats were candidates for the Darwin Awards.

MWR said...

Here's a satellite photo from the day they set out. I can't interpret it, but it doesn't look wholly benign.

The irony to me is that if the three of them had stayed together in a single snow cave for as long as the James Kim family stayed in their car, they might well all have survived and been rescued.