Hypothermia prevention...horrible story on Ozark trail
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James Verlander
(jimver) - F
Hypothermia prevention...horrible story on Ozark trail on 01/14/2013 08:24:46 MST Print View

I read a horrible story about a father and two sons age 10 and 8 hiking on the Ozark trail over the weekend. Having two sons that I often hike with, this scares me more than anything.

The family starts off at 10:30am temp around 60 degrees. By 2pm it is raining and at some point they miss the trail turnoff and temps start to drop as rain continues. Search party heads out around 7pm but called off around midnight. One son had a fleece, the other only a sweater. The three are found Sunday morning but too late.

I can't imagine such a tragedy to a family but what can be learned? What preparation would have prevented this? What possibly could the father have done considering the situation?

EDIT with link to story: http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/father-two-sons-from-millstadt-die-on-ozark-hiking-trail/article_3083ef0f-ed8c-562a-ac13-32875df04085.html

Edited by jimver on 01/14/2013 08:26:38 MST.

Ryan Smith
(ViolentGreen) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: Hypothermia prevention...horrible story on Ozark trail on 01/14/2013 10:52:51 MST Print View

A check of the weather forecast would have been beneficial. Even with the 30 degree drop in temperature, some rain gear would have most likely saved their life. With that said, it's still a tragedy no matter the circumstances that led to their death.

Ryan

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife

Locale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge
Hypothermia prevention...horrible story on 01/14/2013 11:24:10 MST Print View

The "Ten" Essentials (originally, I believe, developed by the Seattle Mountaineers) include enough extra clothing (insulation and rain gear) to stay warm and dry if caught out overnight. Maybe not comfortable, but warm enough to avoid hypothermia. That was obviously lacking in this case. Excellent article on the essentials here:
http://www.backpacking.net/ten-essl.html
Note that skills in using these "essentials" are also important! A map is useless if you don't know how to use it!

Certainly for a trip of 2 days or less, checking the weather forecast just before leaving is extremely important. The same-day forecast would certainly have revealed the oncoming cold front. Of course, unexpected weather can happen, especially on longer trips as the pre-trip forecast becomes less and less current. In some areas (such as the Pacific NW mountains) the local weather can go from a sunny warm day to cold, damp fog and drizzle in a very short time, due to strictly local conditions which are not forecast. That's why it's a good idea to be prepared anyway!

Sheltering and building a fire might have helped, but probably not with the rain and lack of waterproof clothing. Certainly the general lack of experience displayed by going out unprepared and possibly poor navigation means that the father could probably not have kept a fire going with wet wood anyway. Skills such as navigation and fire-building with wet wood are best practiced at home or while car camping, before they are needed.

This is not the first group to end in tragedy due to lack of preparedness, and unfortunately it won't be the last. My heart goes out to the family! However, we can learn from their example.

For your own family, take those "essentials" and practice your skills! Teach them to your children, as my father did to me!

Edited by hikinggranny on 01/14/2013 11:30:05 MST.

Ian B.
(IDBLOOM) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Blizzard Bags on 01/14/2013 12:33:19 MST Print View

This sad story punctuates the reason I am going to buy each of my immediate family members a blizzard bag as part of their day hike gear.

Very sorry for their loss.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Hypothermia prevention...horrible story on Ozark trail on 01/14/2013 13:05:25 MST Print View

"at some point they miss the trail turnoff"

When you're going someplace, constantly look back the way you came and plan your return

Easy to enthusiastically go forward, but on the return things look different so it's easy to miss a turn

Maybe this would have helped in this case

James Verlander
(jimver) - F
RE on 01/14/2013 13:09:24 MST Print View

At what point when you realize things are going really, really bad do you stop and hunker down for the night? I guess I would build a debris hut and try to start a fire but I'm not sure how much rain they had received.

Jeremy B.
(requiem) - F - M

Locale: Northern California
Re: Hypothermia prevention...horrible story on Ozark trail on 01/14/2013 14:03:50 MST Print View

What preparation would have prevented this?

Besides a weather report, a daypack with raingear, GPS, and fire-starting gear would have been appropriate.

What possibly could the father have done considering the situation?

Make a fire. (Not as easy as it sounds, and generally requires some gear. For heavy rain, cheating with a road flare would be most effective.)

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Hypothermia prevention...horrible story on Ozark trail on 01/14/2013 14:33:47 MST Print View

I would not have stopped moving. I would have ran if needed. If I couldn't find shelter or build a fire, anything is better than sitting around inactive. If I had a headlamp and compass, I would have followed whatever direction towards civilization, even if that meant bushwhacking off trail and just kept going. And the first home I saw, I would knock on the door and beg for help.

But, on a rainy day hike I would always carry an emergency shelter and a folding saw + fixed blade knife with plenty of firestarter. I wouldn't need to bail.

Edited by justin_baker on 01/14/2013 14:36:07 MST.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife

Locale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge
Hypothermia prevention...horrible story on 01/14/2013 16:25:02 MST Print View

Even some experienced hikers who should know better have been caught out with insufficient gear, as witness this BPL article (free for everyone--thanks, BPL!) posted just last week:
http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/ihike_hypothermia.html

Since the area mentioned is my home turf, I've experienced such conditions many times and wouldn't think of going out there with the minimal gear the author was carrying. While such conditions are relativelty unusual in our normally dry PNW summers, they are not rare, especially by late August. Notice that the author went all out shopping when he finally got to Portland!

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Hypothermia prevention...horrible story on Ozark trail on 01/14/2013 16:34:47 MST Print View

Actual rain gear would have been a huge help. But three Hefty trash bags might have made the difference.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: RE on 01/14/2013 16:54:33 MST Print View

"At what point when you realize things are going really, really bad do you stop and hunker down for the night?"

Part of the problem is that when hypothermia is starting to set in really badly, one of the first symptoms is a loss of good judgment. So, one person can't really comprehend his own problem.

--B.G.--

Mike Oxford
(moxford) - MLife

Locale: Silicon Valley, CA
Re: Re: Hypothermia prevention...horrible story on Ozark trail on 01/14/2013 16:59:09 MST Print View

[quote]
If I had a headlamp and compass, I would have followed whatever direction towards civilization, even if that meant bushwhacking off trail and just kept going.
[/quote]

You do that, you might as well stand still and accept death.

1) Bushwhacking off-trail in the rain? Sounds like a good recipe for moving very slowly (compared to being on a trail) and getting REALLY lost and/or severely hurt in your quest to get saved.
2) You stay on the trail, maybe you'll find someone to help
3) You stay on the trail and hunker down, if you turn up missing a Ranger or SAR will find you, or maybe another hiker will come past.

Apparently they DID go off-trail, just as you did. They were found on some bluffs off-trail.

What happened at 6-7pm? Word went out to start looking. They went out on horseback and vehicles which normally means trails. They'll cover ground very quickly on those trails and if you're there you might be saved. You're out bushwhacking they won't find you in the initial hasty search.

For the person who asked about "when do you hunker down?" As always, it depends. Given this situation, once it starts cooling off you've got a serious problem. You just have to be willing to suck down your pride and say "crap, I'm lost and this is going to be really ugly really really soon." Risk vs reward. You stop, build a shelter, huddle up, try to get a fire going in any way you can (staying busy and active), hope your wife sends word and suck down the "rangers had to pull my butt out" ego hit. You keep going, pushing it, "I can handle it" and you're risking everything ... for what? To save your ego? Trust me, SAR WANTS you to be found by the rangers, sitting on the side of a trail. You go home wet and ego-busted but you and your kids are alive.

It is interesting, though, that the father was deceased but the two kids were able to be attended to for two hours. Perhaps they did have a crude shelter -- maybe that shelter was the father himself, shielding his kids. Maybe he stripped down to cover the kids with his clothes to increase their own chances.

My heart goes out to the family. What a terrible thing to have happen during what was supposed to be a celebration.

-mox

Sara C
(Jon) - M

Locale: SE Missouri and NW Arkansas
Re: Hypothermia prevention...horrible story on Ozark trail on 01/14/2013 19:12:55 MST Print View

My husband and I backpacked pretty close to that area this weekend. We checked the forecast Friday afternoon and it turned out to be completely accurate. It was really nice Saturday morning, then started raining just after noon and continued all afternoon and into the evening with dropping temperatures. We debated whether we even wanted to go in the first place, and then considered going back to the car Saturday afternoon instead of staying out overnight.

I really feel for the family, but I don't know how he could have thought it was a good idea if he checked the forecast. And if the report of where they started and where they were going is correct, that's more than 16 miles round-trip. Seems overly ambitious with kids even in good weather.

Rex Sanders
(Rex) - M

Locale: Central California Coast
Re: Re: RE on 01/14/2013 22:38:47 MST Print View

It's very hard to second-guess situations like this. They seemed to be OK several hours before sunset, maybe something else happened.

We will find ourselves unprepared for the conditions sooner or later. That's one of the risks we take by hiking or backpacking lighter, unprepared for every contingency.

Stopping on a well-traveled trail, removing wet cotton clothing, improvising shelter and insulation, huddling together to share warmth – including the dog (who survived), and keeping a positive attitude, could have improved their chances.

"At what point when you realize things are going really, really bad do you stop and hunker down for the night?"

When you have been really lost for more than 30 minutes, and well before you get too cold.

"Part of the problem is that when hypothermia is starting to set in really badly, one of the first symptoms is a loss of good judgment."

Doesn't need to be "really badly" in repeated experience for myself, and observing others. Shutting down mentally is an early symptom for many people – and you don't know it's happening at the time.

Tragic story, my sympathies to their family and friends.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
skills and gear on 01/15/2013 05:47:02 MST Print View

regardless of the decision that lead to the situation ... anyone can find themselves experiencing hypothermia should they make a mistake (and EVERYONE makes mistakes)

what can you do once it gets cold and wet?

- clothes ... you can survive being cold, you cant survive being wet and cold ... take off the wet clothes and get into a waterproof shelter or bivy when stopped ... if you can keep moving, have a WPB jacket, for 6 oz and 100$ (OR Helium) theres no excuse not to carry one... have clothes that are quick drying ... items like fleece that have a fuzzy interior you can wear damp as the moisture is much reduce over the skin, rather than stuff like wet base layers which simply seep the heat out of you ... a wet synthetic jacket aint the best, but you can put it OVER you WPB jacket an still get some insulation ...

- shelter ... bivy bag, bothy, garbage bag, whatever ... you simply need to get out of the rain and preserve our heat ... in emergency situations a tight enclosed space works better than a tarp as you save heat and it works as a vbl ...

- fire ... a highly neglected skill ... ill simply ask when was the last time you practiced starting a fire when its pouring rain or in heavy snow ... its quite a bit different from doing it in ideal conditions ... if you cant start one in adverse conditions, dont make the assumption you can ... youll need a good knife to shave the wood, some kind of cover, an utterly reliable long burning firestarter, and a LOT of practice ... because the moment you need it most youll be borderline hypothermic ...

- stove ... in winter or in groups an UL canister stove if a fire cant be started ... boil the water, put it in a hawt nalgene or even a metal cup/bottle which is usable over a fire (either of which many BPLers say serves no purpose cause its heavy) and use that to warm you up ... dont bother with alchy or esbit, or other such ... when your shivering you want KISS and fast boiling ...

- heat packs ... you can carry a 12+ hour heat pack for an emergency ... combine that with an emergency bag and youll likely survive a night ...

- blizzard bag ... the us/uk army, uk sar an other agencies use this for hypothermia treatment ... it is simply a rated 40F sleebing bag and WP bivy combined that weights 360g and cost 40 bucks ... when you cant start a fire its gold, its that simple

- in the longer run have SYSTEMS that prevent a hypothermic situation ... synthetic clothing or quilts can help reduce the chance of insulation loss (especially when the sun dont shine for days or weeks, which many BPLers cant fathom), a hawt nalgene is a proven life saver in adverse conditions, a clothing system where you sweat minimally (eskimos know that sweat kills in winter), etc ...

all of this weights more of course ... and NONE of it can be learned by reading the intrawebs or even this post ... you NEED to go out and practice these SKILLS ... in your back yard, in the park, on a short daytrip, etc ...

Edited by bearbreeder on 01/15/2013 06:04:55 MST.

M B
(livingontheroad) - M
ozark on 01/16/2013 15:37:27 MST Print View

It is easy to sit behind a keyboard and point out the things this guy could have done.

But in all likelihood, they didnt intend to go very far, just a short walk out and back.

And didnt believe any contingency gear was warranted.

But he didnt consider becoming disoriented or lost.

Steven McAllister
(brooklynkayak) - MLife

Locale: Atlantic North East
A Common Lack of Preparedness on 01/16/2013 16:24:06 MST Print View

I have a cabin a few miles from the AT.

I run into a lot of people that are unprepared, many times in a desperate state. You can see the terror/shock in their eyes.

I don't really blame them, people just don't know any better.

When you live in the city or suburbs your whole life, you tend to not think about being prepared. If the weather changes, you run to the car or nearest building for shelter.
People are conditioned to be like this.

Things that I see very often are no map, no compass, no rain gear, no water, no gear of any kind, wearing shorts and a t-shirt.

Many people go out for a day hike, ending up doing an overnighter after taking the wrong fork of a trail totally unprepared. Often times they will have children with them.

This story is sad and the result of a situatian that many other people have experienced and barely survived.

Some people may intentionally put themselves and their loved ones in these kind of situations as a kind of challenge/adventure.

I hear lots of stories about people who thru-hike the AT without compass, map, proper rain gear,... and brag about how they didn't need them. Of course, you also hear the other stories:-(

Edited by brooklynkayak on 01/16/2013 16:31:36 MST.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: A Common Lack of Preparedness on 01/16/2013 16:50:44 MST Print View

"I don't really blame them, people just don't know any better.

When you live in the city or suburbs your whole life, you tend to not think about being prepared. If the weather changes, you run to the car or nearest building for shelter.
People are conditioned to be like this.

Things that I see very often are no map, no compass, no rain gear, no water, no gear of any kind, wearing shorts and a t-shirt.

Many people go out for a day hike, ending up doing an overnighter after taking the wrong fork of a trail totally unprepared. Often times they will have children with them.

This story is sad and the result of a situatian that many other people have experienced and barely survived."

That sums the thread up really well, Steve. It is a mindset indicative of the age we live in, one that produces a bountiful supply of candidates for the Darwin Award year after year. :(

+1 big time.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: A Common Lack of Preparedness on 01/16/2013 17:12:26 MST Print View

+1 on Steven's experience. I see hikers without a shred of gear just about every time I go out. My assumption is that it is ignorance and no experience (certainly one feeds the other).

The recurring story that gets me goes "experienced hiker lost." When you get down to it, they were experienced at walking well used trails, but not bushwhacking and fixing their location once they were lost. And they broke all the rules: no one knew where they were (ranger found their car at a trailhead), no map, no compass, weak on the rest of their gear, they got fixated on a destination goal and kept wandering around once they realized they were lost, and they couldn't start a fire in a gas station.

Having young kids along can really change your options. When kids that age bonk, you're not going anywhere. Just having the basics would have made all the difference. A poncho or tarp and a fire could have saved them all. It is a sad, sad thing to hear.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
panic on 01/16/2013 17:32:06 MST Print View

The recurring story that gets me goes "experienced hiker lost." When you get down to it, they were experienced at walking well used trails, but not bushwhacking and fixing their location once they were lost. And they broke all the rules: no one knew where they were (ranger found their car at a trailhead), no map, no compass, weak on the rest of their gear, they got fixated on a destination goal and kept wandering around once they realized they were lost, and they couldn't start a fire in a gas station.

panic

happens all the time ... the only way to prevent it is to know what to do and practice your basic skills over and over again

gear is no substitute for skills ... without which youll have no idea how to what to do with it ...

there has been at least one BPLer who bought all the gear, didnt know what to do when problems arose, and triggered a rescue in panic

just like in climbing ... practice and use your skills over and over again every chance you get ... all the gear lists (and people do the same in climbing) or finding the next best marginally lighter piece of gear aint whats going to save your azz when the chips are down

only you will

the next time when its pouring freezing rain ... make it a resolution to do a 2 hour walk around the town ... come back to your backyard and spend the night without going inside or warming up ... as a bonus have wood ready (which youd need to collect in real life) and try firestarting that in a pit, or chacoal bbg ... then set up under a tarp and try to spend the night out (use a sleeping bag if you want) ... this would be an IDEAL situation test since you can always run with your tail betwen your legs into your house anytime ... but it will give you an idea of the BEST case scenario youll likely face

i would bet very few here have done this ...

Edited by bearbreeder on 01/16/2013 17:40:15 MST.