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by Staff | 2009-04-30 10:04:00-06


UPDATE 5/2/09 4:07 PM:


: Ken Knight
Height: 5'4"
Weight: 180-200 lb
Point Last Seen: Punchbowl Mountain on the Appalachian Trail in VA
Time Last Seen: Sunday, April 26, 9:00 - 10:00 a.m.
Unique Characteristics: wearing a dry-bag style backpack with a bright orange packbag, hiker is vision-impaired.

If you have info, please contact us:

Photo above taken Wednesday, April 22 on the Appalachian Trail.


"*** ALERT *** APPALACHIAN TRAIL HIKER FOUND!," by Staff. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2009-04-30 10:04:00-06.


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Jeremy Greene
(tippymcstagger) - F

Locale: North Texas
Re: Alive and Well on 05/05/2009 19:33:09 MDT Print View

Glad everything worked out OK. I look forward to reading an article on this event. No need to rush it though. Good to have you back.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Re: Alive and Well on 05/05/2009 19:33:28 MDT Print View

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Pay for the rescue efforts? on 05/06/2009 05:19:54 MDT Print View

From the above article: "Knight refused to address comments that suggest he should be held financially liable for the cost of his search and rescue or liable for the damage caused by the fire he set."

Good for you Ken. A couple of thoughts on people who think Ken should be financially responsible....

1. You weren't there.

2. If you had been there, I doubt you would have told yourself, "I hope no one is looking for me. Otherwise I'll have to pay for this. Well, I guess I should sit here and wait to die."

3. I don't hear anyone saying that people who are rescued by the Coast Guard should get billed, for example.

4. "but he burnt two acres of land!" Two acres is not that large of an area folks. Granted, it could have gotten bigger, but the fact is, two acres is smaller than two football fields. Its about the size of a square with sides being 295 feet long. Plus, firefighters LET the fire get larger than it was because of the containment ring they dug around it.

5. Most of those involved were VOLUNTEERS. If I volunteer for something, its usually not because I'm receiving vast sums of money in return.

6. "he shouldn't hike because of his vision." Many people without vision problems get lost every year. Picture your favorite hobby/pastime/thing to do. Now have some stranger tell you that you shouldn't do it because you walk with a limp, or only have 4 fingers, or are visually impaired, or whatever. I don't think that would fly too well with you.

Many people chose to jump into action to find Ken without thinking of themselves. What would we all have thought if those involved made a different choice? Here's the headline for you. "Man dies on mountain because fears of the cost of a rescue mission trumped rescue efforts." Those same people saying Ken should pay for this would be saying that more people should have done something. Ken was right when he said, "There’s a lot of backseat hiking going on."

Edited by T.L. on 05/08/2009 17:40:10 MDT.

Jocelyn Dawn
(JocelynDawn) - F

Locale: BuenaVista, Glasgow
Piffle on the naysayers on 05/06/2009 12:15:52 MDT Print View

A few thoughts:

1. Glad to hear you're doing well, Ken. Super-glad to hear that you were missing b/c you temporarily misplaced yourself rather than b/c you ran into a momma bear.

2. I don't think that Ken being legally blind was the single reason he lost the trail and I think people are making too big a deal out of it... statistically speaking, lots of people get lost on the trails each year and the vast majority of them are both fully sighted and not as capable as Ken - and considering that I live in the area of the incident, I can vouch for the trail systems being confusing and intersections being easy to miss in many places.

3. That Ken is legally blind is no reason to not hike. There is absolutely no reason to not hike, period - there are simply situations that require extra precautions. If you're diabetic, carry emergency glucose supplements. I wear glasses; if I should fall and break my glasses, I'd be in much the same situation as Ken was, able to make out shapes and colors but not be able to see detail until it's 4" in front of my face - so I carry a back-up pair of glasses. If you're hiking in a group, as I often do, have the fastest hiker and the slowest hiker (that's usually me) carry walkie-talkies that have the appropriate range for the terrain. Hiking is good exercise, it maintains a healthy heart and muscles, it calms the soul, and it is accessible to everyone.

4. I think people are confusing a 'brush fire' with a 'forest fire'... a 'brush fire' causes minimal damage to trees; it basically runs through the underbrush. That entire area will be fine - stuff will start growing back this year and two years from now you'll hardly notice anything ever happened there unless you're trained to look for it. It's a drop in the bucket compared to the natural fire that occurred in the Natural Bridge area last year that resulted from lightening hitting a tree.

mark henley
(flash582) - F
Just really glad Ken is alive and well on 05/06/2009 13:29:14 MDT Print View

I've been hiking parts of the AT for about 5 years now ..... I can certainly understand how Ken got lost. Even with good Vision it can be easy to miss a marker and before you know it ..... you've got that sinking feeling in your gut.

Ken should be commended for doing the right stuff at the right time. The signal fire was brilliant.

SAR rocks. You have to love people who will drop their lives and dedicate their time to pulling our collective tails out of a jam.

The Staff at BPL rocks. I know that Ken has found a great employer.

I'm continually saddened by those who will use any forum whatsoever to further their personal political agenda. We almost lost a brother in arms people .... lets keep our eye on the ball, ok?

Ken .... I'd hike with you anytime!

Robert Speik
Re: Alive and Well on 05/06/2009 20:20:06 MDT Print View

Hello Ken-
First, good you survived your stranding without to much damage to your body and mind.

Here is what I think:
1. If you start a hike as part of a group the "Leader" (or "Organizers") and the group are responsible for you. If you are a mis-match - too slow or too fast, you should bail and be "accompanied" back to your rig by the fast hikers in the group on the first morning. Or, one or two of the group should volunteer to hike with you, forming a slower section of the group. I assume that at 5'4" tall and 190 pounds you are not a fast hiker.

2. You should stay found with map, compass and GPS, together. You may need to take a class from an up-to-date instructor to learn these skills.

3. You should be aware of where your common digital cell phone stays connected with one or more cell towers so you can return to that point.

4. You should leave your cell phone "on" in a top pocket of your pack so that you can be located by local Search and Rescue Units at specific lat-lon coordinates as required by FCC E911 Regulations. You must be in contact with two towers to be located by lat-lon coordinates (misrepresented as "GPS Coordinates" by cell phone providers). Note that cell phone providers locate phones by triangulation of at least two towers - they do not use "GPS coordinates" provided by an on-board GPS chip from DOD satellites with a separate antenna tuned to Department of Defence satellite transmissions. If your cell phone is not in contact with Cell towers, you can not be pin pointed by Providers.

5. If you become lost, you should stop right there. Do not wander down a drainage to your detriment or death. Use your whistle (hopefully a loud one - even though it may not be Orange). Turn on your emergency strobe light, a few dollars from your bike store.

6. If you really need water, go there but fill up and return to where you realized you were lost and see if you might track back to the trail. This might be very close!

Devin Montgomery
(dsmontgomery) - MLife

Locale: one snowball away from big trouble
Re: Re: Alive and Well on 05/06/2009 20:47:16 MDT Print View

This sounds awfully pedagogical and isn't very good advice.

Edited by dsmontgomery on 05/07/2009 04:14:44 MDT.

Rod Lawlor
(Rod_Lawlor) - MLife

Locale: Australia
Re: Re: Re: Alive and Well on 05/07/2009 06:07:10 MDT Print View

Yeah, but at least he paid his $25 to post his opinion. Not like those bloody freeloaders. :^)

Devin Montgomery
(dsmontgomery) - MLife

Locale: one snowball away from big trouble
Re: Re: Alive and Well on 05/07/2009 11:07:52 MDT Print View


I have to apologize for my earlier post. It was rude and not very helpful. I do disagree with some of the points you made, but shouldn't have been so dismissive. Here's a more thoughtful response:

- On the responsibility of group leaders and escorting hikers:
I don't think this makes sense for adults who voluntarily form a hiking party. This sounds more appropriate for young Boy Scouts or novices paying a guide. I think earlier points made about groups deciding when they are actually a "group" and setting out clear expectations for all the members is a good idea. I also don't think that this bad experience dictates that someone who has done so much despite visual limitations should now be put in some kind of wholly dependent position. That seems like it would be miserable, and unnecessary.

-On navigation and location devices
I believe Ken mentioned that he is considering what he can do to prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future, and is also considering how he might be more easily found if it does. I whole heartedly agree that the systematic use of a map and compass are key to not getting lost. GPS devices are fine, but not a necessity and not as reliable. I don't know how the whole equation plays out for someone with limited sight.

I also think that having a cell phone is fine, and may be of some use in certain circumstances, but I also believe that leaving it on as a sort of make-shift locator beacon is a bad idea. In most places, cell reception is the exception, not the rule, and leaving it on just makes it quite likely that it will run out of juice for when you need it to work for a call or to be triangulated in the event that you can find that rare signal once you are lost. An actual locator beacon would be far better.

I also doubt the utility, especially for the weight, of a strobe light. It is my understanding that the vast majority of SAR operations occur during the day, when a strobe light would be far less effective than other forms of signaling like a whistle, mirror, or, as Ken saw, a signal fire.

Edit: Oh, and Rod,
I'm fine with freeloaders, but I do think you're missing out on some good content. :)

Edited by dsmontgomery on 05/07/2009 12:43:02 MDT.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Robert's comments on 05/07/2009 11:29:49 MDT Print View

Robert, I can't tell if your comments were addressed to Ken or to less-experienced folk. If they were addressed to Ken, I think they're a bit out of place. Judging from what has been posted here, Ken obviously did follow the protocol of what to do when lost.

If your remarks were addressed to others, though, then some of them have some merit. Certainly everyone should remember "STOP" as soon as they become unsure of where they are.

A few of your items, though, are, IMHO, inaccurate:

In this case it appears that the "group" was not organized; it was strictly a HYOH type of outing with no leaders--note that it took three days for them to realize that Ken was missing. This undoubtedly is a weakness. As for excluding those who hike too fast or too slow--I was always taught that every group must adjust to the pace of its slowest member. Certainly the group hikes I've been on do so. What does the person escorted back to the trailhead do--camp at the trailhead until his ride shows up a week later? Take off in his own car and leave others stranded at the end of the trip?

At least out here in the west, there are many areas (certainly almost everywhere I hike) where there is no cell phone coverage--I often lose reception while in the car an hour or more before reaching the trailhead. Except locally (Columbia River Gorge), I never take my phone when I'm hiking--it's useless. In addition, if you leave the phone on in an area with poor or no coverage, the battery runs down in less than a day because the phone is actively searching for a signal. Recall that Ken's cell phone battery was dead. In other words, nobody should rely on a cell phone to get them out of trouble.

Why don't we hold off on the "Monday morning quarterbacking" until Ken has had a chance to rest up, do his own analysis and gain some perspective on his experience? I'm looking forward to seeing his analysis, but (unlike the NeoAir review) I think it should wait a while.

Edited by hikinggranny on 05/07/2009 11:36:36 MDT.

Kendall Clement
(socalpacker) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Re: Re: Re: Alive and Well on 05/07/2009 11:31:07 MDT Print View


I am very happy that you are alive and well. Like most other people on this thread, I think that the fact that you survived is the single most important thing right now. People can sometimes be insensitive and mean-spirited without even realizing it. They may even have good intentions, but just haven't thought about the impact their words may have on another person or other people. Or, maybe they have thought it out. I don't know. The point I'm trying to make is that the negative and critical comments you have seen should be ignored. You have overwhelming positive support from the BPL community, the SAR teams and Fire Department. I too prayed for your safe return. And, it is my hope that one day I will have the privilege of meeting you and backpacking with you. Also, considering the fact that you have much more experience than I do, I hope that one day I will get to learn from you as well. Take care of yourself and rest well.


Edited by socalpacker on 05/07/2009 12:03:33 MDT.

Devin Montgomery
(dsmontgomery) - MLife

Locale: one snowball away from big trouble
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Alive and Well on 05/07/2009 12:48:45 MDT Print View


I always enjoy reading your posts - they are uniformly thoughtful and positive. If there were such a prize, I would nominate you for best forums-man-ship. :)

Robert Speik
Re: Re: Re: Alive and Well on 05/07/2009 13:57:10 MDT Print View

Hello Devin-
Yes, it takes little experience, thought or effort to give an attaboy, be critical and cryptic in a one liner, or impugn another's motives.

It is more difficult to start a helpful dialog about what traditions, skills, modern gear and techniques might prevent an accident or incident from re-occurring over and over. We can learn from the experiences of others.

First, on the responsibilities of a group, with or without a designated leader. Note that the alarm was raised by the group after some days. Therefor, Ken was considered part of the group.

The ethics and procedures for a group I described are those of the several major hiking and climbing clubs of the West Coast. The Mountaineers have over 10,500 members. These traditions, ethics and procedures are covered in all seven editions of Mountaineering, the Freedom of the Hills, published by the Mountaineers Press.

Also, in answer to another critic, is unreasonable for an entire group to hike at the the same rate as a much slower person. It is also unreasonable for the absence of the slower individual(s) to be ignored for days before the alarm is raised. There is no shame in having a second section of a group. Not in my mind!

Devin, you note that a GPS is unnecessary and unreliable. Actually, today, a $100 Garmin H receiver and the right skills (see Freedom) can show a person where they are on a USGS or equal topo map withing a few meters. (You may need to find a nearby opening in very heavy forest cover.)

It is strange that no one in this thread has mentioned the SPOT Satellite Messenger, more affordable at $149 plus a $100 satellite telephone connection than your fathers PLB. If I might not have good cell coverage, I take my SPOT. So do our SAR volunteers.

Out West, most of our urban facing backcountry has cellular coverage. We like the cell phone because it can take the Search out of SAR. You become stranded and you let friends or SAR know exactly where you are, what happened, how you are and what you are going to do. SAR can tell you what they will do as well.

A bike "strobe" light weighs a couple of ounces and can last a couple of nights if kept warm. Our SAR members wear them. Mirrors are only good if folks are watching on sunny days ;-))

None of my posts question Ken's experience or abilities. Folks, please do not casually question my motives. Please do not be impolite or un-kind.

We can learn from the experiences of others:

See yonder height! 'Tis far away -- unbidden comes the word "Impossible!"

"Not so," says the mountaineer. "The way is long, I know; its difficult -- it may be dangerous."

"It's possible, I'm sure; I'll seek the way, take counsel of my brother mountaineers, and find out how they have reached similar heights and learned to avoid the dangers."

He starts (all slumbering down below); the path is slippery - and may be dangerous too.

Caution and perseverance gain the day -- the height is reached! and those beneath cry, "Incredible! 'Tis superhuman!"

This is a passage we found on page 161 of "Scrambles Amongst the Alps" by Edward Wymper,
first published in 1871 and reprinted 1981 by Ten Speed Press, Berkley, CA.

Edited by trad_guy on 05/07/2009 15:35:40 MDT.

Kendall Clement
(socalpacker) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Alive and Well on 05/07/2009 14:07:41 MDT Print View


Thanks for the nice compliment. I really appreciate that.


Edited by socalpacker on 05/07/2009 17:37:45 MDT.

Robert Speik
Re: Robert's comments on 05/07/2009 15:56:05 MDT Print View

Hello Mary-
Perhaps this post from an experienced leader will give you a better understanding of my comments. This excellent post deserves repeating:

Paul Haan
( Siler )
a little reflection on 05/04/2009 12:10:33 MDT

The emotions from this weekend are beginning to settle and before this thread goes dead I’d like to share a few observations which may be instructive to those interested in learning.

I am one of Ken’s friends from Michigan who went down to VA to help in the effort. I can tell you I was blown away by the professionalism and the response of the VA SAR groups. The systematic, evidence-based way that they approached this search made me very confident in their efforts to find Ken — but that did not relieve my emotions when it came to imagining what condition he might be in when found. Nothing could address my emotions other than finding him.

As others have pointed out, Ken needs to accept the assistance and interactions of other hikers, even if it is not welcomed or uncomfortable. That is one lesson that should be learned to avoid a re-occurrence for Ken as he rightfully continues his hiking.

I would like to address some other decision points from which any of us who hike in groups can learn… not Ken’s actions, but the actions of those around him. Actions which certainly were not causal in nature, but which certainly impacted how events unfolded.

I have lead group hikes in the past and will continue to lead them in the future, but I know I will do them a little differently from this point on. Following are some of the things I will do as a result of lessons learned.

1) I will require participants to clearly state any medical, personal or other pertinent limitations that they may have that will impact the group hike. I will also inform the participant that this information will be shared with all other participants should they choose to join the group hike.

2) I will share this information on individual limitations with all others in the group in advance, and will review these issues at the pre-trip briefing.

3) I will strongly encourage group participants to be mindful of the whereabouts of their fellow hikers at all times. Personally, I believe this business of “I’ll meet you at the shelter” should be reserved for casual acquaintances met along the trail, but not for organized group hikes. I don’t personally ascribe to the “we’re a group but we’re all hiking independently” philosophy. Either we’re a group or we’re not, and everyone needs to know EXACTLY where things stand.

4) At exit, I will require the whole group to stay put until all hikers are out. One of the biggest factors in delaying the search for Ken was the fact that the group disbanded and then later needed to make group decisions about what could of possibly happened.

I know many of us hike with people we have never or barely met before. In the future, I know I will be more careful in assessing the dynamic being established in a group and will do what I can to foster accountability.

When I met Ken as he was exiting the hospital, one of his more astounding comments was when he said he thought people were looking for him as soon as Monday, maybe even Sunday night. When we pointed out that that was far from the truth, he was absolutely shocked. After getting off the trail, he did many things right (staying put, making sure he had water, shelter, etc.). Had there been closer tabs upon his location and a more prompt identification of the fact that he was lost, I am certain that he would have been located much earlier and with much fewer resources expended. And I don’t think that is an unreasonable expectation to have of the hiking community.

I would encourage all of us to continue to follow this situation as the facts now unfold and more objective lessons are learned. I encourage everyone to think “how does this apply to me? And what can I do better as a result of this shared experience?” We can all do some reflecting upon what it means to be a hike leader, a group participant, and a member of the hiking community.

Please don’t take this missive as an attempt to place blame on any one person. I will admit that I have broken all of these lessons learned in the past just like anyone else. I’m simply broadcasting these thoughts in the hopes that we can all learn something from this experience.

Lastly, I’ll be joining many of Ken's freinds in making sure that Ken is making an objective assessment of this experience, learning from it, and changing behavior. And I have the good fortune of being able to do that in person!

Hike safely!

Devin Montgomery
(dsmontgomery) - MLife

Locale: one snowball away from big trouble
Re: Re: Re: Re: Alive and Well on 05/07/2009 16:39:31 MDT Print View

>Note that the alarm was raised by the group after some days. Therefor, Ken was considered part of the group.

It was my understanding that the search for Ken started when those not on the trail noticed that he missed a plane trip back to MI.

>Devin, you note that a GPS is unnecessary and unreliable. Actually, today, a $100 Garmin H receiver and the right skills (see Freedom) can show a person where they are on a USGS or equal topo map withing a few meters. (You may need to find a nearby opening in very heavy forest cover.)

I maintain that they are unnecessary. They are unreliable in the sense that when the battery goes, it's useless, not that they are inaccurate in their readings.

>Out West, most of our urban facing backcountry has cellular coverage. We like the cell phone because it can take the Search out of SAR. You become stranded and you let friends or SAR know exactly where you are, what happened, how you are and what you are going to do. SAR can tell you what they will do as well.

I maintain that you will simply run out of battery power on trips longer than an overnighter if you keep it on. I also think that it's a poor substitute for a locator beacon if that's what you really want.

>A bike "strobe" light weighs a couple of ounces and can last a couple of nights if kept warm. Our SAR members wear them.

Maybe I'm wrong here. Does a good deal of SAR occur at night? Even if it does, it just seems like a superfluous item.

Edited by dsmontgomery on 05/07/2009 16:41:49 MDT.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Re: Re: Alive and Well on 05/07/2009 16:41:58 MDT Print View

Hi Robert

> It is strange that no one in this thread has mentioned the SPOT Satellite Messenger

This may be because our experiences of the SPOT are that it is far too unreliable. You might like to read the fairly detailed review here at BPL to see what failures were found during extensive field testing in two countries. You might also like to note that none of the BPL staff who participated in the field test wanted to keep any of the test units for free afterwards. Yep, we turned down free stuff!

> Out West, most of our urban facing backcountry has cellular coverage.

In that case a cell phone might make a lot of sense. But it is worth remembering that this is not the case for much of the mountains we love. I don't even get cell phone coverage at the trailheads near home.


Chris Townsend
(Christownsend) - MLife

Locale: Cairngorms National Park
Re: Alive and Well on 05/07/2009 16:52:16 MDT Print View

"Out West, most of our urban facing backcountry has cellular coverage"

I guess the key here is "urban facing". I was recently in the Wind Rivers, on the west side. We had no cell phone coverage for most of the trip, even when we could see many lights out on the plains.

At home in the Scottish Highlands cell phone coverage is very patchy. To gain it you usually have to head up and away from roads and habitations.

I tested a SPOT independently of the BPL test and came to the same conclusions. In many areas - forests, narrow glens - it did not send a signal.

Jesse Glover
(hellbillylarry) - F

Locale: southern appalachians
Re: Re: Robert's comments on 05/07/2009 17:31:15 MDT Print View

It sounds like hiking with you would be as fun as joining the army.

All this GPS and cellphone talk might as well be a joke. Cell service is spotty at best on the AT in VA. And except for a few spots a GPS is as good as a paperweight on the AT (long green tunnel remember). You'd be better off carrying a book to read while awaiting rescue than a GPS.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Re: Re: Robert's comments on 05/07/2009 17:59:00 MDT Print View

I don't buy the long green tunnel hype. I've been on a five day AT trip in NC and it was not really different that hiking in Arkansas. Sure, there is some triple canopy forest, but there is plenty of space for even a non sirf gps to work. I'd bet large sums. The long green tunnel thing should really be put to sleep.