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Read "Aspen's Deadly Bells," a true tale of search and rescue, in the Winter 1999/2000 ADVENTURE.

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    Ask the Expert
  Six Ways to Weather the Mountain
By Charles R. "Butch" Farabee, Jr.

Butch Farabee is assistant superintendent of Montana's Glacier National Park and author of Death, Daring, and Disaster: Search and Rescue in the National Parks. Since 1965 he has worked in ten different United States national parks and served a four-year stint as the U.S. National Park Service's emergency services coordinator.

Think you're king (or queen) of the mountain? Think again, because the mountain doesn't care. Last year in U.S. national parks alone, nearly 7,000 people needed to be rescued. An additional 25,000 required some form of emergency medical service. And it's not just the weekend warriors who get hurt.

In early October the world lost one of its greatest mountaineers when Alex Lowe was swept away by a massive avalanche. If it can happen to the best, it can happen to you. All the more reason to follow these simple tips.

1. Don't bite off more than you can chew.
    Virtually every week of the year, rangers at the Grand Canyon deal with hikers who aren't aware of their physical limitations. While standing on an overlook on the South Rim many decide they could very easily hike down to the Colorado River, far below. What hikers often forget is the grueling grind of the 4,000-foot (1,220-meter) climb back up.
2. Research your route in depth.
    Rangers in Utah's rugged Zion National Park recently recovered the bodies of two Scout leaders from the foaming waters at the bottom of a 6-foot-wide (1.8-meter-wide), 300-foot-deep (92-meter-deep) gorge. With them—but miraculously unharmed—were five teenagers who had previously rappelled only off of school bleachers.

Had the boys tried to complete their journey, they would have had to rappel through 15 frigid waterfalls, several of them 150 feet (46 meters) high. They wouldn't have made it. More important, had the adults researched their route, they would have learned—the easy way—that it was treacherous for novice climbers.
3. Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back.
    Be generous with your expected return time and always stick with the plan. Like firemen who respond to false alarms only to be killed in traffic wrecks, rescuers have died searching for people who didn't need rescuing—people who didn't even know they were considered lost.
4. Check the weather and prepare for the worst.
    Exposure and hypothermia are probably the biggest killers of mountaineers. Every year rangers in Yosemite can count on having to rescue otherwise competent climbers from an early fall snowstorm, because these rock jocks failed to look at the weather forecasts.
5. Don't freak out.
    Recently a visitor to Yellowstone found himself confused after taking a wrong turn onto a game trail. Once the trail fizzled out, he panicked and became unduly frightened about being in the deep woods with "wolves and bears." He literally ran over a cliff to his death. So always pause and think about your next move, should you make it or not.
6. Don't depend on technology.
    One techie recently got caught in a rain forest deluge on Washington State's Olympic Peninsula. He hoped his cell phone would save him. He would have been better served by a good set of water- and windproof outerwear. His cell phone got wet, so did he. The battery died, so did he.


Photograph courtesy of Charles R. "Butch" Farabee

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