Text by Editor John Rasmus
Update: The Associated Press just reported that the nine kids and two guides lost in the Sierra Nevada have been found! Details of what exactly happened are unknown at this point.
This case of the missing Outward Bound group in California is baffling. I can’t remember an instance when such a large group—nearly a dozen teenage kids and their two guides—simply disappeared in the backcountry. By the time you read this they will probably be safe and sound, with some simple explanation along the lines of "we got really, really lost." But in the meantime, there are a lot of kids wandering around somewhere in the Sierra Nevada backcountry.
There are two ways of looking at the fact of such a large group being lost. On the one hand, whatever happened—bad falls, extreme conditions, etc.—they have each other to help, and they will be more visible to search parties. On the other hand, when things go bad in such large numbers, they can go really bad—the kind of "accident cascade" that our Deep Survival columnist, Laurence Gonzales, writes about: someone gets lost; others go out to find them, and they get lost. Before long, if good judgement doesn’t prevail quickly, things are spiraling downward. If you add in things like hypothermia, dehydration, or other conditions that can affect the judgement of more than one person, it can be a huge challenge for the leaders in charge.
I’m not going to speculate—I have no idea what really happened. I may just feel a little jittery because 1) we ran a story, "A Death at Outward Bound," about what can go wrong in just such situations in Adventure last year. And 2) my 15-year-old daughter is about to embark on a backpacking trip with a dozen kids and fairly young leaders in the Colorado Rockies in a couple of weeks.
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