Saturday, April 18, 2015

Pete Nelson: Critics In Marcy Rescue Out Of Line

Amy's LookoutIn the summer of 2001 my family and I undertook an adventure deep into the floor of Indian Pass. The lore related to its unexplored talus cave passages and its rumored near-impassibility had sparked our imaginations for years. Expecting that the journey would be challenging we equipped ourselves with climbing rope, headlamps and a first aid kit. After a good hour of work and having dealt with a number of dangerous obstacles we came to a pile of stacked boulders that rose precipitously from the floor, well above the surrounding trees. With the massive rampart of Wallface towering above us, all we could think about was to climb this talus pile and be lofted into the space above us where surely the best view in the Adirondacks awaited.

Near the top of the ascent there was a tough move to get onto a slanted face that led to the flat top. To slip from that face would have meant a critical injury or death. Below, on the route into the pass, there had been several slippery descents over sloping boulders that could have meant a nasty fall at a minimum. The chances of getting lost in the pass were nil but there were plenty of opportunities for an injury that could have limited our mobility or even led to a medical emergency. Needless to say, with us that deep in the pass help would not have been immediately forthcoming and a rescue would have been a logistical challenge.

I relate this story because at the time we undertook this expedition – which was part of a much longer backpacking trip – our kids ranged in age from eight to eleven… just about the same as the age range of the kids rescued from Mount Marcy on March 21st.

As it happens we needed no rescue, had a marvelous time and returned to our camp without incident. But what if there had been an accident? What if we had become stranded? What if I had been a mother, not a father? What would have been the recriminations? What would have been the judgments of my choices to take my kids on such a hard core wilderness adventure? I wonder because the vitriolic reactions to the incident on Marcy have left me with questions – and a good measure of disgust.

Harshness seems to be the style these days. But when a mother encounters life or death trouble, yet keeps her children alive through a bitter night at the Adirondack tree line only to face some of the nastiest condemnations I’ve seen in the on-line world – well, my patience for that kind of easy, reflexive judgment hits a quick limit.

What astonishes me more than anything is the arrogance displayed by people who should know better – that is, any persons who have spent a lot of time in the Adirondack Wilderness. That’s because anyone who has spent time in the Adirondack back country has had multiple “there but for the grace of God” moments. Wilderness hiking is not without risk and it is not without misjudgments. Oh sure, there can be negligent or grossly ignorant behavior, as can be the case in all areas of life. But well short of that standard we’ve all had moments that could have gone terribly wrong, that could have prompted a rescue.

Was the behavior of this family negligent or grossly ignorant? A lot of on-line commenters certainly think so. The idea that a mother would take her young children to the summit of Mount Marcy in the winter in bitter conditions and be on the summit as late as 4 pm, was condemned repeatedly through a vast array of negative opinions.

Of course opinions are easy, so I went in search of facts. Honoring the family’s request for privacy I did not try to contact them. But I made an information request to DEC and received detailed responses from the rangers involved in the rescue. Then I did a little weather research. Let’s take a closer look.

First there is the critique of the late hour at which the family was on the summit. But critics seem to forget that this ascent was done in March, not January. On that particular day the sunset in Lake Placid was 7:08 pm and twilight was 7:37 pm. That’s the same as it will be on September 14th this year – not exactly a date anyone would freak out about over the time of day. If I were on the summit of Marcy, in snow, with a well-trod path awaiting me below the tree line, two hours before sunset, much less three, I’d have no concerns.

Then there was the bad weather. “It was abusive to take little kids up in such bad weather” goes the accusation. The problem with that opinion is while Marcy certainly had winter conditions that day, conditions were not yet extreme by Adirondack standards, nor were there any big warnings in the forecast. During the ascent it was a perfectly normal day. DEC reported no special alerts or warnings. The temperature was forecast to drop at night and occasional snow squalls were also in the forecast, but the vicious whiteout and life-threatening late-afternoon wind chills that ensued were simply the Adirondacks doing its thing. Whiteouts can happen without warning at any time. Raise your hand if you have winter climbed and have never been caught in an unexpected whiteout.

That’s why anyone taking a hike should be prepared, say the critics. “Unprepared! Untrained! Charge them!” goes the cry. But according to DEC this family was dressed for a winter hike, with layers of non-cotton clothing and water-resistant/wind-resistant outer shells. All were wearing snowshoes. They also had heavy parkas, water, food, a compass and a map. In other words, they were prepared and equipped as they should have been. Furthermore they were not novices – they’d hiked in the High Peaks before.

There was at least one mistake made, based upon the facts. The family left some gear at the tree line, including snowboards and the compass. Leaving the compass was an unfortunate choice (that said, even with a compass it would have been tough to find the trail in a whiteout). Was that a serious error? Sure. Was it abusive or negligent? Raise your hand if you never left or lost important gear somewhere, or failed to bring something along that you should have.

To survive the night the family descended to the tree line, found a sheltering spot and dug a trench in order to have relief from the bitter winds. DEC tells me they chose a trench – presumably as opposed to a snow cave – so that there would be clearance and room to do exercise routines, which the mother had the children do throughout the night in order to keep their body temperatures high enough. I’m not the greatest expert in winter survival on earth, but those decisions don’t sound entirely stupid and novice.

Those are the facts, but facile, self-promoting judgments have a way of so easily trumping – or willfully ignoring – the facts.

Then there are the kinds of angry attacks that have nothing whatsoever to do with facts, but something deeper. The most withering criticism was directed straight at the mother of these children. “Who but a terrible mother would take such young kids on such a dangerous adventure?” say the arbiters of good parenting.

I would. Condemn me as a parent at your peril. I know exactly why I’d do it.

I remember a few comments about how a seven year old is too young for such expeditions because they can’t take care of themselves. Nonsense. At seven my kids knew how to take care of themselves in the woods quite well. Yes, that includes winter. Would I have sent them to Marcy’s summit alone? Of course not. But I would not have thought twice about taking them along. Could something have happened to require a rescue? Sure. There but for the grace of God, friends, there but for the grace of God. Yet together we braved as bitter and challenging conditions as the Adirondacks can provide. And we did it because I knew we could. I knew that together we could handle ourselves, even if something went wrong. And you can be certain that I knew what it would mean to do that as a family.

Isn’t that the point? Ask my now-grown children about our Adirondack adventures and they’ll tell you they made them who they are. Raising children is not about minimizing risk. If you think it is you’d best never put your kids in a car again, where the chances for injury or death – and the chances of causing government authorities to spend a lot of time and money on your behalf – make winter hiking look like a stroll in the local botanical garden. Wilderness adventure builds character, confidence, self-reliance, strong values and good decision making. Plus it is exhilarating experience and tremendous fun. It’s worth a little risk. I know it. Those fabulous DEC Rangers know it. So do many of you. So, unquestionably, does the mother of those kids who went snowboarding on Marcy on a March afternoon.

There’s another wonderful thing wilderness offers: the maximum distance possible from our trendy world of instant condemnation and mean-spirited opinion.

Photo: Eastern Ranges in Winter

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Pete Nelson is a teacher, writer, essayist and activist whose work has appeared in a variety of Adirondack publications, and regularly in the Adirondack Almanack since 2005. Pete is also a founder and current Coordinator of the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council, which is working to make the Park more welcoming and inclusive.When not writing or teaching mathematics at North Country Community College, Pete can be found in the back country, making music or even walking on stilts, which he and his wife Amy have done professionally throughout the United States for nearly two decades.Pete is a proud resident of Keene, and along with Amy and his dog Henderson owns Lost Brook Tract, a forty-acre inholding deep in the High Peaks Wilderness.

75 Responses

  1. George L. says:

    One adult to two young children is a problematic ratio.

    • Outlier says:

      I’ll bet the mother in this story also prepares breakfast for her kids instead of letting the school do it.

  2. Merry says:

    Thank you, Pete, for this. I couldn’t think of anything at all except bad luck that forced this situation. What really frosted me in the immediate aftermath was the intense misogyny. This woman is a hero in my book, as would be a male parent. She handled herself extremely well and everyone lived to climb another mountain. Thanks again. Well done!

  3. Mark Obbie says:

    Great column. I haven’t followed this closely, except to have wondered about the elements that you researched and explain. People are so ready to judge and condemn others for mistakes or misfortune in the nastiest tones — it’s really destructive. And so thank you for taking the time to investigate, explain, and defend in this case. Yes, any of us who’ve done a lot of hiking in those conditions know that the only reason we haven’t been in her place is because we got lucky.

  4. Joe Hansen says:

    Pete: I feel the same as you on the harshness of critism especially from commenters who undertake potentially risky activities themselves. When our children were young we took them them down rivers in canoes, they skiied with my wife and I on some tough trails too. We never had any serious mishaps but the potential was always there. Unfortunately, somehow children must now be protected against every harm no matter how unlikely. Of course the fact that this is impossible does not seem to prevent the finger pointers when ever a situation goes wrong. I was elated that the family made it out and the good people of the area made it happen!

  5. Christine says:

    Mr. Nelson, I have climbed each of the 46 in winter a handfull of times as well as many smaller peaks countless times, been to Marcy, Algonquin and a number of others every winter of the last 10 years, etc. and I find your article pure demagoguery! Plus shouldn’t we learned from a tragedy like this one?

    And could it be you don’t know all of the facts…


  6. frank w says:

    excellent article

    In today’s world risk to most people is getting off the couch walking to the fridge and getting something to eat. Those that can sit behind a computer in their warm house should get out more and see what trudging through the snow for a just a short distance can do for ones mind and body.

    If you are a regular when it comes to back country pursuits you should never point a finger at someones misfortune or bad decisions, because the odds are, you do it long enough, you’ll find yourself in a unwanted situation.

    Your number comes up and your it. It happens, one wrong step, one wrong decision and you’ll need help. It has happened to me and I wish it on no one, but risk is calculated and sometimes mistakes happen. Everyone has a self evacuation fantasy, but doing it is the hard part. Never point fingers.

  7. Jeff says:

    Thanks Pete for this excellent perspective on kids in the wilderness and last month’s rescue on Marcy,

  8. Tim-Brunswick says:

    Heaven forbid the illustrious and definitely authoritative Pete Nelson should be upset over posts that differ from his viewpoints! Guess those folks with an opposing opinion best go tuck their tails and run……

  9. Patricia Petersen says:

    Thanks for giving us a more balanced view of the incident.

  10. Marion Weaver says:

    Thank you, Pete. I was shocked by the vitriol of the critics. So very unwarranted. Your well-researched essay has been greatly needed.

  11. Nature says:


    While I agree that there is no need to condem this women based on this event, I do believe this story could have had two very different endings. It could have ended with the party turning around at tree line when they realized that the conditions were not favorable (as witnesses have stated), or it could have ended tragically.

    While I fully support getting children out into nature, I also support teaching them to make good choices. One such choice that nature provides a lot of opportunities for is the choice of: “is this worth it?” In my opinion, whatever their goal may have been that day, I have a hard time seeing how it could rationalize the final push to the summit. A parent would do well at this point to teach their children some very valuable life lessons The biggest one being restraint. The mountain will be their another day. Will you?

    In answer to some of your statements, I do not think that this makes this person a bad parent. I do not think I am better than her. I do not think this has anything to do with gender. I do applaud her for keeping herself and her children alive. If I did something similar I would expect legitimate, harsh criticism.

    One final thing that another commenter has stated in the past. Everything in the Adirondacks seems to boil down to a tempest in a tea pot. This is just the latest. You, and now me, just can’t stop stirring the tea pot. It seems like its always a slow news day in the Adirondacks.

  12. Kurt says:

    There are way too many judgmental people out there who would have kids sit in front of computer or tv screens all day long becoming vegetables. One of the best experiences of my life was my first backpacking trip… my brother, sister, and I went exploring around the Wallface Mountain area, got lost around Lost Pond, and found our way back. I was about ten years old. Of course there were no cell phones back then and we were on our own. I always look back to that experience as defining my character.

    • John Warren says:

      “There are way too many judgmental people out there who would have kids sit in front of computer or tv screens all day long becoming vegetables.”

      I have to ask – are you aware of what you have done there?

      • Kurt says:

        I’m afraid to ask what I may have done. However, it was first thing in the morning before my first cup of coffee, so chances are there was very little tact involved…

      • Kurt says:

        I certainly didn’t mean to be judgmental myself. I spend much time in front a computer screen and am very much in favor of kids becoming proficient with computers at an early age. What I was alluding to were the same points that Pete was making, and emphasizing, in a rather crude way, that there is a “nature deficit” among some children.

        • John Warren says:

          We agree then. There are too many judgmental people and too many kids are not able to spend time in nature.

  13. Joel Pratt says:

    Great article!

  14. Susan says:

    Dear Pete,

    I’m so glad you wrote this article. As a single Mom I have the choice to either stay home and presumably(?) stay safe, or get out there anyway with my kids. For all the benefits you so eloquently state, I have chosen the latter. Since my two children turned 6 and 8, we’ve been hiking the High Peaks every summer, always well-geared and well-prepared. Every time we’re out, I’m well aware that something could go wrong, despite all the best preparations. Sometimes, I question myself “am I crazy or irresponsible doing this with my children?” Your article reminds me of all the reasons I continue to share these adventures. My heart aches for the Marcy Mom. I thought that under the circumstances, she and her kids did a darn good job. She has my admiration, not my condemnation. I couldn’t agree with you more. She handled the situation with leadership and intelligence. There’s no excuse for the pompous, righteous, indignant, and unkind speech on behalf of the critics.

  15. An excellent, clear and much needed response to a barrage of harsh judgement. I agree with you completely as a parent and a human being. While preparing ourselves for the unknown is essential when exploring the wilderness, the element of risk and danger is always there. Living our lives in awe and respect of the natural world is a gift beyond measure that we can pass on to our children. Judgement comes easy to those who chose complacent comfort over a life of truth and beauty. That mother was probably scared to death out there at night, alone with her two children but remained calm and made smart choices that ultimately saved them all.

  16. Pete Klein says:

    Don’t are to comment. Just want to read the comments and making a comment seems to be a requirement to read the comments.
    What’s up with that?

  17. hiker says:

    Could you give a more complete list of the equipment that they left at the treeline and that they carried to the top?

    Did they have anything that could provide warmth, such as hand warmers?

    Did they carry any extra emergency equipment beyond what they were wearing, such as an insulated pad or space blanket?

    How much food did they have and what was it?

    What sort of lights did they have? Even if nothing had gone wrong, they were planning to snowboard for some miles in complete darkness.

    With more facts, we can decide how judgemental to be.

  18. adker says:

    Yes, we’ve all been there, done that, been scared and learned that Mother Nature “takes no prisoners.” Well said, Pete.

  19. Tom Philo says:

    Right on Pete! Excellent commentary ~ Superb!

  20. Tony Goodwin says:

    I agree with Pete that many of the comments about this incident were uninformed and critical simply because the children were put in a dangerous situation. Children do need to be exposed to danger both to build character and resiliency and so that they can learn to make better choices as they grow up. I allowed my own children to take many risks including ski jumping where a few of their crashes could have ended much worse than they did. Tourists standing next to me while I watched my sons jump sometimes gave me the “How can you let them do that look….” but let them go on to bigger and bigger jumps.

    That said, I agree with Nature that this should have been a “teachable moment” where the lesson was that it was just a bit too dangerous to proceed. Pete notes that there were no specific warnings of extreme weather and conditions in the valleys were “normal” for late March, but the reports from hikers who were up high that afternoon indicate that by 3-3:30 PM (when the family would have reached timberline) there was every indication that turning around would have been the only sensible course.

    Visibility on Marcy yesterday afternoon was beyond poor. A complete white/blue fog with maybe 15 foot visibility, just enough to pick out the next cairn. We came up the back and over the top. Cairn to cairn on the back was not too difficult. Descending to the van ho was really tricky….. We ended up on top of the ” half pipe” and just slid down it. There was a group of about 6 at the bottom, near where the trail going up would bear to the right in summer.

    They said their gps was not working right. I said I would not go up if I had known it was going to be so hard to get down. With the wind foot prints we gone within minutes. One guy with a full pack turned around, the others headed up the lip of the half pipe. THE SNOW REALLY STARTED UP AT THIS POINT AS WELL. It was about 2:30 when we made it to the Phelps trail junction.

    Interesting to note we also met some really young kids, like 10-12 year olds, near the plateau who were pulling snowboards up the trail!

    We were bushwhacking around on the west side of Colden at 3700 feet in elevation. Slide conditions were full-on with the wind and quite nasty. By 4 it was really gusting with wet snow and low visibility. I don’t turn back often, but after 5 hours on the slide and halfway up we retreated; I’d no desire to be up there when the temps dove. Our tracks were mostly blown in on the descent.

    In going on, the parent showed extremely poor judgment and must accept at least the informed criticism of their decision.

    • Tony Goodwin says:

      I should note that final sentence is mine and not that of the “Very Experienced….”

    • Mike Lynch says:

      My research into the incident supports Tony’s statements. The weather was already poor by the time they reached treeline. (Although I guess it potentially could have been clear for a short period.) In light of the poor weather, it would have made sense to turn around. Personally, I think the biggest mistake made took place in the planning stages. I think it would have made sense to have two adults on this trip. I would think there would be more room for error with two adults. One person might forget a compass, but the other might have one. You could also carry more gear with two adults, share opinions on the weather, etc. If you look at guided trips that take place throughout the Adirondacks, there’s usually two or three adults on the trip.

    • common sense says:

      My look in to the facts of this incident also supports Tony’s statement. “In going on, the parent showed extremely poor judgment and must accept at least the informed criticism of their decision”

  21. Hawthorn says:

    I’m in the camp that thinks kids should be exposed to wilderness and that can mean difficult and possibly dangerous situations. But, I also think we can all use this type of experience as a learning tool. Having read many, many accounts of situations that often were resolved happily, but sometimes not, I keep them in the back of my mind when I begin to wonder about pressing on. I’ve had crying kids on my hands when telling everyone we’re turning back simply because the light was fading, with no other dangers apparent. My basic rule is that the greater the danger the greater the caution that must be exercised in order to avoid it. Pressing on for the summit with only maybe three hours of daylight left in the winter was bad judgment, even if the weather hadn’t turned. It would have been bad judgment with or without children. That is not to condemn someone–who hasn’t made mistakes? Not acknowledging the mistakes made would be even worse.

  22. Bob Meyer says:

    Saying it like it is Pete. Right on!

  23. John Grant says:

    I’ve been reading the Adirondack Almanack for well over five years. I enjoy it. Most of it. Many contributors have enriched my understanding and appreciation of the Adirondacks with their informative and insighful articles. And for that I am grateful.
    Unfortunately, I find myself often reading what amounts to something that belongs on an Op/Ed page, a section I generally avoid when reading the newspaper. Not that I don’t value the opinion of an expert. I do. And I actively seek that opinion when I don’t know about or have experience with a particular situation or subject. I would ask a search and rescue expert involved with the incident what their opinion was.
    I have shivered the whole night through. I make every effort not to again. The mountain does not care.
    There’s room in the banner for an Op/Ed section like a padded cell for all the ugly sexist implications, the snide comments, the arrogant attitudes and the self-inflated egos to go do their thing with each other.
    “The Almanack is the online news journal of Adirondack Explorer.” The Adirondack Almanack.

  24. Jay says:

    Could you make this case for them if a rescuer died during the search?

  25. Paul says:

    The odd thing here is that an article criticizing the critics (rightfully so in my opinion, I agree with Pete) is just another opportunity for folks to criticize. Folks should just let it go. When there is a rescue like this, where there is not really much to learn, it is probably best left alone.

  26. Marco says:

    Freedom is choice. Choice is not without danger and taking risks. Danger can be many things up to and including getting killed. Children need the same training, within their capabilities, that every adult receives on this planet. That’s how we got to be adults after all. Not one of us can not remember ever taking a risk.

    What idiot would decide to launch a rocket at the moon and visit the damn place anyway? Is this an acceptable risk for anyone? Let’s outlaw space travel and progress and only think “safe” thoughts and “safe” activities! Lets wrap our children in a safe world that never lets them fall, and bang their head, trying to walk, or scrape their elbows, or skin a knee. Or, sometimes tragically, die on a mountain. That same spirit of adventure that pushes us to explore starts with our children learning these crazy stupid ideas from their parents and peers. We MUST stop these insane new fangled notions. Parents need to stop teaching their children, we are putting them at risk with all these liberal learning’s. Stay inside your padded cells! Stop the sun because sunlight hurts your eyes! Un-invent fire because you can burn your fingers! Tear up roads and outlaw cars because cars kill children! …

    And, I do not know of any rescuer that would not risk his/her life for a child, pretty much regardless of circumstances.

    Well said, Pete!

    • Trailgeek says:

      It’s beyond selfish to put others (in this case, two teams of rescuers) at risk. But in our day and age, who thinks of anything but themselves?

      • Marco says:

        The mother did not intend to spend the night. She knows about the peaks, hiking and climbing. She was training her children. She made a mistake. She used her head and kept everyone alive till rescuers could arrive.

        Selfish?? Thinking only of Herself???

        I think she done damn good.

  27. George Morrow says:

    Thank you, Peter, for making the circumstances clear and for your support of a mother who, to my mind, did a lot for her kids. I’m sure she didn’t intend to spend the night on the mountain, and I’m sure that her kids were a little scared. But she demonstrated to her kids that if you equip yourself properly and deal with the realities of your situation – by, for example, taking shelter rather than exhausting yourself by continuing to blindly struggle down the mountain – you can survive these unexpected challenges, and survive them a lot more easily than you might have thought. My guess is that her kids have learned an invaluable lesson in the importance of preparation and have gained a healthy dose of self-confidence in their ability to deal with the things that life slings at you.

  28. Bonnie Murawski says:

    Great commentary. I was raised in a country setting with freedom to wander and explore, and I did my best to give my own kids the same kinds of opportunities. Were there risks? Absolutely, but the bigger risk these days is in raising kids who are being so over-protected that they have no idea what to do in a crisis if they can’t call 911.

    What some of these judgmental people seem to forget is that summer hiking and camping in the Adirondacks bring their own dangers, often in the form of sudden and severe thunderstorms. If a backpacking family needs to be rescued because of a storm related injury or because downed trees have made a trail impossible to follow, are these same critics going to condemn the parents for making poor decisions because they somehow “should have known” there could be severe weather?

    I’ve spent enough time in the Adirondacks to know that somewhere in this great forest, there is almost always the possibility of severe weather. If I had allowed that little fact to instill unwarranted and irrational fear and anxiety in my kids and myself, we’d have never ventured out to the mountains at all.

    I was camping with my then-husband and our kids at Little Sand Point on Piseco Lake during the 1995 microburst. It was a terrifying storm, and I remember being suddenly awakened by the “freight train” I heard rumbling nearby. And then I remembered where I was, and that there was no freight train nearby. There was no time to do much of anything except ride it out in the darkness. Fortunately, the campground itself and the immediate geographic area were largely spared, but areas to the north and west were not so lucky, and five people died in the Adirondacks during that storm.

    My point is that the weather in the Adirondacks is unpredictable, even during the summer. And because of that, sometimes unfortunate events occur even when people are reasonably well prepared. And of course there are other risks in the outdoors as well, but life itself is not without risks unless you intend to live in an impenetrable bubble. If taking my kids hiking and camping during the summer was a poor decision because a nearby tree could be struck by lightning, or someone could be bitten by a tick, or stumble upon a yellow jacket nest, or be impaled by a fishing lure (all of which happened in our family at one time or another) then I guess I’m also guilty of bad parenting. And that’s just fine with me, because the life altering experiences and the memories were worth it.

  29. Mark Boyce says:

    Excellent article, Pete.

  30. Paul says:

    Snowboards? How common is this on Marcy or similar mountains? Must have been estimating a pretty fast decent.

    • Lucas LaBarre says:

      Snowboarding in the high peaks, while not as common as backcountry skiing is not unheard of. Various slides, glades, and trails are ridden in winter. Marcy is a well know bc ski tour and appears in several credible books on the topic.

  31. Winter 46er says:

    The weather did not change, the weather was aleady fogged in, clouded over, windy, snowing heavily and blowing snow when they proceeded above tree line. That is the point, anyone: men, women, children, people with dogs, etc… should have really assessed why they felt they needed to persue the summit, especially without a compass.
    In this case they had brought the snowboards to the point where they could have had a great ride for the 4 miles back to Marcy Dam. Turning around woukd have been a great lesson for her children about how these mountains are. But, I am proud of the mother for what she did after she knew they were lost. She deserves a lot of credit that the only loss was some fingers. I am proud and relieved no rangers were harmed.
    Again people thinking the weather changed, which it can, while they were on the summit is not accurate. It was already a tough situation.

    • ADK46er says:

      What’s a crying shame is that, instead of spending a frigid night in a snow cave at Schofield Cobble in foul winter weather, they didn’t continue their descent to Four Corners and then on to the heated DEC Interior Station at Lake Colden. A long downhill walk through the woods would’ve made for an exhausting evening but with a much better outcome than a full night of jumping jacks at treeline. Sadly it’s moot because you’d have to know you were at Schofield Cobble to make this decision. 🙁

  32. Lucas LaBarre says:

    Comparing a scramble in Indian Pass to a winter/evening/bad weather ascent of Marcy’s summit cone is not exactly fair. In addition the author conveniently fails to mention the repeated warnings of terrible conditions that the mother received on the final climb from several parties. I am not condeming her for what happen, but to defend her choices as correct sends the wrong message as well.

  33. ADK46er says:

    I agree with Pete insofar that who the victims were was not pertinent to the incident. However, the adult involved was ultimately responsible for the outcome.

    “There was at least one mistake made, based upon the facts. The family left some gear at the tree line, including snowboards and the compass. Leaving the compass was an unfortunate choice …”

    “Unfortunate choice” is quite the euphemism for a mistake so severe it threatens one’s life! I would lean towards “fateful” and glad it wasn’t “fatal”.

    In the two Marcy-related rescues this year, both parties had no means to navigate. Whether you left your compass at home, in the car, or at treeline, the result is the same (flying blind). However, having a compass is of no use if you don’t have a back-bearing to direct your retreat to treeline (or a map to derive the bearing).

    I suppose at least knowing “north” would’ve been advantageous given that the victims in both incidents were spun around so badly they descended the “wrong side” of Marcy. FWIW, assuming you can locate Marcy’s summit plaque, stand with your back against it and walk forwards (at least that won’t lead you to Schofield Cobble). :-\

    I know the two people tgoodwin mentioned and they are very experienced hikers. If they said the weather above treeline was foul, you take that to the bank. It was far from a bluebird day and the victims overlooked to consider what would happen if they couldn’t use the cairns for navigation. That’s the takeaway from this incident.

    • Tony Goodwin says:

      Thank you for backing up my quotes from the two experienced hikers who were in the mountains at altitude that afternoon. One commenter talked about surviving the ’95 microburst at Raquette Lake. That was indeed an unexpected event, but I don’t imagine the parents thought of launching a canoe in the face of that wind so that their children could appreciate taking risks. From the reports, the conditions at timberline weren’t a whole lot better at that hour that day on Marcy.

  34. Christina says:

    I was on Whiteface that same day. When we reached the summit ridge, the light was flat and it was snowing. We could not see the summit buildings at all. It was impossible to discern any tracks and the wind was quickly blowing in ours. I could only think that it was not the day to be on an open summit like Marcy. I’ve turned around in lesser conditions. I agree that was the mistake, not having the experience to know better. I hope she learns from it.

    I’ve talked to the experienced hiker who traversed Marcy that day, said she didn’t want to do that again any time soon in those conditions.

  35. Trailgeek says:

    A number of descending hikers that day stated that the conditions above tree-line were “white-out.” This mother put her own and her kids’ lives at risk, as well as the rescue teams’ lives, by making an objectively stupid decision and not turning around. And now her kids will pay the price by living a lifetime with missing fingers.

    Ooooooh, how judgmental you are, Trailgeek. Yes – it is precisely judgment that this woman was lacking and judgment that will hopefully let others learn from her mistakes.

  36. Pete….. 2 points. 1. There needs to be a hiking license that people have to purchase….$25.00. Maybe some training should be involved….The money should go to support local volunteer fire departments in the Adirondacks. 2. Our Fire department needs to start charging for rescues. This rescue was executed by the Rangers but most of the time, our local guys have to go out in all weather at all hours. Most of them are over 50 and have jobs…lost time and labor. If you do a rescue in the middle of the night it is very hard on a 50 year old guy!…Or 60 year old guy! So Pete. Shove it up your… know what!

    • Fortheloveofthetrees says:

      If you’re feeling “too old” to respond to your fellow humans, a truly monumental task when dealing with weather and people in crisis, why not stay home with whatever up your you-know-what and let some younger folks into your organization(s) who possess the true desire to be trained- physically and mentally- and available at any hour to risk their life/limb in order to rescue a human being-ill-prepared, burning with summit fever- from the vast wilderness some of us call home, even if only for a few hours on a weekend.
      And now you wish to see people charged for lacing up boots and heading into the wilderness- this goes against everything I believe to be part of our basic rights. If you don’t wish to risk your life to help, stay home! No one wants your half hearted help! Worse than no help at all. And you bring down the folks out there actually trying to help.
      And don’t forget you and your fire dept folks don’t “have to go out in all weather at all hours”- you have chosen to sign up for this!!
      Where are the real heroes?? They are not busy condemning judging or questioning others, they are busy saving lives.
      This whole thing only serves to make people think long and hard before calling for any kind of help at all, if this kind of treatment comes along with it.

  37. Woody says:

    Mr. Nelson,

    So what the heck is the point of your opinion piece here? That these three people were victims of circumstance, and that they were not responsible for their own choices? That to criticize the actions and choices of a woman is to be sexist? That the most outrageous comments on the net need to be dignified by further comment? For the life of me, I can’t see your rationale here.

    Those three people didn’t spend a night on mount Marcy because they did everything right. Mistakes were made. Let’s hope other people learn from them, so that they are not made again.The weather that day was not a freak storm that came out of no where and took everyone by surprise. I was in the Adirondacks that day too, no where near a high peak and glad for it. The forecast was for rough weather, and the weather didn’t let anyone down. Sure we can be glad that everyone survived, but the people involved were responsible for the consequences of their actions, as well what they put the forest rangers through. Your opinion not withstanding.

  38. Charlie S says:

    John says “There are way too many judgmental people out there who would have kids sit in front of computer or tv screens all day long becoming vegetables.”

    Mindless vegetables i would like to add.

  39. Charlie S says:

    John Grant says “Unfortunately, I find myself often reading what amounts to something that belongs on an Op/Ed page, a section I generally avoid when reading the newspaper.”

    So you would rather have the Adirondack Almanack be a watered-down version of what it is I gather John,a site where censorship is enforced according to what you do or do not desire to read…instead of what it is now,people freely expressing themselves right,wrong or indifferent?

    • John Grant says:

      No Charlie S., I’m not proposing censorship at all. In fact, I actually support free speech to include the opinions of those not necessarily qualified. I merely offered a suggestion to start a section in the banner for opinion based articles. I am a veteran and a former news editor Charlie S. . I support your right to free speech.

  40. Charlie S says:

    “The family left some gear at the tree line, including snowboards and the compass.”

    The compass left at treeline seems to me the only mistake she made which was a big mistake but she survived along with her children…what else matters? A compass should always be on the person when in the woods….two of them.With her experience what possessed her to leave her compass at treeline? A brain fart! We all get them now and again. Who on board can deny this reality?

  41. Charlie S says:

    Trailgeek says, “it is precisely judgment that this woman was lacking and judgment that will hopefully let others learn from her mistakes.”

    There ‘are’ no mistakes Trailgeek. Every thing is presented to us for us to learn or for others to learn.

    • Paul says:

      In one comment you describe the “big mistake” that was made then in the next you tell Trailgeek they don’t exist?

  42. Charlie S says:

    Steve Bowers says: “This rescue was executed by the Rangers but most of the time, our local guys have to go out in all weather at all hours. Most of them are over 50 and have jobs…lost time and labor. If you do a rescue in the middle of the night it is very hard on a 50 year old guy!…Or 60 year old guy!”

    I suspect these rescuers do it for reasons other than you suggest Steve. It’s not because they’re worried about lost time and labor,or because it’s hard on them.They do it because a selfless motivation drives them,because they feel it’s the right thing to do. They do it for the same reasons Rachel Corrie did what she did when she was run over and killed by a bulldozer by two Israeli soldiers some few years ago….because it is in some of us to look beyond the image in the mirror,because an inherent altruistic nature resides within some of us.

  43. Charlie S says:

    I stand corrected dont I paul? Maybe I should’ve said ‘The big no-no.’ You’re testing me aren’t you?

    • Paul says:

      No, I think your point is still well taken. These “mistakes” are an opportunity. There are only a few ways to learn things. One is by trial and error. I hope this mom and her kids keep on hiking and snowboarding and have fun for many years to come.

  44. Corey says:

    I don’t find your article to be balanced at all. The whole idea of what a great job the mother did goes right out the window considering her children spent almost a week in the hospital. Furthermore, the sentiment that criticism was sexist equally holds no merit. There are quite a few women who have responded (myself included). My children are both accomplished outdoorsmen, and I can assure you, they do not spend their spare time in front of a computer.
    A few things: The 4 pm summit time is relevant in that appears that the mother and her boys were the last hikers to reach the summit. Had someone been behind them, there would have been a better possibility of teaming up and finding the path. A parent with two small children would have benefited from having others sweep behind them. What if a child broke his leg snowboarding down? Who would have hiked out to get help? A seven year old, perhaps? Having an earlier summit time also would have created a safety net in a different way: it would have made their rescue during daylight on Saturday more likely. As it is, she was lucky to have a cell signal. A compass can help if visibility is half the distance from cairn to cairn (which it was) and you have bearings of the ascent have one ore two reliable people with you.
    Your comparison to September 14th has little merit. On September 15th two years ago it was about 75 degrees when we took an hour nap on top of Phelps. On March 21st I, along with 10 (!) other hikers summitted Colden at 11:24 a.m. I can assure you, that the weather was not comparible to a warm day during early Fall. Every person in our group was a 46er and for most of us this was not our first trip up Colden in the winter. Visibility was very low, and it was windy. On September 14th, we probably would have enjoyed lunch on the summit. On March 21st, we were kneeling in the col. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great day full of wonderful memories.
    Yes, she told the kids to do exercises and was able to get them into a trench. With the snow being chest deep in that area, it helped in the digging of the trench. Exercises and getting out of the wind is rather elementary. I wonder if the kids are eager to return to the High Peaks.
    Having said all that, my heart goes out to this woman. She set out for an adventure and had an experience I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.

  45. Well said Mr. Nelson. Thank you for your efforts in writing this. People are indeed very quick to judge in situations like this. The mother of those children should be commended for giving her kids a chance to Experience something that could really help them for years to come. When I was 7 years old there were critics of my family because my family took me on rather extreme hikes. However, I remember those hikes as being difficult but wonderful. They definitely impacted my development in a positive way, and yes, there were many, many “There but for the grace of God” moments. Living a life in bubble wrap is a life not worth living.

  46. Jeff says:

    The number of Monday morning quarterbacks and armchair mountaineers who have come out of the woodwork to comment on this is simply amazing. The woman made a mistake (or a few mistakes). There’s no denying that. But the criticism, condemnation and judgement is unwarranted. God forbid one of you critics leaves a candle burning in your home by mistake and needs the fire department to put out the fire and rescue your family.

  47. Hawthorn says:

    It’s ironic that some criticize kids who use computers while readers sit in front of one and type their comments on an article written using a computer and displayed on a website created on a computer. Those computer using kids will grow up and get a job that probably pays at least twice whatever most of you are making, and they’ll work at places that provide generous time off to go mountain climbing. And a lot of them will learn how to be safe in wilderness by reading about and studying how to do it right. The school of hard knocks is a harsh teacher, and there are better ways to learn.

    • Paul says:

      This is a great comment. It’s all true. I love this South Park episode where the dad is yelling at his kid to get off the computer and go socialize with his friends (been there done that!). The kid explains that he is actually playing one of these super interactive games (where you all have headsets and are talking) with all his friends including some friends on the other side of the world! Everything in moderation.

  48. George L. says:

    To change the setting of the incident, would it be good practice for one adult to take two young children deep into Five Ponds, in the summer, with only a cell phone for backup?

    Personally, I would only take kids into a wilderness with two adults. If a kid gets hurt, one adult stays, one goes for help. For the same reason, three adults on a trip is better than two.

    Relying on a cell phone to get help is bad judgment. And a compass won’t get you help.

    From my point of view, one adult (male or female) who takes two kids to the top of Marcy in the winter, relying on the cell phone to get help, shows bad judgment from the start.

    What do other parents think?

    • Paul says:

      First, I don’t think that this person was “relying on a cell phone” for anything.

      I think it is pretty crazy to think that to take your kids into the “wilderness” you need two or three adults. If this was the case most kids would never get the chance.

      I, as a parent, have taken my kids when the were young into many places like the five ponds wilderness. BTW- as many have pointed out here there isn’t any place in the Adirondacks that you can get too deep into the Wilderness. There are roads within several miles of just about any spot you can go. So a compass is a pretty handy thing to get you to one of those roads and help pretty fast.

      I think the first time I climbed Whiteface I was around 8. I think we had 2 adults and there were about 12 of us kids. With that ratio it is a miracle I am still alive!

      • Corey says:

        I am sorry but you are missing the point. The reason behind the two adult suggestion is that if one child gets injured, one adult stays with the child and the other one goes for help. The adult child ratio has absolutely nothing to do with it.

        • Paul says:

          I don’t think you are being practical. One adult can easily look after a number of kids it happens every day all over the place. Sure in a perfect world having several adults around is better but it isn’t necessary by any means. So just make sure you have what you need and take the kids hiking and have fun!

    • Paul says:

      Also, in this case would just have had two adults and two children lost. Another adult would have made no difference.

  49. John S says:

    Reading the comments, esp those referring to “Monday morning quarterbacks and armchair mountaineers” and referring to what happened on Mt Marcy this winter as a simple mistake. The capacity for some people to miss the overall point of the criticisms of the actions taken by the mother are absolutely breathtaking. Facts were presented by Tony Goodwin and a few others regarding first-hand accounts of conditions on the summit of Marcy that afternoon (as opposed to speculation, as from the author and others). Facts vs speculation — makes a big difference!

    It was not as if the conditions suddenly turned bad and the mother was unaware; the conditions were already whiteout! Yet some are referring to the decision to forge ahead as a simple mistake. Then by that logic, ignoring a sign which says “BRIDGE OUT” and proceeding to drive ahead only to drop off is just a simple mistake.

    • Paul says:

      Even Pete said in his article that “at least one mistake” was made. We all get it that they should have turned around. The poor woman obviously didn’t want to get lost with her kids. The main criticism in the article is focused on nut jobs that were criticizing the woman for even taking the kids into harms way. That is simply insane and Pete called them out.

  50. Charlie S says:

    No sweat John Grant.Keep sharing.

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