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Arizona, Humphrey's Peak

Arizona, Humphrey’s Peak. Personnel: Doug Rickard, leader (age 20), moderately experienced; Allison Clay (17), inexperienced; Rick Hufnagel (19), inexperienced; Cindy Johnson (17), inexperienced; Clint Miller (24), inexperienced; Mason Skiff (17), inexperienced (all except Allison Clay members of the Arizona Mountain Club). On December 30, 1972, the party camped for the night at the base of the mountain, near the Arizona Snow Bowl ski area. Doug and Clint had a warm meal; the others ate without cooking.

December 31st. Clint and Doug had hot hash for breakfast, but neither found it palatable and little was eaten. The others had cold meals. Doug started breaking trail at 6:15 a.m. The party became spread out in accordance with pace preference and familiarity with snowshoe travel. Clint fell once after tripping over a log. By the time he was back on his feet he had got his pants wet. Cindy caught up with Doug at the first rockslide. Doug thought that he was not setting a fast pace but found that he couldn’t go slow enough. Cindy waited for the others while Doug continued to break trail. It began snowing at this time, which worried her considerably, and there was wind. The other four arrived and were unanimous in wanting to go on despite the snow.

There were no formal food stops. Mason and Allison opened cans of fruit juice and shared oranges. At the second rockslide Rick and Cindy had some liquid — their first since a dry supper and dry breakfast. Clint ate two Hi-Energy bars, but apparently no liquid until the following morning. All were fatigued when they got to the campsite; Rick marvelled afterward that the girls were able to make it at all. The ledge was a short distance below timberline but completely exposed, being about fifty feet from the nearest trees. The wind was gusting and the snow increasing. It was obvious that there was going to be a storm, but all thought it would be over in a couple hours. Two tents were rigged with their entrances almost touching and broadside to the wind. Rick and Mason both recognized the desirability of having the rear of the tents face the wind, but it seemed too much work to clear the additional space. Doug wondered just what was developing, looked at the woods wondering how long it would take to stomp out a tent platform, and decided that even if they started downhill they would have to camp some place.

All alternatives were discarded when Clint arrived with a frostbitten nose, frozen pant legs, and complaining of frostbitten toes. He was helped out of his frozen jeans and thermal underpants, and he apparently also took off his socks. The others thought Clint was in bad shape, but Clint felt he only needed to warm up and eat some hot soup before going on to the summit. The storm began raging in full fury and never let up through the night. Mason, Allison, and Doug all ate snack- type food in Mason’s tent; in Cindy’s tent only Rick ate. No liquids were prepared. It was thought that snow could be shaken off the tents from inside, but there was rapid solid buildup on the uphill side. Mason and Rick cleared snow off by hand, but the poles of Cindy’s Wilderness tent started to buckle. Everyone moved into Mason’s two-man Warmlight tent at about 5 p.m. The transfer seems to have had an element of panic — Clint wound up without a sleeping bag.

By this point all members of the party were approaching a state of emotional shock. The temperature was zero or below, it was snowing heavily, the wind was gusting to perhaps 70 or 80 m.p.h., their shelter was collapsing, and the effects of altitude and hypothermia were making themselves felt. The party lapsed into a passive but irritable survival state. No one would get Clint clothing or a sleeping bag. No one reacted to Clint’s suggestion that the tent be repitched parallel to the wind. No one reacted to Cindy’s suggestion that Clint’s tent (still in his pack) be set up in the woods.

At about midnight the Warmlight began collapsing and was evacuated in a rather panicky, though slow-motion fashion, with only incomplete gear recovery. The storm outside was severe. Rick’s pants froze in about two minutes. Clint was still barefoot and barelegged. Clint’s Glacier tent was unpacked and used as a giant bivouac sack. Six people crammed themselves inside — “kicking, screaming, cursing, and yelling” — with three sleeping bags. They tried to keep from sliding down the mountain by holding onto rocks through the tent fabric. During the night Clint got out to investigate the Warmlight tent, which was still standing. He found two sleeping bags and started to get warm, but continued collapse forced him out again. He returned to the Glacier without the two sleeping bags. The tent slowly slipped to the edge of the campsite until they feared they were about to slip down the rockslide. Everyone got out and the Glacier was pulled up onto the collapsed Warmlight tent, where an ice axe sticking out of the snow offered an anchor. Once back inside, Allison, Mason, and Rick sat cross-legged with one sleeping bag as a quilt; Doug, zipped into another bag, lay across their legs trying to hold the torn tent fabric together; Cindy and Clint were zipped into the third bag. Doug tried to start some singing and joking, but no one responded. Clint asked several times for knickers and socks from his pack. Several people did hear, but they were unable to bring themselves to do anything. Allison is cited as the only calm person.

January 1st. At about 8 a.m., Clint got out of the tent and went to his pack. He couldn’t bend his feet or ankles and fell down several times. He brought a Bleuet stove and mess kit back. Four or five pans of snow were melted and drunk by Clint, Doug, Rick, and Cindy; Mason and Allison seem to have been asleep. Clint tried to warm his hands and feet in the water, but it was impractical. Clint announced that his feet were frozen and that he could not walk down the mountain. As it got lighter, with the wind still very strong, people began to stir about trying to recover gear. Allison had much difficulty walking. While everyone seems to have been aware of Clint’s condition, there was no general knowledge of Allison’s frozen feet. Doug was very relieved when she said that she would stay at the campsite. She had been calm during the night, and now Doug did not have to appoint someone to stay with Clint. Clint was finally given his knickers and socks.. Doug started down the mountain at about 10 a.m. Allison and Clint were left in the torn tent with three sleeping bags, ensolite pads, a stove, and some food. Clint’s and Mason’s packs, both containing food, were outside the tent. Doug told Clint before leaving that it would take about an hour and a half to descend to the Snow Bowl, and that someone would be back up by about 3 p.m.

Rick reports that he got completely “time-spaced” during the descent, losing all sense of duration. Snow was drifting into the tracks, making it difficult to follow Doug. He kept imagining he could hear people shouting on the ski runs. Mason had misplaced his glasses at the campsite and had even more difficulty following. Doug and Cindy, in the lead, finally saw a couple on a sled. They traversed to the Snow Bowl road and found a welcome restroom. They had to hike uphill to the lodge, arriving at about 2 p.m. Doug immediately contacted the Ski Patrol for a rescue. The personnel were eager to go. At about 2:30 Doug was informed that the Snow Bowl management had declined to let the Ski Patrol attempt a rescue on the grounds that if the Patrol tried to cover the whole mountain they would be unable to assure the safety of persons using the ski runs. Doug was advised to contact the Cocconino County Sheriff’s rescue squad, which he did. Since Doug appeared to have (and believed he had) everything under control, Rick, Mason, and Cindy left for the Flagstaff hospital to have Mason’s hands treated. Neither Rick nor Mason realized the seriousness of their own physical condition or the plight of the two still on the mountain. During the drive people said “that was a real blast and I really enjoyed that.”

The Sheriff’s rescue squad arrived at about 5 p.m. Darkness fell at 5:15. Small snow vehicles, and then larger ones, were tried, but none could go very far. The rescue squad personnel had no clothing or equipment to go up on foot. During the night Lee Dexter and Norm Johnson, both of Flagstaff, arrived to assist. On the morning of January 2nd they traveled by Sno-Cat and on foot to the campsite, which they reached about 8 a.m. They later learned that the previous day, after the descent party had left, Allison and Clint had tried to light the stove. Although the matches were waterproof, the striker had got wet. They tried without success to dry the striker and to light matches against zippers. Clint’s hands were so bad that he could hardly grasp the stove valve. Clint ate snow fairly regularly for moisture, but Allison did this only for a short time. There was a great deal of food at the camp, but nothing to eat within arm’s reach. The four who descended overestimated Clint s and Allison’s ability to function. They just bundled up as best they could and waited for rescue. Allison noted the time at 5 p.m., as it was starting to get dark. Clint told her, “I don’t think they’re coming. Tomorrow morning they’ll be here and we’ll just take it easy.” During the night Allison woke up, got out of her sleeping bag, grabbed Clint and started shaking him. “Come on,” she said, “you and I are going down the mountain.” Clint told her, “No, we’re not going down the mountain. We stand a better chance right here.” Clint managed to calm her and get her back into her sleeping bag. In the morning she was dead.

When Lee Dexter and Norm Johnson reached him, Clint was semi-conscious. They undertook to get liquid into him and to restore his circulation. Norm noted that Clint had positioned himself against the mountainside where he could offer Allison the most protection. Clint was wrapped securely in his sleeping bag and pulled several feet to a better site for a helicopter landing. Then, because the helicopter from Luke Air Force Base was searching fruitlessly over a mile away, Norm literally ran down the mountain in about 45 minutes to the communications center at the Snow Bowl. At about 9:30 a.m. the helicopter picked up Lee Dexter, Clint Miller, and Allison Clay’s body. Clint was hospitalized for ninety days and lost all ten toes. The other four survivors were hospitalized for periods of two to sixty days. (Sources: Arizona Mountain Club, Bob Box.)

Analysis: After much discussion and reflection, the Board of the Arizona Mountain Club has collectively been forced to conclude that there is very little we can do in a formal way to avoid such incidents. This conclusion stems from consideration of the kind of people who climb mountains and from the social nature of the A.M.C., which depends completely on volunteers for all Club functions. More formal regulation and monitoring of outings would demand a degree of continuous effort for which volunteers cannot be found within the A.M.C. An attempt to mold the A.M.C. in that direction would either result in a direct failure or in such conservatism in the nature of the “permitted” outings as to alienate the large majority of the membership. We can, however, attempt to state the implicit relationship and shared responsibilities between an outing leader (who is sharing his/her time, interests, and experience) and the outing party members (who are drawing upon the leader’s time and experience for their own enjoyment and/or development). The outing leader should: (1) Be sure that the outing announcement is sufficiently descriptive to alert those who should and shouldn’t consider participation. (2) Describe any mandatory or desirable equipment and/or supplies. (3) Identify an unambiguous time and place to meet for the outing. (4) Supply some responsible person with a list of party members and an anticipated return time. (5) Assign to responsible party members such support roles as bringing up the rear. (6) Be aware of the state of the party and able to make changes in the plan when conditions so dictate. The outing members should: (1) Resolve with the leader any question about their qualifications to participate. (2) Resolve with the leader any questions about equipment and supplies. (3) Take full responsibility for the preparation of any invited guest. (4) Plan on finding everyone gone if you arrive late at the meeting place. (5) Discuss with the leader any last-minute concerns before leaving the meeting place. (6) Do not plan to be back at a specific time. (7) Follow the guidance of the leader unless it seems clear that the party will be placed in jeopardy; then be prepared to accept full responsibility for independent actions.

Using available weather data two separate researchers concluded that the wind chill during the night on the mountain was in excess of 100 degrees below zero. Hindsighted critics should keep this in mind. The errors made by this party were not great, but the margin allowed by the weather was less. (Sources: A.M.C., Box.)