Update 10/4 late morning: I just spoke with an inside source present at the search/rescue and got straight on some things. My source told me the woman had a severe problem with her orienteering, and thought they were on an entirely different trail from the one they actually hiked, and even got the trailhead confused with another. Source says the outcome indicates that the woman did a good job of getting everyone though the night, but that finding the children nested under a small tarp in a storm above timberline was “disturbing.” Source also said that since the woman thought they were on a loop hike, they actually went downhill to within a half mile or so of the Independence Pass road (Colorado Highway 82), then hiked back uphill to their bivouac about a mile to the north of the highway, in an area of small trees and brush but definitely above timberline near Midway Pass. While I don’t want to digress from my contention that these children were placed in a life threatening situation, one must also acknowledge that after they were lost and bivouaced, they did a good job of staying alive and healthy and the adult was no doubt responsible for this as well.
Update 10/4 : Aspen area newspapers really fell short on reporting this one — they left all the important questions unanswered. Answers that could help prevent similar events with much worse outcomes. In this case the final outcome was good, but I can say from experience that spending the night out in the Colorado highcountry without sleeping gear or a fire is an iffy proposition. If wet weather had come in earlier than happened in this case (storm came in after they were stranded for the night), the lost woman and children could easily have died from hypothermia. One must wonder how a person could lead three children into the mountains and get lost in clear weather on a major pack trail. Reports say they were “disoriented.” One can’t guess what that means without more information, but reading between the lines of the reports does tell us that while the woman and children were able to survive a night out, the adult appeared to lack basic orienteering skills and obviously chose a hike that was way over her ability to navigate. Or else something happened during the hike that compromised her ability (and one can’t help but wonder if a severe hearing impairment the woman has contributed to the situation.)
There are lessons in this for all of us. If you’re taking kids out, dial back your expectations and pick mountain activities well within your abilities, and check the weather report. In this case a major storm was brewing, and knowing harsh weather was on the way should make a good outdoors person think twice about hiking children deep into the highcountry. More, go extra prepared — and consider having two adults along instead of one when you’re responsible for young folks. Lastly, if your kids are going out in the mountain wilderness with adults other than yourself, you might want to check said adult’s guiding qualifications and level of preparedness.
If I sound harsh or preachy about this it’s by intent. In the past decade we’ve had several tragedys and near misses in this area that involved under-qualified adults leading children on backcountry activities, and we should learn from our mistakes.
Original report: I woke up to a disturbing news report this morning saying a woman from our town had taken three young children on a hike into our stormy mountains and not returned. With a wet somewhat cold storm dumping on the heights one had to hope for the best but suspect the worst. Thank God they were found alive late this morning. Preliminary reports indicate the woman was associated with a private school near here ( Carbondale, Colorado), and is deaf or nearly so. Press conference soon, and I’ll update this report when I hear the details. Issues of judgment and preparedness we can all learn from will perhaps come up.