Lost Children with Woman Found Okay in Aspen Wilderness – Updated Oct 4

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | October 3, 2006      

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.


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6 Responses to “Lost Children with Woman Found Okay in Aspen Wilderness – Updated Oct 4”

  1. Paul October 4th, 2006 7:10 am

    I agree with the lack of important information. I will keep my eye out for anything additional that comes out.
    You know this area better that I do Lou… how much of the hike, where they were ‘disoriented’, where they were found, is above treeline? Any of it?
    I’m just having difficulty trying to figure this out.
    How many miles from 82 were they?
    If they had a compass, wouldn’t it be one of those things where heading due South, or West, would have eventually gotten them back to 82?
    Have you ever hiked without a compass?
    I know I am critical here, but as you say, there are kids involved, and it seems like a lack of experience, judgement.

  2. ray b. October 4th, 2006 7:45 am

    hi lou,

    wow. i live in denver and visit your site pretty much daily. i wonder how much heat you’ll feel as a result from your blog today (about the lost woman/3 kids on lost man).

    i completely get your point about how wrong it gets, and i never advocate taking the co mtns lightly, clearly, cause i know. it is sad. clearly, also, most warnings go ignored.

    and i agree, when kid’s are involved, though i have none of my own, more knowledge, expertise, gear is required. it could have been so much worse.

    but a hearing impairment may have been better described with more sensitivity. also, you reference a “tragedy”, we readers can relate better if a link is provided. just being a crit there.

    i of course don’t take lightly amr inclusion, but i dunno, could that be worded more carefully? she seemed to try. although fail in some ways… but generally kept it together. and i am so sure a hearing impairment-related mis-map is minced to pieces by a hearing-impaired person, with related skills.

    thanks, peace, most respectfully.

    ray b.

  3. Lou October 4th, 2006 9:26 am

    Good points you guys. I have a compass in the small survival/repair kit that lives at the bottom of the pack I carry on all my highcountry hikes, jeep trips, hunting, etc. If I take kids on that sort of hike, I also bring my HAM radio and have even carried a sat phone on ocasion. Overkill? Nope, not when it comes to other people’s kids.

    As for where the group was, I know the area super well. Indeed much of it is above timberline, but I’m unclear on if they spent the night above timberline or not.

    From what I can infer, they were only a mile or so above Highway 82, at the most, via a direct downhill shot via Coleman Creek. It’s brushy route with no trail, but leads you quickly down to the road. I’ve done it in summer and in winter. In these folks case, they could have gone with the “just go downhill and you’ll get there” rule of thumb and it would have worked. Of course, with 9-year-old kids you might hesitate to just strike out cross country, and rather stay put. I think staying put was a wiser choice in this case, if the woman really knew not where she was, or what direction the trail or road was, that was the only logical choice.

    As for other outdoor kid mishaps around here, I looked for links but couldn’t find. We had a church group fatal snowmobile accident a while back, and before that a school group was hiking in Glenwood Canyon and a kid fell off a cliff and was killed. I was supervising a kids outdoor ed group a while back and a parent unskilled in risk management got a kid on a snowmobile and almost got them killed. A total screwup in leadership on my part and one that taught me a big lesson (as in, you can be as good at risk management as you want, but if you’re working with other people you immediately go to their level, not yours).

    As for sensitivity, I thought the woman being hearing impaired was possibly a fairly significant factor in this and worth at least a mention. The fact that the newspapers didn’t mention a peep about it speaks rather loudly, though I don’t know exactly what they were trying to say. Perhaps it’s nothing, but I highly doubt it. I mean, if the rescue folks were shouting or whistling as they searched, and she couldn’t hear them, wouldn’t that be a factor? Word is she has a small amount of hearing and uses powerful hearing aids, but who knows how those functioned… In all, too many questions, not enough answers.

    To be more sensitive I’ll re-word things a bit.

  4. Shane October 4th, 2006 11:30 am

    I don’t see the hearing impairment as a big factor in this. I’m sure the kids could have heard a rescuer’s shout and communicated it to the woman. Presumably the kids and their parents were used to working around the woman’s hearing problem.

    In my eyes, the only thing that she could be faulted for is poor navigation skills and not requiring the kids to each carry their own jackets in the event of bad weather. I admit that it sounds like she did a horrendously bad job of navigating but afterwards she did everything right – kept her party calm, made shelter, and stayed put.

  5. Lou October 4th, 2006 11:40 am

    Shane, I pretty much agree, glitch is that she wasn’t with the kids the whole time, it sounds like she was found while trying to hike out the next morning.

  6. Scott October 4th, 2006 4:04 pm

    I think it is pretty amazing that things turned out the way they did. We were at the Lost Man trailhead last Friday and there was quite a bit of snow then, and I thought that hiking would be a bad idea considering what we had with us, essentially nothing. In light of the current amount of snowfall and an approaching storm, I wonder why someone would venture out seemingly unprepared? I guess what I get from this is, always be prepared, even overprepared. Life’s too short to take chances like that, at least for me anyways. Thank God they were all found, not everyone is that lucky.

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