Monday, June 29, 2009

Couple of notes

The Sunday Tacoma News Tribune (6/28/09) had two excellent articles on Mt. Rainier NP. The first, about the climbing rangers who help the search and rescue climbers, is excellent to show the importance and value of these experienced folks, especially wining the Andrew Clark Hecht Public Safety Achievement Award. While you, like me, may never climb the moutain, it's always good to know if you did, there's help.

The second was about Liberty Ridge climbing route and the story of a pair of climbers five years ago. One died being evacuated after being injured in a fall. It's the history of that route, as all of them, death is part of the risk, and sometimes part of the results.

And it's always the two issues about the stories of the situations when climbers are in need of search and rescue. The first is about the people, the very same climbing rangers and the NPS staff who have the experience and risk their lives to rescue climbers. And it's about the effort of local National Guard with the helicopters and crew who brave the weather in the worst conditions to retrieve climbers in the most dangerous situations, some described here

And the second is about the costs. Not just in lost lives which is a reality of climbing Mt. Rainier, but the money. The information about climbing Mt. Rainier doesn't mention rescues. That's because the public picks up the costs, which is often well into the low-to-middle five figures. In short, they're not cheap, and a courtesy of the taxpayers.

This has been one of the often discussed and argued issues, usually after an extensive or massive search and rescure effort. To date the NPS does not require climbers post bonds for or try to recover search and rescue costs. Some cite the former will inhibit climbers from trying and the latter is inappropriate to families of injured or fallen climbers. And some cite it's only reasonable to expect the public recover in times of increasing costs on taxpayers.

The arugment for either is simply that climbing Mt. Rainier, usually about 10,000 a year now with about half successful, is restricted to the few who can afford the equipment, guide service and travel/lodging expenses and therefore have the money to pay either way (and a bond is refundable if the climb is successful). I won't argue against the merits of their case, it's valid on its face.

But most of the climbers are young(er) people who are after the experience and really scraped the funds to make the climb. Having to post a bond or worse, pay for a rescue is an unfair financial burden. The opponents argue it's about reality. They know the risks of the climb, why not know the reality of the costs. That's a tough question to answer. I don't have one.

My point? Not sure, except that many people who have to be rescued haven't spoken of their gratitude to the public. They'll more than talk about the people and effort to rescue and treat them. That's normal and expected. But few thank the public and our checkbook for paying the bill. And no one can argue against the tremendous personal value of climbing Mt. Rainier. But do these same people understand the public cost having the rescue and emergency services available should events not work out?

And the argument about the many other similar services providing by public funds that many people don't use or need? True. So why or how is a search and rescue service any different? It's not in most respects, but it's also different in the limited of people necessitating the service constantly be available. Remember only 10,000 people attempt a climb per year. Weighed against the costs of the 24/7 search and rescue by the NPS and the NG, the costs become real.

And then there are the obvious cases where the climbers were clearly out of their league or they simply underestimated the situation and conditions. How many climbers like to take risks, no matter how small it appears to them, but in hindsight was obviously beyond reasonable? it's the nature of them? Somehow and sometimes it seems so, they were simply outmatched by the mountain and the weather.

I won't argue the cases where circumstances changed. Even with the best guides, there will always be situations that overwhelm them and their group. But the second story suggests these two, however experienced, simply found themselves in a hard situation. They may have had the skills to suceed, but an accident cut it short and cost one of them their life. It's fair to argue they have the right to try. But don't also they have the responsibility to pay when they don't, beside one life, but to us?

Anyway, I'm only thinking out loud while reading the articles. These issues always arise in the aftermath of climbing tragedies.

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