An Unusual Decision When One Member of the Party Went Missing

When one member of the party went missing on a scramble, the group assessed the situation and them made an unusual decision.
Andy Cahn Andy Cahn
Scramble Leader & Super Volunteer
May 07, 2018
An Unusual Decision When One Member of the Party Went Missing

I recently led a scramble of Seymour Peak. The group hiked from Chinook Pass to Dewey Lake and took a few minutes to rest, eat, and take pictures.  We then proceeded to scramble up towards Seymour Peak. We’d been scrambling for about 30 minutes along a confusing maze of animal trails through open woods and had just entered the basin when one of our members realized that we were missing part of our party.

We stopped and quickly determined that Sony wasn’t within sight and that the last time any of us had definitely seen him was back at Dewey Lake.  We were quite certain that wherever it was that Sony got separated from the party, he would have enough sense to stay put. He would not search for us nor would he wander off on his own; we were going to have to search for him.

In true Mountaineers fashion, we brainstormed what to do and quickly came up with three possible courses of action; 1) the whole party could turn back and retrace our steps to the lake looking for him, 2) we could split the party with most of the party continuing to the summit while one member returned to the lake to look for him, or 3) the entire party could continue to the summit and then, on the way down, we would look for Sony.

We also quickly ascertained that: 1) we were not concerned about exposure to the elements; Sony was quite adept at dealing with everything from intense sunlight to dark rain. 2) He had plenty of juice and would not die for at least a day or two. 3) He had a single objective and would retain his focus and not wander off.

We then discussed the pros and cons of each possible course of action in light of the information that we had available. We made sure that every member of the party had a chance to contribute to the discussion and to participate in helping us reach consensus on a course of action.  After a few minutes, consensus was reached. We decided that the entire party should stick together and finish climbing Seymour Peak before searching for Sony.

We had a wonderful climb to the summit of Seymour and enjoyed the views. Sony was sorely missed and we commented on how nice it would have been to have Sony on the summit with us. We ate our lunch on the summit, but our enjoyment of it was marred by worry.  We then descended to the basin and commenced looking for Sony. Due to the confusing maze of animal trails that crisscrossed the area, we weren’t always sure of exactly which route we had ascended. Luckily, one member of our party had been tracking our route on her cell phone using Backcountry Navigator and she was able to keep us within roughly 30 feet of our upward track. To increase our chance of spotting Sony, we deployed members to sweep 20 to 30 feet both to the left and to the right of our path.

Down the path we searched.  With each passing minute that yielded no signs of Sony, the dread rose. The worry started to gnaw at us. As we neared the lake, we were beginning to despair.

And then, down at the lake, at the very spot where we had rested and eaten and taken pictures, we found him! Sony was sitting right where he had been left, right where he had been seen last. Hurrah! We were overjoyed as we were reunited with Sony the Camera.

Editor's Note from our Safety Committee:

We appreciate this humorous treatment of a serious issue and thank the author for having a sense of humor in sharing this lesson in group decision making. We would obviously take different steps if the missing party member were a human being rather than a camera. In a perfect world, we actively manage our groups and keep the party within contact at all times. However, things happen. If you’ve lost track of your party and you find you’ve been left behind, the safest option is to sit tight and wait for the party to return.It shouldn’t be too long before someone notices you’re missing. If you are the party and you notice that you're suddenly missing someone in the group, halt the group, retrace your steps to the scene of last sighting, and find the missing person.When what’s missing is a camera, it’s not going to get anxious and wander off. Each member of this team was provided an opportunity to participate in the decision and the team operated under a consensus model. We applaud them and thank Andy for submitting a fun article.   

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Peter Hendrickson
Peter Hendrickson says:
May 18, 2018 10:12 AM

If Ms Canon or Mr Nikon had been left behind, would you have even searched?