A Sad Day in the Mountains

 

Profile image from Kate Matrosova’s facebook page

 
On Monday, February 16 Kate Matrosova, a 32 year old climber and investment banker from New York City was found dead on Mount Adams in the New Hampshire Presidential range, while attempting a Northern Presidential Traverse (Mount Madison, Adams, Jefferson, and Washington). 

I did not know her.  I am not a mountaineer, nor am I involved in mountain search and rescue.  I am a rather fair weather hiker with a love for these peaks, like many of those around me.  So for the past few days my social media feeds have been full of article links, comments, and debates about her planned hike, rescue attempt, and ultimate demise.  But this story has been at the forefront of my mind since hearing about it, and I can’t seem to shake it.  So I decided to write down my thoughts here.  I am no expert in winter climbing – and my intent is not to dissect the events and give some sort of expert testimony.  I just wanted to share the thoughts I have accumulated after reading about this.
 
The photo below shows a map view of the Northern Presidential range.  The yellow shading indicates areas that are above treeline;  large exposed granite fields and ridge-lines with very little protection from the elements.  Google image search the presidential range in winter… it’s impressive, to say the least. 

After reading the various reports, it appears she was dropped off by her husband at around 5 AM Sunday morning, to start the hike at up Mount Madison.  The conditions that day were brutal;  forecasted temps of -20 degrees F with 100 mph winds, and gusts well above that;  winchills 70 below.  Sometime around 3:30 PM Sunday she activated her Personal Locator Beacon indicating an emergency.  Rescuers were unable to get to her approximate location due to dangerous conditions on the mountain, and after attempts the search was suspended until Monday morning.  It was then that she was found in the vicinity of Star Lake, where she had succumbed to the elements.  The video below was posted by some search and rescue team members participating in the search on Monday.  Scary stuff, even for those prepared for and experienced in harsh conditions.

There have been many raging debates and unanswered questions in the wake of this tragic event.  I think this has sparked important conversation among those of us who (in varying ways) seek to push our limits in the pursuit of adventure and endurance.  

The one very disheartening aspect has been some very cruel responses I have seen (mostly in facebook comments or the dreaded comment thread below the many articles that have been written about this).  Name calling, blaming her husband… ENOUGH.  

Hindsight is always 20/20;  perhaps the weather forecast shifted some.  Perhaps she had successfully climbed in similar conditions in other areas.  Perhaps she knew full well the forecast and chose to take on the challenge anyway.  Why didn’t she turn back at treeline when faced with that snow and wind?  Why did she set out at all?  We will never know.  


This is most definitely a cautionary tale;  when in doubt – turn back.  Or don’t go at all.  Swallow your pride. The trail, mountain, whatever you are seeking will still be there for another attempt;   make sure that you are too.     

Be kind to one another.  Think before you speak or write;  If you or a loved one had just suffered a tremendous loss, would you want them to read harsh, angry, cruel words on some Facebook or internet page?   I’m guessing no.  I agree her choices were poor, and not only endangered herself, but also the search and rescue teams who risked their own safety to bring her back.   Instead of tearing her apart, learn from it.  Look inward.  We are not invincible.  Maybe this story will help convince you or one of your extreme, ultra-risk-taking, “It can’t happen to me” friends to think twice.  

Be safe out there everyone.  And RIP, Kate.

A few related links to other articles and posts covering the story:

http://nealpinestart.com/2015/02/18/a-young-climber-perishes-on-mt-adams/
http://www.conwaydailysun.com/newsx/local-news/119239-wilcox-says-woman-s-climbing-death-monday-offers-lessons 
http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/nyc-hiker-found-dead-n-h-mountains-article-1.2118000 
http://www.wmur.com/news/rescuers-search-for-missing-hiker-near-mt-adams/31294362
 
 



 

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