The authorities conducting the search for the last two of the 3-man climbing team which so foolishly challenged the mountain and Ma Nature almost 2 weeks ago seem to have fallen for a little ruse. Only this ruse is not so little, it would seem.
Since I live an hour away from that mountain, I've kept up with the news of the search. I refrained from blogging about it much because having been involved with two different search and rescue (SAR) teams in my life, I knew that the men on the mountain needed a calm atmosphere in which to do their work.
The bad weather has returned, though, and the likely resting place for the likely-dead climbers is too dangerous to search in bad weather.
It is most likely that they fell from the snow cave that they dug just below the summit for their injured buddy, who the SAR teams did find.
Back about last Friday or maybe Saturday, I was watching Fox News coverage of the search, which was increasing in size and complexity as the weather cleared. There had been much debate over just how well the climbers were equipped. Initially, there hadn't been much hope for them because it was believed that they had foolishly left most of their gear behind when they started on their difficult climb and trek around the mountain, just before the really bad weather of a week ago closed in.
I wrote about that here.
Then, in what seemed to me to be an incredible turn-around, a note was found containing a long list of the proper expedition gear that knowledgeable climbers would take under the circumstances. The finding of that note changed everything, as the authorities now decided that there was every chance that the men would be found alive. I thought it strange that just as the various media decided to make the SAR effort on Mt. Hood Story One for the weekend, evidence contrary to the initial evidence of poorly-prepared climbers would be shown.
The media circus went forward, and it got nauseating, at least to me. It's winding down now, but is still active. The press hounded the families of the missing men into granting almost-continuous interviews, and so they adopted cardboard personnas in which they spieled out say-nothing speeches using the word "hope" in very creative ways, way too many times. Sheriff Wampler is a good man, and put forth a huge and competent coordination effort of the diverse SAR elements that took to the mountain.
All of those efforts were based on the "note". The "note" gave "hope", the media blathered incessantly. Quick flashes of parts of the note were shown on TV, but no one, it seems, did any critical analysis of that note. It was the second note. The first one was one that was found in the car that the climbers had left at their putative exit point from the mountain. No one said where the second note came from. I did remember the images that I saw of the two notes, however, and they seemed different to me. The first note shown, the one that led SAR authorities to initially (and correctly, as it turned out) surmise that the men were under-equipped and likely did not survive, seemed to have been hurriedly written on a scrap of red envelope, with barely-legible cursive/blocky hand script. The second note seemed to have been written on a full sheet of orange paper, and was VERY neatly written, in the same sort of lettering. That seemed curious to me at the time. Why would the men scratch out one hurriedly-jotted note and leave it fully-visible, on the dashboard of their car, and then also write a contrary note, much more exhaustive, but stash it in the car somewhere it couldn't be seen until the car was opened and searched? To a retired cop, that made no sense.
It made a LOT of sense to the media, though, because they carefully crafted their Story One coverage around the note, flashing images of parts of it on the TV screens for the next three days. The media alternated between incessant interviews and press conferences at the base camp to mountaineer talking heads in other cities, all speculating on just what may have happened to the "highly experienced and highly-equipped" climbing team. One speculated that they might last for three weeks with all that gear. The gear listed in the "note".
The only trouble was, they didn't have most of the gear that was listed in the "note". That was clearly proven when the SAR team recovering the body of the one climber found a camera with him that contained images of the three of them in various poses shot during the successful portion of their climb. The photos clearly show that the men had equipment suited only to a single-day climb. The equipment which the three carried to the mountain would not have sustained them for two weeks, nor would it have permitted them to survive if they had to bivouac on the mountain.
The "note" led everyone to believe that there was hope for the men. The "note" was not factual. The hope of the families and the SAR teams was all for naught. The world was lied to.
Sheriff Wampler now owes us an explanation as to why the second "note" was taken at face value when it appeared to be so different in so many ways from the first note. He alone knows the answers to all of the questions I now pose:
Who benefited the most from the second "note"? The media, that's who.
Did they write and plant the second "note"? I'm not ready to say that, yet.
Who else might have benefited from the second "note"? Family members of the climbers, who, after it was "found", changed their public demeanor dramatically, and went from being mostly reclusive to being in front of the cameras almost constantly, with prepared speeches of dramatic hope. Did a family member write and plant the second note? Maybe, maybe not.
The questions regarding the differences between the two notes shown at different times MUST be investigated.
If the second "note" was created and planted to falsely raise hope and thereby have the SAR effort maximized when it more properly should have been changed to a body search and recovery, then there certainly is a problem.
The problem is one of a hugely expensive SAR, done on false pretenses. The problem is one of several crimes, such as Obstructing Governmental Administration, Creating a False Police Report, and others.
Above all, the problem obscures from public view the complete danger of winter climbs of this, and other peaks. There is really no good reason to climb in winter, and the ONLY reason it's ever done is to satisfy the egos of the climbers. There's zero benefit to the rest of the world. I've seen a lot of emotional talk recently on why such ego satisfaction shouldn't be regulated or outlawed, but the simple fact is that prudent people don't do it.
The second "note", being either totally misinterpreted (unlikely) or a bald-faced lie (most likely) deceived us all into supporting the huge rescue effort, and quieted the voice of reason that says that such climbs shouldn't be made or even allowed.
I want to know the full facts of the second "note". I want to know who wrote it, who discovered it, where it was REALLY found and who decided to show it to the media. When those answers are given, we may have a story even bigger than the climb and subsequent SAR efforts.
I hope I am wrong about my suspicions here. If I am, I will say so immediately in this blog, and offer apologies to any I might have offended by raising these suspicions.
If I'm right, I want some one or some people prosecuted AND sued for the TOTAL expense of the SAR.
You've done your SAR job, Sheriff Wampler. Now do your investigative job.