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Thread: Melt- Down

  1. #1

    Default Melt- Down

    Has anyone ever been on a remote trip, where a member of the party broke under pressure, and became a liability?

    This last weekend my group planned one trip, but were forced into another because of water conditions. We encountered a severe portage with gear and boats, through the worst brush "in the world" (lol), in rain, wind, and lacked proper equipment to make this as easy as it has been in the past. This was hard, and went far beyond the noticeable physical stress, well into the mental stages of anguish.

    We are seasoned boaters and expect these things to happen, our trip even though it was exhausting, went well and we laughed it off at camp. During the course of this adventure it did occur to me, a meltdown far from civilization could make for a delicate situation in many different ways.

    Anyway, I've seen this happen close to home but never remote, and thought is was a reasonable inquiry to research more. I imagine some of you guides, or others, have a story or two.

  2. #2
    Member dkwarthog's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by markoathout View Post
    Has anyone ever been on a remote trip, where a member of the party broke under pressure, and became a liability?

    The short answer is YES...and all you can really do IMO is not include that person on future remote trips. Folks that crack under stress can cause serious risk to the rest of the group in a survival situation...and in my experience, it is hard to know how a person will react until you see them react to adversity...I've experience folks who I thought were skookum become a real drag after a cold night or an alder choked climb...JM.02

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    Member Sierra Dragon's Avatar
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    Yep...

    From experience the best thing to do is to throw all your schedules out the window, get to the nearest safe campsite ASAP. Get a warm fire going and get hot food/drink into the breakdown guy and when he's calmed down make new plan for getting out immediately!

    one thing to keep in mind is that under stress and survival situations your judgement is going to be compramised... so take your time and really think about what all the possible scenarios could end up like... think worst case not that it will happen, (rarely does) but it's useful to remind to not take risks.

    Got stuck on a river once when the authorities without notice opened a spillway on a dam. the nice class 2 river turned into a class 4+ monster in a matter of minutes for which we were NOT equiped... we ended up swamped and on the wrong side of the bank. Several of guys panicked... we managed to sort of calm them down while walking the bank recovering our equipment when one of the guys (panicked) has the bright idea to lash the boats together to form a crude Cataraft. (more stable right??? can just float down the rest of the way to the takeout????) what we didn't consider was the lost maneuverability. we were fine for a mile when we couldn't avoid a sweeper and made a bad situation almost catastropic. (big hindsight DUHH!!!) Fortunately we were all abe to get out and onto the right side of the bank and cut our losses and hiked out. (sans equipment)

    we came back the next week in a raft (checking there were no more spillway releases planned) and recovered most of our (damaged) equipment.

    not fun situation thats for sure.

    Havn't had to call for search and rescue yet though... (knock on wood)

  4. #4
    Member 6XLeech's Avatar
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    Default By degrees?

    I've seen people just quit and also others with degrees of meltdown short of quitting. I've seen people quit in training escape/evasion and SAR scenarios and float trips too. Quit and just head off in their own direction. But more often in the field, people seem to quit by degrees - first lagging behind, getting up later, missing out on work, getting crabby... There should be a rich background of data among SAR/survival experts, but NOLS has some useful ideas (1) about what they call "expedition behavior" - behaviors which influence human behavior on trips to the "wilds".

    Some individuals seem to me to get it- that individually and as a group we need to get the job done, whatever it is. Some part attitude, some part knowledge/experience and some part good instincts or intuition - they sense what needs to be done to help the group work better too. They are the leaders really. Liking each other is different from the behaviors needed to be effective. We're just talking about "mission effectiveness" in the field.

    Some groups, probably because of key individuals, seem to develop a better group attitude too. Respect/communication/courtesy/unselfishness...all that teamwork stuff happens naturally. I think that's what NOLS is getting at with their emphasis on leaders (1 or more within the group) taking steps to prevent or minimize the chances of end-of-day irritability for instance by making sure individual's needs (food/water/rest) are met. We'd like to think that anyone headed to the Alaskan wilds would have this together, but ... not always. Good leadership within the group, which might be one or several individuals, finds ways to inject humor or pause to reassess, adapting the group's expectations. I like the way the Marines say it, "Improvise, Adapt, Overcome".

    Whether you leave them out of future trips, depends to me on several factors; what else that individual brings to the table and also how flexible I can be about the expectations for those future trips. In most cases no, but I know one guy who's probably worth the hassle on trips. If they similarly value anything about you as a partner, sometimes it's worth working at it. Good trip partners can be hard to find.

    Interesting thread. Thanks, Mark.

    (1). Harvey, M. Leadership and expedition behavior, in The National Outdoor Leadership School's Wilderness Guide. New York, NY. Simon&Schuster. 1999.

  5. #5

    Default 6x Leech- excellent

    That was a fantastic response.Where did you get that material?

  6. #6

    Default OOPS- did not read your cite

    Found the book and will order a copy.

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    Member 6XLeech's Avatar
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    Default What makes good expedition partners?

    Quote Originally Posted by dkwarthog View Post
    The short answer is YES...and all you can really do IMO is not include that person on future remote trips. Folks that crack under stress can cause serious risk to the rest of the group in a survival situation...and in my experience, it is hard to know how a person will react until you see them react to adversity...I've experience folks who I thought were skookum become a real drag after a cold night or an alder choked climb...JM.02
    Agree. Finding good partners is harder than it seems. In Alaska, like anywhere else maybe, I've met many guys who fish/hunt/float with a small circle of friends, just a few. Mostly it seems through experiences like markoathout's, that we figure it out. I guess trial and error is the only way to know?

    How can you know who's going to work out or not? One of the best parts of Rich Hackenberg's book (Moose Hunting in Alaska) for me are the parts where he talks about problems he's had with hunt partners. I'm sure it's no different for other expedition groups; learning about each other's judgment and a sense of personal limits, humor and a sense of group limits just has to come with days in the field. The only thing I know is to make trips together, start slow and work up.

  8. #8
    Moderator Alaskacanoe's Avatar
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    I had a guy that came to me wanting to do a remote float trip.
    He had never done anything like that , and he seemed humble enough about it. He kept telling me that He knew nothing about how to do any of the stuff like we were going to do, and that what ever I said he would do, ..
    Well the first hours of our trip he begins to question what I am doing, and suggesting options.
    I tried to remain calm and finally realized that I had made a huge mistake bringing this guy..
    it was going to be a blow up soon, so I just stopped and said..
    "Gary, remember when you begged me to take you and that you knew nothing and that you trusted me to make the calls"
    Yes,, but,, he said,, and I broke in..
    " Well, Gary,, you need to either trust me or we call in a plane to get you out of here"..
    He then said that he was truly scared about everything we were encountering and had always been in control of his world until now.
    I said " Gary, I go on these trips not entirely for you. I go on these trips because I just plain love it on the water and the camping and the bears and the sweepers and the falls, and the bears and the weather, and the bears.. etc...
    "And Attitude makes all the difference in the world, and you do not have the right attitude here.. you are negative and making the trip no fun.. "
    "I only have one chance at life and my vacations are never soon enough, and I will not have my vacation ruined due to your fears"
    I held the Sat phone in my hand and just stood there waiting for his reply..
    He knew at that point I was serious.. and we made a good trip of it,, but all of that was needless...
    It put a cramp in our relationship, and although a good trip,it was not a great trip, because I knew inside he was questioning almost every move I made.... Finally about half way thru the trip, he got on board and did pretty well..
    my point is that No matter what they tell you in the beginning.. It does not mean that is how its going to shake out..
    I am not a ...know it all.. and will never claim to be.. I just know what is relaxing and fun and without undo stress..
    It may behove one to tell a new member coming on a trip with you ,, a story like the one I just told about how one should not behave as a newbie .. It may help to keep them in check so you dont have a blow out or have to have a hard talk about it once you are out on the river..
    Max
    When you come to a fork in the trail, take it!

    Rentals for Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts, boats serving the Kenai canoe trail system and the Kenai river for over 15 years. www.alaskacanoetrips.com

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    It's not a story that took place in Alaska, but it's a good read none the less... "The River of Doubt"... the story of Teddy Roosevelt's journey down a previously unexplored river in South America - and the effects of the pressure on the men. Talk about a melt down...

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