I was so terribly saddened to hear of this tragedy. I know the parents, Jim and Marilene Watson, and they are some of the nicest people it has ever been my privilege to know. I fondly remember some wonderful Sabbath lunches at their house. I also know the paternal grandparents, Paul and Ruth Watson, who are retired missionaries, committed and very active Adventists, and extraordinarily sweet and generous people. The entire Watson and Wang extended families have my prayers and my deepest sympathies.
Mine eyes have been a bit watery thinking of this horrible loss of a precious daughter in such circumstances (I love the out doors, and I know that 10,000’ camping spot for hikers, and the other larger area at the 12,000’ mark). I have two girls, and this story touches home especially close.
“According to her father, who was both the hiking partner and reporting party, she had always wanted to hike the Mt. Whitney trail. Her father also indicated that both he and his daughter were experienced hikers, including hiking in winter conditions. They set out Monday mid-day with no intention of summitting; rather they just wanted to go as far as they could safely and return.”
“By early evening they reached Outpost Camp, where they decided to camp for the evening. Her father indicated that the 18-year old had been experiencing a headache; when he woke up the following morning she was deceased.”
I cannot imagine the horrific shock, sorrow and self-blame of the father finding his daughter unresponsive for the breakfast morning call.
Outpost Camp is about 3.5 miles from the trail head parking about about 10,000 feet. I can vision the area having summitted 7 times. At this elevation it is uncommon (nothing is impossible), as I have experienced, to have altitude sickness, other then dizziness and shortness of breath.
While a headache is often associated with altitude sickness which can lead to the more serious condition of cerebral edema or HAPE, it is also extremely common to generate a headache when climbing a mountain and exerting, especially in winter weather conditions. My point being that there are many many conditions that can cause a headache and we all should withhold our speculation until more information is known from the medical examiner. Right now the family is hurting and grieving and all sorts of self blame comes in to play as a father with medical training comes to grief over his daughter’s tragic passing. We would all do well to avoid our casual speculation which can only make that grief more painful and bring on that much more second guessing by the family. This father is one I know well who is not one to take on a risky pursuit casually without being well prepared. This was simply a tragedy that none of us can understand or explain. I personally have never climbed a mountain (including Whitney several times) without getting a headache somewhere in the process, so it really is not an unusual symptom.
My husband summited Mt. Whitney three times. Each time, however, he would spend two nights camping at the trailhead campground, in order to become acclimated to the altitude. It’s a terrible thing to become sick from the altitude, but descending is the only sure cure.