Date of Incident - July 7-8, 2013 1:20am
Location - North Half Moon Creek, Mount Massive Colorado. 11,800'
Victim - Michael Guastella, Male 25, 6.0' 145lb.
Major Injury - Stage II Hypothermia
Summary of Incident - In the early morning of Monday July 8th a low pressure system passed over the ridge of Oklahoma Mountain to the North West. The stable night time conditions deteriorated leaving the victim exposed allowing the victim to fall into hyothermia.
Detail - The evening of July 7th ended with stable air conditions over the valley of Halfmoon. An improvised bivy was set up on a rock slab about 50 meters from the tree line. The bivy set up consisted of a closed cell foam and inflatable air mattress, a 0 degree down sleeping bag, and an extra large tarp. There was no stable shelter provided by the victim prior to sleeping. At around 1:20am on the morning of the 8th the low pressure system moved in. Initially, Guastella assessed the danger as minor and took no immediate action to protect himself. The only precaution taken was to wrap the sleeping bag with his rain jacket and the excess tarp. By 1:40 am the situation had become more serious as wind speed increased and hail began to fall with the light rain. The decision was made at this point to retreat to the tree line. Guastella had failed to check his headlamp battery prior to the outing and was unaware that it was dead. Without a light source lightning strikes were the only guide to the tree line. On the descent to the tree line the victim slipped and fell on a number of rocks, on one of these falls the rain jacket was lost. The rain began to fall heavily further complicating the already dangerous situation. Having initiated the retreat hastily, Guastella failed to properly secure his gear from moisture. Although in possession of a water proof dry sack and a back pack with a rain cover, neither of these articles were used to keep his clothing or sleeping bag dry. As a consequence once he arrived at the relative safety of the treeline all of his clothing and insulation were saturated. At the treeline the victim was shivering intensely and eventually reached the point where shivering ceased. Reaching for his emergency blanket in his hiking pants and wrapping himself with the blanket, the victim rested on his closed cell sleeping pad. Guastella managed to find and light his stove in the darkness and beginning drinking warm water and consuming food. The sleeping bag proved to have some redeeming value as the thermal liner inside the bag was almost entirely dry. The victim used this for insulation and continuing to snack on food and consuming warm liquid made it through three hours of darkness until sunrise. At sunrise Guastella dried out his sleeping bag and proceeded to rest. Once awake the victim had major flu symptoms and was running a significant fever. After a few hours of recovery, Guastella hiked out to his vehicle.
Analysis and Conclusion - The issue of hypothermia arose from a failure to properly assess the danger in the weather conditions and once the danger was realized Guastella failed to properly use his current gear for his safety. In possession of a tarp that could have made applicable shelter, Guastella failed to even use it once at the treeline. Had he assessed the danger earlier and not waited 20 min to make his decision it is possible he could have pitched the tarp at the treeline and spent the night comfortably dry in his down bag. Where Guastella was successful was being able to identify hypothermia and treat it properly.