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Thread: Deadly hike----Haz-Mat the cause?

  1. #21

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    Re: Deadly hike----Haz-Mat the cause?

    Quote Originally Posted by Drew Wiley View Post
    It always amazes me just how nonchalant even people on trails around here are about picking mushrooms in an uninformed manner.
    In the late 1800s my distant relatives held a large family reunion in Poland. Handed down story goes that around 2 dozen of them died from eating poison mushrooms that were in a side dish. On the other end of the spectrum, in the 1970s I had an uncle who loved to pick and eat wild mushrooms, but only after completing 2 courses in the picking and consuming of wild mushrooms. When foraging for them with him one afternoon in the woods of Massachusetts, he wouldn't even let me pick a single mushroom before he inspected it. As Drew stated, "how nonchalant even people on trails around here are about picking mushrooms in an uninformed manner"... same goes for here in New England. One time came across a pair of hikers who were snacking on wild mushrooms. I ask them if they knew what they were doing. Reply was something like that you just don't eat the orange ones because those are the ones that could be poisonous!

  2. #22

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    Re: Deadly hike----Haz-Mat the cause?

    Quote Originally Posted by Greg View Post
    In the late 1800s my distant relatives held a large family reunion in Poland. Handed down story goes that around 2 dozen of them died from eating poison mushrooms that were in a side dish. On the other end of the spectrum, in the 1970s I had an uncle who loved to pick and eat wild mushrooms, but only after completing 2 courses in the picking and consuming of wild mushrooms. When foraging for them with him one afternoon in the woods of Massachusetts, he wouldn't even let me pick a single mushroom before he inspected it. As Drew stated, "how nonchalant even people on trails around here are about picking mushrooms in an uninformed manner"... same goes for here in New England. One time came across a pair of hikers who were snacking on wild mushrooms. I ask them if they knew what they were doing. Reply was something like that you just don't eat the orange ones because those are the ones that could be poisonous!
    Yikes!
    "I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for men if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority"---EB White

  3. #23
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Deadly hike----Haz-Mat the cause?

    Actually mushrooms are unlikely this time of year; too dry in that canyon. But I do suspect they're on the wrong track completely. There's always the possibility of that difficult to detect sudden killer, botulism toxin. It turns out the couple owned several rental houses in Mariposa as well as their own, and that she held a part-time job at a local restaurant. It's in refrigerators and freezers and picnic boxes I'd be sleuthing around for test samples. Just because no restaurant customers got sick doesn't mean something wasn't taken home from storage, or unwittingly purchased bad to begin with. I once got botulism poisoning from a bad batch of sealed lunch meat, and it darn near killed me fast. It's nothing like ordinary food poisoning, being a neurotoxin, and could easily explain the dog dying too. It can also occur if there are anaerobic conditions in mudholes and marshes, as evidenced by intermittent die-offs of bottom-feeding ducks.

    The posted trail warning about potential toxic algae was probably just a routine water access warning for this time of year. It was posted by the Forest Service, not by any health dept based on specific water testing. There is the same kind of warning and ban against swimming in the little lake uphill from me, and it's routinely posted every summer. Yes, there's quite an algal bloom at the moment; but a totally healthy looking otter was popping its head out of the algae ever couple minutes or so to chomp another small trout. A lot of signed warning have to do with legal liability issues. Much of the public never reads the signs anyway. They certainly don't seem to read to poison oak warnings. But for liability reasons these warn about all kinds of things and needless cry wolf, like about cattle grazing (with pictures of cows not bulls) and wild coyotes. Warnings about ticks makes sense. Some of that proliferation of signage at trailheads is no doubt inspired by lawyers instead of scientists. People have even sued Yosemite NP for lightning deaths atop Half Dome when there's a prominent sign below it strongly warning not to ascend the cable in bad weather. Unfortunately, there's no vaccine for stupidity yet.

    But back to mushrooms. I once took a four Semester unit mycology class taught by a phD on that specific category. The inevitable question the first week of class was where he went to pick mushrooms. He said he didn't; he was afraid to, and bought his from the supermarket, farmed. Other than a few obvious types like shelf fungi and morels, they can mimic looks at different stages of growth. I recently pointed out to a companion hiker what to look for up in an emergency in the high country. There was a little Douglas squirrel (chickaree) constantly running back and forth snatching pieces of shelf fungus off a rotting tree. But only a couple of feet away was a huge white immaculate amanita which even the bugs refused to touch; there is a reason for that. Also, last month over in the pines around Drake's Bay I encountered a couple photographing forest floor details, and told them that the small ball-shaped mushrooms would turn into big brilliant red poison amanitas later in the season, quite photogenic. He didn't even seem to hear my whole sentence and said they'd come back with a basket and pick some to eat. Then I interjected that this is a National Park holding and that they're not supposed to remove anything, hoping that would discourage them. Just one of those would have killed them in half an hour or so.

  4. #24
    Land-Scapegrace Heroique's Avatar
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    Re: Deadly hike----Haz-Mat the cause?

    The LF forum’s detective work continues.

    On July 13th, the Sierra National Forest’s Facebook site gave the following warning about the Hites Cove area (These are the first two sentences):

    After the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) conducted water testing along the Merced River near Hites Cove as part of the wadeable streams assessment on 6/22/2021 and 6/23/2021 results show a high concentration of algae bloom. The Sierra National Forest (SNF) would like to inform those visitors who like to enjoy this area of the Merced River and SNF, not to swim, wade or allow their pets to enjoy the water…

    A month earlier, in June, the SNF had already placed a bright yellow toxic algae alert sign, warning of its presence, at the trailhead in the area where the Mariposa family was found dead this week, presumably in response to the CDFW’s June 22-23 water testing.

    (Naturally, I’m curious why the SNF waited until July 13th to post their Facebook warning, when they were apparently aware, in June, of the CDFW’s test results, motivating them to put up the trailhead sign at that time. Are the trailhead sign posters and Facebook managers not on the same page?)

    -----
    Perhaps this doomed Mariposa family read SNF’s Facebook post, heeded the trailside sign, followed all the guidelines – then died in a way that had nothing to do with algae blooms.

    The human toxicology reports/dog necropsy cannot come soon enough.

  5. #25
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Deadly hike----Haz-Mat the cause?

    Gosh knows how many possibilities the pathologists have systematically to sort through. The news late nite stated that the FS and water quality folks had not even coordinated in advance with respect to warning signs. Who knows. And you have to remember that the Merced River flows down from Yosemite Valley, basically a city in summer even with current entry restrictions. It's not exactly a pristine river below that. And that section of river is not far from El Portal, a developed tourist stopover. I'd personally never drink water from any of the lower Sierra canyons, or in fact any body of water below any kind of road or developed campground, algae or not. High country is a different story.

  6. #26

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    Re: Deadly hike----Haz-Mat the cause?

    Quote Originally Posted by Heroique View Post
    Perhaps this doomed Mariposa family read SNF’s Facebook post, heeded the trailside sign, followed all the guidelines – then died in a way that had nothing to do with algae blooms.
    The thing that's unclear is if they were found as a group or not - which might indicate whether they had consumed something toxic, or had been overcome rapidly by some other environmental factor etc.

    Doesn't decomposing algae give off quite a bit of Hydrogen Sulphide etc?

  7. #27
    Land-Scapegrace Heroique's Avatar
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    Re: Deadly hike----Haz-Mat the cause?

    Quote Originally Posted by interneg View Post
    The thing that's unclear is if they were found as a group or not...
    I’m curious about this too, but I think authorities work under strict guidelines about what info can be shared and when, especially if criminal activity remains a possibility. Were all four victims (this includes the dog) found on, or next to the trail, next to each other? Or were they off-trail, in nearby shade, as if seeking relief from symptoms? Or was one adult found half-way back to the car, as if going for help? What about attempted cell phone calls during the hike?

    The questions might go on…

    I’m sure many are curious about items in their daypacks or bags. Water filters? Wet swim wear? Containers with suspicious contents? (Authorities did say no suicide notes were found.)

    When all the evidence is in, I’m thinking there will be lessons for LFers who hike into remote areas from the car.

  8. #28
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Deadly hike----Haz-Mat the cause?

    Yes, they were found together, including the dog. Remember, they had an infant along. Portable hiking water filters don't work for toxins, dissolved chemicals, or even viruses. I almost laugh at the algae hypothesis, given how many cattle ponds I've swam in, the kinds of water sources I've drunk from in those canyons (never the main lower rivers themselves - they're known to be polluted). When in doubt, one just looks at whether or not there are normal active aquatic larvae and water beetles etc in the water. To my knowledge, all the toxic copper mine tailings are distinctly north of there and at even lower altitude, and not in a river canyon at all. Perhaps some of you saw that cute old flyfishing movie, A River Runs Through It, with Brad Pitt. The huge trout in his net came from a hatchery. The actual stream in the scene is devoid of fish or even aquatic insects - totally sterile - due to a big industrial copper mining operation upstream.

  9. #29

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    Re: Deadly hike----Haz-Mat the cause?

    Quote Originally Posted by Drew Wiley View Post
    Yes, they were found together, including the dog. Remember, they had an infant along. Portable hiking water filters don't work for toxins, dissolved chemicals, or even viruses. I almost laugh at the algae hypothesis, given how many cattle ponds I've swam in, the kinds of water sources I've drunk from in those canyons (never the main lower rivers themselves - they're known to be polluted). When in doubt, one just looks at whether or not there are normal active aquatic larvae and water beetles etc in the water. To my knowledge, all the toxic copper mine tailings are distinctly north of there and at even lower altitude, and not in a river canyon at all. Perhaps some of you saw that cute old flyfishing movie, A River Runs Through It, with Brad Pitt. The huge trout in his net came from a hatchery. The actual stream in the scene is devoid of fish or even aquatic insects - totally sterile - due to a big industrial copper mining operation upstream.
    It seems like almost anything you ingest on a trail isn't going to kill you very quickly. Even poison mushrooms is usually a long slow death (with vomiting etc) not really consistent with the entire family plus dog being found together. Same with algae I would think.

  10. #30
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Deadly hike----Haz-Mat the cause?

    That's why I mentioned botulism. It wouldn't necessarily hit them instantly, but could hit awfully hard when it did and leave little trace. I haven't heard if they had a lunch pack along or not, but must have had some kind of provision for feeding the infant at least. Metal poisoning has to be cumulative, and would make the water taste awful; so would bacterial water. We'll see. The experts usually like to dot their I's and cross their T's, double-checking everything before they release an official report. Some tests they might have to send out for.

    You also have to filter out common sense from urban reports. They were locals, at least part of the time. And what city news services tend to term as "remote" could just as easily be the far side of a WalMart parking lot. Our local victim of heat last month was described as being lost in an "extremely remote" area, which in fact parallels a major freeway, and in portions is less than a quarter mile away from a large city. Many people outdoor exercise there in saner weather. He told his family he was just going on a 45 minute in and back out jog. Yes, in this other case there's a distinct steep canyon; but it's a well-known official trail near a paved highway, where they had allegedly hiked many times before; and they couldn't have planned on going all that far to begin with due to the very young age of their child. They probably had a baby backpack, but who knows unless someone confirms that. Put in some sandwiches with toxic lunch meat, toss the begging dog a piece of it too, and the helpless baby could have simply died from heat and exposure, if not from a piece of the same meat. We'll see.

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