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The Next Three Hours

Last weekend, when four of us bailed out [1] of our trip through Leon Kinvig Hut in the Ruahines, part of the reasoning was the weather forecast. All things considered I think we made a good decision, and it started me thinking about the role of weather forecasts in outdoor recreation, especially tramping.

Something I’ve heard about New Zealand is that for the next three hours, a good judgement on the weather from looking out the window is likely to be more accurate than a forecast issued by the MetService [2]. After three hours, probabilities switch around and the forecast becomes more accurate than what you can typically judge on your own. Coming from me this is just an out-of-context statement taken from anecdotal rumours of random research, but I find the essence believable. Obviously it depends on how you interpret statistics and the “correctness” of forecasts, not to mention how good you are at judging the weather. A more important point to draw from this is that there’s a lot of information available from observing what’s around you, especially regarding what’s about to happen during the next few hours.

Forecasts in New Zealand are also fallible thanks to limited data, proximity to the sea, endless micro-climates, and the need to simplify the colossal amount of information and expertise into a way that can be conveyed to people not trained in meteorology. A sunny forecast doesn’t guarantee sunny weather, and vice-versa. Even the isobar charts, which I think can convey some of the most useful information if applied well with local knowledge (something for which I’d like to improve my skills), are a gross simplification of all the information considered by forecasters who draw them.

Much outdoor safety is about getting between points of safety, and making good judgement calls based on the information available and what can be seen. To do this safely it can’t be just a matter of asking “How much time do we have and how long will it take?” It also has to involve constantly and repeatedly asking questions like “Can we back-track?”, “What are the risks?”, “What happens if we take a wrong turn or get lost and conditions worsen unexpectedly?”, “Who’s the least capable person here?”, “What will happen if someone slips and breaks a leg when we’re in an exposed place?”. Even if it’s a clear sunny day, it’s important to ask “Where can we bail to and find emergency shelter, and how long might that take if we’re crippled?”, “Will we be dead if something holds us up, or just very uncomfortable for a while?”, “How cold will it be tonight?”, not to mention “What’s the weather doing right now, and what’s it likely to do?”

There’s usually a degree of risk and a small amount is out of one’s control, just as with driving on State Highway 1, but it’s all the better to anticipate the risk as much as possible and have plans to minimise it, or otherwise channel it into a non-fatal situation you can later escape from. This isn’t done well in New Zealand, with just one example being the number of people who rely on back-country huts [3] to keep them alive, often without acknowledging the risks and with no backup plan. Huts are a great convenience for points of safety, but they have an unfortunate habit of not standing up and walking themselves to the injured and lost.

When people get into difficulty, it’s not uncommon to see criticism for not checking forecasts. The most recent high profile example, which seems to come up a lot on this blog because for me it’s close to home, is in the coroner’s findings of the recent accident near Kime Hut [4] just over a year ago (a further follow-up is here [5]). Among several other things, the coroner’s inquest states that one of the key factors in the two people’s deaths was their “failure to properly check the forecast” [6].

The inquest report is not public (at least without making a special request) and I’ve not had an opportunity to request and read it, but at least from the way it was reported I’m sceptical about what’s to be gained from suggesting someone died because they failed to properly check a forecast. To me it sends a risky message about outdoor safety and good decision making, and I can’t see how checking a forecast has much to do with that particular accident, or with most accidents, and certainly not as a key factor.

As best as I can tell from everything else described, for whatever reasons, the people involved made a string of bad decisions that included leaving a point of safety for another one about three hours away, meeting people who’d turned around [7] and then making a judgement call to ignore advice from others present to go no further [8], not identifying through first-hand experience what was happening to the weather in their immediate surroundings, and passing a point of no return (perhaps without realising) as they walked into a blizzard. They eventually succumbed to the conditions they’d walked into. There was most likely some get-there-itis involved, and there may have also been some bad judgement about capabilities between the two. The end result would have been helped by other aspects of their preparation, such as not carrying adequate shelter (which could have worked as a mobile point of safety), and the coroner’s inquest also pointed this out.

Surely in such a situation, bad decisions combined with a lack of appreciation of what was possible in that area and identification that it was happening must have had much more significance than simply not checking a forecast. What use is it to know that high winds, heavy rain and snow have been forecast when there should be much more immediate and reliable information available from the surroundings at that time for making such short term decisions? I’ve been to places during hideous forecasts when the weather’s been perfectly okay and clear. We assessed what was happening at the time, considered what our safety options were whilst keeping in mind that there was probably worse weather nearby so we may want to be cautious about becoming too committed to certain options, and made consequent decisions.

When we backed out of our walk up Tunupo in the Ruahines last weekend, it wasn’t because the weather forecast said we’d be walking into a possible death trap. We could clearly see that we weren’t, at least as far as the weather was concerned and as long as we took appropriate precautions. We were concerned that we might arrive somewhere that could be tricky to get away from the following day, we assessed the feelings and capabilities in the group, and decided that we didn’t want to risk being stuck there and overdue with people worrying about us. That’s where the forecast was useful, but more relevant for our immediate safety were immediate conditions that included what we could see around us, combined with what we knew we couldn’t see. If we’d already been out for a week or otherwise not had a recent forecast then we might have kept going based on all of this, and I expect we’d have been perfectly safe. If we’d found ourselves stuck in a hut between ridges during extreme wind, it certainly wouldn’t have been the extreme-wind-predicting mountain forecast issued a couple of days earlier that would have discouraged us from leaving.

I don’t want to give an impression that there’s no point in checking a forecast. I think it’s essential to have as much information as possible before setting out. But if it was inherently unsafe to visit the outdoors without a recent forecast, there would have to be something especially dangerous about visiting the outdoors for longer than a few days at a time, and I don’t believe there is. I’m just not sure it’s reasonable to consider it as a major factor in these kinds of accidents when people should be doing other things and making other preparations that would be of more immediate significance to their safety. I think forecasts are useful and important for planning and longer-term decisions, particularly with issues like getting stuck in places and the potential to be very uncomfortable, but it’s risky to make decisions that involve life and death if they hinge solely on a weather forecast. Some kinds of outdoor recreation are different in this respect, and for those activities a good weather forecast is ultra-important. Nearly always when tramping, however, having an inaccurate forecast, or no forecast, should never cause someone to die if a person or group is conscious and cautious about what’s happening around them, and have prepared reasonably.

It’s true, too, that forecasts often have important information that’s worth knowing about. In August 2008, a group of us walked up to Field Hut within a day of gale-force easterlies [9]! Gale-force easterlies to such an extent are something that occur about once every 50 years in that region, and therefore we discovered during the calm after the storm that many of the 50 year old trees had fallen and absolutely trashed much of the normally popular track leading from Otaki Forks up to Field Hut. This is an example of one of the few times when it might be fundamentally un-safe to be on that track, despite it being under reliable tree cover, and it stems from understanding that the area is being hit by weather to which it’s not well adapted. Still, I think if we’d arrived 12 hours earlier during such a storm, we’d probably not have left the safety of the parking area, or would otherwise have turned around and bailed back to it as soon as it became clear just how much damage the storm was in the process of causing.

Maybe it’s just semantics in how coroners’ reports are written that caused it to cite the lack of checking a forecast as a key factor in those two people’s deaths. I guess a weather forecast, or lack of it, can be a key factor in someone’s death, but to my mind that could only be because they were putting more trust in it than they ever should have in the face of what’s happening around them. If these two people didn’t bother to check it properly, it seems unlikely that they were too concerned about putting excessive trust in it. It’s just a tragedy that they also didn’t notice everything else going on.

Am I wrong about the place of weather forecasts in tramping? Am I missing something? I’m not qualified or experienced for this kind of accident investigation and I’m also not the world’s expert on the weather and forecasts. But I have an interest in better understanding how accidents happen, partly so I can learn more about how to avoid them.

12 Comments (Open | Close)

12 Comments To "The Next Three Hours"

#1 Comment By Amelia On 12 September, 2010 @ 12:21 pm

I agree with your point about reading the forecast not being the be-all and end-all. I am so frustrated by how often I watch the news / read the forecast online before a long weekend on a;
Thursday night: Looks like it might be wet this weekend. Where are tramping club off to?
Friday night: Yeah, its totally going to be wet this weekend. Bummer for the TCers out there!
Saturday night: “Heavy rain warning issued” for areas where I know people are going “for the 12 hours starting 9am tomorrow. Trampers are advised to watch for rising river levels”. Yep. And you didnt have any idea of that yesterday BEFORE my friends all went bush?? And how useful is a warning on Saturday nights news on a long weekend that trampers should stay out of the bush for Sunday?? The number of times I see that!

The other factor to consider with the coroners reporting is that the news media often have a slant they want to take when reporting things like this. The dead man was important in the community, so anything the coroner had to say about him making (lets be honest) stupid mistakes might not be something the newspaper wants to write…

I have seen forecasts be both useful and a pain in the rear end personally. In 2005, Dad and I were attempting to go Kaitoke – Holdsworth. If we hadnt bothered with the forecast, we would have kept going and very likely been fine (now that I know the area better), although probably having to camp out a night at Cone Hut and then out via Waiohine possibly… Instead we went over Mt Reeves, in a strong southerly and rain and nearly needed SaR when Dads knee gave out.
On the other side of the coin, in 2007 I spent 4 days of Labour weekend in the Holdsworth region, and the forecast was nasty, so we changed our plans, but still challenged ourselves and had a great weekend. We also took advice from people we met on the track about conditions, and used that to evaluate where we were going. (original plan: Powell – Jumbo day one. Snow, gale force winds on tops. Went Ati – Jumbo instead…)

#2 Comment By Mike McGavin On 12 September, 2010 @ 10:36 pm

Hi Amelia. Thanks for the comment. I hope you don’t mind how I linked to the comment thread on your flickr photo.

So far I’ve always found it worthwhile going somewhere if we were meaning to anyway, even if the weather looks like it might be bad. Usually at the very least we’ll go as far as we can, then assess what’s possible. Plans might change, but I think it’s an opportunity to do something else, and so often if you just happen to show up, there’ll be an opening in the weather which provides a chance to do something anyway, maybe seeing a place in a way that many people never see it.

I find weather forecasts useful for factoring in when making decisions, but never critical (as I mentioned before). They are what they are and they’re issued when they can be issued, I guess. Just by the nature of how tramping works, you can never assume an up-to-date forecast will be available, so should really be prepared for any weather anyway. Some things should just be obvious, like rivers coming up with enough rain, and sometimes you might get trapped by weather… but that’s why it’s good to be mentally prepared to simply wait something out. And the number of times I’ve met people who get concerned about us going into the outdoors because it’s raining… as I think you already know, the very nice people we met after [17] still reckoned we shouldn’t have left home because of the rain, and didn’t seem to appreciate that rain really had little to do with the problem and that we’d still have been completely safe even if we’d needed to wait things out for a few days.

Maybe I should put in a request for the coroner’s report of the Kime Hut thing and have a proper read of it. I think the DomPost reported on the proceedings fairly well, but that’d remove whatever slant the media might have put on it, at least. The conclusions could just be a consequence of how the coroner’s role works, but I’m not sure some of these conclusions are helpful for preventing future accidents… the way it’s publicised, at least, makes it appear as if the point is being missed. The coroner also made some other suggestions that the LandSAR officials [18], as well as suggesting that a key factor was the lack of cellphones (again not terribly helpful in the face of more useful things they possibly could have had, I suspect). Along with the conclusion about checking weather forecasts, I wonder if the coroner made some recommendations simply for the sake of making them. It’s hard to tell for sure without seeing the actual report, though.

#3 Comment By Gareth On 13 September, 2010 @ 10:28 am

I agree completely, a forecast is a useful tool but its not the be all and end all of trip planning.

Its a good idea to check the forecast before you go somewhere but some of the best trips I have had were in weekends with very poor weather forecasts (and have been often been told afterwards I shouldn’t have been out in the hills that weekend even though I was never in any serious danger).

As for the Kime tragedy (well the recent one). I think it comes up so often because it was experienced trampers that got caught out and it was well covered in the news media due to the job one of those people had. Based on what was reported I think the biggest mistake made was under-estimating the difficulty of finding the hut in the conditions, I think maybe there was some over-confidence involved there and they pushed the risk boundary a little too much. But i wasn’t there so thats only my opinion really.

#4 Comment By Mike McGavin On 14 September, 2010 @ 4:56 pm

Hi Gareth. Thanks for the comment. Definitely some of my most memorable experiences have been in bad weather.

I’m not sure about the ‘experienced’ label, only because there are different degrees of experience and people get their experience through different channels. It guess it doesn’t always equate to knowing what you’re doing… you could have decades of outdoor experience but still be uncomfortable with anything involving navigation away from tracks, or going out in bad weather, or treading in rivers. If that’s what you want out of it then no worries, as long as you can recognise when you’re approaching a boundary and pick out the difference between making good decisions and riding your luck. I don’t see myself an ‘experienced’ tramper, but some of my friends and family see me that way because compared with everything they’re familiar with, I’m a tramping dynamo. Everything I can remember being reported about these two being experienced came from friends and family during the time they were missing or soon after.

I appreciate what you’re saying about not being there, but as time’s gone on I’ve also found it harder to believe that they didn’t make some very unnecessary mistakes. One of the coroner’s witnesses was [19] “he never carried a compass but instinctively knew how to find a hut in the bush”, and “I remember once, in deep snow in Arthur’s Pass, we did not find the hut until nearly midnight.”, and “he told me he got up to the hut before a storm came in. He was a very able tramper and would never give up. He would always keep going until he got to the hut.” It’s out of context again and it’s only coming from one person who knew him, but I find it really difficult to read these kinds of snippets and still have respect for the decision-making of this person.

I think you’re probably right about the underestimation of finding the hut in the conditions (instinct?). If the reporting’s accurate though, then to me the conclusion of the coroner’s report makes little sense. As someone who tries to think carefully about avoiding a similar situation, yet think that those two key outcomes of checking weather forecasts and carrying a cellphone have very little to do with it, but still being plagued by people who seem to think that those two things have everything to do with it, I’ve felt let down by the inquest’s reported conclusions. Hopefully the actual report gives a better explanation.

#5 Comment By Gareth On 15 September, 2010 @ 11:16 am

I agree with you.

The cell phone would have given earlier warning to SAR that they were in dire trouble certainly, would it have saved them though? probably not. The weather wasn’t good enough to fly a helicopter in and it takes time to mobilse a search team (I imagine).

The weather forecast is something I check but I rarely cancel a trip because of it, I might alter a trip a bit though, either before I set out or during the trip.

I suspose your right about the experienced label, it can cover a great number of different skill sets and experiences, and it does not alwayg guareentee good descision making I guess.

I do get a little frustrated with the media reports sometimes, they often seem to seize on one aspect of what went wrong and that gets the blame for the entire incident “oh, they didn’t have a emergency beacon”. Most of the time I believe its a combination of factors that add up and to simpify the situation may make for easier and more dramatic reporting but it does not help those that are trying to piece together the bigger picture.

#6 Comment By Mike McGavin On 15 September, 2010 @ 6:25 pm

Yes and add to that, sometimes officials (eg. the local LandSAR coordinator) will be inconsistent in how they criticise people.

The cellphone thing reported to be in the coronor’s key findings grates a bit because even if it could be said that leaving a cellphone behind might have contributed to their deaths, which in some ways is I think is exactly what the coroner is trying to identify, it can very easily be interpreted (through the media or otherwise) as if it’s a recommendation that people should be taking cellphones. In reality there are alternatives (EPIRB? Mountain Radio? SatPhone?) that are one hell of a lot more useful if you need to get an emergency message out, and cellphones tend to be near useless except in lucky places on the fringes. If people take from this that they’ll be fine going tramping as long as they have a cellphone with them, they’ll get a sharp surprise some day and it could just lead to more serious accidents.

I’m completely with you on the combination of factors thing, too, and not always but often many of the factors seem to be of people’s own making (like decisions and leaving gear behind, etc). The other thing that grates is that from everything I’ve heard, and to be fair it’s completely possible that I’ve heard out of context, it seems that if there was any key factor then decision making and underestimation of the environment must be high on the list. If that’s the case, I think it should be reported with more precedence than seeming red herrings like weather forecasts and cellphone presence. I wonder if Amelia’s on to something about a media reluctance to report on something like that, keeping in mind that under the circumstances they might be wanting to be careful about how it’s reported.

Anyway, this afternoon I finally mailed away a request for the coroner’s findings, and I’ll see what comes back, and hopefully it’ll calm me down a bit. 🙂 If it goes through okay then hopefully it should give a better context of the what the findings were and how they were reached than the DomPost reports. I think it’s probably the first physical letter I’ve actually mailed to anyone in an envelope in about 5 years, and just finding an envelope was a challenge.

#7 Comment By Gareth On 16 September, 2010 @ 1:09 pm

The media reluctance thing might very well be true.

I agree that a message like “do not be afraid to turn back or wait the weather/flooded river out someplace safe” would be a much more useful message to send out to people than “take a cell phone and check a highly generalised weather forecast before you leave”.

On the other hand, I would be quite surprised (and alarmed) to come across a tramping party in the hills that told me they had learned everything they needed to know about outdoor safety from news reports…..although I have come across people who are woofully unprepared before, including one individual attempting a southern crossing who told me he hadn’t realised there would be hills involved. And another group heading into Totara flats about an hour before sunset with 3 torches shared between a bit over 20 people.

#8 Comment By Mike McGavin On 27 September, 2010 @ 8:03 am

I’ve now read the written findings of the coroner and it hasn’t really changed my opinion. The newspaper reports were representative.

The report states the facts as much as they can be derived and I won’t go into detail, but I think the interpretation is a bit mis-led. There’s a lot of comment about how they probably didn’t check the weather, and may have left Wellington on a bright-and-sunny Saturday morning expecting it to stay that way. There’s also a reference to how one of them may have been in a don’t give up mindset, based on how they’d acted on past occasions.

Beyond this, rather than focus about how and why they ended up in the circumstances they did, it focuses on what happened once they were already in trouble. In doing so, the central theme to the findings is on their inability to call for help (the coroner expresses much confusion over why anyone would leave a cellphone behind if they had one), along with comments about how perhaps LandSAR needs to change its decision-making processes slightly (the LandSAR coordinator of the day [18]). There’s not much comment about their inability to survive. The lack of a tent and direction-finding equipment is mentioned, but kind-of brushed away with other comments about how neither of these would normally be necessary so it’s understandable that people wouldn’t take them.

It may just be that this is the pattern of a coroner’s findings in discovering why someone died rather than how they got there, or something like that, but I don’t think it does much to help anyone’s safety if it broadcasts that cellphones and calling for help are more important than learning to make good decisions and having the tools to survive and get out of trouble if things go wrong. So much of outdoor safety is in avoiding trouble in the first place, and if that doesn’t work then I think I’d prioritise survival over calling for help. It’d be ideal to have both, but what’s the point in calling for help if you can’t sit tight for long enough for it to arrive?

Anyway, just my thoughts.

#9 Comment By Barry On 27 September, 2010 @ 12:50 pm

Gavin,

I think your last paragraph sums up my thoughts very nicely. One has to take responsibility for your own actions, and it is up to you to ensure you have the skills, knowledge and suitable equipment to deal with the conditions experienced.

If the party managed to get an emergency call out on a cellphone a helicopter wouldn’t have been able to assist given the likely conditions. So a SAR party traveling on foot would of been required and I imagine the first thing the SAR party would of done is pitched a tent to give shelter and got everyone into sleeping bags to begin the rewarming process for the severe hypothermia the pair must of been suffering. I imagine the party’s chances of survival would have been much higher if they had carried their own shelter and being prepared to stop and use it when the situation demanded it.

#10 Comment By Mike McGavin On 29 September, 2010 @ 3:36 pm

Hi Barry. Yes that’s another good point about the tent. The coroners’ written report also indicated that the person who probably died first was in a relatively sheltered place, and the two had managed to cook a meal on the Saturday night. It’s tough to second-guess the exact circumstances or what’s meant by sheltered, but there may have been a reasonable chance of getting up a tent or some other form of shelter (fly, bivy bags, anything) if they’d had it with them.

#11 Comment By Amelia On 30 September, 2010 @ 9:56 pm

I cant believe the coronor wrote off what a difference carrying shelter would have made!
The problem of course, is that you dont often get coroners who are specialists in the areas they are running an inquest in, so sometimes they make odd suggestions…
The main reason that the couple died was because they made errors in judgement before they got in trouble.
This INCLUDES
*not carrying a cellphone – which may have had enough signal to call for help, which may have got them help slightly earlier
*not carrying a map and compass – because even if they could have called for help, it would have been useless if they couldnt say where they were
*Not carrying adequate (or even any) emergency shelter – something is better than nothing.

Without those 3 things, and having made the decision to press on to the hut regardless, their chances of dying were magnified substantially. SaR missed them by hours and hours. Even if they had gone in earlier, they might not have saved them. And how much would the same coroner have pilloried the SaR manager if someone from SaR had died on the search? Those conditions were horrific!

Found out this avo that a workmate of mine had also gone in the same road end the same day. They turned around at the bushline and had lunch on a little rise before heading home. They were only out for a day and the cloud layer was at the snow line. He reckoned you couldnt see anything. And I would call him “experienced” – a keen hunter with strong knowledge of the area.

PS. I had wondered why I got a few extra hits on that photo all of a sudden… Shame on me for not reading the follow up comments 🙂 No worries 🙂
And with that Crow Hut weekend, it was another one of those weekends when the heavy rain warning came over the news Saturday night for Saturday night. I wasnt overly concerned about you guys and Marks group until it got to darkness and I still hadnt heard anything… Stacey and I reassured each other that we shouldnt worry until we got a phone call telling us to be worried. 🙂

#12 Comment By Mike McGavin On 2 October, 2010 @ 6:20 pm

Hi Amelia. Yes it reads as if the coroner’s relying a lot on witnesses, that’s for sure. Maybe they weren’t the ideal witnesses or he wasn’t asking the best questions.

I’m very prone to creating false memories, but I’m fairly confident about remembering some of the weather from that weekend because a friend and I were also [20] a Moonlight Southern Crossing the night before. We canned it partly because of low cloud, but also thanks to looking at the forecast and seeing the chaos that was coming a day later. I think we’d have been fine as long as things went well because the night before was very settled, but what was coming was certainly not the sort of wx you’d want to be stuck in on the tops if something went wrong, and we also didn’t know for sure that it wouldn’t come in early so it’d have been cutting things close.

I don’t want to be too specifically critical of the people. If they had the good fortune to be here today they’d probably agree they made some mistakes just as everyone does, and it turned out they were less lucky than some others who’d have made similar mistakes but escaped with nobody hearing about any problem. It’s just a shame that the coroner’s findings don’t venture into highlighting many of the mistakes in a way that it could have. To me, it undermines a lot of carefully thought out and well-researched messages that groups like the Mountain Safety Council have been trying to instil into outdoor recreationalists for decades.

I reckon that by far the biggest factor in this accident was in making a decision to leave an obvious point of safety to head into a situation for which they ideally would have recognised they weren’t prepared for (but didn’t). They didn’t see what was coming in the immediate environment and realise it’d be too dangerous. That’s what got them into trouble well before anything else went wrong, and the coroner didn’t exactly pick up on it very clearly, if at all. Whether or not they checked the forecast on Saturday morning or whether they took a cellphone hardly seems relevant compared with this, as far as I’m concerned. Not that other factors like a lack of adequate survival equipment for between huts weren’t also very important—those should be considered very important in anything like this too, simply because it’s human nature to make mistakes, and ultimately that’s what caught up with them after the initial mistake. If there’s something constructive that I think could be learned from this, maybe it’s to be ultra aware of what you (and your group’s) abilities are to deal with the environment and to be able to recognise when a line’s being crossed and go no further. Some people would have continued and would have been fine—one of the coroners’ witnesses reckoned it’d be completely doable (if pointless) for people with adequate skills and gear. Maybe he was right or maybe not. A lot of people would have just said screw this and stayed at Field Hut, or turned back down the hill.

I dunno if I completely agree with taking a cellphone across the board. I don’t think it’s fair to criticise people for leaving them behind. Even if the antisocial stigma’s partially gone these days, they’re still relatively new devices that add weight (especially those massive fan-dangled awful Blackberry-type phones). They frequently don’t work in the back-country anyway, and with other steps to allow survival they shouldn’t be necessary even if they’re convenient and can save lives in adverse circumstances. Still, it was interesting to read Don Bogie’s comments (of SAR) in the latest FMC bulletin about how technology’s changing the necessary skill-sets of rescuers. Notably, that in the past they’d usually either be recovering a body or finding someone stabilised… whereas these days of cellphones and EPIRBs, they’ll often show up while someone’s in the process of dying, so the on-site medical skills are far more relevant.

Personally I think it never hurts to have a compass and know how to use it, and in this case it could have been a lifesaver if they actually had them and knew how to use them and realised they needed to use them. 99% of the time, though, compasses aren’t very useful unless you’re heading off track. It’s probably tricky to keep in good compass habits if you spend most of the time on-track, and I’m guessing these two might have. (Not sure though.) But yeah, if you’re not strong with a compass, obviously it’s not such a good idea to venture into an environment where it’ll be needed, and recognising that kind of situation is a pretty important thing. Chances are they were presuming to follow the poles, and lost them somewhere along the way.

Cheers.