Pinnacle Of Stupidity
2020 Darwin Award Winner
Guest Writer: James G. Petropoulos
Guest Writer: James G. Petropoulos
In the end, cold was not the culprit.
(28 October 2019, Japan) "Hands are numb...but must operate smart phone," muttered 47-year-old Tedzu to his livestream audience as he skidded and stumbled up the snow-covered Shubashiri trail of Mount Fuji. "I wish I had brought heat packs," he lamented, and then he was heard to say, "Wait, I think I am slipping!"
62 miles west of Tokyo, iconic Mount Fuji is one of Japan's three holy mountains, a 12,389-foot volcanic summit visited by religious pilgrims, mountain climbers, and sightseers. The trek is cold and slippery even during the brief summer season, when amenity stations are staffed and available for the benefit of climbers. In the off-season, the stations are closed and mountain conditions are downright hostile and inhospitable. A winter climber needs the proper gear, climbing experience, and a booster pack of common sense.
Tedzu, alas, lacked all three.
Wearing street clothes suitable for a typical October day in Tokyo, and carrying nothing more than a pair of climbing poles, Tedzu fired up his smart phone and proceeded up the Shubashiri trail which, incidentally, most climbers use only for descent. Live-streaming for the Niconico video-sharing platform, he entitles his video "Let's Go to Snowy Mt. Fuji." In hindsight, the title implies that Tedzu considered "Snowy Mt. Fuji" as safe as a ski resort or Christmas tree farm. Viewers began tuning in, following his happy jaunt up the ash-covered trail. Ashes soon turned to snow, and then to deep snow. Tedzu's viewers were now being treated to a litany of complaints about cold numb hands and a bitter lack of hot packs. Those watching might have started to feel a bit badly for Tedzu.
This was a very good time for him to turn back and resume a life (key word) of relative anonymity. A turning point, as it were. But the urge to continue--perhaps motivated by reluctance to disappoint his viewers--encouraged Tedzu to trudge farther into obvious and imminent danger.
Continuing social media commentary as he juggles climbing poles and smart phone in his frostbitten mitts, Tedzu demonstrates a classic case of misplaced priorities when he states that despite numb extremities, he "MUST continue to operate" his livestream. His viewers no doubt notice that the trail has suddenly become narrower, the protective fence has ended, and he is perilously close to the brink. He has now passed the point of no return. There is absolutely nothing his viewers could do except tune out in disbelief, or perhaps place wagers amongst themselves on his odds of returning intact.
"'Oh, this place is slippery, getting dangerous," he belatedly notices, "I'm trying to walk by the rocks, yes, rocks. It's a steep downhill...!" Does his audience hear the reassuring sound of crampons gripping the ice as he continues past the end of the safety fence into uncertain territory? Of course not. He did not bring crampons
The slope at that point is 30 degrees, as anyone still watching could see. In his continued play-by-play march along an increasingly risky path, Tedzu frequently cautions himself against falling. Some of his viewers might have given a wry chuckle at his sudden realization of what he had gotten himself into. His inappropriate footwear now begins failing him as he trips and stumbles on. More than once, he asks himself whether he is "on the right track." Viewers already know the answer.
Astonishingly close to the summit for an amateur winter hiker, Tedzu at last utters the anticlimactic words, "Wait... I'm slipping!" Experienced Mount Fuji climbers say, "If you start slipping, you have ONE chance at self-arrest before it's too late." Even now, Tedzu might drop his phone and jab his climbing poles into the ground...! But, no. In an instant it becomes apparent that his smart phone is the more intelligent one. Still live-streaming away, Tedzu begins an uncontrolled slide down the rocky snowy slope. Viewers are treated to a spectacle of feet flailing and poles tumbling free. A few seconds later, the phone footage abruptly stops, the final chilling image shows a climbing pole frozen in mid-flight.
His viewers promptly alerted authorities. The 47-year-old's lifeless body was found the next day at an altitude of 9800 feet, 1000 meters away from where he began his fall. But for a little preparedness, the hero was lost. Gloves and crampons, and a sprinkle sense, was all Tedzu needed to create a spectacular livestream on the ascent of Japan's holy mountain, and he might have had another 47 years to relive and enjoy that experience. Watching the video, one can almost feel the "mind-numbing cold" Tedzu describes, but in the end, cold was not the culprit!
"Numb hands, numb brain."