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HOME arrow BLOG arrow Will we be required to carry locator beacons?
Will we be required to carry locator beacons?
Written by Scott Silver   
Tuesday, 22 December 2009

A version of the appended news article appears following every death on Mount Hood. I fear that with every such article we get closer to the day when Wilderness hikers will be required to carry locator beacons. If and when that happens, it will only be a matter of time before more sophisticated electronic devises are required. Those devices will have the ability to track Wilderness users as if they were collared wolves and, even more ominously, direct those users to and from specific areas in order to "better manage the resource."

Even more ominously, many Wilderness organizations will support the use of such devices. Some Wilderness users will welcome them.  Some will especially appreciate how those devices, employed in conjunction with Congestion Pricing, Reservations and similar tools,  will provide solitude, safety and predictably wonderful Wilderness Experiences.

The first step is requiring the use of beacons. From there, all else follows naturally.


Oregon again faces beacon question with 3 more dead on Mt. Hood
By Tim Fought / The Associated Press

PORTLAND — When a rescue team came on Luke Gullberg’s body at the top of a Mount Hood glacier and tried to figure out what had become of his climbing partners, they looked up at a forbidding rise of ice and snow.

They saw no sign of Katie Nolan and Anthony Vietti on the 1,500-foot Reid headwall, no gear in bright color standing out from the monochrome, no trail. And they heard no radio signal.

Had they rented a $5 locator beacon, and had they been able to activate it after whatever misfortune ended their climb Dec. 12, the searchers below might have been able to pinpoint their location. The two are presumed buried beneath several feet of snow and ice.

It’s the second time in three years that a search and rescue operation on the 11,239-foot mountain has failed to turn up climbers who went up without signaling devices and got into deadly trouble. So rescue crews, mountaineers and lawmakers are debating once again whether to require such climbers to carry locator beacons.

“When are you going to stop the carnage on Mount Hood?” said Jim Bender, a Clackamas County commissioner and longtime climber who said he had been up Mount Hood several times. “People are dying for no reason. We need to find a way to protect them, and we need to find a way to protect the people’s resources.”

It’s a mystery to many who don’t venture above timberline, then, why the stiffest opposition to requiring beacons comes from the elite mountaineers who volunteer their time and put themselves at risk to get people off the mountain.

A bill to require Mount Hood climbers to carry beacons on winter expeditions failed in the Legislature in 2007. Bender hopes legislators will revisit the question, or that the state’s congressional delegation will take an interest.

He said the commissioners in Clackamas County, on the south side of the mountain, will take another stab at a requirement that climbers carry locator beacons. Commissioners have previously run into a restriction on the kind of agreements they could make with the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the mountain.

Beacons can be useful, but climbers should have the freedom to weigh the safety benefits of any piece of equipment against its weight or how it might impede their agility on a mountain that can rain down ice and rock at any moment, said Steve Rollins of Portland Mountain Rescue, a leader of Mount Hood search and rescue operations.

Mountaineers also warn that requiring the devices can lead some climbers to take undue risks, figuring on a rescue if they get into trouble, and that beacons aren’t always going to lead to rescues.

At least one state official argues against such a requirement. “The land is public, and I’m not a real big fan of mandating what people have to take with them when they want to go for a walk,” said Georges Kleinbaum, search and rescue coordinator for the Oregon Office of Emergency Management.

Besides, he said, enforcement would be impossible. “It’s a big mountain. Are you going to put a ring around it, or force everyone through an entry point?”

A popular peak

As many as 10,000 climbers attack Mount Hood each year, based on the free permits for which they self-register.

“That argument that it infringes on their freedom, I just think that’s baloney,” said Sheriff Joe Wampler of Hood River County, on the north side of the mountain. Wampler led the 2006 search and rescue that ended with one climber’s body found in a snow cave. The bodies of two others have never been found.

Cost is a consideration, Wam-pler said. The 10-day effort in 2006 cost the county $5,000 a day in overtime, part-time pay, food, fuel and other expenses. There’s also the cost of military aircraft missions, sometimes accounted for as part of training or flight-hour requirements.

But, Wampler said, the safety of searchers and the potential for rescue are paramount. “I just want every opportunity to find them if they turn up missing.”

Even if a beacon signal doesn’t lead to a rescue, he said, it would tell authorities where to eventually find the body, often a concern of relatives. He calls for beacons to be required above timberline throughout Oregon.

Charley Shimanski, of Ever-green, Colo., and president of the national Mountain Rescue Association, said the group knows of no similar requirement anywhere in the country, for beacons or any other safety equipment. At Mount McKinley (also known as Denali) in Alaska, he said, climbers have to sit through an instructional video before they go up.

About the technology

There are a variety of locator devices, of a size between cell phones and TV remotes. The $5 Mount Hood rental beacon is older technology, and rescuers wouldn’t tune in until somebody is reported overdue. Outdoor stores sell devices that use GPS and satellite technology to send immediate distress signals. They can weigh 5 to 9 ounces and cost up to $400.

In 2007, the Oregon House passed a bill to require Mount Hood climbers to carry locators in winter. It passed the House but died in the Senate when committee Chairwoman Vicki Walker wouldn’t hold a hearing.

“I got lobbied heavily by the climbing community,” said Walker, who has since left the Senate. A climber friend argued, “We know what we’re doing. We’ll take them if we want them. Don’t force this on us,” she said.

“Well, I’m not so sure anymore. We’re losing a lot of folks out there.”

Senate President Peter Courtney said he hasn’t heard strong calls yet for a bill to be considered at the Legislature’s monthlong session in February, and the topic should get a full hearing. That might mean no action until the Legislature’s full session in 2011.

Comments (5) >>

John J. said:

  How about locator beacons on, or implanted in, all children?...noting how many go missing each year? Who'd oppose except for child haters?
And on husbands dodging alimony and other responsibilities? Who'd say no to that?
And on political officials who sometimes slip off to Brazil to meet girlfriends?...or to hob-nob with CEOs from the very industries the officials are duty-bound to regulate?
And on stuff you leave in gym lockers?
And on cops...because you can never find one when you need one?
And on all boaters...canoeists and kayakers and etc?
And hunters?
And truckers?
And Fishing boats?
And on Parolees and released sex offenders?
And on Pizza delivery guys?
And on all mail?
December 23, 2009

Sport Climber said:

  The terrible thing is that (many) people are likely going to EMBRACE this entire trend -- and not just land managers and "But this will SAVE LIVES" types. Even now there are people who enjoy tracking themselves (via some sort of cell phone/GPS device they carry with them on a hike). They arrive back at the house and plug the device in and -- voila -- a map is instantly created showing a line superimposed over a google earth map showing their exact track -- capturing and immortalizing that day's walk for all time.

We might conceivably even get to the point where people voluntarily COMPETE online to post the most extensive bushwhacks of various regions. It could become quite an acquisitive phenomenon. (I suppose the latter could have an upside -- like obsessively-acquisitive bird-watchers -- whose activities ultimately increase awareness of bird populations. But some of this GPS stuff makes me sick.)

smilies/grin.gifon't even get me started on potential fines and jail time for not buying a health insurance policy. Creeping "benign" totalitarianism!
December 23, 2009

Angela P said:

  America's fetish for safety these days sickens me. It is completely irrational for people to focus on deaths such as these when they get in a car every day. smilies/tongue.gif

smilies/grin.gifon't even get me started on radio-collaring all of our wildlife.
January 06, 2010

James said:

  It is past time that all freedom loving Americans panic in responce to the loss of personal freedom that seems practicaly boundless in our scociety today.It seems to me that we should show just how serious we are about preserving,and tacking back some of our liberties by organizing mass boycotts,hunger strikes,sit ins and other non violent means of protest.I do not know about you but I am sick and tired of being fed the propaganda about America being the freest country on earth despite the fact that more laws are passed everyday which serve to either directly or indirectly limit personal freedom.I am also sick of the hoards of Americans who do not know the difference between commercialism and freedom,thus facilitating a situation in which we are forced to pay,or do without the things that nature has provided freely !
January 10, 2010

Maklaca said:

  I find the biggest proponents of this kind of thing are the people that live in the city. They are so used to the local government making sure everything in thier life is safe and comfy, they think everyplace should be like that. I grew up with the woods. At an early age I leared how to behave in the wilderness and even how to survive in a dire situation. When I try to tell my friends who live in the city about these things, they look at me blank faced and say I can't know because I am not an "expert". (No, just lived and learned since I was a child) They think there is nature and there are humans. They are separate things that should only mix in a controlled environment. Unfortunately, there are more city folk than rural folk, so the vote goes the way of the city people. Fees for stopping and walking in nature?!?! PATHETIC!!! Leave the paved road, properly set up campgrounds to the city people and let them pay their fees as they ruin it. Leave the rest to those of us that know how to care for and live with the wilderness. Stop turning my wilderness into a government controlled theme park!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And stop closing every road that is not a proper paved and graded road! I didn't but and off road vehicle for city pot holes!
August 13, 2010
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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 22 December 2009 )

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