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
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
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
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
“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.