I agree with you!
Here is an OpEd piece I wrote for our Oregon newspaper:
OpEd: Electronic locator beacons, a mountaineer's viewpoint
Published as a Guest Editorial
Saturday, March 31, 2007
Bulletin Reporter James Sinks broke the news that House Bill 2509 might require “mountain climbers” and guides to carry an electronic beacon when they venture above the treeline on Mt. Hood.
A controversy erupted between experienced mountaineers and those who would reduce government costs by controlling irresponsible thrill seekers asking for expensive search and rescue efforts while endangering volunteers.
According to an Oregon State report, climbing accounts for 3.4% of rescues, mushroom picking 3.0%, hiking 13.8%, vehicle, ATVs, snowmobiles 20.5%. Enough said.
Bulletin Reporter Lily Raff wrote about the controversy in an excellent in-depth nine column front page Sunday Perspective: “Locator Beacons, Lifesavers or Unnecessary?”
Lawmakers recalled the 1986 Episcopal School Tragedy where seven teens and two adults died in an unmarked snow cave while for days searchers combed the broad snow slopes of Mt. Hood. The leaders had made many common sense basic mountaineering errors. This tragedy led to the invention of the electronic Mountain Locator Unit (MLU).
For ten days in December last year, the world’s media focused on the plight of three experienced mountain climbers missing in a storm near the summit of Mt. Hood. Two of the three north face winter ice climbers may have fallen, stranding Kelly James. He called his home in Texas using his cell phone, triggering the rescue effort. Days later, when the weather cleared, searchers quickly found Kelly who had died from hypothermia shortly after his one phone call. Kelly did not call 911 for rescue.
In February, eight adventurers challenged Mt. Hood by climbing north up the snow slope from the parking lot to Illumination Saddle to camp in two snow caves. The next morning, while descending the easy slopes in a forecast snowstorm, three became separated from their five companions. Very poor navigation had led them 90 degrees east to a steeper snow slope. Three slid down uncontrolled, abandoned two of their backpacks and then hiked for forty minutes until forced to spend the night ill equipped and un-prepared. They called for rescue. Searchers found them next morning, inexcusably wet, cold, hungry and thirsty. The group committed a comedy of mountaineering errors.
Note that they called rescuers every hour by cell phone. None of the three had their personal GPS to report their exact position or to find the nearby parking lot. However, searchers easily figured out where they were from their phoned information.
By chance, one of the two rented MLUs among the eight climbers was with the group of three. Portland Mountain Rescue (PMR) used the Mountain Locator Unit system. Searchers commented that the MLU was “hard to use and not very precise”.
PMR advocates the use of electronic communications with GPS receivers but does not believe the State should require anyone to use “electronic signaling devices”. I agree.
The following is my observation, speaking from the experience of a traditionally trained mountaineer.
First, a rescue does not begin until a Responsible Person calls 911 if the adventurer does not return by an agreed time.
Second, when a person becomes stranded due to illness or injury to themselves or others, or if they become lost, or are forced to overnight or shelter from a storm, it may be better to phone for help then, rather than waiting for the Responsible Person to call 911 hours or days later. Experience tells me to have this option.
MLUs: Mt. Hood Mountain Locator Units are simple radio transmitters. They are managed by Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office, which is liable for maintenance, battery replacement, rental and user instruction.
Note that MLUs require a separate radio or phone call to 911 before any search begins. They are only available on Mt. Hood.
PLBs: A better option is the Personal Locator Beacon. These strong radios broadcast a signal to satellites that is relayed to the local County Sheriff often within five minutes with GPS Latitude and Longitude coordinates. They cost about $450 at local stores and do not require a subscription. The batteries last for years. They weigh a reasonable 12 ounces. Serious backcountry adventurers may want to own one.
SAT-CELLs: A third option is a Satellite Cell Phone. These units work like a PLB, but you can verbally send your GPS coordinates and chat. They are heavy, expensive and require a monthly subscription.
FRSs: "Family Radio Service" Walkie-talkie radios are a low cost option, but someone must be listening.
Best option: Carry your own everyday Cell Phone and your simple GPS.
A good cell phone is FREE with a $20 per month, two-year subscription including 200 free monthly minutes. One can call for help and give their very accurate GPS coordinates.
My friends choose to bring their own cell phones, GPS receivers, base plate compasses, USGS topo maps, and the knowledge of how to use them together. The cost of a quality map, compass and GPS is $136.
Robert Speik pursues an active retirement while writing for TraditionalMountaineering.org