I recently had an interesting discussion with Peter Vacco about the utility of PLB's. Peter has walked the Continental Divide from Mexico north (yeah, to the end in AK). As such, the past few years on the northern end of the CD he has experienced what most of us consider 'beyond remote'.
Anyway, he brings an excellent perspective to the discussion, and I have his permission to repost here.
RJ: Peter, what’s your take on the Personal Locator Beacon rescue in the Adirondacks? As someone who has walked in some of the most remote areas in North America, do you think it has any real utility for a long distance hiker?
PV: Yes, a PLB may have very real utility for a hiker, but it is a two edged sword. On one hand it can save your show and allow you to take on additional risk, and on the other it can seriously detract from the spirit and thus the quality of the adventure. So there is pro and con to a PLB. In my mind a PLB does nothing but reduce the quality of a trip, umm...right up to the moment You Need One. A PLB costs, it weighs, it volumes, it provides an "out", and it intrudes. My walks are frisky enough without adding the knowledge that a rescue option exists, and including retrieval services into risk management is irresponsible, in that it transfers an issue onto others which should be handled in house. A PLB can additionally get set off due to emotional imbalance when no real physical danger exists, and thereby ruin your reputation and compromise a great system of global safety.
The trick it would seem is to eliminate that embarassing "You Need One" scenario.
I do not carry a PLB - for no end of reasons. However, if one had responsibilities that exceeded ones desires to adventure on the edge, which could not be resloved by carrying accidental death insurance, then it would be wise to consider it. But since I don't have children, sick parents, a girlfriend who I exclusively can care for, a farm, my own business with great employees, or my youth to protect, i am pretty free of further responsibility as to what happens to me beyond the immediate physical consequences. Having lived a long and gloriously blessed life, if I go into the woods someday, and do not come out, well that will be a fine day too. I don't even tell my family where i am exactly trying to go, so rescue is not an option. Some individuals may not have orchestrated their lives in like manner and for them, a PLB may be the magical item that allows them to explore the remoter corners of our world. So see, for some people it's the wings of freedom, while for others it is a ball and chain.
At the risk of adding more length to this..... looking from my perspective only.... let's say that the walks in Alaska are the end-all to my efforts to trek. ALL effort is put forth to succeed. A PLB is excess weight that offers only the means to NOT accieve my goals. What a waste of effort that would be better spent trying to attain the goal. And this on a walk on which pack weight is maxed to the hilt. Look at as a no-outcome-but-victory sort of a deal. So why carry insurance for failure, it only compromises the effort and reduces the chance for success.
Better thinking would be to carry one ALL THE TIME when not in alaska. Lordy what a terrible waste to die just over there on Mt. Diable duirng a training hike. What a waste that would be! Dead... on a weekend walk from a fractured thigh. No gold, no glory, just dead... Yeow.