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by Staff | 2009-04-30 10:04:00-06


UPDATE 5/2/09 4:07 PM:


: Ken Knight
Height: 5'4"
Weight: 180-200 lb
Point Last Seen: Punchbowl Mountain on the Appalachian Trail in VA
Time Last Seen: Sunday, April 26, 9:00 - 10:00 a.m.
Unique Characteristics: wearing a dry-bag style backpack with a bright orange packbag, hiker is vision-impaired.

If you have info, please contact us:

Photo above taken Wednesday, April 22 on the Appalachian Trail.


"*** ALERT *** APPALACHIAN TRAIL HIKER FOUND!," by Staff. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2009-04-30 10:04:00-06.


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John Carter

Locale: Pacific Northwest

Okay, I can't sit around and be silent anymore. I hope Robert Speik doesn't mind me posting this, but I was so glad to see Robert posting on these forums, and a little surprised by the reaction of some of the other forum members. So here goes:

Robert Speik is co-founder of the Cascade Mountaineers, based in Bend, OR. He is also founder of Robert also teaches mountaineering and navigation courses at Central Oregon Community College. Robert has climbed over 300 peaks. Now in his early 80s and still an active mountaineer, Robert is possibly the oldest person to have climbed South Sister and Mt. Jefferson. He is a well-known outdoorsman in Central Oregon, and you can find him in the local papers now and then.

I tell this to everyone not because we should respect his opinions simply due to his experience, but rather because Robert brings decades of mountaineering expertise and instruction in particular to these forums. He also regularly instructs many mountaineers who have put little thought into their navigation and self-rescue needs. If you think Robert's navigation tools sound a little heavy and technology-driven, consider that part of the mission statement of both and the Cascade Mountaineers is to educate mountaineers in order to reduce the number of annual fatalities and frostbite-induced amputations that regularly occur throughout the Cascades. These injuries and fatalities are clearly documented on his website each time one occurs. Consider the injury and fatality cases he regularly sees, often resulting from typical lack of planning for disaster, when you consider the viewpoint he is responding from.

Perhaps a healthier discussion would be whether or not mountaineers and backpackers share the same navigating and self-rescue needs. Does someone doing an over-nighter high on a snowy ridge in early June with an approaching front need a PLB more than a low elevation thru-hiker on a well-marked trail in mid-summer? Also consider that, in Oregon, the weather can turn nasty real fast any time of year, especially above timberline, and that in the Cascades, if you are not high on a volcano ridge, you are usually in very heavy tree canopy, making compass navigation very difficult at best.

Interestingly, I took the advice of both Roger Caffin and Robert Speik with the recommendation of the Garmin eTrex H as a lightweight, non-mapping accessory to a map and compass. From what I've read, both would say the same things about the importance of relying on one's brain, and not technology, for navigation, and the importance of keeping one's attention on the terrain, not the GPS screen. I think there was a bit of misunderstanding in some of the above posts.

Again, I hope Robert doesn't mind me revealing his identity, and I know there are other posters here with decades of outdoor experience. It is these experts that add so much value to these forums. I just though it would help steer these discussions more productively, as it seems to me we are speaking in pure absolutes, when really we have two subjects going on here--backpacking and mountaineering (or do we?)...

Edited by jcarter1 on 05/12/2009 15:48:09 MDT.

Robert Speik

Hi John-
No, John, I don't mind.

You forgot the part about my being a former Chair for three years of the Basic Mountaineering Training Committee (BMTC and AMTC) of the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club introducing about 1,000 new people per year with 30 classroom hours and four weekend trips to the traditions, latest practices, skills, gear, etc. of walking on the trail, walking off the trail, scrambling, climbing steep snow, rock and ice to a summit and then rappelling back from the top.

BMTC/AMTC was conducted in five areas of Southern California with a trained and tested volunteer staff of about 200 guys and girls. This is similar to the introductory classes classes put on by the Oregon Mazamas, the Washington Mountaineers and many other Outdoor Clubs.

Whew - I have a hard time saying anything short;-((
--Robert Speik

PS: John, I have ordered the Garmin to USB cable you suggested. Have you told folks here about this nifty affordable item of gear?

Edited by trad_guy on 05/15/2009 15:28:15 MDT.

Rene de bos
(piemel) - F

Locale: SF Bay Area
Prices on Etrex H/HC are dropping on 05/12/2009 16:09:56 MDT Print View

ETrex H = $80
ETrex HC = $124

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Roger Cafins advice to use Map, Compass and GPS together on 05/12/2009 16:17:48 MDT Print View

Hi Robert

I now understand where you are coming from, and why you are so keen on everyone taking care. OK, map and compass first. No argument that they are extremely desirable.

Where we diverge is on the philosophical issue of what many call the Nanny State. Saying that carrying a cell phone or a GPS is *mandatory* is too much for me. What if you don't even own a cell phone or a GPS? America is meant to be the land of the free, but all these regulations seem to be wrapping you in ever-tightening shackles.

Of course there is a conflict between personal freedom and "what's good for you". And of course fools impose a cost on society. However, I place personal freedom a bit higher up the totem pole. Such 'mandatory' rules would mean no-one could enjoy the freedom of their own environment without spending hundreds of dollars on electronic gear so the State can track them. I couldn't go walking on the local tracks near my farm without carrying hundreds of dollars of electronic gear. What will the next 'mandatory requirement' be? NO WAY!

Am I being melodramatic here? It might seem so, but we are playing out part of this battle in my own country Australia right now. A few vested interests (commercial operators of tourist adventure companies) are trying to force volunteer walking clubs to play by the same rules as are being imposed on those who sell 'adventure trips' to tourists, and some bureaucrats are buying their story. Such regulations would destroy all adult volunteer clubs, as they would prevent anyone from leading an adult club walk unless they had all the licences.

To make it quite clear: I agree and support the moves to impose regulations on those who sell their services to minors and unskilled people. They have a legal duty of care. We have seen too many cowboys in that area. The various Guides Associations in Europe and other countries around the world have a long and honourable history. But leave individuals and their friends free.


Robert Speik
Re: Re: Re: Roger Cafins advice to use Map, Compass and GPS together on 05/12/2009 16:29:03 MDT Print View

Hi Roger-
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
The Bulletin
Robert Speik
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

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: Re: Roger Cafins advice to use Map, Compass and GPS together on 05/12/2009 17:12:00 MDT Print View

"Where we diverge is on the philosophical issue of what many call the Nanny State."

Hear, hear, Roger. Your comments go straight to the heart of why many of us venture into wild places. Organizations, by their very nature, seek to impose uniformity and control.
For those so disposed, wilderness oriented organizations offer a safe, predictable "adventure", and I have no problem with that as long as participation is voluntary. But there is an increasing tendency to extend organizational writ and doctrine to all who enter the backcountry. In some cases it is justified, e.g. bear canisters, but will it stop there? I am beginning to fear that the days of those of us who choose to experience the wilderness in a "less structured" way, relying on our own wits, experience, and a bit of luck, are numbered. I hope I am mistaken.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
No map, compass, gps, etc. on 05/12/2009 18:35:49 MDT Print View

I've written here before that there is some liberty in traveling without navigation tools.

Just walk. Get lost. Find your way back.

It's not for everyone (probably not for Ken! :) but it's a pretty fascinating way to travel the wilds.

We intentionally hamper navigation to a great degree on our WT3-EXT course and I don't think our students would have it any other way. Generally, we don't really use "maps".

Traveling the landscape and not your maps, there's something to it.

My point is not to leave the map at home (the compass is nice, though), but rather to drive home the point that navigation devices of any sort probably are not as "essential" to one's survival as we think they are down here in the CONUS, where the point at a furthest distance from a road is only 22 miles.

What they do offer you is efficiency. They allow you to get back to the car when you plan to get back to the car.

But if you have the experience, light gear, some extra food, and the flexibility (and a sat phone to let your wife know that you're not ... quite ... sure when you'll be home), try navigating the landscape without a map ... and see where you end up.

I don't recommend this practice for the casual walker.

But a lot of folks here have no issues hiking 15-20 miles a day, and are experienced traveling off trail. This might be something fun to do for you.

Last year on WT3 our maps contained shaded relief, but no data, no topography, no trails, etc., and we managed to cross 70 miles of the Absaroka Range in 4.5 days, with the last few days in a blizzard, in October. We were pretty comfortable the whole trip, and it was really fun.

Don't sanitize your experience out there too much.

Edited by ryan on 05/12/2009 18:37:15 MDT.

Ashley Brown
(ashleyb) - F
Easy Showily on 05/12/2009 18:39:48 MDT Print View

Hi Robert,

The Easy Showily does give you position info whilst on the trail... but I didn't realise that it doesn't give you UTM coordinates. Back to the drawing board I guess.

I will probably end up with an eTrex H. But I would really prefer to find something lighter, such as the Easy Showily or the Holux M-241 which only weigh an ounce or a half (but unfortunately don't seem to report in UTM coordinates). All I need is something that will give my current position, as a backup/confirmation of my compass. Don't need any other fancy features. Is there nothing out there for under 2oz which will give me a UTM coordinate?

It must be possible, because I was under the impression that you can transform between UTM and lat/long coordinates (through some fairly complex forumla).

Whilst I can get around and "locate" myself using a compass and map, a GPS would be a welcome backup. On a number of occasions I have found myself completely mistaken in my position on a map... the confusion only lifting, or making itself apparent when I come across a feature in the environment which does not make sense according to where I thought I was. I've always been able to work it out in the end, but a GPS would have made life a hell of a lot easier. And if I were ever completely lost with limited vision (due to fog, snow) I would be extremely thankful to have it there with me.

Robert Speik
Re: Easy Showily vs. Garmin Geko on 05/12/2009 19:09:55 MDT Print View

Hi Ashley-
Golly gee whiz! Questions! I am wearing out;-))

The only way I know of to go from lat-lon to UTM is to change the Units preference in your GPS.

Why do you want UTMs? Because with ten minutes of explanation, you will be able to find your UTM coordinates on your Quad or equal map by just looking at it.

Lat-lon coordinates require a special ruler and more sophistication to find a location. Only pilots and mariners know how to plot it on a chart.

You must match the Datum preference in your GPS to your map - NAD 27 for USGS Quad maps or equal, or you may be as much as 600 feet off the trail or intersection.

Remember, use your map first, then add your declination adjusted compass and then consult your GPS.

(One degree of declination error is about 92 feet in one mile. But 10 degrees is 920 feet in one mile. The declination error in Bend, OR is about 17 degrees. Oh my goodness!)

A local outdoor writer friend told me "I don't need a GPS. I have never been lost for more than 2 days in my life!"

Two good reads on long distance backpacking: "A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson and a PCT book, "Journey on the Crest", by Cindy Ross. Both books, written in the 1980s, are hilarious and give a look at both the good and the bad sides of life on the trail.

Edited by trad_guy on 05/15/2009 11:48:22 MDT.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Re: Re: Roger Cafins advice to use Map, Compass and GPS together on 05/12/2009 19:58:55 MDT Print View

Hi Robert

It would seem that we are not very far apart at all. Your OpEd piece was very good. :-)

My experience from many years bushwalking is that it is not the experienced walker who has to be rescued. I suspect this may be your experience as well.

It is the novice who goes quite unprepared, and I cannot see that saddling experienced walkers and climbers with legal requirements will solve that problem. The inexperienced (young males) won't carry any of that gear: they are "far too tough to need any of that stuff". Or "it is too dear and they don't need it anyhow". Well, Darwin rules.

Another class who gives us (including the SAR) grief here in Oz are the know-it-all adults who cheerfully volunteer to take groups of kids (church groups, school groups, etc) into the wild. They assume a duty of care with no training, experience or skill. They feature highly in the SAR statistics. This is where we do need serious regulation.

I support the idea that anyone who takes a party of unskilled children or adults into the wild, whether on a paid adventure trip or as an unpaid leader, has a legal duty of care. They should be legally required to have some assessed skills and should carry some means of yelling for help. A GPS is good but not enough: they should be carrying either a cell phone (IF they know there will be cover), a sat phone, or a PLB.

In our nearby Blue Mountains (where we get a lot of SAR), the local police station has PLBs for LOAN. They reckon it is cheaper to cover the cost of the PLBs. But I gather that the uptake has not been great.


Rod Lawlor
(Rod_Lawlor) - MLife

Locale: Australia
Not well known they're available on 05/13/2009 06:26:35 MDT Print View


It's probably worth piping up since I've just finished reading the Coroner's report tonight, that he recommends that 'the NPWS review it's capacity to to educate the public as to the availability of PLB's from Police and the NPWS'

and that 'the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme amend its literature to require co-ordinators to educate candidates about...the value of one candidate in any walking group carrying a PLB where those devices are available from Police or NPWS'

It's not clear whether those were 121s or 406s in 2006, or whether or not they were or are now GPS equipped.

Justin McMinn
(akajut) - F

Locale: Central Oklahoma
Re: Easy Showily on 05/28/2009 12:20:56 MDT Print View

I noticed the posts about how the Easy Showily doesn't show UTM coordinates. The ATP GPS Photofinder Pro just got announced today, and it displays UTM. It will be out in July for $120. I can't find a weight though.

You can insert your camera's memory card into the device, and it will add the gps location data to the photo without the need for a computer.

Photography Blog post