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The Case for PLBs

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Re: The Case for PLBs

Postby Jimr » Mon Oct 06, 2014 9:07 am

AlmostThere wrote:Bottom line, if it's electronic it is an additional tool, not a replacement for map skills, leaving an itinerary, being careful in the backcountry, etc. No gadget will ever replace the educated human brain for efficiency and decision making. People who want to replace knowledge with a gadget are at issue.


Emphasis added.

My guess is that reliance on electronic gadgets in lieu of solid skills is or will be more of a problem with the younger crowd who grew up attached to their social media and other forms of electronic connectedness. They seem to be lost without some form of electronics plugged into their arse.

The older salts with the proper skills and an apprehension to add electronic gadgetry to their toolbox don't bother me at all. It's a matter of choice.

Those without the proper skills (leaving proper information regarding plans is one of those skills), with or without the electronics, are accidents waiting to happen.
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Re: The Case for PLBs

Postby EpicSteve » Sun Oct 12, 2014 8:42 pm

oldranger wrote:All your points are well taken but have been discussed multiple times on HST over the years.

Suggestion to admin/moderators. It might be a good idea to consolidate all discussions of PLBs, Spot Locators, sat phones etc as a sticky topic at the top of the outdoor gear forum so that newbies and people with short memories can have easy access to this important discussion.

Mike


Sorry Mike, apparently I was guilty of being a bit lazy about doing a proper search for this topic before starting another post of my own. I will try to be more mindful of that issue in the future. While I definitely am NOT lazy about researching many aspects of wilderness and backpacking (hence my carrying a PLB and NOT a SPOT or other two-way device), I'm not the most savvy forums user. I love these HST forums, but I'm not one of those people who spends all my (non-backpacking) spare time on them. I probably shouldn't have started a post when I was feeling annoyed about the subject. I apologize for any redundancy. #-o
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Re: The Case for PLBs

Postby EpicSteve » Mon Oct 13, 2014 3:24 am

AlmostThere wrote:The problem that the OP is neglecting to recognize is the upswing of carelessness - hikers have claimed in my presence that they don't need to study the route or bring a map, they have a GPS. Bad idea if you want to keep hiking with me.

Bottom line, if it's electronic it is an additional tool, not a replacement for map skills, leaving an itinerary, being careful in the backcountry, etc. No gadget will ever replace the educated human brain for efficiency and decision making. People who want to replace knowledge with a gadget are at issue. They make SAR's lives complicated and unduly risk their own lives into the bargain.


Actually I (“the OP”) agree completely. Perhaps the “upswing of carelessness” as it relates to emergency signaling devices and the quandary over how to properly educate hikers in their usage could be addressed by requiring some sort of licensing. After all, you have to listen to a ranger’s spiel on proper backcountry camping practices when you pick up a wilderness permit, no matter how many times you’ve heard it before. But anyone can purchase a PLB, SPOT, etc. and simply register it on the NOAA website (or neglect to do so) with no qualifications or demonstration of any knowledge whatsoever.

Maybe NOAA should add a test to their website and if passed, issue a code that must be presented before its legal for a retailer to sell the device. There could be another NOAA web page that’s only accessible to retailers, so they could verify the code. Perhaps a small license fee could be charged in order to take the test and the proceeds could be used to offset the cost of SAR. This would also serve to make people take the test more seriously; since they wouldn’t want to pay multiple fees if they didn’t pass on the first attempt. I don’t know what mechanisms would be required to put all of this into practice – I’m just brainstorming here.

But I still say that blaming the device for people’s ignorance is like blaming a seat belt for bad driving. Should climbers stop using ropes because they’ve been known to fail? Should we stop carrying knives because people sometimes cut themselves? Should hikers stop carrying first aid kits? After all, no first aid kit could possibly address all of the injuries or other medical emergencies that might possibly come up in the backcountry. In fact, maybe we should just do away with trails altogether, since they encourage people to venture into the backcountry who don’t even feel comfortable hiking cross country. And while we’re at it, let’s do away with SAR teams. People who go into the backcountry shouldn’t have a false sense of security that if they get into trouble a rescue will be guaranteed! …I’m sorry if that sounds too sarcastic, but it’s all the same flawed logic.

You said yourself: “if it's electronic it is an additional tool, not a replacement for map skills, leaving an itinerary, being careful in the backcountry, etc.,” …so as long as anyone carrying the device realizes this, then what’s wrong with adding an additional tool??? I’m not advocating that people be REQUIRED to carry an emergency signaling device. In fact, I’m totally opposed to that idea. But I think requiring that people demonstrate a certain amount of knowledge regarding how to use one of these devices (and WHEN it’s appropriate to use one!) should be required somehow before being allowed to buy one.

I’ve been hiking for 45 years (and climbing, skiing, rafting, kayaking and snowshoeing for various amounts of time) without a single emergency incident and I’ve received a variety of related in-depth training. Consequently, I think I should’ve earned enough respect by now to not be accused of being a “yuppie a**hole” ...which is apparently what EVERY person is, if they choose to carry an electronic signaling device, according to one post I read on the Whitney Portal forums a couple of years back. I’ve read similar opinions on other backpacking forums as well. People seem to be a good deal more civilized here on HST forums, so perhaps my use of the word “ridicule” in my original post was overly strong, but you get the idea. It’s ridiculous to pre-judge a person’s experience level, intelligence, judgment, etc. according to a piece of gear that they either choose to carry or not.

By the way, I did plenty of research on these devices before buying mine. That’s why I bought a PLB that passed independent testing with flying colors – not one of those two-way devices like the SPOT which has a history of connectivity problems. I don’t like the way the SPOT is marketed either. I’m totally with you on that. Additionally, I don’t want people to be able to reach me when I’m in the backcountry. I don’t want to be expected to reach them to reassure them either. But to each their own. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with people wanting to do those things, especially if it’s the only way to get their loved ones to calm down about the whole thing.

I always leave an extremely detailed itinerary with my wife before every hike. She understands the risks I take and the steps I take to mitigate those risks. (She also understands that if I stopped hiking I would stop being me.) I carry a topo map and a compass, not a GPS device. But I don’t assume that everyone who carries a GPS device can’t read a map, just because some people think that carrying one is some sort of panacea.

Itineraries are a great safety net, but some emergency situations require a faster response than an “overdue hiker” call. Hence the existence of the PLB. No, it may not prompt a timely enough rescue (or even work at all) in every situation. But if there’s even a chance that this 5.5 ounce device could possibly save my life someday when nothing else can, why in the world would I not carry one?

Another post in this thread mentioned Snow Nymph’s incident. I was not aware of that incident until now (and was distressed to learn about it, after enjoying SN’s posts over the years), but it’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about. So can you please explain to me why it was a bad idea for her to be carrying a PLB???
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Re: The Case for PLBs

Postby AlmostThere » Mon Oct 13, 2014 7:02 am

EpicSteve wrote:
Maybe NOAA should add a test to their website and if passed, issue a code that must be presented before its legal for a retailer to sell the device. There could be another NOAA web page that’s only accessible to retailers, so they could verify the code. Perhaps a small license fee could be charged in order to take the test and the proceeds could be used to offset the cost of SAR. This would also serve to make people take the test more seriously; since they wouldn’t want to pay multiple fees if they didn’t pass on the first attempt. I don’t know what mechanisms would be required to put all of this into practice – I’m just brainstorming here.

But I still say that blaming the device for people’s ignorance is like blaming a seat belt for bad driving. .... …so as long as anyone carrying the device realizes this, then what’s wrong with adding an additional tool??? I’m not advocating that people be REQUIRED to carry an emergency signaling device. In fact, I’m totally opposed to that idea. But I think requiring that people demonstrate a certain amount of knowledge regarding how to use one of these devices (and WHEN it’s appropriate to use one!) should be required somehow before being allowed to buy one.
..... So can you please explain to me why it was a bad idea for her to be carrying a PLB???



I don't understand at all where you are getting this idea that everyone (that seems to be who you're scolding here?) thinks it is a bad idea to carry a PLB.

I think it is a bad idea for ignorant, stupid, willfully and flagrantly idiotic rule-ignoring or careless people to go into the backcountry.

I think it is IMPOSSIBLE to keep them from doing so. It is IMPOSSIBLE to EDUCATE willfully defiant people, without hard experiences to retrain them that their idiocy is a danger to them and others. It is impossible to teach people who walked past us in Paradise (Kings Canyon) to use the actual designated campsites and not walk off into the woods, find an illegal campfire ring and camp. (That was Saturday night's witnessed defiance. Ignore the sign on the trail and go do your own thing.)

I just finished a backpacking class. I SHOWED them bear canisters, SHOWED repackaged food, explained WHY and HOW dehydrated food and simple food can be compact and light and easily rebagged and packed efficiently into a small can. I explained that the biggest bloopers of newbies are too much food, and too much clothing. I went into the many reasons minimizing and lightening the pack is a great idea. Last weekend we went to Paradise due to my knowing from long experience that at least one person in the class would completely ignore everything I said - not unsurprisingly it was the attorney who played with his phone throughout the class. Showed up with many hard sided storage containers, a cooking kit that combined GSI and Primus cooking kits suitable for a group of six, and enough food for ten of him. He was fit and able to carry everything fine - but then he also insisted on carpooling with others, who had not backpacked before and so were very, very slow, because day hiking does not put the same stress on the feet, and then he expected to be back in town early - happily he was still willing to wait in the parking lot for them just the same. But the plans of someone who was told and did not listen to good advice? They don't change much. This proves out over and over - Yosemite lectures all backpackers picking up permits on the requirements for bear canisters. The cans are FORCED on them - you don't get a permit without it. The cans too frequently go into the trunk, because the pack they stuffed til the seams pop is not big enough and the too much clothes/food takes up all the space, and the food doesn't go inside the can totally. I've found stashes of food behind rocks along the steeper trails. CANS of beans and veggies inside a spare pair of pants, with a bath towel, with a bottle of olives.... I have a new beach towel thanks to ignorant and careless people who wouldn't carry all their junk.

You can have folks come to something they PAY FOR so they can get information and not get them to listen to it. That's the extent of the problem. I don't just take people backpacking like the previous community education teacher. I teach. I tell them, with anecdotes and lively illustration, all the things I've seen and done to myself, to help them learn from the collective experience of backpackers who stuck with it despite the goofs and near misses. They pay for that and they still make the mistakes.

I am not sure expecting to educate EVERYONE with a PLB or a Spot is a reasonable expectation. I'm pretty sure it's just not going to happen, not for lack of trying, but just because this is not going to happen even in an ideal world. You'll notice though that I keep trying. It's like any other cause - you can't just sit there and do nothing, if it's important enough.
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Re: The Case for PLBs

Postby caddis » Mon Oct 13, 2014 11:59 am

Sounds like an ass chewing is what is needed. Maybe you should print that last post and make them read it. :thumbsup:
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Re: The Case for PLBs

Postby shtinkypuppie » Tue Oct 14, 2014 4:34 am

I'd just like to share my PLB story to shed a little light on the real-life utility of these devices.

My girlfriend and I were backpacking in the Los Padres NF just before Christmas. This was the interior of the Dick Smith, where trails are more like archaeology projects and 'brush' takes on a whole new meaning.
When we left, we had a 30% chance of rain showers in the forecast, with relatively mild temps. Thus we brought only basic rain gear (ponchos).
As we got deep into the Dick Smith, the trails got to be far worse than we expected. About half the time, we were just plunging through brush in the general direction we wanted to go. Even on relatively level terrain, it was all we could do to make 1 mph, often we made even less.
On our last day, we woke up to about 3 inches of snow, with more falling. We donned our clothes and raingear, heading out at first light. Have you ever bushwhacked through chaparral in fresh snow? You get wet in places you didn't know existed.
4 hours and less than 4 miles in, we are exhausted and freezing cold. Not regular old 'man that's friggin cold', I mean like starting to slur speech, losing feeling in extremities, having trouble thinking straight COLD. Every inch of us is wet, including a good share of the warm clothes we had. Just to add to the misery, my girlfriend turned her ankle on some snow-covered rocks at a creek crossing.
We hastily make camp and huddle naked in our sleeping bags, managing to get at least warm enough to function again. Taking stock of the situation, we observe that we:
- have 12 miles to the car,
- have no idea when the snow might let up,
- have more bushwhacking and even rougher terrain ahead,
- have pretty limited ability to travel (turned ankle),
- have no dry clothes,
- are probably looking at significantly colder temperatures in the coming night.
We make the decision to activate the PLB. About four hours later, we were huddled in the pilot's lounge at Santa Ynez airport (thank you, County of Santa Barbara).

Did we underprepare? Obviously, yes.
Did we negligently underprepare? IMO, yes and no. We really didn't have reason to believe that we'd get anything like the weather we had. It was only a four day trip, so I was fairly confident in the forecast. We also didn't have a good way to tell what the trails out there were REALLY like. That being said, we could have been a lot more cautious.
Did the PLB contribute to us underpreparing? To me, this is an emphatic 'NO'. At no point did I think to myself 'Hell with it, we'll just get out the beacon if we get in trouble.' The PLB was not a substitute for proper rain gear, or better trip planning. It was just tucked into my first aid kit, as a desperate last resort.
Am I glad I had my PLB? YES! Without it, we would probably have been facing a miserable, multi-day slog out of the backcountry (at best). We would have ended up overdue, so SAR would probably have been activated anyway, without the benefit of GPS data from our PLB.

You are never going to be able to stop some people from taking on a dangerous trip and leaning on a PLB for 'safety'. That being said, there are always going to be times when a safe and sane trip just gets FUBARed. I think PLBs have a legitimate place in a mountaineer's safety kit.

I would also like to observe that PLBs can often reduce the severity of an incident or the difficulty that SAR forces face. The Grand Canyon is rife with stories of people who get into trouble, then make bad decisions in desperation which get them killed. There must be at least a dozen tales of people who ran out of water and tried to scramble down to the Colorado, usually getting themselves killed. If they'd had a PLB, they could have called for help before the dehydration and desperation turned a simple helicopter rescue into a technical body recovery. When I activated my PLB, the Santa Barbara County helo flew a literal beeline to us - no search grids, no time wasted gathering intel, no boots on the ground tracking us down. They just flew out and plucked us up. Thus you could make the case that the PLB actually saved the SAR forces time, money, and risk.

Anyway, that's my experience/perspective, make of it what you will.
"It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the Earth, and in contemplation of her beauties to know wonder and humility"

- Rachel Carson
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Re: The Case for PLBs

Postby AlmostThere » Tue Oct 14, 2014 6:30 am

caddis wrote:Sounds like an ass chewing is what is needed. Maybe you should print that last post and make them read it. :thumbsup:


Sounds like you missed the real problem... an ass chewing is just what you can't do. If someone thinks they know what they are doing, all that accomplishes is to put them on the defense immediately. And the consequence then becomes a defensive person who truly will have to learn the hard way.

This is one of those things - adults like to be experts and in charge, because they are. How would you like it if I came over and demanded that you change the way you organized your furniture based on my personal fung shui? That's about what it amounts to, without the underlying reasons you are telling them not to do things like avoiding that lovely flat spot 10 feet from the river. And then they have to buy into the underlying reasons, and not be all "you tree hugger jerks are killjoys. this is the perfect spot." Might as well try to get Catholics to be Unitarians.
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Re: The Case for PLBs

Postby caddis » Tue Oct 14, 2014 6:50 am

Then stop teaching them. Let them learn like the rest of us: trial and error, hard work, and research.

You can't fight the dumb
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Re: The Case for PLBs

Postby AlmostThere » Tue Oct 14, 2014 7:00 am

caddis wrote:Then stop teaching them. Let them learn like the rest of us: trial and error, hard work, and research.

You can't fight the dumb


I teach those who sign up for the class. It pays me a little for the trouble. If they pay me to throw things at them I do that - if it sticks or not is not my problem.

The rest do what they do and learn from it. Or not.

I am dealing with two distinct groups of people - I organize trips for a very large hiking group, and I teach a class. You can't handle the two the same. It ain't professional to NOT TEACH the class. And I NEVER teach the hiking group directly - if they learn by osmosis that's out of my control, but ask any civil attorney and they will tell you - telling people what to do can end badly, because you are somewhat responsible for the outcome. How responsible comes out in the wash after the family of the deceased is done with you in court.
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Re: The Case for PLBs

Postby Jimr » Tue Oct 14, 2014 9:19 am

Not teaching is NOT the answer. There is only a percentage that pay for classwork and don't learn or attempt to learn. If 10 people show up for class, perhaps 1 will pay no attention because they are "more knowledgeable than thou", 1 will be asleep, a couple will just not get it, a couple will get it, but not incorporate their learning in their actions, AND a couple will soak up the information like a sponge and utilize it. This is typical for any teaching situation. It is those last two that keep teachers teaching. If you can reach one or two out of 10, it is worthwhile.

That's not to say that only 2 will learn anything. 2 will have learned nothing, a few will have the information, but only start utilizing it here and there through the school of hard knocks (they'll know better next time) and a few will be better prepared from the git go and avoid much of the misery the school of hard knocks doles out.

Rashneesh once said something like "I have a dream (a meditative awakening of a sort) and I come back from that dream, and 90% of that is lost. Then I put it into words, and 90% of THAT is lost. Then you hear it, and 90% of THAT is lost. So why do I talk?

Because that last little bit can ignite a spark in you, and that spark can be fanned into a flame that will burn inside you.
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Re: The Case for PLBs

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Oct 14, 2014 9:22 am

The PLB's are a supplemental and appropriate (if desired) for those who are already experienced. But they do enable the inexperienced to go where they should not (same as GPS technology). I think one answer would be to require rescue insurance. I think we expect too much of our volunteer mountain rescue people. At some point, there will be more demand than supply of rescue personnel time.

I taught at NOLS for seven years. We put people in the field first night and then taught as we slowly ambled through the wilderness. This is a really good way to teach, but not something most private groups can do. We outfitted everyone, so no dealing with inadequate equipment. We absolutely dictated what was in everyone's pack. People who came on our courses "signed on" to the program. We also had 30 days- which is what it really takes to get from "newbie" to fully "experienced". And the courses were specifically to teach. That meant that many days we traveled two miles, stopping about every 10 minutes to take advantage of a "teaching moment". The goal was not to get anywhere.

Leading private trips is like herding cats. I personally found it frustrating enough that I quit doing it. Many want to be led to a destination but do not want to follow any group rules. I admire anyone who leads or teaches the general public on private trips.

I am a bit anti-technology with backpacking. Too much technology makes people think that they can learn skills by pushing buttons and skip the hard work of learning the basics. I had an interesting experience this summer in Wyoming. Now with Google Earth you can "fly" a route and my think you really know what you are getting into. Google Earth has errors. They show a "trail" up Pixley Creek (someone simply made a GPS point-to-point file of this difficult off-trail route and put it on the internet). We were camped at the lower end of the route and two young fellows came through our camp. They had planned their trip based on a trail being there. They stumbled into our camp. Instead of real maps the used their I-phone which did not have sufficient detail. You cannot get lost in that canyon but it is quite similar to Enchanted Gorge. They were experienced enough, thank goodness, to handle the route, but their planned three days was totally insufficient time. This was an epic waiting to happen. Since their car was gone from the parking lot when we got back from our longer trip, I assume they got out.
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Re: The Case for PLBs

Postby Jimr » Tue Oct 14, 2014 10:22 am

Wandering Daisy wrote:I think one answer would be to require rescue insurance.


:eek: :eek: :eek: :eek:

Leading private trips is like herding cats.


Note to self; steal this simile for future use.
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