Should beacons be required of climbers?

Should climbers be required to carry locator beacons?

Mount Hood from space, August 5, 2009.

In 2007, a bill that would have required Mount Hood climbers to carry beacons on winter expeditions failed in the Oregon legislature. However, the recent deaths of three climbers on the mountain has reopened the debate among search and rescue crews, mountaineers, and politicians.

Those for the requirement cite the increased chance of a successful rescue, the safety of the searchers, and the cost of rescues. Those against a mandate cite personal responsibility and freedom, and the potential for unprepared climbers to devalue safety education and take greater risks if they're carrying a beacon. Portland Mountain Rescue supports the optional use of beacons on Mount Hood, but not a mandate.

At Mount Hood you can rent a basic line-of-sight radio beacon (a mountain locator unit or MLU) for five dollars. These beacons do not trigger a search or pinpoint your location like a GPS-enabled SPOT or PLB does. However, if activated and within a certain range and conditions, an MLU can help rescuers searching for overdue climbers find a climber, or body, via a radio signal.

Read the AP article "Mount Hood tragedy revives talk of requiring beacons".

Read Portland Mountain Rescue's position statementagainst the requirement.

via The Goat

Filed under: Gear News


82 reviewer rep
311 forum posts
December 22, 2009 at 2:50 p.m. (EST)

This is just another rehash of the age old question.Climbers are a very small number of the rescues going on every year in the PNW.If climbers need them then so do atv riders,hunters and fishermen,all groups that need more rescues than climbers.The news media throws so much hype into this on that it doesnt even deserve an answer.ymmv

14 reviewer rep
318 forum posts
December 30, 2009 at 4:23 p.m. (EST)

A better solution would be to have the beacons available to take with you. I am sure they could afford them as if they save the cost of one rescue it would pay for a slew of units. If you don't take one for free you can only blame yourself for not getting one. Forcing everyone to buy one just makes the mount hood off limits to anyone without money.

Bill S
4,419 reviewer rep
6,010 forum posts
December 30, 2009 at 6:52 p.m. (EST)

As people may have gathered from my posts related to the topic, I have mixed feelings on locator devices generally and required locator devices in particular. On the one hand, as a former SAR member, it sure would make my job easier by, at the least, narrowing the search area by a huge amount, whether it is a rescue or a recovery. This is important when I am out there in deteriorating conditions. On the other hand, while I believe in lowering the probability of my disappearing from the face of the Earth, I prefer to (1) take only items necessary for my activity and (2) not have the "leash". I believe that anyone undertaking any activity, whether it be driving on the freeway or venturing as I sometimes do into Arctic, Antarctic, or local wilderness conditions, has the responsibility to themselves and to others (family, friends, co-workers, professional and volunteer SAR, even the general public) to be cognizant and aware of the risks and consequences should those risks be realized, and be prepared to take steps to avoid or at a minimum mitigate those risks. In any case, they should take steps to minimize the consequences to everyone else.

Unfortunately, far too many who venture out there are ignorant of the risks (in flying, the term is "fat, dumb, and happy"), oblivious to them ("won't happen to me" and "you are trying to spoil my fun!"), or have something to "prove". Another way of putting it is that they "don't know what they don't know", an example being the folks who did the "rain dance" on top of Half Dome in a building thunderstorm. Education of these poor souls is needed, obviously, but all too often, they have the attitude that they "don' need no stinkin' edicashun!" and that "all that stuff is boorrriinnng!"

Jim S
37 reviewer rep
749 forum posts
January 1, 2010 at 2:12 p.m. (EST)

Well for one thing the beacons don't really do what a lot of people think they do, they only emit a weak signal that often cannot be picked up due to a lot of problems - antenna alignment, batteries, being buried, being in a place where there is no line of sight, or simply too many signals to differentiate. Now there are calls for "everyone traveling above the tree line in Oregon" to carry a beacon. Why only above tree line? Is it perceived that below the treeline there is no danger? How many snowmobilers and hikers get into trouble below the tree line vs above? Well anyway the beacons just will not work as well below the tree line because of the trees. On the side of a nice cone shaped mountain you have a better chance of recieving a directional signal.

AND they're missing one point, the infrastructure required to effectively use this technology on a mass basis would be prohibitively expensive as it would probably involve permanent ground bases with sophisticated radio gear and computers, software, and a full time staff. I was a professional reconnaissance engineer and I designed a lot of similar stuff and the price tag was multi millions of dollars for each copy.

What it really boils down to is a combination of big brother wanting to know where everyone is all the time, and couch potato tax payers who think that anyone who goes outside is asking for it. Imagine if you were permitted to enter zones 4,5 an6 of a wilderness and you dared to cross over into zone 7 and they had a record of your movements, does this sound like the electronic leashes put on criminals?

Jim S

0 reviewer rep
48 forum posts
January 24, 2010 at 11:46 a.m. (EST)

Let's see...hmmm. How dangerous to SAR is the rescue of the negligent on an ice-ball, crevasse-creased mountain in the dead of winter when it's stormin'?

And who empowered the negligent to put those SAR personnel at risk anyway?

Liberty is not the issue here. Negligence is the issue. Climbers, skiers, snowmobilers, whoever; everybody who ventures into the wild has an obligation to minimize the risk exposure presented to SAR through their own actions.

Maybe we ought to have a DNR-type (Do Not Resuscitate) document for those who proceed with callous disregard for the safety of others, you know worded like, "If I am lost please make no effort to save me as I can take care of myself. If I die it is my own fault. I fully undertake this activity on my own volition, under my own authority and don't particularly give a damn about my family or my friends and besides a beacon is just too heavy for my frail physique to carry." Signed, "Reckless Imbecile".

How about that? Liberty versus Big Brother? Laughable. Join a SAR team, go out and do the work, witness the stupidty of the negligent and the pain in the hearts of the families left behind then babble on about liberty.

Yeah, either carry a beacon or whatever or sign your name to the "I don't give a damn statement". Pick one.

You know, HYOH. Enjoy the trip.


775 reviewer rep
2,162 forum posts
January 29, 2010 at 10:52 a.m. (EST)

While I am not (at the moment at least) advocating one side or the other of the "beacon or no beacon" discussion, but I do have this to mention.

Drake implies that a locator being used to track the movements of those bearing them and/or enforce regulation wouldn't happen. Unfortunately, almost any means that are available, physically and/or legally, to ensure compliance with regulations will be utilized. The EZPass system is a perfect example of this. EZpass was set up to make it easy for commuters to pay tolls while maximizing the fluidity of trafic on the highway. But, if you arrive at the next toll reader in less than the amount of time than they have decided it should take you to get there, guess what? You get a ticket in the mail. Was the EZPass system designed for this? Nope. But it is used for it. GPS units in Rental Cars are being used by some companies in the same way as well. If they decide that you drove faster than you should have, they send you a fine, then you get a state ticket too. EVERYONE on a regular basis does something while driving, either intentionally or not, that is ticketable. If it was possible to document those infractions with an existing system for the purpose of ticketing, it would be used.

If something can be used to enforce compliance with regulation, you can rest assured that it will be at least considered to be used for it. To rocognize that fact is not laughable.

Again, I am not advocating one side or the other here, just pointing out that history doesn't support the notion that authorities will abstain from using whatever means they can to regulate, and enforce that regulation. Certainly many individual representatives of authority will be cautious to regulate and enforce any more than necessary. But precedence has proven that wherever a society gives its governing body(s) the authority to regulate and enforce its members, that governing body will do so to the greatest extent that it is given lee to do so.

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