Greatest contribution to backpacker safety since the compass

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Re: Greatest contribution to backpacker safety since the compass

by js_radford » Sat Nov 15, 2008 12:36 pm


Thanks for the personal note/interesting story. I for one don't go against my own "creeped out" feelings when out there. More and more I find myself saying "I'm too old for this sort of thing anymore" (like going over bad looking terrain). Well, usually. It's nice to think our bodies/subconscious know a thing or two that our rational minds may miss.

The guy was a sensible looking, healty looking fellow. It's a tragedy; one can only speculate what went wrong. Maybe like me he stepped on some black ice. My patch was tiny and not near any slope. It's easy to imagine a sudden slip and "swoosh".

Here's the article a friend sent: ... 007&sc=812

It's sad to see. But at least they found his body quickly.


Re: Greatest contribution to backpacker safety since the compass

by Carl Mounteer » Fri Nov 14, 2008 8:49 pm


Thanks for your input. The article doesn't say the device giving the 911 signal was a SPOT although it sounds like one. It is amazing it could deliver a detectable signal from a "crevasse". Also, it looks like the SAR team was delayed nearly 24 hours by the weather and terrain.

But what really struck me about your post is your statement that two weeks later you were a quarter of a mile from the place where the victim died. I had an almost identical experience,

Over Labor Day week I was backpacking in the Echo Creek drainage out of Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite. My plan was to descend out of that canyon to Cathedral Fork then on to Echo Lake and then to the Cathedral Lakes. To make a long story short, I tried two approaches out. Three times I attempted to descend down one slot to Cathedral Fork and each time I got A REAL BAD FEELING!!! It was like this negative energy was pushing me out of that descent. This had NEVER happened to me before or anywhere else. On my last attempt I got so "creeped out" I turned around and went back to the Echo Creek drainage and spent two nights there.

When I got back home, I read a story on that reported an 80 year-old Italian woman had left her group hiking to Ireland Lake. She was found dead in the Echo Creek drainage two weeks before I was there.

Aside from getting that really uncomfortable feeling I had, this sounds a lot like your experience in the Emigrant Wilderness so I thought I would share it with you.

An actual example of SPOT in use - October 3, 2008

by js_radford » Fri Nov 14, 2008 1:48 pm

This could have been me! Well, not really; I avoided the forecast bad weather that weekend and went 2 weeks later and also was more careful, obviously. I was just a quarter mile from the spot. SPOT helped in the body recovery. That's something. Maybe having SPOT led the hiker to a false sense of security. Tragically, he ran out of time after punching the 911 button.

I was just a quarter mile from where this guy got killed after taking what turned out to be a risky route and slipping to his death (from later exposure, probably): ... y_no=27774

SO? Just an interesting note considering. I've never hiked so close to where someone died so soon after -- and all the while VWA Forum was debating this very issue!

On my hike (in nice weather) I slipped on black ice (didn't fall) and stepped on a loose boulder (strained my ankle) but never risked a cliff fall. At the end of the day, I camped early and had time to sun my sweaty clothes and cook well before dark and hike out safely the next AM.

John Radford

Re: Greatest contribution to backpacker safety since the compass

by gfelsman » Sun Oct 19, 2008 7:02 pm

As an avid hiker, I understand the technology and if you decide to use it because it makes you feel safer on your expeditions allowing you to enjoy the outdoors that is great.

Others who choose not to use the technolgy, I can understand their reasonings as well.

But in both cases hikers need to understand the Ventana and others are wild places where anything can happen. Common sense and erroring on the side of caution goes a long way to preventing any mishaps which might occur.

If something does happen. SPOT may help. It may not. It is another tool to get help if needed.

Happy exploring.

Re: Greatest contribution to backpacker safety since the compass

by Carl Mounteer » Sat Oct 18, 2008 11:42 am

Whatever imperfections I may bring to these Forum discussions, my effort here was first to let people know about a technology that could save their lives and to provide some sense of security to their loved ones at home. When I received some criticism about my motives in using this device, I raised the question, and provided my opinion, about why there was this huge, negative, emotional charge around suggesting a simple device for more safety. Keith’s responses to this statement of opinion is a torrent of sarcastic derision and contempt. But his responses only beg the question about why the huge, negative emotional charge around this issue. And pointing out Keith's reaction is not ridiculing his outdoor activities or lecturing in “pop psychology”. It is drawing attention to the obvious.

And some of you may be relieved to know that the SPOT is not $350. It is $149.95. You can pick one up at REI.

Re: Greatest contribution to backpacker safety since the compass

by K Vandevere » Fri Oct 17, 2008 2:59 pm

Your logic, Carl, and your efforts to twist my comments into something different from what I actually said, are as ridiculous as your math. But your failure to understand the laws of probability goes a long way toward explaining why you're so concerned over risks that are so slight.

To set the record straight, it makes no difference to me, Carl, whether you carry a SPOT or not. You can do your hiking in a suit of armor and bring along a team of paramedics, for all I care. I won't think any less, or more, of your manhood or judge you any more, or less, evolved as a human being.

But the bottom line is this: You report that the SPOT costs $350.00 plus a $99.00 per year subscription and the risk of getting charged as much as $750.00 any time it gets jostled the wrong way in your pack. This adds up to real money for some of us. It also weighs something and takes up space - and things that do either have to be pretty essential to earn a spot in some of our packs. For these reasons (and given how extremely unlikely it is that we'd ever need to use the SPOT), we'd like to be able to make the decision to spend our money on something genuinely useful without getting a pompous pop psychology lecture about how our failure to run out and spend all this money is a symptom of male conditioning.

If you want to razz me for male conditioning making me love things like bike racing, whitewater paddling, backcountry skiing, rock climbing, etc., I won't argue with you. I don't know whether you'd be right or not (I've always kind of disliked danger, actually - I hate skiing across unstable slopes or paddling into rapids too technical for me), but I won't argue with you. Where it becomes too silly for me to stay silent is when you try to stretch the male conditioning thing to cover something as mundane as not buying a SPOT. That was the absurdity that lured me into this discussion.

Re: Greatest contribution to backpacker safety since the compass

by John R » Fri Oct 17, 2008 12:43 pm

I wondered if anybody was reading this thread further, since I got to it belatedly. Interesting commentary Carl (and witty retort, K Vandevere!). But I think you miss the whole point of my comments and impugn all sorts of motives and character traits I simply don't have.

If I were the chest-thumping, testosterone-driven male that you are describing, I'd free-climb El Capitan or, as I mentioned, plunge into serious danger (wildest jungle or such) without any life line like SPOT. Those and many other behaviors are semi-suicidal, life threatening activities off rope or off-line. I admire those who are able to competently do such and have the guts for it much like I admire serious athletes stretching the bounds of the body's limits. But such is not for me. Makes me sick just to think of some of it; and I'm not talking about that here.

It's all about freedom of spirit and seeking undeveloped horizons.

The world today is too damn tamed -- SPOT on criticism, if I do say so myself.

I do say YES to motorcycle helmets, the risk is obvious and horrendous; I say NO to SPOT unless one chooses to take serious (foolish?) risk or one is leading a group (responsible for others) or, perhaps (and only perhaps) one is responsible to wife and family.

One little and reasonably non life-threatening way to take some temporary relief from the spirit-deadening, ever-safe trends of modern life is to eschew such as SPOT, which I consider "overly safe" technology for the Ventana and, I'd submit, the Sierra. Of course if one were going out to deliberately risk life and limb, and I know there are an unlimited number of ways to do such in both regions, then one WOULD be foolish to cut all possible life lines.

But, believe it or not, I have no such death wish or even "injury wish". Read again: when going alone, cross country, most backpackers, I'd submit, are more careful, more focused, much more aware of risks than otherwise. I like travel with others - but it is a whole different experience requiring less necessity to be aware of one's situation. Going solo with SPOT would be much like going with a group. Actually, it might well lead one to a false sense of safety and incline one to take worse risks than otherwise.

There have been a number of instances that I've told myself, for example, "I just don't feel good about that short climb but if I weren't alone I'd try it." Maybe if I had SPOT I'd take the risk but, solo ... nope.

I've had a fair number of rich solo experiences over the years. If I'd had the SPOT along all the time, I am certain the memory of same would be much diminished. The memory of all the hard hikes I've had with others have a whole different feel than all the memories of solo treks - more rounded edges, softer lighting, perhaps even a "less alive" feeling. Of course, it's a trade-off; I sometimes miss the fellowship and feel the solitude very much more intensely (good and bad). Indeed, over the years, I think because I've done so much solo hiking, I've come to feel very strongly that Nature is indifferent to humankind - the Disney-like connectedness of life (cute animals and such) is an illusion. We are totally connected and yet profoundly alone. Had I never done solo treks, maybe I'd not see that.

SPOT is a development of the networking that the World is about these days. A die-hard fan of the Internet, I think the Web can be liberating but can also be ensnaring. Connected by its threads, which we are with SPOT I guess, we are inherently bound -- more safe at the expense of being less free.

I'll be the first to admit avoiding perfect safety is a "cheap thrill". But, as long as I don't really think I'm actually risking my life, I'll say "No Thanks" to the SPOT, at least for now. Ask me again in 10 years when I'm over 70. I may sing a different tune then. I hope not, though.

Re: Greatest contribution to backpacker safety since the compass

by jonl » Fri Oct 17, 2008 10:38 am

"In fact, the opposite is true: the more you expose yourself to risk without incident, the more likely the danger inherent in the risk will occur (e.g., the more times I roll the dice without coming up with two of the same number, the more likely that will occur in the future.)"

Carl, by this reasoning if you threw the dice long enough you'd eventually be rolling nothing but doubles. When I took statistics the chance of rolling a pair was the same with every throw; your prior rolls of the dice do not affect the future.

Re: Greatest contribution to backpacker safety since the compass

by Carl Mounteer » Fri Oct 17, 2008 8:39 am

Keith writes: “All I know is that if the chances of hitting one's head in a bike crash were as slim as the chances of needing a SPOT in the Ventana Wilderness, very few women or men would bother wearing bike helmets.”

I have one fairly obvious caveat to anyone who is inclined to rely upon or give any credence to this statement: Keith cannot warrant that everyone’s wilderness experience will be far more risk-free than their bicycle riding. Nor has he provided any qualifications that lend him any credibility to articulate such a contention nor any data that supports it. In fact his conclusions are based on a reasoning that defies the laws of probability, i.e., because I have been safe in the wilderness for “decades”, I can assume that same level of safety will continue in the future. In fact, the opposite is true: the more you expose yourself to risk without incident, the more likely the danger inherent in the risk will occur (e.g., the more times I roll the dice without coming up with two of the same number, the more likely that will occur in the future.)

A person who does have some qualifications to speak on this issue supports my view of the wisdom of taking extra precautions when hiking alone. This is from Jeff Hasse, President of Search, Rescue, and Recovery Resources of Minnesota: “The consequences of failure are much higher when you’re solo, so it’s a good idea to back off a step and stay well within your abilities. Hiking alone is not a time to push it.” This is essentially Betsy’s view also. So I am in pretty good company here!

Betsy’s example of the lost hiker is a case in point. Keith characterizes this individual as becoming lost for 10 days because he is “clueless” and “mentally impaired”. But, I believe that person was immobilized for 10 days by foot blisters, an apparently non-existent contingency for Keith. Also, in his attempt to trivialize the risks of the wilderness into nothingness, he confines the possibility of “falling and being unable to get up” only to the “elderly” or “infirm”. These statements should convince any reasonable person that a someone who holds such views does not have a realistic or healthy appreciation of the potential hazards of wilderness travel. “Falling and being unable to get up” can happen to anyone who is injured in a fall anywhere, especially in the wilderness.

Furthermore, donning a firesuit and crash helmet before getting into a car (and presumably removing them at one’s destination) is obviously a far more burdensome, unreasonable, and unrealistic task than slipping a device into your backpack that is about the size and weight of a wallet and that may save your life. Keith’s attempt to analogize these two scenarios is absurd on its face.

Finally, all I have suggested is the reasonable, common-sense addition of a simple, relatively inexpensive piece of technology to your wilderness gear to add another layer of personal safety. Why does a proposal this benign generate such a huge, negative, emotional charge in some of the men responding to this post? My theory: Because he who challenges the traditional expectations of males (in this case, putting a low priority on personal safety) is guaranteed to be attacked and shamed by enforcers of the male role just as all of you have witnessed here.

Re: Greatest contribution to backpacker safety since the compass

by K Vandevere » Wed Oct 15, 2008 1:26 pm

Betsy makes a good point. If you're so mentally impaired that you can wander around lost in a patch of hills as small as the Ventana Wilderness for 10 days without finding your way out ... or if you're so elderly that falling and being unable to get up is a real risk, then you would probably be well advised to carry some form of electronic device for summoning help - not just in the Ventana Wilderness, but pretty much anywhere you go that you might not be easily noticed or quickly found. Fortunately, most visitors to the Ventana are neither so clueless nor so infirm.