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#173996 - 01/17/13 06:20 PM Calling for help
balzaccom Offline
member

Registered: 04/06/09
Posts: 1731
Loc: Napa, CA
It's not always so simple...

Every year there are new stories of people hiking up into the mountains and then calling for help. And every story seems to provoke a flurry of discussion in the internet backpacking community. While some of the hikers have clearly had accidents and need assistance, others seem to use their cell phones to call for help because they are tired….and want to go home.

That rubs a lot of people the wrong way. Search and Rescue (SAR) squads are often volunteers, and almost always underfunded, and it’s hard to argue that they should be called out every time someone has a blister on their heel and wants a ride. Or maybe they have a sprained ankle, or a broken toe, or a broken leg or… Whatever the situation, there is always a lot of second-guessing and Monday morning quarterbacking about what they SHOULD have done, and whether they really needed rescuing at all.

What’s the solution? Some regions now charge people to be rescued, although most SAR experts oppose this. If people are afraid to call SAR for fear that they will have to pay, they might hold off until it is too late. And that’s an outcome nobody wants.

But in all these discussions, there is one element that we think is often missing. Many of the people who call for help are already admitting something pretty obvious: they have made at least one serious error in judgment. They got started too late, ignored the weather, didn’t take the proper equipment, took the wrong trail, got lost, etc. They are quite likely to be either dehydrated or slightly hypothermic, which is likely to make them less rational. And they have already realized that they don’t/can’t trust their own judgment.

That’s a pretty good reason for us not to trust their judgment either. And if their judgment can’t be trusted, there’s a good chance it won’t get them out of the trouble they’re in. They have already made at least one bad decision, and usually more than that—some of which they may not recognize as such. And there is no guarantee that is going to change any time soon.

Most SAR experts take that into account. And so should the backseat drivers.
_________________________
balzaccom

check out our website and blog: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/home

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#173997 - 01/17/13 06:35 PM Re: Calling for help [Re: balzaccom]
Rick_D Offline
member

Registered: 01/06/02
Posts: 2802
Loc: NorCal
I'd prefer to adequately fund sheriffs departments, S&R organizations, parks departments, etc. and deal with clear abuse of these resources on a case-by-case basis (that's the DA's job). One successful rescue is worth half a dozen "false alarms" in my book. I just don't want to see lives endangered unnecessarily for somebody who lost their nail file.

Cheers,
_________________________
--Rick

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#174000 - 01/17/13 08:00 PM Re: Calling for help [Re: Rick_D]
oldranger Offline
member

Registered: 02/23/07
Posts: 1735
Loc: California (southern)
Balzacom, you make a very good point. The typical serious rescue scenario involves bad decisions - typically not just one, but a sequence of at least two or three (often starting with what to take or where to go) that lead to an emergency and the need for outside intervention. Often a tri can withstand one bad decision if people get on track and compensate with good thinking.

I did most of my SAR before cell phones were the factor they are today, with the result that the operation was often initiated by a third party who only knew that little Johnny was overdue and might be in trouble. Very often we would encounter a tired and thirsty little Johnny who was proceeding homeward down the trail, but not in any real trouble. As an organization, we received a training benefit.

That is no small thing. Particularly for a volunteer outfit, there is a certain optimum level of activity that keeps everyone sharp, organized, fit and alert. Too many operations and the group is overwhelmed and over worked. Too few, and volunteers (or professionals, too, for that matter) become listless and unfocused.

We were a great bargain for the tax payer. The typical operation would involve one paid deputy who was on the clock and anywhere from ten to forty volunteers who got some exercise and the satisfaction of dealing with challenging situations. The greatest benefit was the exaltation that hit you when you had intervened and actually saved a life and clearly benefited someone. In my experience, there is nothing quite like that feeling.

"endangered lives" = please! Very seldom did that occur, and always on a voluntary basis. Frankly, during a lot of the time I was most active in SAR, my career in the NPS had hit a flat spot (I was a paper shuffling, bureaucratic archaeodrone in a crummy organization) and many times was sitting in a mid numbing, fruitless meeting praying for my pager to go off and get me out of there. Unlike some of my work colleagues, I respected and trusted my SAR buddies. The bottom line is that there are complex interactions going on; those who volunteer have good reason to do so and are compensated in many ways. The "selfless volunteer dedicated to serving suffering humanity" is a cardboard caricature, hardly representative of the real nature of volunteerism. Most are semi-addicted to adrenaline and physical activities and happy to put their talents to a useful end. Let me just say that, of all the things I have done in my life, I am proudest of my SAR activities.

Blatant abuse of SAR resources is not overlooked. The NPS can and will charge you with "creating a dangerous situation" but this is done, and rightly so, only in extreme cases. Other jurisdictions can do likewise, I believe.

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#174001 - 01/17/13 08:14 PM Re: Calling for help [Re: oldranger]
balzaccom Offline
member

Registered: 04/06/09
Posts: 1731
Loc: Napa, CA
That is one of the best posts I have read in a long time. Thank you!
_________________________
balzaccom

check out our website and blog: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/home

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#174010 - 01/17/13 10:04 PM Re: Calling for help [Re: oldranger]
lori Offline
member

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2801
There is another kind of SAR - the one where things go wrong in spite of all your planning and careful forethought.

It's also fairly common for substance abuse to be a part of "the problem."

Our SAR team also searches for evidence, such as plane parts after a crash, and for remains. Life insurance payouts won't happen without remains. Sometimes SAR is a charitable thing to do. Someone's house and children could depend on us.

For many of the volunteers I know, it's a lifestyle. Not sure about adrenaline junkie, but there are those who fit that on the team - they are also the ones ice climbing for fun and leisure in between trainings. Most of us are saner than that.
_________________________
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." Shunryu Suzuki

http://hikeandbackpack.com

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#174012 - 01/17/13 10:13 PM Re: Calling for help [Re: lori]
Glenn Roberts Offline
Moderator

Registered: 12/23/08
Posts: 1385
Loc: Southwest Ohio
Just out of curiosity, have you ever been on a SAR mission where the person to be rescued was a SAR team member themselves? If so, how did they end up in a position where they needed to be rescued? (Bad decisions, or bad events beyond their control?

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#174023 - 01/18/13 10:16 AM Re: Calling for help [Re: Glenn Roberts]
oldranger Offline
member

Registered: 02/23/07
Posts: 1735
Loc: California (southern)
One of the saddest events in my SAR career was attendance at the memorial service for two helicopter pilots who died in a crash - last flight of the day and they were en route to base camp or some of my compatriots would have died as well. The cause of the crash was mechanical failure. Choppers are very dangerous appliances.

There is nothing about SAR service that immunizes you from making stupid mistakes. I would have been the object of a SAR search many years ago when I didn't return on time from a solo winter climb of Mt. Humphrey (Arizona's highest) if there had been a capable SAR team in the area at the time (1962). I exacerbated dumb decision #1 by abandoning my snowshoes at timberline, figuring I wouldn't need them on the way down. The bottomless powdery snow forced me to bivouac as the sun set on Dec 21 - shortest day of the year. What saved me was the decision to tuck a small gas stove into my pack and to wear and carry adequate clothing. I went through a cycle of sleep, wake, melt snow, make hot tea, wiggle toes and fingers, doze off, and repeat as needed. I rested enough to extricate myself surprisingly easily when the dawn finally came. I count at least four dumb decisions, and one good (which saved at least my digits). Did I mention that I intentionally forged ahead to the summit when my companions decided to quit battling the crummy snow conditions? This was a training climb for a trip to the Mexican volcanoes over Xmas break. Orizaba was a piece of cake compared to the foul Arizona powder.

I have been on operations where friends and/or colleagues were the victims. Those are very emotional times, to say the least.

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#174029 - 01/18/13 11:40 AM Re: Calling for help [Re: oldranger]
Glenn Roberts Offline
Moderator

Registered: 12/23/08
Posts: 1385
Loc: Southwest Ohio
I probably worded my original question poorly. I was interested in your opinion on whether the additional expertise that SAR members had somehow made them more immune to problems. I think you answered it quite well: they're not immune to bad things that happen (falls, mechanical failures, etc.), and they're not always immune to making bad decisions. However, it sounds like, when they do make bad decision #1, and maybe even #2, they are less likely to make bad decsions #3, 4, and 5. It also sounds like their training may also give them a significant edge in abilitiy to extricate themselves from the situation (if for no other reason than being less likely to panic.)


Edited by Glenn Roberts (01/18/13 12:19 PM)
Edit Reason: clarify the thought

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#174031 - 01/18/13 11:48 AM Re: Calling for help [Re: Glenn Roberts]
oldranger Offline
member

Registered: 02/23/07
Posts: 1735
Loc: California (southern)
People with more meaningful (key word) experience are far less likely to get into trouble than neophytes. Inexperience was almost always the common denominator for our victims - that combined with "substance abuse", as Lori phrases it. A good many of our victims were legally drunk, even post mortem.

That is why my wife and I raised a glass of non alcoholic wine last night. I was really living on the edge - according to the label, it had less than 0.5% alcohol. This has not always been the case for me..... I am one lucky dude.

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#174036 - 01/18/13 12:21 PM Re: Calling for help [Re: oldranger]
Glenn Roberts Offline
Moderator

Registered: 12/23/08
Posts: 1385
Loc: Southwest Ohio
It's been said that there are "old pilots and bold pilots, but no old, bold pilots." I suppose the same could be said for mountaineers?

I've often thought experience is what we get when we do something God doesn't kill us for, like we deserve.

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#174293 - 01/24/13 09:43 PM Re: Calling for help [Re: balzaccom]
TomD Offline
Moderator

Registered: 10/30/03
Posts: 4963
Loc: Marina del Rey,CA
I think you are overestimating the ability or nature of people for self-criticism. I have my doubts about most of these people learning anything. The first person to set off a PLB once they were legal is a good example. After being rescued, he waited a week or two then went back to get his gear, which had been left behind. He then set the PLB off again, expecting a free helo ride back. Instead he was cited for misusing it.

He had learned nothing from his experience except that pushing a button got him a free helicopter ride.

The meetup group that got stranded in the PNW about 5 years ago is another example. After a massive rescue effort, some of them were posting about what a great adventure they had, after putting dozens of SAR members and volunteers at risk. Their complete lack of awareness as to what their stupidity had caused and the cost of it was pretty galling, to say the least. It was obvious from their posts that they had learned nothing and didn't care that they hadn't.

_________________________
Don't get me started, you know how I get.

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#174295 - 01/24/13 10:55 PM Re: Calling for help [Re: Glenn Roberts]
lori Offline
member

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2801
Originally Posted By Glenn Roberts
Just out of curiosity, have you ever been on a SAR mission where the person to be rescued was a SAR team member themselves? If so, how did they end up in a position where they needed to be rescued? (Bad decisions, or bad events beyond their control?


I haven't been on a mission rescuing fellow SAR members but a couple have had to be "helped" out of the wilderness. A major storm dumped more than 10 feet of powder, making travel impossible for them.

There's a special award we give for that.

Then there was the one from Inyo who needed to be SAR'd... he was backpacking. I don't recall the outcome, offhand. Lost track of the case. I think the details were posted on the Whitney Zone. I might be able to find them.
_________________________
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." Shunryu Suzuki

http://hikeandbackpack.com

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#174297 - 01/25/13 06:57 AM Re: Calling for help [Re: lori]
Glenn Roberts Offline
Moderator

Registered: 12/23/08
Posts: 1385
Loc: Southwest Ohio
That sounds like conditions, not decisions - unless there was already 8 feet of snow when they set out! (Unlikely.)

It seems that SAR training/experience would reduce - but not entirely eliminate - the chances that a person might make bad decisions to begin with, or compound an unexpected bad situation with bad decisions after it happened.


Edited by Glenn Roberts (01/25/13 12:35 PM)

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#174298 - 01/25/13 08:29 AM Re: Calling for help [Re: lori]
oldranger Offline
member

Registered: 02/23/07
Posts: 1735
Loc: California (southern)
I can recall one such incident years ago in Arizona. One of a team of two was bushwacking up a high mountain ridge at night when something bit or fanged him. He had local swelling and balance and equilibrium problems, so a chopper evacuated him at dawn. He recovered without incident. We never did figure out what creature was involved, although it undoubtedly was the dreaded Santa Catalina Whackadoo.....

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#174309 - 01/25/13 12:35 PM Re: Calling for help [Re: oldranger]
Glenn Roberts Offline
Moderator

Registered: 12/23/08
Posts: 1385
Loc: Southwest Ohio
Hey, as long as it wasn't his partner... smile

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#174311 - 01/25/13 01:01 PM Re: Calling for help [Re: balzaccom]
Rick_D Offline
member

Registered: 01/06/02
Posts: 2802
Loc: NorCal
Only sorta related, but what the hey?

After watching the recent "Nova" on drones and drone technology, it seems pretty clear that this is where S&R is headed--probably first as an adjunct to footbound personnel but someday...who knows? It's worth noting they're working on an autonomous rescue heli for the Coast Guard. Now, automagically locating a victim and landing on water is a whole lot simpler than doing so in the mountains, but the potential seems limitless.
_________________________
--Rick

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#174321 - 01/25/13 07:33 PM Re: Calling for help [Re: Rick_D]
oldranger Offline
member

Registered: 02/23/07
Posts: 1735
Loc: California (southern)
Drones have long been employed in SAR, almost exclusively in base camp.....

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#174730 - 02/05/13 08:23 PM Re: Calling for help [Re: oldranger]
djtrekker Offline
member

Registered: 02/02/13
Posts: 43
Loc: Virginia
thank you, OldRanger! The problem is already addressed and solved; situations in the right hands. I've been a bureaucrat in my first life for 20 years - volunteers win hands down on being able to focus on getting done what needs to be done and doing the right thing. I would almost hate to see too much government funding and "management" - at any level.

PS - thank you for your service!


Edited by djtrekker (02/05/13 08:23 PM)

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#175363 - 02/26/13 07:18 PM Re: Calling for help [Re: Rick_D]
Jimshaw Offline
member

Registered: 10/22/03
Posts: 3938
Loc: Bend, Oregon
Rick,
what would you think if you were out in the wilderness and a drone flew a hundred feet over your campsite? You did have a permit to be at that site and you WERE 100 feet from that lake right? Probably be a felony to shoot at one, they might even be able to locate you and shoot back. A few drones along with the cameras should help prevent crime and injury in the federal lands, maybe a satelite link?
Sorry for the hijack.

_________________________
These are my own opinions based on wisdom earned through many wrong decisions. Your mileage may vary.

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#176699 - 04/23/13 02:40 PM Re: Calling for help [Re: balzaccom]
ClarkPeters Offline
member

Registered: 12/28/05
Posts: 19
Loc: Kansas
This may be taking the topic off-track just a bit, but…

Two years ago my wife, son, daughter-in-law, daughter, and I were on a ten day route through the Boundary Waters. All of us had done similar trips before. My son and I have had training in handling basic wilderness emergencies and my wife is an RN.

On our fourth day out my wife slipped and dislocated/broke her ankle rather badly. Since I suspected that dislocation was a real probability I knew that time was an issue. We were able to portage her out to an edge of the BWCA that has a few powerboats on it and flagged down an outfitter on his way home for the day. (We still haven’t figured out how she slipped. She was crossing a section of exposed, smooth, bedrock. The orthopedic surgeon who fixed her up good-as-new called it a “horrific injury”.)

Getting her out ourselves was never going to be an option. It took us three hours to get her across one especially difficult portage that was only 1/3 of a mile long. We would have been facing at least a dozen more portages. The only other option I could see was to set up camp for her and two of the others, while two of us went out for help. That would have taken at least two days, most likely more.

Everything turned out okay. She broke her ankle at 10:00 AM and we were at the Ely ER by 9:00 PM.

But I know just how lucky we got that day. Of all the outcomes that had both good and bad possibilities, we had almost totally good. However, the incident made me rethink my desire for those types of outings. For a time I considered myself done. I didn’t want to test the Fates who decided to go easy on us that day.

The itch is starting again, despite the very strong memories of how I felt that day. Even so, I think the only way I would consider going again is with a PLB.

My question to the group is…would triggering a PLB have been appropriate in this situation?

Pete

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#176700 - 04/23/13 03:14 PM Re: Calling for help [Re: ClarkPeters]
Rick_D Offline
member

Registered: 01/06/02
Posts: 2802
Loc: NorCal
Originally Posted By ClarkPeters
My question to the group is…would triggering a PLB have been appropriate in this situation?

Pete


Very glad to hear about your positive outcome to a bad situation. The question stems from the PLB being a "digital" communication device--either 0 or 1/off or on, and solely one-way. Because "on" is an unspecified emergency of any kind. I'd speculate you had a legitimate emergency and if you had no other rescue option at your disposal, PLB use would have been completely warranted.

But this is the crux of why some, myself included, prefer the SPOT/InReach option. You can specify what type of emergency, its severity and in the case of Delorme's system, provide additional detail and even receive guidance. Subscriptions are a pain, but in this case I'm willing to bite the bullet.

Cheers,
_________________________
--Rick

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#176704 - 04/23/13 04:17 PM Re: Calling for help [Re: ClarkPeters]
OregonMouse Offline
member

Registered: 02/03/06
Posts: 6401
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
You do need to evaluate the options for self-evacuation. If it had just been a simple sprain, with a good support bandage and some help, she probably could have self-evacuated. In this case--horrific sprain/dislocation/probable fracture, long distance, difficult terrain--you definitely would have called for help--as you say, she couldn't have walked out even with assistance.

Nature of injury, distance from the trailhead, quality of terrain between accident site and trailhead, weather conditions (storm coming?), your backcountry experience--all play a part.

Certainly with two WFAs and an RN, you were far better equipped than most parties both to deal with such an emergency and to know when it's time to "push the button."
_________________________
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey

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#176712 - 04/24/13 01:06 AM Re: Calling for help [Re: OregonMouse]
balzaccom Offline
member

Registered: 04/06/09
Posts: 1731
Loc: Napa, CA
Originally Posted By OregonMouse

Nature of injury, distance from the trailhead, quality of terrain between accident site and trailhead, weather conditions (storm coming?), your backcountry experience--all play a part.

Certainly with two WFAs and an RN, you were far better equipped than most parties both to deal with such an emergency and to know when it's time to "push the button."


Absolutely. And it is also pertinent to note that you are asking the question. I worry more about people who don't stop to think, and just push the button and wait for help. They are the ones who should be asking themselves more question!
_________________________
balzaccom

check out our website and blog: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/home

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#176782 - 04/29/13 12:11 AM Re: Calling for help [Re: ClarkPeters]
midnightsun03 Offline
member

Registered: 08/06/03
Posts: 2936
Loc: Alaska
I agree with what others have said. I would like to add that "risk to life or limb" is the criteria we use to determine whether a patient needs an emergent rescue or can wait out a delay. It sounds like risk to limb was a possibility in this scenario, so using a PLB would have been appropriate. Without an x-ray it can be hard to tell exactly how bad an injury is. In the field pretty much all you have are distal pulses... If they are diminished on the injury side compared to the non-injured side then you may have circulatory compromise, which could lead to loss of bone and tissue.

I have been processing the news of the death of an old friend of mine on Rainier in June 2011 that I only learned of a couple weeks ago. In reading the accident reports and follow-up it has been suggested that his death might have been prevented had his team had a signaling device. When he was unable to continue his partners had to leave him high on Liberty Ridge while they continued on nearly 12 hours to get help. When help was finally able to access his location, he was gone. Somehow his anchor had come undone and he tumbled 2,000 feet down the mountain. If his team had been in possession of a signaling device they wouldn't have had to leave him alone on the mountain. Since his body was unrecoverable, we will never know if he was alive or dead when he fell (he may have suffered a fatal health crisis that would have occurred regardless), so it is impossible to rule out the possibility that he may have survived had rescue been initiated when he fell ill initially (which is what prevented him from being able to continue). The park service was already on standby for a rescue because the team was overdue and bad weather was coming in. I have no idea why experienced climbers would have not carried a signaling device on such a risky route. Only the surviving members of the team can answer that, and AFAIK they have not given a public explanation.


Edited by midnightsun03 (04/29/13 12:17 AM)
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YMMV. Viewer discretion is advised.

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#176860 - 05/02/13 05:11 PM Re: Calling for help [Re: midnightsun03]
midnightsun03 Offline
member

Registered: 08/06/03
Posts: 2936
Loc: Alaska
From "Accidents in North American Mountaineering 2012" p 86: "The party's decision not to take a communication device, while admirable in some sense, may have also increased the time required to get help. As it was, the NPS was already poised to initiate a search, which sped up the overall response, but sadly, to no avail. The lesson here is to bring a communication device -- and use it appropriately."

My first thought when I read this was "how awful for his family and friends" because his accident wasn't anonymous, and the public conclusion is that they essentially created their situation, which in the minds of most people will be forever after viewed as sheer stupidity. Not exactly the legacy I would want to leave the world with.

Actually, I am a bit surprised that a functioning signaling device is not considered required equipment for teams attempting difficult routes up Rainier and other high peaks on NPS land. If the NPS is going to have rescue teams on standby, it only makes sense to carry something because you know a rescue is going to be launched whether you request it or not. So even people who "accept the responsibility of life and death on the mountain" are going to have a rescue attempt made - the NPS isn't going to let someone just die on the mountain and brush it off with "meh, he knew what he was getting into."

Ahh, pride.

MNS
_________________________
YMMV. Viewer discretion is advised.

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