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  HB2509 Approved by the House:

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 serious illness or injury to themselves or others, 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



Oregon House Bill 2509 opposed by Mountain Rescue Units

March 23, 2007

All of the mountain rescue organizations in the State of Oregon oppose HB2509
These organizations include:
Portland Mountain Rescue
Eugene Mountain Rescue
Corvallis Mountain Rescue
Deschutes County SAR
Hood River Crag Rats

Additionally, the Mountain Rescue Association, which represents over 90 mountain rescue teams through out North America, opposes HB 2509.

The Mt Hood Search and Rescue Council, which represents all the agencies and resource groups on Mt Hood, opposes HB 2509.

Oregon Mountain Rescue Council, the organization recognized by the Oregon State Sheriffs Association as the accreditation body for mountain rescue teams in Oregon, opposes HB2509.

The Mazamas, a non-profit mountaineering education organization representing over 3000 climbers, opposes HB2509.

We believe a law requiring climbers to carry electronic devices will have unintended consequences that will increase the risk to both climbers and rescuers. Additionally, when the state mandates specific equipment it gives the climber a false sense of security. The climber will be more likely to take greater risks because they believe that since the state has required a “beacon” they are entitled to a rescue.

For example, in February, the eight climbers lost on Mt. Hood had beacons, GPS and a compass. When rescuers got to them they walked out on their own. The media portrayed this as great example of the value of the MLU. Our analysis leads us to conclude that they were relying on the rescuers to save them when the incident could have been completely avoided had the climbers known how to properly use their compass and GPS. Self reliance in the mountains is essential for survival, HB2509 will not cause climbers to be more self-reliant. In fact we believe that this law will lead to more reliance on the rescuers.

House Bill 2509 was conceived by a representative as an emotional response to the families of the lost climbers on Mt. Hood. While these people have good intentions, they do not understand issues involving climbers and rescuers on Mt. Hood.

The mountain rescue community is in the best position to understand these issues and help craft effective solutions. We are already actively working on solutions in conjunction with the Governor’s Search and Rescue Task Force and we welcome all opportunities to keep Oregon a wonderful and safe place to enjoy our mountains.

A vote in favor of this bill will be against the advice of the entire mountain rescue community in this state and in the nation.

We ask you to vote NO on House bill 2509
--Rocky Henderson of PMR


PMR Statement on MLU's and PLB's
Thursday, March 15, 2007

Portland Mountain Rescue’s (PMR) mission is to save lives through rescue and mountain safety education. For the past 30 years, PMR has been readily available to search for lost backcountry travelers, assist injured climbers, and provide other ‘safety-net’ services for outdoor enthusiasts who have made a miscalculation about mountain conditions or had an accident. Recent rescue missions have attracted national headlines and inspired some members of the Oregon State Legislature to sponsor House Bill 2509 that would require climbers, on Mount Hood, to carry a two-way device (cell-phone or walkie-talkie) and a Mountain Locator Unit (MLU) / Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) if climbing over 10,000 feet.

House Bill 2509 has generated much discussion in the mountaineering and mountain rescue communities alike. Many of these organizations believe that the focus of the legislation is somewhat misguided. Safe mountaineering requires skill, planning, humility and common sense; and many feel that requiring the use of MLUs/PLBs will diminish the value for learning the skills required to travel safely in the backcountry or above timberline.

PMR agrees that MLUs/PLBs can make it easier to locate lost individuals in some situations and we would prefer that more parties carry them. However, we believe the emphasis should be on the front-end of a climber’s experience in the outdoors: education. As part of that education process an aspiring climber should become familiar with the use of a map and compass, global positioning systems (GPS), MLU/PLB, a cell-phone or other devices that could assist in finding one’s location.

PMR foresees three potential and unfortunate outcomes if House Bill 2509 were to pass:
1. Devalues safety education – By providing climbers with a false sense of security we have devalued the motivation to develop the proper safe traveling skills and planning for unexpected situations, thus leading to more rescues.
2. More danger for rescuers - It will place volunteer rescuers in more danger by fostering an unrealistic expectation that carrying government-mandated equipment entitles climbers to rescue regardless of unsafe conditions.
3. Delayed rescue calls – Search and rescue experts indicate that if penalties exist for stranded or injured climbers, who do not carry an MLU/PLB, they often delay calling. This results in further danger for the stranded or injured party and the rescuers alike.

PMR believes the emphasis should be on education that MLUs/PLBs are available for climbers to use, along with other navigational devices, instead of misguiding the public by mandating those devices as the “silver bullet” to address an undefined problem.



Fran Sharp; President (Tacoma, Washington)
Charley Shimanski; Vice President (Evergreen, Colorado)

Rescue Leaders Say Mandating Safety Equipment May Actually INCREASE Number of Search and Rescue Operations
(March 21, 2007) — The Mountain Rescue Association urges the Oregon State Legislature to postpone indefinitely House Bill (HB) 2509, which requires mountaineers to carry specific electronic equipment.

1. Rescue mountaineers nationwide believe that legislation pertaining to any backcountry activity and the rescues of lost or injured backcountry users
should be deliberate, and;

2. should include detailed planning meetings with the backcountry user group as well as the mountain rescue community.
The Mountain Rescue Association feels that Oregon’s HB 2509 has been neither deliberate nor included such important meetings, particularly with the rescue community that serves Mt. Hood.

State and Federal lawmakers do have a duty to respond to public calls for action, but they also have a duty to the emergency medical service providers in the community. While Oregon’s HB 2509 responds to a public call for action, its path through the Oregon General Assembly appears to not include detailed planning meetings with the mountain rescue community or the mountain climbing community.

While HB 2509 has public support, the public appears to be unaware of the dangerous unintended consequences that this legislation may create – consequences that could actually increase the number of rescue operations, thereby putting the rescue community in greater risk.
Under Oregon law, individuals can be fined for reckless behavior that results in search and/or rescue operations. Ironically, Oregon’s HB 2509 could actually increase the number of search and rescue operations on Mt. Hood.

The MRA agrees with Portland Mountain Rescue assessment that HB 2509 could foster “an unrealistic expectation that carrying government-mandated equipment entitles climbers to rescue.” We also share the concern of North America’s oldest organized mountain rescue team, Oregon’s “Crag Rats,” who believe that, “A hurried review in the middle of a legislative session is neither sufficient nor appropriate.”

About the Mountain Rescue Association
The Mountain Rescue Association (MRA) is "a volunteer organization dedicated to saving lives through rescue and mountain safety education." The MRA, established in 1958 at Timberline Lodge at Mount Hood, Oregon, is the oldest Search and Rescue association in the United States.
With over 90 government authorized units in the US, Canada and other countries, the MRA has grown to become the critical mountain search and rescue resource in the United States. The large majority of our membership is made up of unpaid professional volunteers who have been fully accredited in Mountain Search and Rescue operations.



HB2509 was approved by the Oregon House and sent to the Senate!

Story Published: March 28, 2007 at 1:45 PM PST
The Oregon House has approved a bill requiring climbers to carry beam-emitting electronic locator devices when they head for the summit of Oregon's tallest peak.

Legislators are hoping to cut down on climbing disasters on Mount Hood.

The measure now goes to the Senate. It was introduced mainly in response to last December's climbing disaster. Three out-of-state men perished after they got caught in a blizzard near the summit of Mount Hood.

Mountaineering groups oppose the bill. They say requiring ALL climbers to carry the locators would infringe on their freedom to pursue the sport without government interference.

The bill was endorsed today by a 33-22 vote.

The legislation got an unexpected boost last month. Three climbers trapped on the mountain overnight were rescued after they activated a mountain locator unit that led searchers directly to them.

Note: Read the real story about the three people "saved by their MLU and their warm dog"! --Webmeister Speik
See the text of HB 2509, as approved!--Webmeister Speik 


Oregon Bill Requiring Emergency Beacons on Mt. Hood May Not Become Law

Oregon Bill Requiring Emergency Locator Beacons on Mt. Hood May Not Become Law (05/15/2007)
An Oregon bill that would require Mt. Hood climbers to carry emergency locator beacons recently stalled in the Oregon Senate leading some to believe that the measure will fail this legislative session.

Earlier this year the Access Fund joined the Mountain Rescue Association and Portland Mountain Rescue in opposing a mandatory use of these simple one way devices. See the Access Fund testimony on the bill Find more background at

Steve Rollins, who conducts SAR activities on Mt. Hood, says the legislature can't mandate good judgment. “I'm a strong believer that the laws of nature are going to be far more powerful than any law our legislators come up with. And if we can educate people to respect the laws of nature more, that will go a lot further than any law that we come up with.”

The bill, while a well-intentioned attempt at addressing recent high profile rescue and recovery efforts on Oregon’s Mt. Hood, is a knee-jerk reaction and will not prevent climbers from being injured or killed in climbing related accidents. The bill simply adds a layer of red-tape to climbing a mountain and at worst could actually give less experienced climbers a sense of false security when presented with conditions out of their control.

Despite climbing groups and professional rescuers coming out against the bill, in late March the Oregon House of Representatives voted 33-22 to require the locator devices for all Mt. Hood climbers traveling above 10,000 feet. However, the bill was referred to the Senate General Government Committee where it is expected to not emerge with a vote in part because the legislation had no existing enforcement capability and no money to fund its regulation. Critics of the bill also note that the measure is “reactive, not proactive.” The Hood River News reports that virtually every mountaineering organization in Oregon opposed SB 2509 and pointed out that state statistics showed only 3.4 percent of rescues statewide involved climbers. Many in the Oregon legislature are now focused on efforts to fund search and rescue efforts conducted by county sheriff departments. For more information contact


The rest of the story

Deschutes County Sheriffs Search and Rescue Volunteer Coordinator Al Hornish, a 12 year veteran of DCSAR, stated the following in an interview published on January 26, 2012 in the Bend Oregon Source Weekly: "We have grown a lot over the past decade." "The nature of missions has changed as well. There are more Rescues and less Searches, mostly because of the better technology available." Read More. --Robert Speik, January 26, 2012

Wednesday, July 7, 2010, or nearly four months since my fall off Mount Temple. After so much time, there is much to dwell on. The negatives: the pain of so many fractures, the sleeplessness, the drugs and the messed up things they do to you. It’s easy to get stuck in the negative; yet some part of me is drawn there by some morbid fascination.
How big am I then? Not very. I made a mistake, a pretty small mistake. Or more honestly, I made a series of pretty small mistakes. I almost died for these transgressions. I would have died if it had not been for a cell phone and the chain of events it was able to put into motion. (I’ve owned a cell phone for barely six years.) I might not have died that very day, March 25, 2010, but from where we were, we were a long, long way from the medical care my injuries demanded: a trained trauma surgeon in an Emergency Room. Perhaps I would have lasted one night. Maybe not. It changes my perspective about what a day means. Carpe diem no longer seems some frat-boy cry to party. Today, means everything.  The Steve House Training Blog

Deschutes County Sheriff's Search and Rescue Deputy Jim Whitcomb, assistant SAR coordinator reports on a recent 911 "false alarm". He notes that the inadvertent activation happened in a pack with an older SPOT-1 device. Whitcomb said it was a first-generation version that’s easier to accidentally set off while in a pack. “It is important to remember that technology can be a great asset, but can just as easily be a liability,” the deputy said in a news release, urging users of such devices to regularly monitor such gear. SAR will respond to all SPOT activations, treating them as an emergency, unless contact can be made with whoever is carrying the device, to confirm otherwise, Whitcomb said. Read More, Robert Speik, 07-22-2012.




Mountain climbing has inherent dangers that can, only in part, be mitigated


Read more . . .
HB2509 mandates electronic locator beacons on Mt. Hood - climbers' views 

Oregon HR 2509 as approved on March 28, 2007

Mount Hood - Three hikers and a dog rescued on Mt. Hood
Mount Hood - What happened to the three North Face ice climbers?
Mount Hood - Solo climber falls from Cooper Spur
Mount Hood - climbing accident claims three lives -Final Report and our Analysis 
Mount Hood - Notable mountain climbing accidents Analyzed 
Mount Hood - Solo hiker drowns while crossing Mt. Hood's Sandy River
Mount Hood - Solo climber slides into the Bergschrund and is found the following day 

Mount Hood - The Episcopal School Tragedy 

Mount Hood - experienced climbers rescued from snow cave 

Mount Hood - a personal description of the south side route
Mount Hood - fatal avalanche described by Climbing Ranger
Mount Hood - avalanche proves fatal for members of Mazamas climbing group
Mount Hood - snowboard rider dies on Cooper Spur
Mount Hood - fatal fall on snow, Cooper Spur Route
Mount Hood - fatal fall on snow from the summit
Mount Hood - climb shows the need for knowledge
Mount Hood - climb ends in tragedy
Mount Hood - rescue facilitated by use of a VHF radio 


Lost and Found
Oregon State Search and Rescue Statues   six PDF pages 
Missing California family found, dad dies from exposure and hypothermia 

Missing man survives two weeks trapped in snow-covered car
Missing snowmobile riders found, Roger Rouse dies from hypothermia 

Longacre Expeditions teen group rescued from the snowdrifts above Todd Lake
Lost climber hikes 6.5 miles from South Sister Trail to Elk Lake
Hiking couple lost three nights in San Jacinto Wilderness find abandoned gear
Expert skier lost five days in North Cascades without Essentials, map and compass
Climber disappears on the steep snow slopes of Mount McLaughlin
Hiker lost five days in freezing weather on Mount Hood
Professor and son elude search and rescue volunteers
Found person becomes lost and eludes rescuers for five days
Teens, lost on South Sister, use cell phone with Search and Rescue
Lost man walks 27 miles to the highway from Elk Lake Oregon
Snowboarder Found After Week in Wilderness
Searchers rescue hiker at Smith Rock, find lost climbers on North Sister
Girl Found In Lane County After Lost On Hiking Trip
Search and rescue finds young girls lost from family group
Portland athlete lost on Mt. Hood
Rescues after the recent snows
Novice couple lost in the woods
Broken Top remains confirmed as missing climber
Ollalie Trail - OSU Trip - Lost, No Map, Inadequate Clothing

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What do you carry in your winter day and summit pack?
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How can you avoid Hypothermia?
Missing climbers on Mount Hood, one dies of exposure, two believed killed in fall
Missing California family found, dad dies from exposure and hypothermia
Missing man survives two weeks trapped in snow-covered car
Missing snowmobile riders found, Roger Rouse dies from hypothermia
Olympic Champion Rulon Gardner lost on snowmobile!
Lost Olympic hockey player looses feet to cold injury

Expert skier lost five days near resort in North Cascades without map, compass, gps or cell phone
Mount Hood - The Episcopal School Tragedy
Mount Hood - experienced climbers rescued from snow cave
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