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Hikers found by SAR on Tam McArthur Rim after phone call to 911

Air, ground search finds lost hikers SW of Sisters
Visiting pair had wandered off trail before dark
By Barney Lerten
November 7, 2012

Two visiting hikers got lost on the Tam McArthur Rim Trail southwest of Sisters late Tuesday, prompting a successful seven-hour air and ground search and rescue operation, officials said.

Around 6:20 p.m., Deschutes County 911 got a cell phone call from the hikers, Kate Zieverink, 26, of New Orleans, and Zach Hollander, 29, of Portland, said sheriff’s Special Services Deputy Liam Klatt.

The pair said they had walked off-trail while returning to the trailhead and were unable to find the trail again before dark, Klatt said.

The hikers were said to be in good condition but were not prepared for an overnight stay. Klatt said attempts to call the pair on their phone were unsuccessful, as were numerous attempts to “ping” their phone to get GPS coordinates.

A dozen Sheriff’s Search and Rescue volunteers, two deputies and a Forest Service law enforcement officer responded to the couple’s call for help, Klatt said.

They also called in an AirLink helicopter to assist in the search, he said. The helicopter crew flew over the search area a short time later, quickly spotting a fire the pair had made to stay warm.

The AirLink crew relayed GPS coordinates to ground teams, who made contact with the hikers around 1:30 a.m., in a wooded area about a mile southeast of the trail.

They were in good condition, Klatt said.

Ground teams in the field reported windy conditions, with occasional rain and snow flurries during the search.

Klatt reminded travelers that winter weather is approaching and to be prepared when venturing outdoors.

Lt. Scott Shelton, sheriff's SAR coordinator, said it's "not uncommon" for people, especially those new to the area, to get lost in the Tam McArthur Rim Trail area, which he said is "not that well marked" on the southeast side.

"They just hunkered down and built a fire by a small pond," Shelton said. "AirLink found them initially. We were quite a ways from them. It took us a while to vector in on them."

While "it was blowing pretty hard, a rain-snow mix," Shelton said "it could have been very nasty" as winter weather sets in the next few days.

“With their phone down to a low percentage of battery, they would turn it on and off," he said. "We found the smell of the fire before we ever heard them," conducting "sound sweeps" every 400 yards or so, using a whistle, horn or shout.


What can be learned from this interesting incident?

We have been unable to talk to the stranded hikers. Federal HIPPA privacy laws prevent medical personnel, including SAR Volunteer Units, from providing contact information for patients. If Kate Zieverink of New Orleans, and Zach Hollander of Portland will contact us, we will correct any inaccuracies in our analysis. This is not a 'could-a, would-a, should-a exercise', but a traditional effort to help folks learn valuable lessons from the experiences of other climbers.

The hikers trail up to Tam MacArthur Rim becomes a puzzle of user trails on the high easy ground overlooking Brokentop to the south and the forested lands to the north and east and South Sister to the west. The friable volcanic rocks are covered with small gravel of scree, and slips and falls will claim the tired, hasty, uninformed, unwary and careless. When you become lost, there is a problem. It can take a agonizing hours to try to find the "way" to the trail head and the car. If it is Summer, water and bonking may become a serious problem. If it is Fall or Winter, drinking water, bonking and hypothermia can create a life threatening situation.

"Lt. Scott Shelton, sheriff's SAR coordinator, said it's "not uncommon" for people, especially those new to the area, to get lost in the Tam McArthur Rim Trail area, which he said is "not that well marked" on the southeast side."

Note that Tam Rim is in the Three Sister Wilderness. It is not a community park. Visitors are expected to Be Prepared with individual seasonal, weather and trip related selected essential items of each of the Ten Essential Systems. These include a topo map, a compass corrected for local declination error (16 degrees) and an optional inexpensive GPS, clothing insulation for an overnight stranding in the forecast weather and a means of communication (a properly charged cell phone).

It may be vital to call for Rescue. But how can you communicate? In the year 2000, few local citizens had cell phones. Cell tower coverage was urban. Cell phones were not Essential to backcountry travel.

The stranded Tam Rim hikers called by a single cell phone from the higher elevations at dark at 6:30 p.m. While not reported by SAR, we assume they did not have a $7.00 USGS topographic map or a declination adjusted base plate compass. They were unable to describe their surroundings. SAR was unable to obtain their geographic Coordinants from 911, perhaps due to receiving a weak signal from a single tower (Mt Bachelor).

Due to the fall weather at elevation and the reported lack of Essential Preparations, SAR called in an AirLink helicopter to assist in the search. The helicopter crew flew over the search area a short time later, quickly spotting a campfire the pair had made to stay warm. Calling in a civilian helicopter to search, is very unusual, but not unwarranted due to the elevation and the forecast weather.

Please note the timeline: They called for help at 6:30 p.m. They were found by SAR volunteers at about 1:30 a.m. -. in windy conditions, with occasional rain and snow flurries. Note that they were able to start a "warming fire" in the Fall conditions. In our experience it is almost impossible to start a warming fire later in the season - downed wood is wet and usually covered with ice and snow. Hikers at elevation in the Fall should carry Essential Shelter in the form of a two pound all-season single wall tent and a 6 oz. insulating pad. A hiking companion might carry a light sleeping bag.


Times have changed, each hiker should carry their cell phone!

Ordinary cell phone coverage has improved, year by year, to the time of this writing in 2012 - see below for "The Rest of the Story". Check your own cell coverage in your favorite backcountry areas. Much of the high desert and the Three Sisters Wilderness now is covered by Verizon using CDMA code. The cell phones from other (urban) providers are not able to "see" CDMA towers and will not connect.

Cell communication equipment used by many Providers is located on the top of Mt. Bachelor. If you can see the summit, you should have good cell phone communications. If you are in a hollow or behind a ridge, just move a few feet! However, without contact with other towers, a geographic location can not be triangulated for 911 use and an accurate geographic location can not be fixed.

The one personal cell phone carried by the two hikers was almost too low on battery power to support talk or text. Although not covered in the SAR report, we assume that this phone was able to ping only the tower array at the top of Mt. Bachelor and no other towers to enable the required triangulation from two or more towers to provide the FCC required geographic Coordinants to find them on a topo map. We believe that a second Verizon tower covers the Tam Rim area. A fully charged cell phone signal from the right Provider can take the Search out of Search and Rescue.

Each person in a group should carry their own simple regular personal cell phone. We believe these two hikers made a conscious decision to leave one cell phone at their car. (We have never met two twenty something couples that did not each own a cell phone.) Solo hikers can carry a very inexpensive second cell phone battery.

Some "smart phones" are sold with a second back up battery.  Most of the cell phone batteries exhausted in search and rescues, are in so called Smart Phones. It seems that showing a map of the major trails, names and locations of prominent points, photos of views from points on the trail, keeping an electronic compass going, taking your photos and playing your tunes, while searching for better tower signals is more a phone battery can bear, no matter how smart the phone is.


Map, compass and GPS together

Back country travelers should carry a base plate declination adjustable compass costing $25.00 a $7.00 topo map annotated with the UTM Geographic Coordinant Grid and simple current model Garmin GPS costing as little as $100.00.. A stranded person can take the search out of SAR by simply reading the UTM Geographic Coordinants to the Incident Commander over the cell phone. Consider a $100.00  SPOT-2 Satellite Messenger if cell phone towers may not cover the area you plan to explore.

Read below for some basic suggestions about how to Be Prepared in 2012. Basic Responsibilities and the Ten Essential Systems.

Google each one of these three search phrases:    Best Compass for backcountry     Best topo maps for backcountry     Best GPS for backcountry use    Best cell phone for backcountry use

Millions of ordinary people world wide, use a common $150.00 hand held Garmin eTrex GPS with a topomap and color screen, for geocaching, hiking, hunting, cross country skiing, etc. Most GPS receivers have at least 14 hours of continuous life on two new batteries. Two extra AA batteries can be carried in a warm pants pocket to change out batteries weakened by cold. Lithium batteries withstand the cold much better than "regular" AA batteries. Note that it is not necessary to keep the ordinary GPS receiver on all the time, extending it's use potentially to many days.


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, July 22, 2012


Here are some Basic suggestions for all backcountry travelers

1. Practice the Four Basic Responsibilities of the Backcountry Traveler. They work!  Basic Responsibilities

2. Carry the new Ten Essential Systems, sized for the forecast weather and the adventure in a light day pack. This includes a map, compass and GPS and the skills to use them. In the winter, this includes enough extra insulation and waterproof clothing to keep you dry and warm if you become stranded. In snow, you must have a shovel and insulating pad and the skills to make a shelter in the snow to avoid hypothermia and frost bite damage. It works!  Ten Essential Systems

3. Carry your fully charged digital cell phone and periodically check where it can communicate with any cell towers to assist authorities to triangulate your position from cell tower pings. (Most cell providers do not use internal cell phone GPS radio signals to locate customers under FCC E911 regulations - they use triangulation). Cold disables batteries. If the weather is cold, carry the cell phone in a pants pocket near the femoral artery. Report your UTM NAD27 coordinates, your condition, the conditions where you are and discuss your plans with SAR.  Ordinary Cell Phones   If you are adventurous and often may be out of cell tower range, carry a $100.00 SPOT.  SPOT-2 Satellite Messenger

4. Always stay found on your topo map and be aware of major land features. If visibility starts to wane, reconfirm your bearings with your map, compass and GPS and quickly return to a known location. A GPS is the only practical way for a trained individual to navigate in a whiteout or blowing snow.  Lost Mt Hood Climbers


A suggested minimum standard news advisory for all backcountry travelers!

"We would like to take this opportunity to ask our visitors to the backcountry of Oregon to Plan for the unexpected. Each person should dress for the forecast weather and take minimum extra clothing to provide protection from a drop in temperature and possible rain or snow storm or an unexpected cold wet night out. Each person should carry high carbohydrate snacks, two quarts of water or Gatorade, a topo map and declination adjusted base plate compass and an optional inexpensive GPS (and the skills to use them together). Each person who has a cell phone should carry their ordinary charged cell phone (from a service provider that has the best local backcountry coverage). An inexpensive SPOT-2 GPS Satellite Communicator is a good additional option for some. Each person should carry their selected items from the new 'Ten Essentials Systems' in a day pack sized for the individual, the trip, the season and the forecast weather."

"Visitors are reminded to tell a Responsible Person where they are going, where they plan to park, when they will be back and to make sure that person understands that they are relied upon to call 911 at a certain time if the backcountry traveler has not returned. Call 911 as soon as you become lost or stranded. You will not be charged. Do not try to find your way, becoming benighted, exhausted, or worse yet - wet. Your ordinary cell phone call to 911 and conversation with SAR, can take the 'Search' out of Search and Rescue."



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TraditionalMountaineering is founded on the premise that "He who knows naught, knows not that he knows naught", that exploring the hills and summitting peaks have dangers that are hidden to the un-informed and that these inherent risks can be in part, identified and mitigated by mentoring: information, training, wonderful gear, and knowledge gained through the experiences of others.

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


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 Your Essential Light Day Pack
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What is the best traditional alpine mountaineering summit pack?
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 Carboration and Hydration
Is running the Western States 100 part of "traditional mountaineering"?
What's wrong with GORP?    Answers to the quiz!
Why do I need to count carbohydrate calories?
What should I know about having a big freeze-dried dinner?
What about carbo-ration and fluid replacement during traditional alpine climbing?   4 pages in pdf  
What should I eat before a day of alpine climbing?

  About Alpine Mountaineering:
  The Sport of Alpine Mountaineering
  Climbing Together
  Following the Leader
  The Mountaineers' Rope
  Basic Responsibilities       Cuatro Responsabiliades Basicas de Quienes Salen al Campo
  The Ten Essentials         Los Diez Sistemas Esenciales

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  Participant and Group First Aid Kit   
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