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Lost Family trying to climb South Sister, calls 911

South Sister Hiker Search
Date: 5/24/2015
By: Deputy Jim Whitcomb
Assistant SAR Coordinator

Hikers: Wise, Jesse and Amanda and family
Corvallis, OR

On 05/24/2015, at about 1718 hours, The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office was dispatched to a report of a family that was hiking down South Sister and they could no longer see the trail. The reporting person,
Wise, and father of 5 children, ages 6-15, who were hiking with his wife had called to report they had come up against a literal rock wall and the clouds had lowered so they could no longer tell which way to go.

Wise advised they were dressed for the weather, had food and water and the means to start a fire. Wise informed dispatch they would travel a little further to the south east to a group of trees where he would start a

Attempts to contact Wise by phone were not successful after he had called dispatch. Attempts to text Wise were not successful either. Dispatch was able to provide fairly accurate GPS coordinates of where Wise had called from which showed that Wise and his family had gotten off the trail to west of the climbers trail by about .7 of a mile at an elevation of about 6500 feet. Accidently leaving the trail to the west in this area has proven to be a common cause of hikers becoming lost during this time of the year when the snow is still covering the trail especially with limited visibility.

One USFS LEO (Law Enforcement Officer) responded to the Devil’s Lake TH and quickly hiked the climber’s trail to the last known coordinates in the attempt to locate the family before dark. 5 Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue members were deployed to the same trail to assist the LEO in locating and assisting the family down the mountain.

The LEO was not able to locate anyone at the last known coordinates, but did locate tracks that appeared to be the family’s heading south still off of the trail. It was soon reported the tracks began to lead towards the
west, which raised the level of concern that the family would be pulled further to the west making the descent more difficult and more time consuming. At this time more SAR resources were beginning to be deployed
to assist in the search.

At about 2052 hours, Wise called dispatch to report the family had made it back to the Devil’s Lake TH and they were all OK, but wet. It was learned that Wise’s phone had died soon after calling dispatch. Wise was
able to build a fire, but the weather cleared up soon after and he was able to see tracks leading in what Wise believed was the right direction. Wise advised he had not brought with him a map, GPS or compass or a
means of charging his cell phone. Wise and his family turned around about a 1000 feet below the summit on this trip.

The LEO ended up following the tracks left by the family on their descent which revealed that the family ended up coming down the mountain counter clockwise on the Moraine Lake Trail instead of on the Climber’s
trail. The SAR team and LEO made it back to the TH at about 2130 and 2145 hours respectfully.

The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office would like to remind those who recreate in the back county to always be prepared for their plans to change at a moments notice. Always having the 10 essentials with you will
help ensure a successful back country experience. See for further information on the 10 essentials.


What can be learned from this interesting incident?

We have been unable to talk to Jesse Wise. Federal HIPPA privacy laws prevent medical personnel, including SAR Volunteer Units, from providing contact information for patients. If Jesse or Amanda Wise will contact us, we will correct any inaccuracies in our analysis. This analysis is not a 'could-a, would-a, should-a exercise', but a traditional effort to help folks learn valuable lessons from the experiences of others.

Jesse Wise called 911 late in the day, at 5:18 pm, when he realized that his Family, (including 5 children ages 6-15), was lost and that it would be dark soon on this cold Spring afternoon. They called SAR about 78 minutes after their 911 request for help, at the Devil's Lake Trail Head. Perhaps this lower angle hiking trail to the west was their their original trail, not the the steep "South Sister Climber's Trail Head" at Devil's Lake.

They called 911 again. Had they left a second phone in their car? (Always take the personal cell phones of all group members, turned off, thereby providing much greater 911 connect ability and battery power!)

They were only "somewhat prepared" for their adventure that day. They were not "Prepared" for any winter adventure in the Wilderness on the South side of South Sister. They did not have a map, compass or GPS. Read these traditional pages for some basic information about how to "Be Prepared" in 2015: Basic Responsibilities and the Ten Essential Systems.

The SAR Report mentioned they had "the material to make a fire". Typically, in the winter/spring in Central Oregon, "material to burn", is usually impossible to find in our typical high Wilderness in winter/spring months: it is frozen or wet , to big or buried under feet of snow. Perhaps they did not actually get a "warming fire" started as recommended by SAR. Note that carrying "safety matches" (which also, will not light when wet) gives a dangerous false sense of security.

The SAR Report mentioned that they were "wet" upon return to the Trail Head. This is quite troubling. To "Be Prepared", each hiker, climber, rider, etc. must carry the personal seasonal clothing layers that will keep them dry! "Wet clothing" indicates improper seasonal layers or the failure to adjust layers to avoid wet clothing which can lead to hypothermia.

The Wise Family did not have the available free Deschutes National Forest provided MAP available at every winter trail head, or a $9.00 USGS topo map or equal. They did not carry a $25.00 declination adjusted COMPASS. Did they have the simple skills to use them? Did they have a simple GPS? A million Geochachers can't be smarter than folks looking for adventure near Bend Oregon!

What is that again? The "right" topo map, the "right" clear base-plate declination adjusted (15 degrees declination error - 1,350 feet off in each mile!) compass/protractor and an "optional" inexpensive (Garmin eTrex Venture HC) hand held GPS

Note that they used their cell phone to call 911 connecting to a SAR Incident Manager. SAR/911 used the FCC mandated ability of all cell phones today, to obtain callers geographic Coordinants by cell tower triangulation. Don't worry if you do not own a "smart phone" that has an expensive "GPS" map application, at extra cost each month. The most simple cell phone will work just as well.

Yes, (if your Cell Phone Provider actually has service in your adventure area), you can follow the SAR Incident Manager's instructions and your ordinary cell phone can take the "Search" out of Search and Rescue. Arrange a simple call back schedule with SAR. (Don't call your friends, listen to your tunes or post on Facebook until your phone dies before you are found! Yes that has happened - read more on this website!). An ordinary simple cell phone may be best for the backcountry.



Times have changed!

Note that this Family was able to contact 911/SAR by cell phone when they realized that they were lost in the winter Wilderness. Cell towers now provide service to almost all of the Three Sisters Wilderness in the last few years. If you can't connect, try walking to higher ground. Read More here:

Ordinary cell phone coverage has improved, year by year, to the time of this writing in 2015 - 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 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 to towers despite sales claims of "Roaming" access.

Two cell tower connections are needed to enable the required "triangulation" to provide the FCC required geographic Coordinants to find a patient on a topo map. Talking with a SAR incident manager may be better than exact geographic Coordinants. A good cell phone signal with the right Provider can take the "Search" out of Search and Rescue.

Each person in a group should carry their own simple personal cell phone. This may add several times the battery charge available to a group. Of course, don't keep them all on the whole time!


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 from this page:    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 $100.00 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.


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." --Steve House


Here are some Basic suggestions for each backcountry traveler

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 phones and periodically check where they can communicate with any cell towers to assist authorities in triangulating 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. Use Lithium batteries all year around. If the weather is cold, carry the cell phone in a pants pocket near the femoral artery. Report your UTM NAD27 coordinates from your quad topo maps and you GPS, 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 can take the 'Search' out of Search and Rescue."



"To provide information and instruction about world-wide basic to advanced alpine mountain climbing safety skills and gear, on and off trail hiking, scrambling and light and fast Leave No Trace backpacking techniques based on the foundation of an appreciation for the Stewardship of the Land, all illustrated through photographs and accounts of actual shared mountaineering adventures."

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.

The value of TraditionalMountaineering to our Friends and Subscribers is the selectivity of the information we provide, and its relevance to introducing folks to informed hiking on the trail, exploring off the trail, mountain travel and Leave-no-Trace light-weight bivy and backpacking, technical travel over steep snow, rock and ice, technical glacier travel and a little technical rock climbing on the way to the summit. Whatever your capabilities and interests, there is a place for everyone in traditional alpine mountaineering.




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


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  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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