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Three Stranded Hikers Assisted from Atop South Sister by SAR
Three Hikers Rescued From Atop South Sister
California Woman and Two Sons, Stranded Near Summit
By Barney Lerten, KTVZ.COM
July 24, 2010
BEND, Ore. -- A California family of three became stranded while hiking to the summit of South Sister and called for help Friday evening, triggering a successful all-night rescue operation involving nearly three-dozen volunteers and deputies.
Deschutes County 911 got a call around 6 p.m. Friday seeking help for three stranded hikers on South Sister, just below Prouty Glacier, said Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Coordinator Sgt. Scott Shelton.
Sharla Erich, 45, and sons Robert, 22, and Stephen, 20, all of Willits, Calif., had started up the Green Lakes trail around 10 a.m. and hiked up the 10,358-foot peak, Shelton said.
The three became stranded in an area known as Hodge Crest, in an area between Prouty and Lewis glaciers.
“The hikers advised that they did not have enough equipment, clothing, food or water for the conditions and were unable to cross the ice field leading to the climbers’ trail,” Shelton said in a news release, adding that
they reported being in good condition, but needing help.
Initially, two-dozen deputies, SAR and U.S. Forest Service personnel responded to the Devils Lake Trailhead, Shelton said.
Search and Rescue members, 17 in all, ascended several trails to reach the stranded hikers, who first finally located around 1 a.m., Shelton said.
But due to conditions on the mountain (ice on the trails) and the overall condition of the hikers and rescue crews, Shelton said they decided it was safer to remain on the mountain for several hours, for a rest period
The SAR teams and hikers stayed the night in various spots on the peak, with the hikers provided clothing, food and shelter.
SAR teams returned with the hikers to the trailhead around 9:30 a.m. Saturday, in good condition, Shelton said. The hikers were reunited with family members at the trailhead.
“The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office encourages people to be prepared when traveling into wilderness areas,” Shelton wrote.
“Always let someone know what your proposed route will be, be cognizant of how much daylight you have, and plan your trips accordingly,” he said. “Always carry a light source, in case you do run into darkness, (as well as) a map, a compass, GPS, adequate food and water, and other essentials to ensure your safety".
--Italics by Webmeister Speik
Comments posted on www.KTVZ.com
I Comment herewith on the several constant themes of posts by readers, following a Mission by Search and Rescue in assisting lost, stranded or injured folks in the backcountry of Central Oregon.
1. Note that the three stranded family members used a cell
phone from a California provider to call 911 when they realized they were
They were fortunate to ping the cell phone "towers" on Mount Bachelor, one of which was operated in "GSM" code, readable by their specific cell phone. (Other areas in the Three Sisters Wilderness need a Verizon cell phone operated in "CDMA" code, to ping the few (Verizon) towers covering this "rural" area.)
Note that they discussed their location, problems and condition with the SAR Mission Commander. This is the ideal use of the cell phone.
2. Did their cell phone provide a Geographic Coordinant to
This cell phone feature was noted in three recent SAR Reports published on KTVZ.com. My guess is that the California GSM cell phone pinged only one tower from their perch on the East side of South Sister. Triangulation from cell towers requires two or more towers to provide the latitude and longitude of the calling phone.
Do you need to have a much more expensive cell phone with a
"GPS" to help SAR find your location in the backcountry? The answer is NO!
It is not true that you need to have a "GPS" in your cell phone to be found and assisted by SAR Volunteer Units. Read more here: http://traditionalmountaineering.org/FAQ_CellPhones.htm
Verizon does not use "GPS" to locate a cell phone under FCC E911 Regulations. Verizon uses only cell tower triangulation.
GPS stands for Global Positioning System, a DOD constellation of (GPS) satellites that communicate by radio signals with GPS Receivers, in your hand or on your car dashboard. Locations are provided by Coordinates expressed in Latitude and Longitude. These Coordinates are used by SAR (or Geocachers, etc.) "GPS Coordinates" are only those Coordinates that are provided through radio signals from the Department of Defense constellation of satellites.
Read more here: http://traditionalmountaineering.org/News_OpEd_Cells.htm
3. Yuppie 911 devices are taxing local Sheriffs Search and
Rescue Units! This is not true! Dedicated Volunteers are trained and managed by
only a few paid Deputies.
Read More here: http://traditionalmountaineering.org/News_OpEd_Yuppie911.htm
4. People should not venture into the backcountry
un-prepared. True, but how do you become Prepared?
"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 protection from a drop in temperature and possible rain or snow storm or an unexpected cold wet night out, insulation from the wet ground or snow, high carbohydrate snacks, two quarts of water or Gatorade, a map and compass and optional inexpensive GPS and the skills to use them, and a charged cell phone from a Provider that has the best coverage of the area. Carry the traditional personal "Ten Essentials Systems" in a day pack sized for 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. If you become lost or stranded, mark
your location and stay still or move around your marked location to stay warm.
Do not try to find your way until you are exhausted, or worse yet - wet. Wait
Great article, I must say. I just thought that, as one of the primary characters involved in this story, maybe I could give a little bit more detail as to the circumstances and the reasons for these ridiculous, city slicker Californians getting stuck up on the mountain (who are, in fact, originally from Oregon).
First off, I completely understand all of these people making comments about idiots getting stuck on mountains. In fact, as someone who has climbed mountains and backpacked Yosemite, Central Oregon, and the Northern California coast, I have said many of the same things myself when I hear of poorly equipped climbers and tourists getting stranded on mountain tops. “What Idiots!” It’s ironic what happens when you are arrogant. I am incredibly thankful that the SAR team of Central Oregon was not as quick to judge and quicker to assist than I have been in the past.
As for the articles that have been travelling around the internet… They are not entirely correct. While yes, we did need assistance, and no, we were not prepared to spend the night on a snow covered mountain, we did have ample food and water to last us the night.
See, we had climbed the South Sister several years ago using the original trail – we have also climbed Bachelor and Broken Top in the same region. However, we wanted to try something new. After speaking with rangers and searching online, we discovered a backside approach to the South Sister that was considered a bit more challenging, but doable.
Because of the excessive amounts of snow the West Coast has had this year, the trail was more difficult than usual. For those experienced in climbing, you realize that it is easier to go up than down – especially when you are climbing on lava rocks, crumbling and falling from the edge of the cliff as you take hold of them. After one rather intimidating pass (which did not appear so from the bottom), we realized that going down was not an option – deciding at that point to take the climbers trail down once we got to the top.
Well, it turns out, what we thought to be the top, was only Hedge Crest. We got to the top of it and saw a giant saddle between us and the summit – covered in snow. Having no snow gear, there was no way up.
Having experienced several close calls on the way up, we were not going to go back down the same direction. Thus, we were trapped. Injured, no. Hungry, no. Thirsty, no. Cold, at that point, no. Unable to go any direction, yes. Poor judgment, a little, yes, but not much poorer than anyone who smokes or talks on the phone while driving.
We were not more than 500 feet from the summit. We could see the trail, we could see people on the peak, but we could not traverse the saddle. That’s when we called for help, not panicked by any means, not in an emergency, not asking for an army to come get us, simply saying that we needed someone with a bit of snow experience and equipment to give us a hand up to the summit.
I was very impressed with the entire SAR team that came up to help us after already having made 13 other rescues in the past 10 days. While it was a few more people than we were anticipating, everyone was awesome and we truly enjoyed spending a rather cold night on top of a beautiful mountain in a beautiful area with amazing people.
Now, for those worried about Oregon’s tax money (besides for the fact that we have paid Oregon taxes for a good number of years), we are making a contribution to the SAR fund because we truly appreciate what they did for us and now understand the value of such a group first hand.
As for those who criticize us wasting peoples’ time, let me inform you that my family is continually involved in serving others and my brother and I have just returned from spending a year volunteering in 3rd World countries to give children, and adults, an opportunity to succeed in this world. I can now see how what goes around comes around. We may serve others at times, without any reward, but it will eventually come back to us.
I thank God for the wonderful people of the Central Oregon SAR team. They are truly awesome people who love adventure and serving others. In fact, we may even look into joining our local SAR teams. It is truly an exciting way to make a difference.
I sincerely hope that all of those people worry about their tax dollars or thinking of how stupid it is that people would need help are not avoiding going out and making a positive difference in the world on their own. I can speak from experience when I say that those very services that you see as pointless and wasteful may one day save your life.
Thanks again to the people willing to share their time to make the world a safer place. I truly appreciate you and strive to follow in your footsteps.
Thanks, Robert Erich-
What a great description of your adventure! Thanks!
I have climbed that interesting route to the summit of South Sister many times over fifteen years, as a USFS Volunteer Wilderness Ranger and as a peak bagger.
Many folks have underestimated the snow conditions this spring.
As you noted, you were surprised by the size of the response. But your "rescue" provided great training for SAR Volunteers (and a fine adventure too).
Can you contact me via www.TraditionalMountaineering.org ? I have a couple more questions that may help others.
Barney Lerten in reply to rob-
Robert, thank you for the great posting. Those are the details no sheriff's office is able to provide with the resources they have, in a news release. Hopefully it will answer most folks' logical questions, quiet some critics (surely not all) and give folks a fuller understanding than we learn in most of these rescues.
Speik in reply to Barney Lerten-
You continue to provide folks with unique in-depth news and factual information that helps them learn from the experiences others, how to Be Prepared for backcountry adventures in Central Oregon!
Our interview with Robert Erich
Robert Erich, with his mother and brother, became stranded just below the volcanic rim of South Sister a few days ago. Robert emailed me and followed my return email with my list of "20 Questions" with a phone call yesterday. Here is the information. I know Robert will help some folks who realize it is possible to mitigate the inherent risks of backcountry travel and bagging peaks.
Here are some specific questions for Robert Erich, that
should help others who read of their experience.
1. Why did you get such a late start? We like to hike very light and fast. We summited South Sister before, car to car in about six hours. A 10 am start did not seem late. (Seems late to me in view of possible hard snow later in the day. RLS)
2. How did you get across the outlet stream to the base of the waterfall route? We stepped across on rocks and logs. (This is on the route I have followed several times. RLS)
3. How much snow was there at the top of the the first scramble to the slope leading up to the base of the little glacier? We stayed off the snow and followed the rocks all the way. (Snow on this route eases the way and provides a long glissade for those equipped for snow. It is one of the benefits of this route. RLS)
4. Did the weather change and harden the snow? The snow was soft all day. It was hard as a rock the next morning as we ascended with the two SAR Volunteers with whom we bivy camped.
5. You note that going up or down was not safe. Can you say why? We reached the Glacier and had been warned not to cross it without gear due to crevasses. So we climbed up the east side on the loose rocks above the glacier. (They had not been advised that the scramble route that they were climbing actually joins the "easy" summer "trail" up the west lateral moraine of the Lewis Glacier. They did not know they should go just to the north of point 9017 and to the south of the glacial tarn at the foot of the Lewis Glacier. They did not carry a $7.00 USGS topo map, a $30.00 base plate compass or an inexpensive ($99.00) GPS. Off route, they climbed fourth class to a point a few hundred feet below the crater rim and found it was too dangerous to go up or down. They became stranded and wisely stopped in place and called for help.)
1. Did each of you carry your own cell phone? Yes!
2. On the phone that contacted 911, who was the Provider? (US Cellular, Verizon, etc.?) We live in rural Willits California and the best Provider is Verizon. My brother had a "smart phone" with an optional "VZ Navigator" Application. (Fortunately, Verizon with CDMA technology is the best Provider for the Thee Sisters Wilderness and for rural Central Oregon. The Verizon "VZ Navigator" program uses cell tower triangulation, not on the DOD Global Positioning System satellites and does not provide Lat Lon Coordinants. It is not designed for backcountry travel.)
3. Can you check the software to see if it was GSM? It is CDMA. (Only Verizon uses CDMA technology. Note that all other cell phones with GSM technology can not "see" Verizon CDMA cell towers.)
Contact with SAR:
1. Who was the Incident Commander? We called our father who was attending a meeting at Sun River. He called the Forest Service. They asked him to call the Deschutes County Sherriff's Volunteer Search and Rescue Unit. SAR called us back on the mountain.
2. Did SAR locate your position with the cell phone E911 feature? SAR asked us to call 911 so that the 911 Call Center could ask Verizon for our Lat Lon Coordinants and pass our Coordinants along to SAR.
3. How helpful was the advice from SAR? SAR was reassuring and great. We expected help from just two or three experts equipped with ropes and other gear. Two SAR men with heavy packs and a USFS Ranger arrived. SAR incident control decided everyone should bivy in place for the night. (The Backcountry Ranger decided to descend.) We borrowed warm clothing and shelter from SAR, but we had our own food.
Climbing up to the volcanic rim of the South Sister caldera in the morning was dangerous. We were belayed with ropes and anchors by the SAR climbers who provided us with climbing harnesses. The snow was very hard and slick. We were able to use the steps created by SAR the afternoon before. We descended the snow-free trail from the rim of the volcano. We were shocked at meeting all of the many Volunteers on the way down in the morning! We had no idea how much this rescue was going to cost us. We were amazed to learn that rescue services, nation wide, are contributed by Volunteers. The men and women we met on the trail and in the parking lot were enthusiastic and had enjoyed the bivy night out on a clear summer night. They paid their own transportation and gas as well as their own climbing gear and overnight essential systems. We hope to make a small donation to each Volunteer who participated in our mis-adventure. (The Sisters Nugget on July 27, 2010, reports from a SAR Release, that a total of 35 Rescuers were mobilized for this Mission.)
What gear did you carry?
1. Did each of you carry a small day pack with the "Ten Essential Systems in day packs sized for the individual, the trip the season and the forecast weather"? No, we were dressed in shorts intending to go "light and fast". We had jackets, 2 liters of water and lots of trail mix. (Hmmm.)
2. Are you Members of the Sierra Club, the Mazamas, the Mountaineers, etc.? No. (Traditional "mountaineering" clubs provide inexpensive or free instruction in basic backcountry travel and climbing.)
3. Have you ever read Mountaineering, The Freedom of the Hills, etc.? No, do you recommend it? (Yes, Rob, it is a great book about backcountry travel and climbing. Traditional "Mountaineering" is 1. Walking on the trail; 2. Walking off the trail; 3. Scrambling; 4 Dangerous scrambling; 5. Rock climbing and 6. Climbing on ropes and gear. You mother, as a long distance backpacker, would enjoy learning more, too!)
4. Are you mountain climbers, etc.? No, we are not climbers.
Note: Folks, if you find all this boring, don't try this adventure route to the summit of South Sister! --Webmeister Speik
A Rescuer's Confidential Comments
"The son's comments appeared
somewhat inaccurate. While he did admit climbing the mountain unprepared
for an overnight stay, it was more serious than that. The trio actually climbed
South Sister with no map, did not recognize that they were in congressionally
designated wilderness, did not have their wilderness permit and were without the
ten essentials. The trio was without food and water too. In all actuality, the
water they did have was a fluke as they accidentally stopped near a snow-fed
spring at the base of Hodge Crest (spring is not indicated on the map). The trio
was without headlamps, helmets or any other kind of safety device. Footwear
consisted of low-top sneakers. On board clothing consisted of shorts and light
layers on top. . . .
While South Sister can be ascended and descended in a single day, the non-standard routes can and do present serious hazards, including steep loose rock climbing, some glacier travel and continuous overhead hazards. Had the trio been trapped on Hodge Crest in different weather conditions the outcome would have been different. Pre-trip planning is essential, especially when the terrain is unfamiliar.
The groups choice to not complete a thorough pre-trip plan, "travel light," and generally come un-prepared put nearly 30 rescue personnel at risk. Had the group had a proper map (and assuming they had the experience to use it), they would have realized that the S. Sister climbers route was located approximately 300 vertical rise and less than 1/3 mile away with no serious obstacles between. What they had already climbed presented a much more serious challenge than what was between their rescue location and the climbers trail.
One of the wonderful aspects of wilderness travel is exploration and entering unknown areas. That being said, it's important to go prepared with the minimum essentials for the activity and the know-how to use every item. Going prepared can prevent emergency situations, putting rescue personnel at risk and enhance our own experience of self-reliance in the face of adventure/exploration in wilderness.
Thanks for your time Bob and I appreciate the blog posts about mountaineering travel, safety and keeping ourselves alive amongst the many hazards in the backcountry."
--Name Reserved by Webmeister.
What can be learned from this incident?
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! Essential Systems
3. Carry a 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 cell phone GPS 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 may be out of cell tower range, carry a 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 protection from a drop in temperature and possible rain or snow storm or an unexpected cold wet night out, insulation from the wet ground or snow, high carbohydrate snacks, two quarts of water or Gatorade, a map and compass and optional inexpensive GPS and the skills to use them, and a charged cell phone from a Provider that has the best coverage of the area and possibly, a SPOT-2 GPS Satellite Communicator. Each person should carry the traditional personal "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. If you become lost or stranded, mark your location and stay still or move around your marked location to stay warm. Do not try to find your way until you are exhausted, or worse yet - wet. Wait for rescuers.
THE MISSION of TraditionalMountaineering.org
"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.
WARNING - *DISCLAIMER!*
Read more . . .
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Snowshoer, "lost" near Wanoga snowpark, rescued by SAR
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Robert Speik writes: "Use your digital cell in the backcountry" for The Mountaineer
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Climbing South Sister: A Prospectus and a Labor Day near disaster
Trail runner survives fall on ice with cell phone call
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What is Light and Fast alpine climbing?
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Carboration and Hydration
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What's wrong with GORP? Answers to the quiz!
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BLM guidelines for Geocaching on public lands
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OpEd - Geocaching should not be banned in the Badlands
Winter hiking in The Badlands WSA just east of Bend
Searching for the perfect gift
Geocaching: What's the cache?
Geocaching into the Canyon of the Deschutes
Can you catch the geocache?
Z21 covers Geocaching
Tour The Badlands with ONDA
The art of not getting lost
Geocaching: the thrill of the hunt!
GPS in the news
A GPS and other outdoor gadgets make prized gifts
Wanna play? Maps show you the way
Cooking the "navigation noodle"