Dec 19, 2006 at 1:10 am #1220876
I would appreciate any advice from mountaineers; especially those with rescue experience.
I am just beginning my study of alpine mountaineering, and I am choosing some gear to assist me in the unlikely event my group or I need to call for assistance. Since I will probably never use it; it should be light and economical.
So far, I chose:
– ACR MiniB EPIRB
– Garmin Geko GPS
– 3 Watt "17 mile" GMRS/FRS radio
– Of course my cellphone: can be pinged by the service provider for triangulation.
These four items cost $400 and weigh about 500 grams.
I am wondering if it is wise to carry flares or smoke? I know the most important electrical devices are the synapses in our brains, but any other suggestions for gear are welcome. My trips will be overnighters in the North Japan Alps.
Thank you in advance.Dec 19, 2006 at 9:08 am #1371544
ACR I hope you didn't pay any money for the EPIRB. That EPIRB is meant for maritime use and they will be phased out in two years. EPIRBS are freaking useless in the mountains when compared to other terrain. The last 121.5 search I went on the satellite was convinced it was over 5 miles away from where it was an that was a new model ELT not a dinky cat B type II EPIRB.
FRS/GMRS is only usefull if there is someone else in range listening and for 17 miles you had better be on the top of a mountain with brand new warm batteries and optimal atmospheric conditions with a very nice receiving unit line of sight on the other end. 1-4mi is a more reasonable estimate.
Cell Phone: Most cellphone location rescues are done by using your phone's GPS in an active phone call to an enabled 911 call center or by determing the particular antenna on a particula antenna being used to give a geographic swath that you are likely to be in. I hope you ae in range of a tower and have some batteries and an up to date call center on the other end. Or maybe your cellphone and GPS work and you can just tell them where you are assuming terrain isn't killing your GPS.
Yea… if they are doing ping triangulations on your nonactive phone that means they called out the FBI criminal task force to find you. That means that you have to special as in national news special or your family better have dirt on a high up politician having sex with a goat. We've had searches where cell companies wouldn't turn over tower/call log data without a subpeona.
All the toys in the world won't help you get rescued if conditions do not permit rescue. Just be aware of their limitations. The EPIRB is the only piece of gear I'd ditch. You could also get your amateur HAM ticket and swap the GMRS radio for a VX-5R HT so you can use repeaters and have competent operators on the other end of a signal.
Flares and smoke… can't you make a fire? If not… is anyone going to be watching for the few seconds your flares and smoke are visible? There are much better uses for that weight.Dec 19, 2006 at 9:11 am #1371546
Didn't realize you were in Japan. In that case, are GMRS/FRS radios legal there? Some countries they are not legal in due to frequency restrictions. I'm sure there are still HAM repeaters there.Dec 19, 2006 at 9:31 am #1371547
@jshannDec 19, 2006 at 9:44 am #1371554
@viktorLocale: Northern California
You might want to consider a satellite phone. They are coming down in price and there are some good deals on rental phones. I have seen $20/week plus shipping for a Globalstar satellite phone.Dec 19, 2006 at 10:13 am #1371558
ditto everything Summit Co.
I would definitely go ham rather than a FRS/GMRS…they're worthless.
Your best mountain rescue equipment is your experience, your brain and your luck.
May your bag of experience fill faster than your bag of luck empties!Dec 19, 2006 at 10:20 am #1371561
@bdavisLocale: Mt. Lassen - Shasta, N. Cal.
Here is a US Coast Guard site summarizing EPIRB recommendations which discusses and defines the types, ranges, uses, and what not to buy or use:
As mentioned by a previous poster here, note the number of items or classes of EPIRBS with: "No longer recommended."
Having sailed in both harbors and out on the open ocean, where there are no mountains sticking out of the water or other obstructions, usually, EPIRBS are useful and proper equipment is recommended by the Coast Guard.
Poor, low quality, defective equipment is worse than having nothing because it creates a false sense of security at precisely the moments when that is the last thing one needs — like a choice whether to turn around and go back in rather than keep going into heavy weather or current, etc.
But, we were always warned that even on the open ocean with no obstructions to interfere with the radio signals the signals by themselves will not get a person out of trouble if they are caught in weather / seas that do not permit rescue or if a person is in the water without the right gear (and even with the right gear like Mustang body suits and flotation its iffy in cold water in the best of circumstances).
Thus, having the proper gear, sailing only in conditions for which we were trained or had experience, and making sure the boat, gear, and we were in proper order was the key. Avoiding, not inviting rescue situations.
As I recall we were given about 45 to 55 minutes maximum in the water w/o technical gear but with offshore pants and coat with flotation, if lucky, in the Pacific off the San Francisco coast before hypothermia would become a real problem. In that situation an EPIRB could be life saving because it would cut down the search time and part of a search and rescue operation.
The following is from the Mustang Survival web site, at:
"Water Immersion and Hypothermia
The human body is fairly well adapted to survive in very cold air for many hours; however, the thermal conductivity of water is 25 times greater than air. This means that the survival of an unprotected person in water below 10 degree Centigrade (50 degree Fahrenheit) beyond an hour is very unlikely. This is reduced to minutes as the water temperature approaches freezing, which is quite common in northern or southern extremes during winter.
Our body’s response to sudden cold-water immersion is universal. If unprotected, within 2 seconds of hitting the water, the body goes into “cold shock” and the physiological reaction includes the gasp reflex, hyperventilation, difficulty holding the breath, increase in blood pressure, and rapidly increasing heart rate. The extent of this cold shock depends on how much of the body surface area is exposed to the water.
Between 2 to 30 minutes after immersion, an un-insulated human body becomes incapacitated. A person may have difficulty swimming, lose functional abilities and manual dexterity, and experience muscle cramping. Unfortunately, swimming only speeds the onset of hypothermia.
After 30 minutes, hypothermia sets in and the body’s core temperature reduces to a point where a person loses consciousness and eventually the heart stops beating. For more information on the effects on hypothermia, please click here."
The Mustang web site also has a great video at that web page showing what happens and what goes into a rescue, the kind of gear that is designed to prevent hypothermia on the seas, and is fascinating IMO.Dec 19, 2006 at 5:03 pm #1371607
@drayLocale: Olympic Peninsula
I agree with most of the comments made so far. I wouldn't bother taking a marine EPIRB into the mountains as the weight and money could be better spent elsware. I don't reccomend the GMRS Radio as there is not much chance anyone is listening. The cell phone is surprisingly useful because if you can get up high enough it often gets reception. Also, modern cell phones use excelent Lithium Ion batteries. In all situations plan to tell someone your position, don't rely on them to find you based on your signal. The 406mz EPIRB thing would be useless without a rescue infrastructure built around it, at that frequency signals are very line of site and it's highly unlikely anyone would hear you.
The ham radio is your best option because there are repeaters and people listening everywhere. There is also some of the best hardware available in this realm. I recomend using a AA battery pack with lithium batteries and getting an after market antenna that is properly tuned, as some of the one's that come on hand-helds are quite poor. The antenna makes all of the difference in the world. The smallest ham radios have talked to sattelites with a good enough antenna.
In the realm of other things, I wouldn't bother with smoke or flares, the are expendysive and dated and you can improvise if you have to. The two things I would reccommend considering would be a signal mirror (the real one with a hole in the middle). This can be seen for several miles and works well when your headlamp is a useless signaling device. Every SAR person with a "Helicopter Kit" usually has one of these next to the smoke, flares, and die. It works quite well, it can be light, and it's un-breakable.Dec 19, 2006 at 5:29 pm #1371613
@bdavisLocale: Mt. Lassen - Shasta, N. Cal.
Douglas and all,
The one piece of gear I am thinking of taking or two possibly is/are:
1. Dye to put out on snow, the ground or in a lake, the bright orange kind that comes in sea safety kits.
2. My old strobe light, there must be a light weight strobe available. I believe my micro photon light has a strobe function, gotta go check. At night on the sea (and it must be the same in the mountains or, especially, a desert), I would trust my strobe over anything else at night if there was visibility. If visibility is gone then flares won't work anyway. It was when the visibilty was bad, way bad, that the EPIRB type locator was a security blanket — like deep fog, if the helicopters could get off the ground and fly by radar and altimeters at least you had a chance.
Aside: We also always carried a functional, totally checked out, and Coast Guard approved marine hand held short wave. The way I was taught it was required to be out there anyway, and the Coast Guard really got upset at cell phone calls — like in Humboldt Bay you would be criticized for calling them on them, as in SF Bay. Is there an equivalent to the marine band short wave hand helds? They were light weight, water proof, and it was the way you would communicate if you had to with incoming rescue. They, the Coast Guard, would expect the rescuee to participate in the rescue to reduce risk to the rescuer — and that radio was the life line once they were on the scene.Dec 19, 2006 at 6:15 pm #1371629
Many great replies, and I learned a lot by following those links.
I decided to carry a battery charger for my cellphone to ensure its availability.
The EPIRB will be phased out partially by 2008, completely by 2009, and might not reach a listening station from a mountainous location. Aircraft do listen in on "GUARD" 121.5 and it might work; so I'll carry it for now until I research it more. Maybe it truly is useless.
I'll forget about flares and smoke. I do carry two mirrors (one military signal mirror, one is a CD). My Petzl has a strobe mode for nightime visibility.
I own a marine band VHF radio; but I doubt anyone would be listening in-land.
I will consider the Ham radio; great suggestion. That hobby is huge here in Japan; and people would be scanning 24 hours a day. I will need to research if one channel is dedicated for emergencies; and find a lightweight model as the poster suggested.
Knowledge, planning, and judgement are still most important of course.Dec 19, 2006 at 7:09 pm #1371639
I carry a Globalstar sat phone for work, but it doubles as an emergency comm device. No dependence on cell towers (there aren't any anyway) or repeaters (good luck); all you need is a sky view. Sometimes my phone calls are only a few minutes long, but stringing them together works as long as the other person understands what to expect.
The Globalstar sat phone is supposed to have a GPS in it, but it isn't accessible by the user. I'm not sure how easy it is for Globalstar to provide that information to somebody.Dec 19, 2006 at 7:32 pm #1371644
@eaglembLocale: AZ, the Great Southwest!
Brett, the older 121.5 MHz plb / epirb's are going away.
They are being replaced by a new class of EPIRB's, such as the AquaFixTM 406. More on it in this thread:
MikeBDec 19, 2006 at 10:14 pm #1371663
"The 406mz EPIRB thing would be useless without a rescue infrastructure built around it, at that frequency signals are very line of site and it's highly unlikely anyone would hear you."
406 is for the sats so hopefully you always have LoS. We are still using 121.5 for ground teams. The sats will stop listening to 121.5 in 09 but 121.5 is still the distress freq and is still emitted by ELT/PRB/EPIRB for pinpointing by ground teams if the sat isn't accurate enough. Both 406 and 121.5 have nasty bounce in the mountains though…
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