Long before there was a Bachelor ski area in the Cascades near Bend, OR, Gordon Slate and I would take his dad’s ‘36 Dodge “hoopie” out each May trying to break through the snow to near where the base of the ski area is now located. About Dutchman’s Flat.
A “hoopie” was a pickup-type vehicle. Most were low-geared with four-cylinder engines, high ground clearance, big tires and fenders. Sometimes fenders. They were cast iron, two-wheel drive, but strong enough to go nearly anywhere in Deschutes County.
Two years running, Gordon and I got nearly all the way until the “hoopie” high centered and couldn’t move. That meant a long, cold, wet walk in knee-high snow until we found other teens trying to do the same thing.
No cell phones then. But if there had been, neither of us would’ve called our dads. We knew the answer: “You guys were idiots enough to get in; get yourselves out.”
Times have changed. Now we have “Yuppie 9-1-1.” That’s a term coined by someone in California Search and Rescue. It describes hikers, snowmobilers, skiers or others who either aren’t experienced enough to go into the back country or are dumb enough to go in without the right equipment. In both cases, they can wind up in trouble and expect to be bailed out. No questions. Damn the expense!
What these groups have in common is some carry personal locator beacons; “Onstar” for hikers. These work with GPS systems. If connected to the proper service, push the button, the service notifies authorities and some emergency group responds.
Now, in theory, that sounds great. But, as usual, when in the hands of the two aforementioned groups, they’re pure trouble.
In September, two gold panners in Placer County, CA, used GPS to call for help. With darkness setting in, the Mono County sheriff’s office asked the National Guard for a high-altitude chopper and hoist crew to lift these guys out at Convict Lake. Next morning, before the flight got there, the two had hiked out.
In September, according to AP, two guys and their teenage sons went into the Royal Arch Loop area near Grand Canyon. Real hikers will tell you that’s a place for the most experienced and well-equipped. These people failed both tests.
First day in, they ran out of water. No problem. Push the button. It was night so National Park Service couldn’t get a chopper in until morning. When the crew got onsite, the hikers had found a stream and declined help.
That night, a second emergency call. Arizona Public Safety sent a chopper with night vision equipment. Same hikers said the local water tasted salty and they were afraid of running out. Chopper left.
Third day, another call. This time, the park service chopper crew put them onboard, flew them out and ticketed the leader for “creating a hazardous condition.”
My question, “What took you so long?”
John Amrhein, emergency coordinator for the San Bernardino County sheriff’s office which covers Death Valley, says people used to crawl out on their hands and knees when they had problems. Then, with cell phones, calls increased. With GPS, he says, now it’s “I’m cold and wet so come get me.”
These kinds of calls are now coming from Mt. Hood, Mt. Rainier and a lot of other rugged spots around our western neighborhood. They’re putting at risk million-dollar equipment, lives of flight crews and tying up emergency operations so they can’t get to other calls where the danger is more than salty water or hikers with sore feet.
We’ve got ‘em on our Oregon Coast, too. People in street clothes and tennis shoes hike up/down cliffs to get a better view and sometimes the Coast Guard has to hoist them out. Coast Guard won’t say how often or the cost but you can bet equipment and crew time is expensive. Not counting danger to both for what could be a needless mission.
Most people around here get into serious hiking clothes and equip for the challenge. With all the places in our backyard to explore, it’s a great way to spend a day or two. Or three. And the GPS locators are great to take along. But … their use as emergency beacons in our backwoods needs to be limited to those kinds of uses. Life saving, yes. Comfort tools, no.
This is one taxpayer/hiker that would like to see the National Park Service, sheriff’s offices, the National Guard and Coast Guard carry along some big, fat ticket books. For liberal use among the “Yuppie 9-1-1″ crowd.
My dad and Mr. Slate would be proud!