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  1. #1
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    From The Fifty and Eastside Thread Skiing with PLBs, InReach, etc

    Given recent events and how they relate to the use of PLBs and satellite messengers, it certainly seems there effectiveness may be in question for most of what we do.
    Dropping you into the The Fifty thread where Cody decides against the use of PLB in favor of racing for cell phone. Not even activating the PLB in order to avoid confusion when he got to cell service. Lots of good technical discussion afterward. Plus if you're not following the thread you'll thank me.
    https://www.tetongravity.com/forums/...e-FIFTY/page12

    And in Mono county, SAR just performed an heroic rescue of someone that fell down the hulk's west couloir (which i guess would be looker right?). They activated their PLB.
    I won't spoil it, you can read it and see pics here
    https://www.monosar.org/missions/201...-2019-19-253-7

    My opinion may be skewed. Are there other cases (links) of different outcomes with PLBs that show where they do work?
    What is a good time to use a PLB in the case of a backcountry accident. Or when should you rule it out? Are they worth their weight in other stuff you could carry?
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  2. #2
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    Good idea for a thread.

    Does it make sense to move this thread to tech talk?

    Alternatively, to the slide zone since we're talking about gear for when shit goes down and what to do about it.

    ... Thom
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  3. #3
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    i wondered about both of those but immediately threw out slide zone because neither of these incidents involve slides. And in a slide situation i think a PLB is a recovery option at best in most cases. And as far as tech talk there is more to this discussion as it relates to these events than just the PLBs. A point i made in the Fifty thread linking here is there's a good chance neither of these incidents would have had a good outcome except for the fact that in each case there were three people and in each case two would likely not have done the job.
    but still, it could be in tech talk and i'd be happy to move it there. a good case for that is that this also applies to climbing, mountain biking, and even bullfighting i guess
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  4. #4
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    I think PLBs can be very useful. Here was my experience, which is PLB related.

    Eight years ago, I was climbing up a roadside attraction (Powerhouse) with a strong group, when the fastest among us took a nasty slide into the side of a large rock face. (Skinning on steep icy snow is so much more dangerous than people think.) There was a ton of blood and we could see skull and concluded that he probably had a skull fracture. One of our party had a PLB, and activated it immediately, which triggered SAR and the Mono County Sheriffs into action. The SAR team was primarily based in South Lake Tahoe (about 2.5 hours away). The SAR team gathered in SLT, made sure they had all the gear they needed, and then made the drive down, which was about a 3.5 hour process.

    We then stabilized our injured friend. Two of our party stayed with him while I skied down to the car, drove to cell phone range, and called 911. I was patched through to the Sheriff's office, who already had a preliminary sense of the situation from the PLB alert sent 90 minutes earlier. A Blackhawk was flown in from the Naval Air Station in Fallon and was waiting in a meadow nearby. When SAR arrived, we, SAR, and the Sheriff's office coordinated on a rescue plan through two-way radios. We elected to not use the helicopter (steep slope, wind, etc.). Instead, the other two skiers then put together a makeshift sled with skis and were able to slowly get the injured skier down a thousand feet or so. SAR, meanwhile, made it up another 500 vertical feet with their mono-wheel stretcher thing. They then took over and delivered the injured skier to a waiting ambulance, who drove him another hour or so to the nearest hospital (Mammoth Lakes). It turned out that he didn't have a skull fracture and was able to leave the hospital after a couple days.

    Anyhow, as you can see, the rescue effort was not dependent on the PLB. But the PLB got the process started 90 minutes earlier than it would have started otherwise. Other key components were having (1) a First Responder trained member in our party; (2) four members of our party, which allowed two to attend to the injured party while the fourth (me) went to communicate with SAR and the Sheriffs via cell phone and then in person; and (3) two-way radios that allowed us to communicate directly with SAR and the Sheriffs outside of cell range.

    As for the accident in Little Slide Canyon, the primarily problems seemed to be that (a) the PLB didn't work and (b) the parties seemed to rely on it as their sole source of rescue. A functional PLB could have gotten the process started 3-5 hours earlier, which could be the difference between life and death depending on the injury. It might at least have saved these guys a night and the cold. But, again, a PLB is just a piece of the overall rescue effort. For solo or two-party teams, it could be an indispensable part.

  5. #5
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    How do you know the plb didn't work?
    Was it activated?

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  6. #6
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    ^^^^
    One of the group activated a PLB, and they waited for a helo to collect them (it was later learned that no PLB activation was recorded). The helo did not arrive, and one of their party hiked out to Mono Village and reported the accident to the SO. The Team was activated, and 3 large field teams were sent out. The weather was cold, and as the field teams were gathering gear, it began to snow. All teams departed well after dark; it is about 3 miles in on the trail, and just past the wilderness boundary, the field teams left the trail and found the downed tree crossing.
    One reason why I like the inreach despite the extra size and weight.

  7. #7
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    I am the person in charge of GPS and mapping for our SAR, and absolutely use a PLB if you are in an emergency (or simply if you just need help because of exhaustion, lost, etc.). PLBs (if they work) can be extremely helpful in locating a person in distress. However, do not rely on them as your sole emergency plan (especially if using a SPOT type device that can't communicate beyond the initial SOS), be prepared to get to cell service ASAP and call 911. Honestly, I was a little surprised that Cody didn't initially send a distress call with his inReach then follow up with a 911 call (although his situation was unique because he a had a personal relationship with a heli operation capable of rescue, this is not typical, use your PLB!).

    In an incident, if I can put a dot on a map where the person is, the response will be an order of magnitude faster than if trying to determine a location based on someone's description. Unless you are somewhere with a dedicated, full-time SAR (Yosemite, Grand Teton), you would be shocked how long it can take to muster a response, so the sooner we know where you are the faster we can get a team to you. Also, if you have an inReach style device, do some homework and have the local authorities numbers saved on the inReach (not your phone), then after activating the SOS, text the authorities directly. This skips the middleman and puts you directly in touch with the person coordinating the response (in the western U.S. this is typically a Sheriff deputy). From there, you can coordinate a plan for extraction.

    Finally, most inReach devices have a default of checking for messages every 10 minutes, which is fine if you're just texting a spouse from the backcountry, but in an emergency go into the settings and change the refresh rate to every minute. This way communication becomes more efficient and you can receive messages in real time.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by total_immortal View Post
    Also, if you have an inReach style device, do some homework and have the local authorities numbers saved on the inReach (not your phone), then after activating the SOS, text the authorities directly. This skips the middleman and puts you directly in touch with the person coordinating the response (in the western U.S. this is typically a Sheriff deputy). From there, you can coordinate a plan for extraction.
    Good suggestion, but how do I find that info? In the Eastern Sierra that would be a few different counties? Big road trips might be a dozen different.
    I didn't even know Sheriff could get texts and had always hoped inreach would reply with who to contact.

  9. #9
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    What are likely scenarios the mono county incident had problems with the PLB, ie, why did the tech not work? Whatís the tech that allows the txt messaging of inreach? Satellite?

    In my neck of the woods, responders have to deal with black holes in their communications. There are places that you can drive to on a graded dirt road and take a very brief walk from a parking lot and enter black holes. Thatís been a known issue for SAR, law enforcement, and fire/first responders with their own internal comms. Some bad shit has gone down in the past few years because of this problem. Would the tech from PBLs (inreach?) resolve this issue?

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by 406 View Post
    Good suggestion, but how do I find that info? In the Eastern Sierra that would be a few different counties? Big road trips might be a dozen different.
    I didn't even know Sheriff could get texts and had always hoped inreach would reply with who to contact.
    I would start by calling the non-emergency number for the county's dispatch and just explain what you are trying to do. If the county has text-to-911 they may just tell you to text 911 if you encounter trouble, if they don't have text to 911, see if they will provide the SAR coordinator's phone number. Every county has different policies and practices so talking to the dispatchers would be the best place to start. I could see the potential that they don't want to share this information (even though all sheriff deputies I work with have work phones so you shouldn't be getting personal phone numbers), and if that is the case I would ask what they suggest. If they say "just rely on the inReach dispatch center", then go to plan B and have a trusted friend who will be available while you are out in the backcountry be your liaison. This way you can text your friend or spouse or parents and have them call 911 and get a number so you can contact the IC directly. The goal is to get a direct connection to whoever is coordinating the rescue so you are speaking directly to the person calling the shots.

    Quote Originally Posted by bodywhomper
    What are likely scenarios the mono county incident had problems with the PLB, ie, why did the tech not work? What’s the tech that allows the txt messaging of inreach? Satellite?

    In my neck of the woods, responders have to deal with black holes in their communications. There are places that you can drive to on a graded dirt road and take a very brief walk from a parking lot and enter black holes. That’s been a known issue for SAR, law enforcement, and fire/first responders with their own internal comms. Some bad shit has gone down in the past few years because of this problem. Would the tech from PBLs (inreach?) resolve this issue?
    Hard to know for sure what happened with the Mono County incident, if they were in a deep couloir the mountain may have been blocking the signal from reaching a satellite. This is why I'm a big proponent of systems that allow two way comms, if you are receiving responses you know your signal is being received. The county I support also has large "black holes" (no cell service, vhf radio, etc.) and a surprising amount of work and resources tend to get dedicated to establish vhf comms during missions (we have used helicopters as temporary repeaters to maintain comms in very remote areas). The SAR I work with will also use inReaches in the field to track locations and receive updates. PLBs work differently from radios, they connect to the same satellite network that sat phones connect to, so unless something is blocking a clear view of the sky (deep couloirs would do this) or you are in the arctic/antarctic, you should be able to send a message (but like all technology it may still fail).

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by total_immortal View Post
    Finally, most inReach devices have a default of checking for messages every 10 minutes, which is fine if you're just texting a spouse from the backcountry, but in an emergency go into the settings and change the refresh rate to every minute. This way communication becomes more efficient and you can receive messages in real time.
    Thanks for all your informative posts here. I'm quoting this in particular because I didn't know this and it seems pretty damn important.

  12. #12
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    interesting obs total_immortal/AKbruin. these discussions have seriously made me consider swapping my spot device for an inreach. i used an inreach for the first last week to text the s.o. from the trailhead and was really impressed with the tech.

  13. #13
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    Curious to know if the party in the incident this week was using an Inreach or a more traditional 406mhz device. Both have issues with shadowing in mountain terrain, but I believe the COSPAR SARSAT LEOSAR MEOSAR and GEOSAR constellation is more robust with a higher revisit rate than the Iridium constellation used by Inreach.

    Both systems obviously work better with more visible sky, and in particular 406mhz units are very robust when they have LOS to the equatorial plane - I wonder if this should be disseminated more for backcountry emergency use.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by jegsmith View Post
    Curious to know if the party in the incident this week was using an Inreach or a more traditional 406mhz device. Both have issues with shadowing in mountain terrain, but I believe the COSPAR SARSAT LEOSAR MEOSAR and GEOSAR constellation is more robust with a higher revisit rate than the Iridium constellation used by Inreach.

    Both systems obviously work better with more visible sky, and in particular 406mhz units are very robust when they have LOS to the equatorial plane - I wonder if this should be disseminated more for backcountry emergency use.
    I'm curious about your background with PLBs. I was under the impression GEOSAR and the likes were on NOAA weather satellites and primarily set up to work with EPIRBS which are typically on airplanes and boats, but don't know much more than that and I'm curious to learn more (like if you can register your SPOT or inReach to connect the network). I'm also skeptical about your statement about revisit rates, Iridium currently has 82 satellites (source), where at least the GEOSAR (not sure about the others) is geostationary and would not have a revisit faster than 24 hours.

    Anyway, I'm hoping you can expand on your post to help people decide what unit is best for them, whether it's an EPIRB, SPOT, inReach, Sat Phone, etc.

  15. #15
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    Second, looking for mo' info.

    The first responder black holes in my area are nothing compared to the cellular black holes for good Samaritans that often take an hour of walking/driving to get cell access to call for help. Hell, I'm a 10 minute drive from my house to get cell access. There have been several fatalities at my local river over the past few years, and i wonder if any of those incidents would have ended differently if somebody could have quickly alerted the SO via a txt message.

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  16. #16
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    Wow, incredible efforts in that Hulkís rescue. Mad props to all. Great thread, too. Last year I added an inReach to my BC safety gear. Provides some piece of mind thinking I have another useful device, but itís great to have good beta on what works and what doesnít regarding PLBs.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by JTG4 View Post
    Wow, incredible efforts in that Hulk’s rescue. Mad props to all. Great thread, too. Last year I added an inReach to my BC safety gear. Provides some piece of mind thinking I have another useful device, but it’s great to have good beta on what works and what doesn’t regarding PLBs.
    kind of what i was hoping for in regards to the thread, especially since much of my opinion has been colored by negative reports.

    AKbruin, any idea why in your situation why most of the SAR response came from SLT rather than mammoth, etc. is that where mono sar draws from?
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  18. #18
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    I want to know what PLB failed to send in the Mono/Hulk incident and why.

    Couldnít have been a 406/EPIRG cause they are supposed to send a shortwave signal even when they canít acquire a GPS reading, unless the units battery was simply dead.

    Anyone know what unit and what happened?


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  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by powdork View Post
    AKbruin, any idea why in your situation why most of the SAR response came from SLT rather than mammoth, etc. is that where mono sar draws from?
    No. But I remember the SAR leader explaining to me that they had assembled first in SLT to make sure they had all the necessary gear. It's possible other members came from other areas, such as Mammoth Lakes. I know for sure that at least some of the SAR team in the Little Slide accident came from Mammoth or Bishop.

    To echo what's previously been said, it takes SAR a long time to mobilize, drive to the trailhead, assess the situation, get the injured party, and then extract him or her. Also, helicopter extractions shouldn't necessarily be expected in the mountains. So exposure is a big concern for all parties, particularly the injured one. I added an emergency bivy to my pack after reading about this accident on Jobs this year involving two experienced skiers. I've heard others say that in many situations where an injured person is immobile, it makes sense for one party to immediately ski back to the car, procure a down sleeping bag (and other supplies) however necessary, and then bring them back to the injured party. Obviously, that approach is highly situation dependent, but the point is that extraction could take a long time.

    Also, SAR in Tahoe/Mammoth is badass. Major props to them.

  20. #20
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    Having been on a number of trips with Spot devices, I highly recommend NOT buying a Spot or any other PLB that only allows one-way communication. You have no way of confirming whether the messages are received, and it is impossible to communicate any details about your situation to SAR/first responders. My experience with the Spot is that you send messages out into the ether and, in theory, your Spot blinks green when the message is successfully sent. The Spot owners were using them to send "we're okay and in this location" messages to their loved ones. (Personally, I think this is a really dumb way to use a PLB, but that's not really material to the issue of best scrambling help in the event of an emergency.) At least half of those "we're okay" messages were not received. I would not be at all surprised if the folks in the Hulk incident linked up top had a one-way PLB like a Spot.

    Instead, get an inReach or other PLB that allows two-way communication. With the inReach, you send and receive messages with first responders. Having that information is critical for determining your own plan of action, as well as informing SAR of your specific circumstances and issues on the ground. It's akin to the difference between texting and telegraphing - with one you get a response, with the other you don't.

    The other thing that the Jobs Peak slide article mentions, which AKB shared, is that good cell phone service can also be far more useful in rescue situations than people really think about it. In CA, and especially in the Eastern Sierra, Verizon has far better coverage, and works on basically any front-range peak.

    Someone in another thread described the difference between the Iridium network (inReach) and whatever Spot uses, but I don't know the sciencey stuffs that well, and can't find it right now. Will post if/when I do.

    ETA: here is one inReach thread: https://www.tetongravity.com/forums/...hlight=inreach
    And I think this is the best one: https://www.tetongravity.com/forums/...s-besides-SPOT
    Last edited by meter-man; 05-22-2019 at 11:20 AM.
    sproing!

  21. #21
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    I dunno. I suppose it depends on how much money you can spend and how much safety you want, which seemingly spans the spectrum from no PLB whatsoever to a basic Spot device to a full-on satellite phone. My experience in 2011 was based on a partner's Spot device, which led me to buy one later that year. I've never used it in an emergency, but I have used it to check in with the missus. I figure it gives her GPS coordinates of my approximate location. If I go missing, she can at least give SAR a general sense or where I was. Also, I've never had any problems checking in and have always found satellites in the Sierra. That said, the ability to have two-way communications is definitely a big benefit.

    Completely agreed about cell service. It wouldn't surprise me if PLBs are largely obsolete in a decade or so given the expansion of cell range. We'll all probably just download an app that allows our iPhones to connect to satellites in an emergency.

  22. #22
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    In my very limited experience, Spot does not work more than 50% of the time. I'd rather not be waiting at the base of a couloir with a broken-legged-friend thinking that help was on the way when....NOPE.

    You've never had problems checking in? Does that mean that all of your Spot messages were received? Color me surprised.

    Good points all the way, especially about sending the last known location. That would be useful, and I was too dismissive of that purpose.
    sproing!

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by meter-man View Post
    In my very limited experience, Spot does not work more than 50% of the time. I'd rather not be waiting at the base of a couloir with a broken-legged-friend thinking that help was on the way when....NOPE.

    You've never had problems checking in? Does that mean that all of your Spot messages were received? Color me surprised.

    Good points all the way, especially about sending the last known location. That would be useful, and I was too dismissive of that purpose.
    Yeah. To be clear, I'm going off my own experience. But I've never had a problem with the Spot. It could be because I usually check-in somewhere relatively open. Maybe my Spot wouldn't work as well from within a couloir or more confined place. If it only worked 50% of the time, I'd definitely chuck it.

  24. #24
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    Like anything else, relying on one form of technology is not ideal. Unfortunately we can be involved in all kinds of situations, so there is no single answer. Skiing/climbing/hiking by yourself, InReach is probably best. Yeah, you might be in a black hole, but hopefully satellites line up occasionally, still better then nothing. Two people a long way from nowhere? Still InReaach, but at least one person might find a cell signal with a short hike. If it is a long way out the decision to leave an injured person while going for help is a tough one. Multiple people, and cell coverage not too far away, then yeah, Cody going for help makes sense. Logic would say to set of a PLB, leave it with victim and go for help if stable enough.

    The only rescue I was involved with was a couple SAR team members on a training trip got caught high on a peak at dark, got hyperthermic and needed extraction. A combination of radios, cellphones and short hikes for cell reception coordinated things very well. Given only one piece of technology, an InReaach would be my choice. They could have connected with SAR when hypothermic in the small hours of the morning to coordinate the helicopter at first light. The whole thing went well because we were all able to communicate well eve though weather shut down the rescue after one person was extracted. The other had to wait for improved weather and a bigger heli. Of course all of it could have been avoid if the SAR people stuck in the first place followed there own advice.

    I agree it is a constitutional right for Americans to be assholes...its just too bad that so many take the opportunity...
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  25. #25
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    how much does this in-reach stuff cost? will future cell tech (e.g. 5G) really help in remote areas, especially in wilderness areas with massive relief like those found in the sierra?

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