Ore. debates beacons for climbers
PORTLAND, Ore. - When a rescue team found Luke Gullberg’s body at the top of a Mount Hood glacier and tried to figure out what had become of his climbing partners, they looked up at a forbidding rise of ice and snow.
They saw no sign of Katie Nolan and Anthony Vietti on the 1,500-foot Reid headwall, no gear in bright color standing out from the monochrome, no trail. And they heard no radio signal.
Had Nolan and Vietti rented a $5 locator beacon and had they been able to activate it after whatever misfortune ended their climb on Dec. 12, the searchers below might have been able to pinpoint their location. The two are presumed buried beneath several feet of snow and ice.
It is the second time in three years that a search and rescue operation on the 11,239-foot mountain has failed to turn up climbers who went up the mountain without signaling devices and got into deadly trouble. So, politicians, rescue crews, mountaineers, and others are again debating whether to require climbers to carry locator beacons.
The recent rescue mission has raised the question, “When are you going to stop the carnage on Mount Hood?’’ said Jim Bernard, a commissioner in Clackamas County.
“People are dying for no reason,’’ said Bernard, a longtime climber who said he had been up Mount Hood several times. “We need to find a way to protect them and we need to find a way to protect the people’s resources.’’
A bill to require Mount Hood climbers to carry beacons on winter expeditions failed in the Oregon Legislature in 2007. Bernard hopes the Legislature will revisit the question, or the state’s congressional delegation will take an interest.
He said the county commission will take another stab at a requirement that climbers carry locator beacons. Commissioners have previously run into a restriction on the kind of agreements they could make with the US Forest Service, which manages the mountain.
It’s a mystery to many who don’t venture above timberline why the stiffest opposition to requiring beacons comes from the elite mountaineers who put themselves at risk to get people off the mountain.
Beacons can be useful, but climbers should have the freedom to weigh the safety benefits of any piece of equipment against its weight or how it might impede their agility on a mountain that can rain down ice and rock at any moment, said Steve Rollins of Portland Mountain Rescue, a leader of Mount Hood search and rescue operations.
Mountaineers also say requiring the devices can lead some climbers to take undue risks.
One state official argues against such a requirement on grounds of personal liberty.
“The land is public, and I’m not a real big fan of mandating what people have to take with them when they want to go for a walk,’’ said Georges Kleinbaum, search and rescue coordinator for the Oregon Office of Emergency Management. Besides, he said, enforcement would be impossible. “It’s a big mountain.’’
As many as 10,000 climbers attack Mount Hood each year, based on the free permits for which they-self register.
There are a variety of locator devices, of a size between cell phones and TV remotes.
The $5 Mount Hood rental beacon is older technology, and rescuers wouldn’t tune in until somebody is reported overdue. Outdoor stores sell devices that use GPS and satellite technology to send immediate distress signals. They can weigh 5 to 9 ounces and cost up to $400.