Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Check Your Batteries

Last weekend, I went for a hike along the highest alpine trail in the Olympic National Park. My buddy and I were dropped off by a mutual friend on one end of the trail and picked up by my wife on the other end about 5 hours later, because it was not a loop (out and back) kind of trail.

We hit the trail just after sunrise and watched as the natural world woke up. As the sun began to heat the ground, the air started to rise, pulling cool, moist air up out of the canyons. As that moisture cooled in the rising air, a veil of clouds formed and swirled below us, adding a visual magic show to our hike.

We trekked along bare ridges above the timber line, dodged around rocky crags, and followed the trail to a lower elevation where pine and fir trees clothed the landscape. It was a marvelous hike — one that I would like to repeat.

But, something happened at the end of the trek that taught me a lesson. Before leaving the house, I removed our set of FRS radios from the battery charger and placed one unit in my wife's Jeep and the other one in my pack. Figuring that my hiking partner and I would be approaching the end of the trail sometime near noon, I told Becky to turn on her radio at about that time, and I would try to make contact and let her know how far out we were so she would know when to expect us. Good plan.

About 11:30, I switched on my radio and stuck it in my pocket. At noon, I figured we still had another 20 minutes to hike, so I pressed the "talk" key and spoke into the mic. Becky responded. Now my turn again, I pressed the key and the radio went dead. The battery pack was drained. That left Becky wondering why she heard my check-in call and then nothing after that.

Frustrated by the dead battery pack, we kept hiking until we reached the parking area and found our Jeep and explained to Becky what had happened.

It was the end of a near-perfect hike.  But it taught me that I need to pay closer attention to the condition of batteries in my electronic equipment. I carry spare batteries for gear that allows changing batteries, but this set of radios has a built-in battery pack that doesn't allow the simple exchange of AA cells to restore power. Apparently, over the years that we've had these radios, the battery pack in the unit I was carrying has lost its ability to hold a charge. I conducted a momentary test of both radios that morning before leaving the house, and they both appeared to be fine. But obviously my radio was not holding a charge.

So I bring this little episode up to remind us all that we need to be aware of what's going on with our equipment. Instead of checking battery condition by just flicking on the power switch momentarily and then turning it off again, it's a good idea to occasionally put the battery condition to the test for several hours and then recharge. That's the only way you'll know whether or not you'll have power when you need it. Perhaps an even better idea is to carry radios that allow you to install easily available AA batteries — and then carry spare batteries as a backup.

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