Friday, April 27, 2012

How To Survive The Unexpected

When Bill Egger took off on a "day hike" during a 3-day trek in Big Bend National Park, he didn't anticipate what would happen to him. I'll let him tell the story in his own words.

"While climbing 5,249-foot Elephant Tusk, I got “cliffed out” on an interior ramp at 4,860 feet near the summit, and could not climb down.

"After spending four hours unsuccessfully attempting to locate an alternate descent route, I knew I was stuck and realized that it could be a long time before I saw anyone else in this desolate corner of the Chihuahuan desert. As the sun disappeared, I knew temperatures would soon drop around freezing. I concluded that my condition was grave, and my life was in imminent danger unless I received assistance. Thus, I decided I must activate my ACR AeroFix™ 406 GPS Interface/Onboard PLB.

"What I did not expect was that a 50 plus mph gale would blow in at 10 p.m. and continue until 4 a.m. When the gale hit, I used some cord to tie my PLB to a small bush on a ledge that opened to the sky because I was concerned that the winds would blow the PLB off of the ledge. Then, I wrapped up in my space blanket, and hunkered down for a bone-chilling night that seemed would never end. Temperatures dropped into the 20s.

"Later, I learned that within an hour after I activated my PLB, the U.S. Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC) in Langley, Virginia, received notice of my satellite-detectable distress signal and communicated my location to the Big Bend park rangers.

"Upon receiving the call from the AFRCC, park rangers traveled almost two hours over backcountry roads to the Elephant Tusk area. Rangers found my vehicle registered with a solo hiker permit on Black Gap Road, and immediately commenced a ground search. They scoured the desert floor until 4:00 a.m. At sunrise the next morning, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) joined the search with its search and rescue helicopter.

"Around 10:30 a.m., the aircrew spotted me waving my space blanket, up on the ramp near the Elephant Tusk summit. Then, two park rangers climbed up the peak, confirmed that I was fatigued, but uninjured and called in climbing gear from the DPS helicopter. By mid-afternoon they helped me rappel down from my perch. Six park rangers and I then trekked five miles arriving at Black Gap Road around sundown.

"Other than being exhausted by the night’s hypothermic conditions, I was assessed to be good condition. The PLB definitely helped save my life. I’m afraid that if I had to spend another night up there, I would not have made it. The next time I venture on a backcountry trek, I will try much harder to find a 'Buddy' to go with me. But either way, I can assure you I will be wearing my PLB. I’m all for these devices. They save lives and keep people from dying. My ACR PLB will always be on my body when I’m in the wilderness."

One of the lessons from this true incident is that it's always the unexpected that gets us in trouble. The unexpected difficulty of the trail. The unexpected storm. The unexpected injury (your own or someone else in your party). The unexpected delay in your return.

Since we can't predetermine the nature of the unexpected things that will happen to us in the backcountry, it's a good idea to have a backup plan that includes a method to call for help. A personal locator beacon (PLB) such as the one Bill Egger was carrying is a life-saving device that has been used to pull hundreds of folks out of distress situations. It's cheap insurance against the unexpected.

The web address for ACR is but you can buy or even rent these devices from outdoor retailers such as REI and others.

1 comment:

  1. At my age I'm not at all interested in buying one of them, or being saved.