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Sad End to This Cautionary Tale, As Folks Start to Head Back Out Into the Wilds, Pls Be Careful

Kmrtnsn

Explorer
I keep seeing the death valley germans story being used as a comparison/"reason not to stay with the car". The Germans drove a minivan 2.4 miles down an abandoned road in Anvil Canyon and then another 200 feet down a wash. There was no chance a passing tourist would find them, they were buried far out of sight down a canyon. Their situation was vastly different than a subaru on a mapped park road with a couple flats.

That said, the death valley germans and this couple seem to have made a similar mistake - gambling self-rescue on an unknown route rather than backtracking the way they came in.

Pictures grabbed from https://www.otherhand.org/home-page/search-and-rescue/the-hunt-for-the-death-valley-germans/
Highly recommend Tom Mahood's website. Hours of excellent entertaining reading in there.

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They drove a couple of miles off the road up a wash. There was no indication they were in Death Valley for anyone to search for them there. They also went trucking off south towards China Lake in July instead of the shorter distance back to the Geologist’s Cabin. Their BOLO was distributed through Interpol and the stolen vehicle report done with LAPD. You seeing the information separation problem yet?
 

Louisd75

Adventurer
I would say it's a pretty similar comparison. The area that the Germans were found on in probably gets a similar amount of traffic as the area this couple was in, if not more. I have seen a lot more trip reports in the Warm Springs canyon area due to fact it has a cabins and some mines, and is one of the entrances into Striped Butte. Willow Canyon I don't think gets the same amount of traffic because there's really nothing out there. In one of the canyoning trip reports for Willow Canyon, it was mentioned that the register in the canyon hadn't been signed in a year, which is a pretty good indication on how remote it is. If know I was stuck in either of those two locations, I wouldn't be relying on a passing car to find me.
I don't agree :) Nobody was looking for the Germans when their van was found, it was found while a ranger in a helicopter was looking for drug labs. They had left no itinerary and there was no search for them prior to discovery of their van. The hiker's car was found because they were being searched for. Someone they knew reported them as overdue because they didn't check in. This is why you leave an itinerary with check in times with someone that's not along for the ride. It doesn't have to be a down-to-the-minute schedule, but even something simple like "I'm here now, I'm going to be exploring in the area of XYZ over the next three days" is enough to get the ball rolling in the area that you're supposed to be.
 

Kmrtnsn

Explorer
I would say it's a pretty similar comparison. The area that the Germans were found on in probably gets a similar amount of traffic as the area this couple was in, if not more. I have seen a lot more trip reports in the Warm Springs canyon area due to fact it has a cabins and some mines, and is one of the entrances into Striped Butte. Willow Canyon I don't think gets the same amount of traffic because there's really nothing out there. In one of the canyoning trip reports for Willow Canyon, it was mentioned that the register in the canyon hadn't been signed in a year, which is a pretty good indication on how remote it is. If know I was stuck in either of those two locations, I wouldn't be relying on a passing car to find me.
No, where the Germans were ultimately found gets NO traffic at all. There was no road. And back where there was a road it was July.......
 

Porkchopexpress

Well-known member
Honestly I think experience and training make some of us feel .......

For me, the opposite is true. I know how easy it is to go down from heat exhaustion or drown or slip and break something and it's in the forefront of my mind whenever I'm away from "civilization". With training comes risk mitigation.
I once attended a motorcycle track day with Jason Pridmore. At the time, he said that he didn't even ride motorcycles on the street anymore because it was too dangerous compared to the controlled environment of a race track.
 

skyfree

Active member
I understand you need a cell signal today for these to work properly and transmit vids/pictures back to your base, but perhaps someday in the not too distant future we’ll be able to buy and carry lightweight tiny, palm sized camera drones to use to better scout the route ahead of us when in the wilds...ones that broadcast via sat feeds?
Yes, but that's not what I was suggesting. You don't need a cell signal to use the offline maps you downloaded in advance, which show your exact position with lots of extremely detailed map views that can help you visualize terrain you might be thinking of hiking or driving through. It's relevant to this situation where they had no way to know what they were getting into.

Once you get in trouble/injured that's not going to help you. Then you need an inReach or similar.
 

axlesandantennas

Approved Vendor
I don't agree :) Nobody was looking for the Germans when their van was found, it was found while a ranger in a helicopter was looking for drug labs. They had left no itinerary and there was no search for them prior to discovery of their van. The hiker's car was found because they were being searched for. Someone they knew reported them as overdue because they didn't check in. This is why you leave an itinerary with check in times with someone that's not along for the ride. It doesn't have to be a down-to-the-minute schedule, but even something simple like "I'm here now, I'm going to be exploring in the area of XYZ over the next three days" is enough to get the ball rolling in the area that you're supposed to be.
Thank you for posting this. I keep seeing replies glossing over this nugget. From what I have see with the Germans, they left zero indication that this was their plan. Sure, communication was not as easy in the 90s as it is now. GPS was a very expensive luxury and email was something that most of us had not heard of yet. But there were ways of contacting people and at least give a general idea.

This couple, on the other hand, sounded like did some correct things and established an itinerary and perhaps even told someone(s). I feel, and obviously others disagree, that once they left their car, their plan failed. What bothers me is that this couple sounded very intelligent but made a dumb decision. And yes it is very easy to say that from the comfort of my home.

Back to leaving an itinerary, here is how it works in my house: When every I or The Wife leaves the house, we let the other know where we are going. Coffee run? Check! Grocery store? Check! Multi day adventure into the woods? CHECK! And if she or I decides to change plans, such as adding another store, or different area of town, or different Ranger District, we let the other know as soon as possible. Funny enough, she was not digging this when we got together tons of years ago. She sort of felt it was a control thing. But I explained to her that I did not give a crud where she is going, as long as I know where she is at and vice versa. It's safety and in this modern time, it's easy.

This detracts a little from this couple, but I'm a long time communications guy. Had my first radio as a kid in the 80s. Received my first ham radio and license in 1992. Was the go to comm guy in my small platoon, even though I was not a comm MOS. I now am the go-to comm guy around my area for those who know. For me, it really has little to do with the radios and all the knobs and buttons (although those are cool!) but more about communication. None of us are mind readers. It is, or at least should be, central to every plan to have a communication budget, both in terms of money and activity. Even if you are two guys in the woods in two vehicles, you can work out a comm plan with each other with nothing more than hand and arm signals or blinkers or horns. We have to talk to someone to exchange idea and convey information. Back on point, this couple at least up until they left their car, did so. The Germans did not.

And I mean absolutely zero disrespect to man who died and the injured lady. It's a terrible situation for both and their families. But I think in this instance, this shows how a well understood device like an inReach or SPOTx would have really been useful. At the point of their car being basically dead, it was not an "emergency" but more of a Up the Creek without a Paddle kind of thing. No need to activate SAR. Just get ahold of a few people and be bored for a while.

I know I keep beating the horse about staying with the car and to an extent, I will back off of it just a little. I live in East Tennessee. While if my Jeep were jammed up in the mountains here, I would be able to simply walk back down the FS road. Our roads in the NFs are fairly easy. So, yeah, it would be easy to walk for a few hours and be back on pavement. But I think, based on my limited experience in the desert, that this just would have been a terrible idea. I've only been Out West a hand full of times and everything seems remote, steep, and has a higher potential for danger. I'm sticking with the car.
 

billum v2.0

Active member
A few things:

It's been common wisdom to stay with your vehicle/shelter long before overlanding, etc. became a thing. But, it's not our nature, particularly in men. Through a couple NOLS courses I attended (decades ago) that they backed with statistics, even the most self disciplined typically abandon that wisdom after 24 hours even if they're familiar with it. Statistically, shorter timeframe in men than women. Not because we're stupid or impatient, but because for the most part we're doers, fixers. The more "outdoorsy" (or at least hold that self-perception), the more likely to take pro-active measures. There has to be active SARS members here, I'm interested in your current experiences regarding this. Chime in.

These scenarios aren't static. Situations are dynamic and decisions, however well thought out and justifiable or otherwise, change. To borrow the "three days of water" being bantered around........how committed to staying put are you when you're down to two days? One? How's your commitment if you think you have accurate information that you can walk out in 5 miles? Is it reasonable to consider you simply turn around after a couple miles and return to the car if the actual topography doesn't match your theory of the terrain? Where, exactly, is the cut off of "this is turn around territory" to "little further" when you're not in the comfort of Monday morning quarterbacking? Does your self esteem admitting you may be/have been wrong to your friends/wife/family have any bearing?

Would you drive 20+ miles on two flats rather than hike 5 if your assessment of the situation was one of a major PITA and not life threatening? When do you suppose the realization of life threatening came to be for them?

I fancied myself a decent rock climber 30 years ago. Recognized I put myself in dire situation once. The light bulb came on at a literal point of no return during a day of making several wrong choices. They weren't wrong choices individually, only when taken in there entirety and the moment they led to.
After that experience, I subscribed to an annual review that summarized climber deaths, what lead to them, lessons learned. For a number of those years, the number one cause of death was the climber belaying off the end of their ropes. Seemed idiotic. Until you read all the assumptions/misunderstandings/mis communications that led to them. Perfectly understandable and had been guilty of several of the individual mistakes, but luckily not the collective. Emphasis on luckily.

Hope the facts do come to light to help us understand/take something valuable away from. Until then, we're speculating and making decisions based on a known outcome. Reminds me of how astute of a poker player I seriously imagine I could be when watching the TV shows............with the benefit of seeing everyone's hole cards.
 

ChadHahn

Adventurer
Yeah I always liked the Spot for that reason.
Pretty cheap, and you don't have to pay for a sattelite phone and subscription.
I haven't checked into the Spot for many years but back when I was thinking about using one I heard tales of the signal not going through. Since there was no way to check on the device if the signal was sent correctly people would press the button and sit back thinking help was on the way when in fact nobody knew they were in trouble.

I hope that has been fixed.
 

BigDawwg

-[Gettin-it Done]-
I haven't checked into the Spot for many years but back when I was thinking about using one I heard tales of the signal not going through. Since there was no way to check on the device if the signal was sent correctly people would press the button and sit back thinking help was on the way when in fact nobody knew they were in trouble.

I hope that has been fixed.
Ok,,,,, Yea I remember some of that,,,,,, and that's why I use the Sat-Phone, I can talk to someone, and not just sit there and Wonder if my call/signal went thru...... :unsure:
BD in Alaska.....
 
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Fadeagray

Member
I haven't checked into the Spot for many years but back when I was thinking about using one I heard tales of the signal not going through. Since there was no way to check on the device if the signal was sent correctly people would press the button and sit back thinking help was on the way when in fact nobody knew they were in trouble.

I hope that has been fixed.
I have been using a Garmin InReach for the last three years on a daily basis from some very remote places. My daily message goes out to a group of people to let them know I’m safe. Each group member replies to let me know they received my message. Not once have I had a problem with either sending or receiving. The InReach works and is an important part of my safety plan. I’m glad I have it.
 

jhmoore

Active member
I haven't checked into the Spot for many years but back when I was thinking about using one I heard tales of the signal not going through. Since there was no way to check on the device if the signal was sent correctly people would press the button and sit back thinking help was on the way when in fact nobody knew they were in trouble.

I hope that has been fixed.
I started with Spot years ago. Switched to Garmin InReach a couple years ago. Spot was crap with the absolute worst customer service on the planet.
 

pluton

Adventurer
And I mean absolutely zero disrespect to man who died and the injured lady. It's a terrible situation for both and their families. But I think in this instance, this shows how a well understood device like an inReach or SPOTx would have really been useful. At the point of their car being basically dead, it was not an "emergency" but more of a Up the Creek without a Paddle kind of thing. No need to activate SAR. Just get ahold of a few people and be bored for a while.
Having just recently acquired an inReach device, I have learned that when the SOS button is pressed, you are put in 2-way communication with the GEOS dispatch center in Texas. The SOS button, on this system, is not only for all-out, life-threatening emergencies. Having received the signal, GEOS will inquire for details about your situation, and an action plan will be mutally agreed upon. Better, IMO, than the one-way, total SOS commitment of the beacon type devices.
 

Lovetheworld

Active member
I haven't checked into the Spot for many years but back when I was thinking about using one I heard tales of the signal not going through. Since there was no way to check on the device if the signal was sent correctly people would press the button and sit back thinking help was on the way when in fact nobody knew they were in trouble.

I hope that has been fixed.
I used the position sharing option daily, fortunately never the emergency button.

There is feedback. It keeps trying, and the flashing light goes off when it succeeded.
I could notice that it took longer in a canyon or city eith high buildings, the typical satellite comms issues. It just took longer but still worked.
In open areas, the flashing lights were off very fast.

They have a world coverage map. And it shows that it would have bad coverage in India but it workes fine there.

I'm not saying it is the best option, but it has been available for a long time, at 100$ for yearly subscription, making it affordable.

I used the location sharing stuff on our website for our family to know where we are.
 

DirtWhiskey

Western Dirt Rat
I find it hard to believe that anyone on this forum would choose to sit in their car *hoping* for SAR to eventually come and save them (and die if they are late), when there is a short hike to get help and likely no drama involved.
I find it hard to believe that somebody on this forum is advocating for the action that actually, you know, killed somebody. The vast majority of folks on this forum, I would like to think, would have this situation covered in some form or another. I for one always have an Inreach. These folks didn't. 90% of people don't have experience in the sticks. The best move was to STAY PUT and build a signal fire. Period. Lots of macho talk on this subject here.
 

TechieTechie

New member
I am sorry for the couple. Hard to know what the 'right' thing was to do at the time.

However, it's surprising how many don't have both training, map/compass skills AND emergency beacons when going backcountry. I do a lot of boating (offshore) and offshore boating has similar risk profile (weather, broken down gear, losing position). When I'm on my boat, I have a PLB (personal locator beacon) on my person, and the boat has one too (an EPIRB). And I'll outfit my onshore rig in the same way. Agree with Dirt Whiskey here. I can't understand why folks don't use available technology to help mitigate risks. It doesn't replace common sense and training, but it sure as h$ll can help when those fail and/or your decision making is compromised. Who cares about being macho when your life (and the lives/relationships with your loved ones) are at stake?

Here is the one I have: https://www.acrartex.com/products/resqlink-plb
 
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