Consider the debate reopened.
Awhile back, I wrote about the controversy of “Yuppie 911,” the phenomenon where people buy emergency locator beacons and either overuse them when an emergency hasn’t occurred or buy them, then take risks that go beyond their outdoors acumen.
With the tragedy that unfolded on Mount Hood earlier this month, there is talk among some in Oregon that people who choose to climb the mountain should be required to have locator beacons, according to the Los Angeles Times’ Outposts blog.
The Oregon legislature considered a bill which would have required this back in 2007 after a similar climbing accident killed three other climbers that year. The bill didn’t become law.
But the debate has definitely reopened for one reason: Conspicuously missing from the gear that the ’09 climbers had were any locator beacons, according to multiple Associated Press accounts.
The logic behind the renewed clamor for beacon requirements is this: Had the stricken climbers had a beacon, they could have sent an electronic message asking for help; the device would also have helped rescuers pinpoint their location. A focused search might have gotten to the climbers more quickly, and rescuers may have been able to decrease risk to themselves by avoiding tedious, sweeping and time-consuming searches all over the mountain.
Opponents of the idea say that requiring the beacons will give people “artificial courage,” instilling in them a false sense of security when on the mountain. To the extreme, the thinking goes, people who have no business climbing Mount Hood might snap up locator beacons, buy some other mountaineering gear and throw caution to the wind as they attempt to ascend the mountain, knowing that if they get in trouble all they have to do is press the “help” button.
For the most part, I say buy the beacons if you have the cash. They’re useful tools. Would a beacon have saved the climbers on Mount Hood earlier this month? We’ll never know for sure. Will requiring locator beacons for Mount Hood and similar peaks start a rush of novices who are ill-suited for such climbs? I doubt it, mostly because that dilemma is already at hand. Just look at what’s happening on Everest, where rich but unqualified “climbers” attack the peak in droves; you can only imagine what’s going on at Mount Hood, Mount Rainier and some of the other popular but tough peaks in the U.S.