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Rad

reliance on gps in mtns leads to trouble

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OR family follows gps into mtns on a "shortcut"

 

Does anyone have first-hand experience of alpine climbing situations where gps or other devices have given potentially dangerous advice/info.

 

Please post your snide comments on the newspaper website and spare us from the predictable parroting of previously posted pomposity.

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I have no appreciable experience of gps, however as far as I know, they can be programmed to select a route by connecting "waypoints". The difficulty I would expect, is that the waypoints don't give the user a mental picture of the route the way a topographic map can. Without a topo, or personal experience of the travel area, it seems a gps could (at least theoretically) lead an inexperienced user into serious trouble. But that could be said of ANY of the navigational aids used by mountaineers. A compass, for instance is of little use in the vicinity of a significant quantity of iron-rich rock. Even holding one in a hand wearing a battery operated watch can render it inaccurrate. The key is in studying, and in knowing the limitations of your tools -- as always.

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The info is only as useful as the gps is precise.

After 911 the gps sattellites were scaled back for public use and gps coordinates were marginal at best.

I use the gps to mark endpoints on traverses and crevasse edges.

The difference between getting three sattellites and two means being off by 20-50 meters instead of 1 to 9.

Nothing ever came of it as the weather held both times my gps was affected.

 

The gps in the car is a different application. It takes your coordinates, plots them on a map and then give you instructions based on your beginning, end, and current locations. The amount od data processing is way higher and so, more prone to error.

 

Safe enough for in town travel imo but not in the mountains.

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I have a gps in my drawer that I've never found very useful. Mostly, I rely on topos and terrain features for navigation. A few exceptions are below:

 

- Used a digital camera as a navigational aid for night travel. Shot pics of route in twilight and referred to them at night. Worked great.

 

- Once used a compass to stay on course in foggy whiteout on Sulfide Glacier. Once used a compass in confusing alpine meadows and mist in the hills around Juneau. Both times it saved us from trouble.

 

- Once used an altimeter to help locate a 'trail' in the Pickets. It was quite accurate.

 

I feel that relying extensively on devices or blindly following topos/beta/directions without engaging common sense and critical thinking can lead to trouble.

 

Other stories out there?

Happy New Year!

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I have had a light weight Magellan for years, but have yet to take it out climbing... I’m with you Rad, relying on map, compass, altimeter, and proper planning.

I helped lead a training exercise for a rescue team I was on years ago. It was our annual map, compass, and GPS training. Members brought their own GPS units, but many didn’t understand how to use them. Part of the exercise was to walk with a topo map that had UTM coordinates on the side rulers, down a forest road a few thousand feet to a given UTM coordinate, then collect that location and move into the forest to locate a secondary point, then walk a grid south and west from that point collecting way points along the search covering 250,000 square feet (a 500' by 500' square). This would later be downloaded and resolved for search confidence and scored for the ability to follow direction. Anyway, one guy started walking the other direction down the road from us. I caught up to him and asked where he was going and he told me that he was going in the direction that made his coordinates smaller. I’m not picking on this guy. He didn’t know how to use his GPS or understand coordinate systems and the point of the course was to teach those things. Point is, he had confidence in his GPS but no idea how to use it. A GPS unit is only as good as the user. IMO the fatal flaw of GPS is the reliance and confidence one might feel from a unit driven by batteries. It’s essential to plan routes and escape routes and to be fully competent in the use of your map and compass. Having said that, all my years on the team, we never had to search for anyone lost because of a GPS. Quite a few folks we found that didn’t know how to use their compass though.

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Had a fully functional high-end gps go dark in 22F whiteout/ice storm conditions after about 15 minutes operation. Later found it helps to keep the unit inside your clothing, with power turned off. Danged if I didn't have my 13 year old son with me following a stormed-out summit attempt, well, maybe I should have kept a closer eye on our tent below.

 

Was it only 3 years ago that a party on Hood having multiple gps units detoured into the White River Canyon for a cold night and everlasting infamy, due mainly to poor navigational skills? It's not hard to do, becoming lost in poor visibility. Thankfully the majority are found and brought back to safety.

 

Steve Rollins of PMR once explained to me that climbers should beware of “technology traps”, which tend to create a false sense of security in the user. I was referred to publications on the subject of Risk Homeostasis, wherein a person continues to operate with a certain acceptable amount of acceptable risk. The theory explains that when the perceived level of risk is decreased through use of devices such as GPS, MLU, or whatever, the climber will then be more inclined to take an even greater degree of risk, like continuing onward in conditions that would otherwise cause the climber to descend or stop immediately. The fact is that electronic tools will fail at some point, perhaps from dead batteries, malfunction, or inability to operate under the extremely cold or wet conditions just when the user most needs it to work.

As an old Boy Scout,I just want to be prepared. Map & compass has yet to fail me (assuming a waterproof map case). A reliable altimeter is also very helpful. Situational awareness in the PNW can mean the difference between self-rescue or calling for a rescue, or worse.

 

 

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All the comments here are highly relavent to the question asked. The original story is not a good example. Vehicle GPS units save memory and processing space by only looking for your position on a something as big as a road. Then they evaluate known roads for a route. That's fine if you stay in town but not applicable when you are intentionally off road.

 

Those pepes got in trouble because they blindly followed a GPS down what was supposed to be the shortest route. I on the other hand have a GPS that freaks if I take one of the roads to my house. The road is not in the data base and thus the unit thinks I can't drive there. Oh well, I made it home anyway. :shock:

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You got to know the limitations of your equipment in the mountains. As ppl have pointed out even a map can be wrong and a compass malfunction. I encountered one of those two options hiking off trail a long time ago. I've gotten hundreds of bad readings with my GPS as well, but its usually easy to tell when its off. I would hate to rely on it in a life or death situation unless it had a clear view of the sky down to 30* above the horizon and no trees, which is often not the case in alpine adventures.

 

 

 

This is great!

the predictable parroting of previously posted pomposity.

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When I head into the mountains, particularly when going to unfamiliar areas, I carry my GPS, Topo, Suunto Vector watch, and compass. I always log waypoints at the car and key locations along the way. My opinion is the GPS and other stuff are good indicators so I mostly rely on paying close attention to where I am walking; my plan is to walk out without aids but have backup if needed. I have found my GPS to be very useful. Last year I did backcountry snowshoe trip outside of Spokane with lots of deep powder and 15-degrees. The map my son brought turned out to be incorrect, and rather than back track for miles in the darkness I used the GPS to bushwhack through deep woods, coming out exactly where planned, and saved miles off the return trip.

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the waypoints don't give the user a mental picture of the route the way a topographic map can.

Modern GPS have downloadable topo maps with trails, the waypoints/path are displayed on the map.

 

It takes time though, to learn how to look at a topo map on a 1.5"x2" screen.

 

The antennas are better now but my Garmin Vista CX loses track in a forest canopy.

 

Nothing but lithium batteries in your GPS especially in the winter, not affected by the cold.

 

GPS does have a large carbon footprint, every time the space shuttle goes up to place a satellite it's like 25,000 clunker autos with no pollution controls.

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The last time I waddled up to Camp Muir in the conga line on a brilliant, sunny spring day there was a guy standing just off the boot pack intently staring at a GPS. I've always wondered what exactly it was telling him that was already entirely obvious.

 

Never used a GPS and in fact I don't think I ever used a compass out of neccesity. Still carry topo maps and a altimeter which can be very useful for below treeline navigation on ski tours.

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The last time I waddled up to Camp Muir in the conga line on a brilliant, sunny spring day there was a guy standing just off the boot pack intently staring at a GPS. I've always wondered what exactly it was telling him that was already entirely obvious.

 

its possible he was marking down some waypoints while it was crystal clear out, for future reference in less than stellar weather?

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We just returned from a week long tour of Utah and Arizona that included Red Rock, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Natural Bridges, Canyon De Chelly, and Grand Canyon. We took along our new Garmin Nuvi which, along with paper maps worked great. The paper maps are really essential, because they tell you what kind of road the GPS is routing you on. In one case, we saw that it had us on a gravel road in the backcountry. We asked the locals and they said, we'd better not try it, so we didn't. With snow all bets are off.

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For the first few years I really got into backpacking and later more and more alpine terrain, I eschewed most forms of technology beyond a map and compass (not that I had money for them as a college student anyway). About a year ago I finally bought a simple Garmin eTrex GPS on sale. After getting sticker shocked on the price of topo maps I made my own (helps to be a programmer) and took it out on some simple climbs around the cascades. It was pretty awesome, though I was pretty skeptical to start with and it took a while for me to figure it out.

 

For me, a GPS is a handy tool to double check my orienteering, as opposed to a first line. The climbs I took it on it performed well and if I had been following it alone it would have kept me on route. I always have a topo map and compass anyway though, which for some go light backpackers/climbers would make it seem like dead weight to bring along a GPS. For me I think it is kind of cool to be able to take waypoints of interesting places, mark new routes, etc... and in the case of emergency, have one more tool to work with (one time while winter backpacking I fell into a river while reading my map and my map was toast).

 

Also, there is a big difference between car GPS systems, and ones made for backpacking. In short, I think they are a nifty tool in conjunction with a map and compass, and shouldn't be used to replace either of those. I would second Buckaroo on the lithium batteries, much lighter, last longer, and resist cold. My headlamp and GPS use the same batteries so that is handy as well. I've never lost signal in forest canopy, but have had trouble if I am in a narrow canyon.

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I admit I am a nerd but I like carrying the GPS for the following -

Route elevation profile (loss and gain) -

Overall mileage -

Rate of speed -

Marking waypoint of places or things I think are cool and may want to visit again or direct friends to.

 

I typically rely on instinct and pre trip planning for navigation.

I back this up with map and compass.

I carry the GPS for the above reasons and to occasionally double check myself.

 

The primary joy I get out of the GPS is the nerdy shit I can do with it at home.

 

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Ug, another thing requiring batteries. No thanks. Already have Headlamp/Camera/Emergency radio/phone.

 

Do ALL of my navigation with an altimeter. With Crude compass as backup to get initial orientation in a whiteout.

 

Sorry, I don't trust my life on batteries that go dead. Got nothing better to do while climbing that remembering elevations and crevasse locations.

 

Brian

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I have used GPS for over 15 years in the field and actually developed and taught how to navigate with one. It is not a no brainer device - navigation skills with map and compass are essential to get the full use out of them. It has saved my ass a couple of times, but as noted - use Lithium batteries and have spares along, with a compass and map as backup. It does take some time to gain confidence (that's what's scary) if it has maps installed - so one should practice a LOT on low-commitment hikes. Then when the panic sets in you are confident it will work for you. Unfortunately, they are not an "out of the box and go" toy - but it looks like the "road/driving" models are not either. It still takes some good common sense and then it's a great tool. As far as accuracy - most all military units are using the hand held citizen models now in favor of the old ShoeBox size jeep version. In fact Garmin has the 'Jumpmaster' feature in some of their models, that has a disclaimer to not use for 'Skydiving' - Duh! :yoda:

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I bought a GPS in 2007 while completing my quest to ski the Cascade Crest from Mt Baker to Mt Rainier. I wanted it for navigating in forest when you can't reliably see either a trail or reference points. An altimeter doesn't do much good when the terrain is gentle and if you can't take a bearing, neither does a compass. After entering my desired route using TOPO, I found the GPS very helpful to stay on route and to know where the heck I was.

 

I once made the mistake of doing a day trip in a forested area near Snoqualmie Pass with the GPS and a map but no compass or altimeter. We changed our route plans during the day and while trying to find our way using the GPS alone, I got lost near Nordic Pass. (It was foggy and we couldn't see anything and we descended the wrong side of the pass.) Really dumb! Unless you're really good with the GPS (I'm just a casual user) don't leave your other tools behind!

 

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Sometimes I use a GPS, sometimes not. If you are going to use one, turn it on wherever you park your car. One time I made the mistake of turning mine on when I got to the end of the trail and set off up a glacier. Coming back very late, in pitch black night, we followed GPS bread crumbs through the crevasse maze, very slick until we got to the end of the bread crumbs and spent several hours crawling around on steep wet heather trying to find the one goat path that led back to civilization. We were circling around in a 100 foot radius, so compass, map and altimeter weren't much help either. In the end it was coffee that got us back on the trail.

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