At 0300 on Tuesday morning, two Yosemite Search & Rescue (YOSAR) personnel (Jake and Erika) reached our camp, after having hiked 14 miles from Virginia Lakes in the dark with headlamps. The PLB had worked exactly as advertised – notifying the U.S. Air Force Rescue Coordination Center of our plight; they then notified the closest relevant authority, Yosemite National Park. The YOSAR personnel assessed Aniela (concluding that she didn’t have a head injury), communicated (they had a sat phone) her condition to dispatch, and then waited until morning to decide what to do next. At first light, the decision was made to stabilize Aliana’s arm (we’d later learn that she’d broken her radius and ulna and dislocated her elbow) and walk her out to Tuolumne Meadows. She made it out that day and was waiting to say good-bye to the group when we reached Twin Lakes a few days later.

Jake, Erica, and a well bandaged Aliana start the walk out
Leaving Miller Lake

Once Aliana was on her way out, there was not much for us to do except declare a lay-over day, catch-up on our sleep, and explore around the lake. The packers – Sam in particular – had to spend much of the day rounding-up stock that had strayed while everyone was focused on Ailana. Sam’s cryptic message on the other packer’s sat phone did have the effect of letting Rock Creek know that we needed more help. Thus Tyler and Tristan arrived from Virginia Creek in the afternoon to replace Aliana and take some of the load off Sam and Hunter.

Since it was my PLB that was used, I’d had to stay up to turn it off when YOSAR arrived and verify with them (and the U.S. Air Force) that this was indeed an actual rescue situation, as setting off one of these beacons “just because” is severely frowned upon. Somewhat perversely, a stiff wind came in from the south and pushed the smoke somewhere else, so we had almost clear conditions for the first time in days. I took advantage of this clarity to do a short stroll for the views from the granite outcrop behind our camp, then retreated to our tent to catch-up on some sleep.

Looking east from above Miller Lake
Matterhorn Peak (arrow; climbed in 1983) from Miller Lake
Life growing in granite
Miller Lake
Twig in water
The south end of Miller Lake
Clear water (and not too cold)

After some reflection, The LovedOne and I decided that a business is free to set it’s own policies (within legal boundaries), with the understanding that they have to accept the consequences of those policies. The desire to go “old school” and not carry any sort of comm device is certainly one such policy. To us, such a policy carries with it (particularly in this day and age) a massive, and potentially business ending, liability exposure. If, for example, a client has a massive heart attack on the trail and it takes hours (or days) for help to arrive, we suspect they (or more likely their estate) is going to sue you and your business into oblivion. You’re rolling the dice with every client. But how someone else runs their business isn’t our call – we’re just glad we were able to help-out with our PLB. 🙂

Despite some of the negative reviews we read about PLBs, ours worked exactly as promised. The YOSAR personnel commented how easy it was to find us and how the built-in strobe light helped guide them directly to where we were around the lake. The one deficiency these PLBs have is they offer no way to communicate the exact nature of the emergency. Is it imminently life threatening (e.g., heart attack, severe head injury) or just painful and immobilizing (e.g., broken leg)? Do you need a dustoff or can you walk or ride out? To give such details we’d need something like a Garmin InReach Explorer+ or a SPOT-X, both of which are less powerful than a PLB and more expensive in that they require a subscription. But one of these is something to think about having, particularly if we go on any more “old school” trips. 🙄

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