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Happy ending on Hood.

Byline: The Register-Guard

The swift rescue of three stranded climbers Monday from the snowy flanks of Mount Hood should prompt Oregon lawmakers to give swift approval to legislation that would require people climbing the state's highest peak to wear electronic locators.

The three climbers, who were stranded Sunday after falling from a ledge at the 8,300-foot level, were found in good health after spending the night in severe weather. Despite ferocious winds and blinding snow, rescuers were able to pinpoint the climbers' location by homing in on radio signals emitted by the mountain locator units that all three carried.

Monday's rescue stood in stark contrast to last December, when three out-of-state climbers died on the same mountain. None was carrying the inexpensive, readily available and lightweight signaling devices that might have saved their lives.

Many climbers agree that carrying the devices is a good idea. But some oppose a proposal by state Rep. John Lim, R-Gresham, to make them mandatory whenever climbers venture above the timberline during cold months, arguing that the decision to carry them should be voluntary. "It's a very dangerous undertaking, but that's part of the beauty of it," one veteran mountaineer commented.

That's a fine and noble sentiment, one that should be honored if only the lives of climbers were at risk.

But the lives of many others are involved in mountain rescues. Anyone who watched the lengthy, heart-wrenching search on Mount Hood last December remembers the dedicated, fiercely intent search-and-rescue teams, helicopter crews and others who risked their lives in abysmal conditions. If requiring the use of emergency locators can reduce those risks, then it's foolish not to do so.

Then there's the serious matter of finite public resources. A requirement that climbers carry locator devices could significantly reduce the cost of search-and-rescue operations.

But the most compelling argument for Lim's bill is human life. Last December, authorities searched for days but were able to recover the body of only one of the three missing climbers. The climbers rescued Monday suffered bumps and bruises, and were cold, shivering and wet when found. But they were alive. Mercifully, blessedly, wonderfully alive.

None of the arguments against Lim's proposal outweighs its potential for saving lives. The idea that carrying the devices would give climbers a false sense of security and encourage them to take unnecessary risks is an insult to the sport and its practitioners. It's hard to imagine that a climber would decide to leap a crevasse that he ordinarily would avoid - or take a dangerous route that's beyond his abilities - because he knows there's a locator device in his gear.

It's also doubtful that any climber would foolishly believe that a locator provides any guarantee of safety. The climbers rescued Monday also wisely carried cell phones that they used to communicate with rescuers, as well as other equipment, including Global Positioning System devices, sleeping bags and other climbing essentials.

Lim's bill is not, as some have alleged, an overreaction to last December's tragedy. It is a prudent, reasonable measure that can help ensure that there will be fewer such tragedies and more happy endings on the slopes of Mount Hood in the years to come.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Climbers should be required to carry locators
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Feb 20, 2007
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