Locator Beacon Survivor Stories
All for only $40 dollars
Dear Southland Locator Beacons Trust
We hired one of your Personal Locator beacons before a walk in the wilderness area near Mt Aspiring, and were unfortunate enough to have to use it - and incredibly fortunate we had it with us. My husband, Steven Niederer, was injured in the accident and wrote the description below in the hopes that it may be useful to you to use as a testimonial. I would also like to add my thanks to your trust for providing beacons at such reasonable rates. We would have been in real trouble without it, and for $40 for the week no-one should head out into wilderness areas without one.
Regards, and thank you
we waited we hoped that the technology was working
We were told about the Five Passes walk by hiking friends. We were told it was a challenging walk, with majestic scenery and an opportunity to experience true isolation in backcountry New Zealand. The walk traverses Fohn saddle, Fiery Col, Cow Saddle, Park Pass and Sugarloaf Pass between the Dart River and the Routeburn track. We knew the walk would be a challenge with no huts, no formed path, limited track descriptions and the possibility of snow. We set off with an abundance of food and gear to cover the many possible eventualities we might encounter on such a trip.
The route included crossing snowy passes, scree slopes and steep gullies. These sections were bound to be more challenging but over each of these stages we were extra cautious and avoided any mishaps. The 4th day started the same as the previous mornings with porridge and coffee, and then we set off towards Park Pass, having crossed Fiery Col and Cow Saddle the day before. For the first part of the morning we were walking along deer tracks through low scrub and beech forest on a gentle slope beside Hidden Falls creek. The track we had been following led us between two car sized boulders separated by 2 feet to provide a comfortable path.
As I walked between the two boulders I heard a crack as my foot went through some dead wood lying on the forest floor. As my foot went through the wood I heard the sound of movement and a rock previously supported by the log on the uphill boulder came away. The rock rolled down the short distance to reach me and crushed my arm and hips on the boulder below. The dislodged rock then rolled onto my leg, crushing my thigh onto a sharp part of the lower boulder, slicing a wide deep gash down to the muscle. Luckily the rock continued to roll off me and down the slope, leaving me free but badly hurt and in shock.
As I screamed in pain, the first thing that went through my mind was to get help, as it was pretty clear we were in a world of trouble. Fortunately we had taken advice from friends, family, our ice axe/crampon instructor and people we met on the bus from the airport and rented an emergency locator beacon from the DoC office for a mere $35. My wife set off the emergency locator beacon within seconds of the accident occurring. Following her Duke of Edinburgh training she bound my leg, moved me onto a thermomat, covered me in my sleeping bag, heated me up some apple tea and laid out my bright orange pack liner on a wide rock outcrop next to the river to mark us out for the helicopter.
I lay shaking on the thermomat looking up at the sky. After 10 minutes every sound I heard seemed to be that of an approaching helicopter and rescue. The beacon had a reassuring green light confirming a strong GPS signal and as we waited we hoped that the technology was working. At this stage it was a good two days walk out that crossed rivers and two more passes, with only the two of us in our party the only option was to wait, rely on the beacon and hope for a helicopter.
After only an hour and a half the low thumping sound of a helicopter could be heard above the noise of the nearby waterfall. The thumping grew louder and louder before the helicopter passed above us flashing over me through a clearing in the trees. There was brief moment of fear as the sound of the helicopter dropped away after the first pass. This was replaced by jubilation as the noise returned and the helicopter circled back round, hovering above us to confirm that we had been sighted.
Mike and Gary, the two man search and rescue team, were with us shortly. With calm blokey enthusiasm and encouragement they strapped up my arm, which had somehow been broken, okayed my wife’s bandage on my leg and supported me down to the flat rock outcrop by the river. They then collected all the gear and bits of bandage, as always applying the fundamental tramping axiom pack it in pack it out. The helicopter landed elegantly, balanced on the rocky outcrop, and we were whisked away to the safety of Wanaka, in fact flying over the route we had been planning to walk. There we were met by a helicopter from the Otago Rescue Helicopter Trust that carried me in to Dunedin Hospital. I received excellent care in hospital and spent New Year’s Eve in surgery having my cut cleaned and a metal plate put into my arm.
The walk we attempted had a number of unique challenges but it was when walking through beech forest, which we have done on countless previous hikes, that our accident happened. You do not know where or when an accident will occur but you can plan for what happens when it does. If you have a serious accident in the backcountry, then without an emergency locator beacon you have no options - with a beacon we were rescued in under two hours. Best $40 I ever spent.
Hypothermia doesn’t always follow the rules
Jan 2021, My partner and I hired a PLB from Queenstown DOC prior to setting out on the Greenstone Caples Track on the 31st of December 2020. We prepared ourselves for a tramp that would see us encounter a lot of rain as the weather forecast wasn’t very positive. We brought good raincoats, thermals, and fleece jumpers to make sure that whatever the weather might throw at us, we would be able to cope.
The first day of tramping from the Greenstone car park was wonderful, the weather was much better than expected, with us walking in our shorts and T-shirts through the sunshine. The next day, which saw us walking from Greenstone Hut to McKellar Hut, was rainy as predicted. What began with a gentle drizzle developed into persistent rain. This didn’t slow us down, we had our rain coats, our thermals, and our fleeces to keep us warm. For the first 4.5 hours, we enjoyed the ruggedness of the track. Shortly after, however, my partner began to feel a bit off, showing symptoms of slight tiredness. We pushed on towards the hut, not thinking too much of it. As we walked on, her symptoms worsened. Walking became harder and harder for her, eventually the speed at which we were moving slowed down to a crawl. She stopped at regular intervals, her walking pattern became less coordinated, and her speech was further becoming increasingly slowed and slurred. My worry grew as I observed these symptoms, I wasn’t sure what exactly was going on, but I knew that we were starting to be in very serious trouble. We contemplated seeking shelter and activating the PLB where we were, but there was no suitable spot to be found along the track.
So we pushed on, with her walking slower and slower still. About 20 minutes away from the McKellar Hut, we met a couple other trampers who told us that we were almost there. This final stretch took us about 45 minutes. We made it to the hut eventually and set off the PLB, were grateful for a dry place with a fire already going. We changed into dry clothes and I gave my partner her sleeping bag to crawl into.
The Rescue Helicopter arrived within about 30 minutes; the paramedics took my partner’s vitals and found that she had a low body temperature which, along with her other symptoms, suggested mild-moderate hypothermia. We were both then taken to Lake District Hospital in Queenstown where she recovered over the course of the next few hours.
This experience has taught us a couple of things: Hypothermia doesn’t always follow the rules – my partner never felt cold while we were out on the track and she only began to shake and shiver once we were safely in the hut. The other really good lesson was that hypothermia doesn’t need extreme conditions to occur as it wasn’t a cold day – while raining, it had been around 17 degrees. Without a PLB, our story might not have ended in hospital, but in a much more dire situation. We will certainly always take a PLB with us when we go tramping and we absolutely suggest that everyone who goes out tramping does the same – the situation can change within the blink of an eye. We are ever so grateful for the quick and kind help we received from first responders Craig and Skip and from the hospital staff.
WINCH RESCUE Apr 2014
Hiker finds semi-conscious man in stream
The man was in critical condition and treated for hypothermia after being found in the Waitakere Ranges, He may have been lost for several days, paramedics say.
The man, aged in his 50s, was discovered semi-conscious lying in a stream in the bush-clad ranges, 30 kilometres west of Auckland, Rescuers said he was lucky to be alive. A hiker saw the man lying in the stream under a bridge. There was no cellphone coverage so he activated his emergency locator beacon to alert emergency services.
The Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter arrived at the exact location and the injured man was winched to safety by the helicopter crew and treated for hypothermia before being flown to Auckland City Hospital in a critical condition.
Intensive care flight paramedic Rob Gemmell said the man was extremely fortunate to be found when he was. it was unclear how long the man had been in the water but he may have been lost in the bush for several days, given his hypothermic state.
"He's lucky to be alive and lucky he was found," Gemmell said.
Gemmell praised the quick thinking of the hiker and the fact he was carrying an emergency locator beacon that allowed emergency services to find him quickly.
"They're absolutely invaluable," he said.
"If that gentleman didn't have a beacon on him then it would have been a case of him having to leave the area, hike out to a trail head and then try to raise the alarm.
"Even if he could have got cellphone coverage at the trail head or at the car park it would have been quite a period of time between him discovering the patient and raising the alarm."
The man was in a serious condition with hypothermia when he was taken to Auckland City Hospital, He had no other discernible injuries, Gemmell said.
Dusky track rescue 12.03.2019
My friend Sven and I were hiking for quite a while and we were looking forward to go on the Dusky Track since we arrived in New Zealand.
As New Zealand is quite busy in the peak season, the Dusky Track is promising wilderness and loneliness.
We decided to rent a locator beacon from Southland Locator Beacons at the Mobil Station in Te Anau and started our adventure on Thursday morning where the company "Lake Hauroko Tours" picked us up from the Clifden Suspension Bridge. After half an hour of driving we arrived at Lake Hauroko. The boat ride was wonderful and took us through a scenic landscape of the Fiordland and over the deepest lake of New Zealand. After arriving at the first hut it started to rain very heavy so we decided to stay the night there.
The next day of hiking led us through an untouched wilderness and a unique forest that we haven't seen before. Small little curious birds followed us on our way to the next hut. The track was very demanding. Mud, treefall and flooding after the heavy rainfall made it quite an adventure to reach Halfway Hut.
The climb to Lake Roe Hut led over riverbeds and was quite steep. As soon as we reached Lake Roe Hut it started to rain. Luckily not the whole night.
After resting at Lake Roe we continued our trip up to the top of the Pleasant Range. The weather was clearing so we could enjoy a beautiful view over the Dusky Sound and the surrounding mountains. At the end of the Pleasant Range we had to descend very steeply to get to Loch Marie Hut. When we reached the tree line the roots from the trees formed a staircase to the way down. And there the accident happened.
When I climbed down I got stuck with my right foot in one of the roots and slipped out with the other foot so that I twisted my knee. It felt like someone has drilled a screw in my knee. We decided to take a small rest before we continued. It was still a long way down to Lock Mary so we tried to go on. But my leg got worse so that every step I made was painful. We reduced the weight of my backpack. But that didn't help very much. So we decided that Sven has to go ahead with his backpack to bring it to the shelter and then to climb up again to meet me on the way to grab my backpack. When we met again my leg hurt very badly. We only climbed meter per meter downhill and it took about five to six hours until we finally reached the ground. Every step was a real torture for me. It was already dark till we reached the hut. In the hut there were a few other guys who were already in bed. They immediately helped us as they saw that I was injured. They prepared us two mattresses in front of the oven so that we could rest very fast. In the night I couldn't sleep because my knee was so painful. The next day we decided to stay in the hut to get my leg some more rest. But the situation didn't get better. My leg hurt with every movement I made. After another nearly sleepless night we decided to push the beacon in the morning because it would not have got better with my knee within the next days. After 15 minutes the helicopter landed and the pilot came and asked what happened. We explained the situation and he said he will come back with another helicopter to pick us up. In that moment we felt so relieved that we hired the beacon. After an hour the helicopter came back. The paramedic helped us in the helicopter and we flew back to Te Anau. The paramedic drove us to the medical Centre where my knee got checked. It turned out that I got a Collateral Ligament injury. Luckily nothing more serious. I have to rest my leg for about 2-3 weeks and wear a bandage until my knee is fully recovered.
The whole organization was perfect. The helicopter pilot, the paramedic and the medical Centre in Te Anau worked hand in hand and we felt very well taken care of. Now that we are back and had some time to think about the whole situation we are so happy that we decided to rent the beacon from Southland Locator Beacons at the Mobil Station in Te Anau and we are lucky and thankful for the possibility of renting a beacon. The pilot, the paramedic, the doctor from the medical center, the New Zealand Government taking so well care of us. We will always be thankful for their help.
Thank you Southland Locator Beacons
With the best regards,
Angela and Sven
ACCIDENTS HAPPEN, EVEN IN THE MOST BENIGN CONDITIONS
ALWAYS TAKE A PLB!
George and his daughter Elaine were on the second leg of their Remutaka Trail cycle trip, from South Wairarapa to Orongorongo.
George had done it the year before with his grandson (using muscle power) so it was familiar territory. This time he was on an eBike so it was going to be easy!
The weather conditions were perfect - glorious sunshine, light breezes, Palliser Bay perfectly calm. The trail was in reasonable condition too and we were making good progress - all that was about to change!!
We had forded the Mukamukaiti Stream and we're heading for Windy Point to have some lunch. We had already safely negotiated long stretches of fine sandy shingle when George encountered an unexpectedly deep patch, came to an abrupt halt, and fell sideways directly onto the only rock outcrop in the vicinity!. A couple of inches either side he would have landed on the soft shingle, but no such luck - his right hip and thigh impacted on the rock and of course the weight of a fully laden eBike on the inside of his right leg didn't help matters. Tried to get up but pain excruciating (definitely a 10 out of 10). Helped onto nearby driftwood log by daughter - ice pack onto hip - rested for 20mins and had something to eat - tried to get up but impossible to bear weight, let alone ride a bike!
Time to activate the personal locator beacon that I had rented from Southland Locator Beacons at the Deerstalkers Association in Wellington!!!
What a fantastic response!
Within 20 mins we heard the throb of the Life Flite helicopter which quickly located us, landed nearby, and whisked me off to Wellington Hospital.
In the meantime the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) contacted Southland Locator Beacons to get my hire details and alerted my wife of the situation.
Not only that, the helicopter crew reset the PLB so that my daughter was covered for completing the ride to Orongorongo.
Having ridden that trail before and knowing that cellphone coverage was good I had contemplated not renting a PLB this time, but I am almighty glad that my cautious side won out. The press of a button summoned all these resources to our assistance without the necessity for any lengthy phone calls or descriptions of our location and situation.
All that for a $40 week rental charge!!!
Accidents can happen even in ideal conditions - make sure you take a PLB - it must be the cheapest insurance you could possibly have - thanks Southland Locator Beacons and also The Deerstalkers Association.
The aftermath - I had sustained a fractured pelvis - apparently the bones heal themselves in time - a bit like cracked ribs except I can laugh and sneeze without wincing!
I said to Chris "its Over"
One the 20th of November 2016 along with a friend of many years, who had alot of experience with rafts, we flew into the Boyd Airstrip in the Kaimanawa Ranges of the central north island. This was to be a 6 day trip, and seeing as the area is quite remote, we took two locator beacons with us - why two? I like to hunt and fish, and my friend likes to fish, so if I had the beacon with me hunting, and didn't return, what would my friend have done?
As things transpired, on the 2nd day, coming down through ’The Gorges' section between Gold Creek and the Ngawaporau hut we were repeatedly up ended out of our raft and nearly lost our lives, stuck under the raft, tangled with gear, bashed and thrashed until the raft got away on us. We chased it down through 3 more cascades losing more and more energy until my mate was about 100 yards ahead of me, I saw him stop on a rock and at which time I realized that if I went into that last pool - I would die.
We both had hung onto our paddles, so using mine, I worked my way upstream until I could get to the bank then clawed my way along a rock wall until opposite him, I went into the water and just managed to swim across, if he had not grabbed my paddle end, I probably would not have made it.
So, standing on that rock, on a bright benign sunny day, we had on us our Personal Locator Beacons, floatation devices, GPS, helmets, wetsuits, booties, and gloves. the raft, which had been losing its cargo as it went, was another 100 yards down the stream - stuck in the middle of a very fast section, we could see no means of getting to it without losing out lives. We looked at each other and I said to Chris "It's over" He was shaking and really stressed having had a much harder time through the last section of the white water, racing to catch up to the raft.
So we pulled out the PLB's raised the aerials and pressed the activation buttons together, mine worked right away but Chris's , after an initial burst, flashed red and stopped. We noticed it had moisture in it. The day was very hot so we set them side by side on the rock. At this point , we prepared for the possibility that we may not get picked up, so we stripped off all our gear and dried it which took about an hour, all the time wondering what it would look like if the rescue helecopter arrived overhead!
After dressing again, I realised that I had made a mistake not to have additional survival gear on our belts, we had no fire lighting gear and no shelter. In this case - niether were required as the Greenlea Rescue Helicopter arrived overhead , they flew around assessing the situation then departed. As they were accessing the situation, we folded up our PLB's and packed them, but when they flew off again, we pulled them back out and re activated them, about then, the one that was water damaged started working again as the moisture in it had turned to vapour in the heat and it worked the next time we turned it on.
As it turned out, the rescue helicopter had gone upstream to find and open tussock plateau to drop a crew member and lighten the load, on their return - the pilot did the most amazing bit of flying, very slowly edging up stream with what seemed like no more than two metres on each side of the rotors between the forest and the rock face until they hovered over our rock and we climbed aboard one at a time.
Remember, if this happens to you, there is no embarrassment to setting off one of these devices, so access your situation, and do not wait, when they rescue service receives a call, they do not know what they are facing and to be able to carry out their job in daylight hours in good conditions rather than perilously in the dark, makes your rescues much easier.
We were treated with great care and concern by a wonderful group of people who took us back to Taupo and then to the St Johns Base, there we had nothing but what we stood in, so no car keys to get into our vehicle, we spent the next few hours waiting until my wife and son arrvied to pick us up.
So in conclusion we were well equipped, world class raft, good gear, two PLBs, but thinking about the situation now, I realise we let the river dictate terms having got into an uncontrolled position we never managed to get back from due to the terrain and the circumstances. Without the back up of the PLB, the outcome could have been very different as we were only at day 2 of a six day trip, so no alarm would have been raised for 5 more days.
WEAR YOUR PERSONAL LOCATOR BEACON on you NOT in your pack or raft, but ON YOU!!!!!
Thank you for the availability and accuracy of the Locator Beacon
My trip started some 5 days earlier, but on the day of my rescue, I was navigating between topo points from gps guidance and unmarked terrain. It was pretty tough going, but I was sticking to ridge lines on the tops to make it easier. I got to one point where the GPS tried to guide me down to another, and I had an idea that a blazed trail may have been closer to the edge of the lake.
Unfortunately it wasn't closer , and I sidled down some very steep terrain making it very difficult to progress any further. The major problem I had was that it was going to make my departure date for the trip overdue, which would set off concerns for both my family and the rental company, and ultimately lead to a large scale search with no idea of where I am to be found. I could have stayed the night and continued the following day, possibly getting out of the difficult point I had walked into, but I could see it wasn't going to be a good idea.
It took some consideration and time for me to come to decide to activate the Locator Beacon, and once I did, I felt a sense of guilt as it is a serious tool for serious situations, but I knew it was ultimately the right thing to do.
The helicopter was there in around one hour and did an amazing job pin pointing my location thanks to the beacon, and rescuing me from my predicament. They were very skilled operators, I cannot say that enough. So thanks to the Southern Lakes Helicopters team and Southland Locator Beacons.
Thank you for the Availability and accuracy of the Locator Beacon!
The rescue team commented that had Adam not had a Locator Beacon, it would have been EXTREMELY difficult to find him. But with the Beacon... they were able to fly directly to him.
Milford Track Rescue
While on vacation from the United States, I decided to walk the Milford Track, so I hired a personal locator beacon from the gas station in Te anau to take with me (Best thing I ever did). I was going over Dore Pass on the first day and got into the trees about 2 or 3 km from Glade house and I lost the trail, I must have taken a wrong turn, so I looked for a way down to where I thought the trail was but it seemed that every option had a 15 to 30 metre drop. The soil gave way and I slipped on one of the edges - I fell a little way and grew concerned, every step I took the earth was soft and I was frightened of falling.
I activated my Locator beacon because I thought there was no way I could go any further and I feared for my safety, in a matter of less than 2 hours I heard the helicopter and I was rescued. While waiting for my rescue, I found a safe place I could sleep and wondered if I should turn off my Locator Beacon, but after being rescued, I was told to NEVER turn my Locator beacon off after activating it. When the Beacon is activated, it starts a chain reaction, and a Search is initiated, if the Beacon is turned off, the rescue crews don't know if it has been turned off because you are OK or the beacon may have malfunctioned. So never turn your beacon off until you are rescued. The crew would rather find you and talk to you to make sure you are OK.
Rescue by Locator Beacon
I fell while tramping the Motatapu trek and injured my spine and hip bone. I couldn’t walk properly the next morning after resting a night at the Rose hut.
Fortunately we rented a Locator Beacon at DOC Qweenstown when we were registering for the trek. Immediately my brother activated the rescue call at 12noon. We were all so relief when we saw a helicopter approaching us at around 1.30pm. There were 1 pilot and 2 rescue crews. The rescue team was very detail and careful prior to the evacuation procedure. They asked a few questions regarding my injury and took all personal information. Upon arrival at the nearest hospital in Wanaka, they helped me to get on to a stretcher and handover to the nurse together with the full report of what happened to me.
I am thankful to have the Locator Beacon with me. A very good experience learned.
You guys saved my ass, no doubts about that...
Woke up to clouds but no rain and set off from the Top Forks Hut. Hike up to waterfall face was steep one. Ascent over the face was O.k., some parts you’d try but come back down to try again from a different direction. I eventually got over the face and into the upper valley of the Rabbit Pass. A breezy walk to what turned into a disaster. I got to a saddle and based off the description of visual landmarks, the marker at the top of the saddle and no mention of another route branching off the Rabbit Route, I took this valley as the Rabbit Pass Valley.
This was incorrect.
I started down the valley and while my compass was telling me one thing, the map and route description were telling me another. In the end I followed the latter and ended up deep in the mountains, forcing my way down the “Pearson” valley to a river I believed would lead down to Junction flat, but it ended up taking me to the back of Mt Aspiring. The terrain became increasingly difficult until I had literally trapped myself in a ravine with no way out but forward.
Based on my situation and growing bad feeling, I knew that to continue forward would severely increase my risk of injury or worse. I then set off my Locator Beacon for SAR to save my ass from myself. I spent the night in the ravine during a storm which delayed the rescue until the morning the following day. SAR flew up the valley and after spotting me, landed, broke out the ropes and got me out of there in no time.
Obviously my pride was humbled setting off the Beacon, but only up until I saw where on the map I was and where I was going. I was getting into deeper trouble every step, attempting to push on wards.
Without any doubt, had I not had that Locator Beacon, I would have ended up miles away from any trail, beyond any hope of being spotted from a Search and Rescue.
To the boys at SAR, thanks for saving my ass.
To anyone looking to tramp in unfamiliar terrain, bring a Locator Beacon,
don’t think twice about it.
PLB to the rescue!
I never thought that I’d end up using a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) on the first ever trip that I carried one, but I did, and am very glad to have done so!
Over the Level 4 Lockdown period, I had been promising my two primary school age boys that I’d take them on an overnight tramp after the winter, so when Labour weekend was near we made our plans and prepared our gear. While they had been on plenty of day hikes, this would be their first “proper” tramping experience, complete with staying in a hut overnight.
I had heard that Southland Locator Beacons had hire beacons in Macpac stores, and since I would be taking two young boys into the hills for the first time, I hired one for our trip. I had never carried one before, as I had never been in a situation where I thought I needed one, and the cost of purchasing one was prohibitive.
Hiring a PLB was a very straightforward process, and looking back that was the single best decision I made all weekend. We had planned to go to either of two huts, with Pinchgut Hut up the Okuku Gorge being the preferred option. There is a river crossing at the start of the track, so I had been checking the weather forecast and river levels during the week before. There was some rain forecast for Monday night, but I wasn’t too concerned as I’ve been up that river a handful of times before, and the various weather websites only predicted a little rain. The river levels had been very low and stable
for the preceding weeks, so it looked good. However, there’s still nothing like seeing it in person, so I agreed with my wife that I wouldn’t make the final decision until we saw the river and weather on the day. If I judged the water level was too high, or there were rain clouds looming overhead, then I would have changed plans and driven further south towards Hut B. Once we got to the river at the road bridge it was very low, so I texted my intentions and confirmed our route with my wife. This was mistake #1.
The river crossing was less than knee deep, and quite refreshing in the warm overcast conditions. We had an enjoyable couple of hours walking up the river through the beech forest, and we made good time and reached the hut well before dinnertime. After dinner time it started spitting, but that didn’t stop us lighting a campfire outside and toasting marshmallows for dessert. We went to bed early, and while I knew it would rain overnight, I still wasn’t worried. That all changed in the night when I woke at around 4 am and spent the next couple of hours wide awake listening to the torrential rain on the tin roof. I now started to worry as this was a LOT of rain. By morning the rain had passed on, and it was only dripping from the trees, and while the creek at the hut had risen a little, it was still clear. The temperature had dropped overnight, so after some warm porridge for breakfast, we put raincoats on and started the climb back up the hill. Despite the rising river, the walk out went well, although the track was slippery in places from the rain. We made it back to the river crossing in good time, and then I had a big shock. While we’d been walking that morning, the river had continued to rise, and it was now very discoloured and thundering along, and there was no way that we were getting across. I was carrying a tent and spare emergency food, so we were prepared in case we had to camp out for another night. However, mistake #2 had been arranging with my wife to raise the alarm if we weren’t back by that evening. We had no cell phone reception at the river crossing, so I couldn’t tell her that we were ok, that we would camp out overnight, and not to worry. So I told the boys that we’d have to do some problem solving. I pulled out the map, and showed them the forestry tracks that ran along the river on our side and proposed that we’d walk a km or so to get to a higher point. The plan was to see if the river was crossable down below the gorge where it spreads out across the braided river bed, and also see if we could get cell phone reception higher up.
When we got to the high point, I suddenly realised it was now crunch time, and that I had to start making good decisions. The boys were getting really cold and tired and rain showers kept passing through. So, first things first - we found shelter under some trees, put on woolly hats and extra layers beneath our raincoats, sat down and ran through our options. We couldn’t cross the river at the ford, we couldn’t get cell phone reception at the high point, and we couldn’t cross the river further downstream as it was still too high. The boys were not able to walk out down the forestry tracks to the road end as that was at least another 8km and there was no cell phone reception there either. Looking at the river I doubted that we’d be able to cross next day either, even if we did camp out. (In the end it took a week for the river to drop back to its pre-flood level!) As I stood there, I realised that we were stuck, and that I needed help. I had to face the fact that I had gotten my boys into trouble, and that I couldn’t get them out of it. It dawned on me that it was inevitable that the rescue team would come, it was just a matter of timing. If I waited it out then my wife would raise the alarm that evening and they’d be searching in the dark. Alternatively, the shop staff would raise the alarm in the morning when the PLB wasn’t returned and the chopper would be searching for us the next afternoon. Seeing as we were cold and tired and it was still raining, I decided that the best option was to raise the alarm and get the chopper out that same day, with good light. It was still a hard decision to activate the PLB, as I was very aware that when I pressed the button, a huge amount of resources would be diverted from important rescue work to come to our aid. However, we did need rescue, and I could see only downsides of not pressing the button, so I activated the PLB. This came as a great relief, as it was now out of my hands, and help would be coming. That done, I got the cooking gear out and got some warm food and drink into the boys. Within the hour we heard a chopper coming up the river, so I got out from under the trees to wave at it as it came past. It couldn’t land where we were due to the trees, so it disappeared from view to offload some gear across the river before coming back. In short time, a paramedic winched down, established that we were not injured, and told us the plan for winching us off the side of the hill. Two trips later we were all safely landed across the river, and I got a lift from the local farmer to get my car. They say you learn more from your mistakes. I’m pretty embarrassed that I put my boys into danger on their first overnight tramp and that I needed to get rescued off the side of a hill. On the plus side, taking a PLB along was the best decision I made that weekend. I also think that activating the PLB was a good decision, even if we weren’t in a life-threatening situation (yet). While we were being rescued, I was told that too many people either don’t carry a PLB, or continue to make poor decisions which only makes a bad situation even worse.
Always carry an emergency communication device when tramping, like a PLB. Cost is no longer an excuse not to carry one as hiring them is a very straightforward and there are lots of places (including all Macpac stores) who hire them out to the public. Find more details here;
Carrying the right gear doesn’t help if you haven’t thought through the timing of who will raise the alarm and when.
Aim to avoid tracks that require a river crossing if there is rain in the forecast.