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Posts Tagged ‘SPOT hiking’

A modest success

Posted by joeabbott on May 27, 2018

Well, I got a new SPOT, the Gen3, and tried it out on a longish hike yesterday … I didn’t get the results I’d wanted, but I’m still calling it a success as I learned something. Let’s chat (again) about the SPOT.

imageimageA SPOT is a device that sends GPS coordinates to a satellite that are then uploaded to a service. Based on whether I’m “tracking” or “checking in”, I can tailor a list of recipients to either view my progress on a map or get an email with message and link to see a single location on the map. It’s a nice system and I think of it as my “get out and hike” pass … Suzy is never pleased when I hike alone but has agreed to me going out solo if I’m carrying the SPOT. I’ve done a lot less solo hiking this year but it’s still fantastic security insurance, as she watches my progress while I’m on the mountain.

The new SPOT was acquired when my old SPOT stopped being reliable. I’ve been a customer since 2008 and so, while my old unit was out of warranty and no longer made, they offered me a Gen3 at a pretty significant price; and they paid for shipping. Nice.

When it arrived, I noticed the new unit came with a handy carabiner and I planned to use it. While I normally rigged something up to position my SPOT on the top of my pack, it’s not handy to hit the buttons, and so I was hoping just clipping it to the pack would be OK. Additionally, I carry a camera and GPS with me so I already look like Inspector Gadget and don’t want another device hanging from my pack strap … the SPOT went onto the back of the pack.

Partway into the trip … the now-familiar Paradise to Camp Muir hike … I decided to lash the SPOT down a little more securely. As you can see from the map to the right, this was needed. The SPOT transmits from its faceplate, so having that pointing skyward is necessary. I imagine that prior to lashing it down, the faceplate was flipping about and unable to focus on the sky. Hence, my first SPOT message being received from halfway to Camp Muir.

While I got good reception thereafter, notice it stopped transmitting somewhere around Panorama Point on the way home. Again, I’m assuming my jostling about from aggressive plunge-stepping down a slope caused the device to flip around and I lost signal again.

So, how can this be called a success? Mostly because I learned something … something I can use to do things better next time! I’ll likely go back to attaching it to the top of my pack. The new SPOT design has little slots at the top and bottom; I plan to use these to attach loops of thin elastic string, and then connect those to four strap buckles situated on top of my pack. I think it’ll work out great.

Well, thanks for dropping by as I try to find ways to stay safe in the mountains! You stay safe, too!


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Mt Teneriffe–a morning hike

Posted by joeabbott on July 29, 2017

I hiked Teneriffe today and that trail is a bear … I’d use stronger language, and feel like I should to convey just how challenging it is, but I think you get the picture. Rocky, steep, and winding straight up a ridgeline, it worked me hard and just didn’t let up. Let me tell you about it.


The listing above notes 14 miles but that’s using some old logging roads; you can cut that down considerably if you use the old climbing trail and so we did; while I’m not a distance hiker, I can see the appeal of using the old roadbeds to get to the top.

We missed using the new parking lot by what appeared to be minutes. They just opened it to climbers’ parking but there was a maintenance vehicle at the gate (which was opened), so we headed to the old parking spot: a school bus turn-around. It’s marked for hiking, so the parking is legit, and it lends itself to heading up the old trail.

The first part of the trail appears maintained for hikers to get to Teneriffe Falls; what would be a spectacular cascade if water had been present. As of today, it’s a mere trickle that drips from moss and old lichen, pooling beneath the lower stones and running away nearly silently. We paused briefly here and, had we known it, we could have bade farewell to the best part of the trail. What followed was steep, nasty, and filled with ankle-breaking broken fist-sized rocks. A terrible hiking bed.

I’d guess we cut a couple miles off the hike by heading up that route, ultimately putting in something like 11 miles, as opposed to the posted 14 miles. I wouldn’t say it was worth it, but I did enjoy the challenge and the direct-line ascent. At the top you break tree line and can stop at a rocky outcrop, or continue another 100’ to the summit and get commanding views in 360° with Glacier Peak, Mount Baker, the North Bend valley, and Mount Rainier all playing prominent roles. It was stunning.

Here’s my friend Heath with a view to the south: Rainier on the horizon and Rattlesnake Lake in the mid-ground; North Bend and I-90 are mid-screen.


On the way down we took the logging roads and while it was longer and the roads aren’t anywhere near as nice as the early parts of the trail, they were serviceable. About 3/4 the way down we took an unmaintained trail between the logging roads and the climbing trail to get us more quickly to our car … and when we got to the climbers’ trail, I remembered immediately why I hated it.

Anyhow, it as a great day with good friends and a wonderful mountaintop … I just wish I didn’t have to tolerate those trails to get there. I will note that I had my SPOT on again, 100% of the time from leaving the car to getting back. How did it do? Well, here’s my map from about 6-hours of being on the trail:


I’ll just say … <sigh>.

But, thanks for dropping by and seeing where my boots have taken me this weekend. I hope you had a chance to get out yourself!

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I’ll let the SPOT track speak for itself

Posted by joeabbott on July 25, 2017

Here’s the latest track from a little hike up Mt. Pugh … a 5.5-mile (one-way), 5380’ gain peak in the middle Cascades:


About 20 locations on a roughly 8-hour outing with well over half of the trail well-above tree line.

Regardless how the SPOT performed, it was a wonderful outing.

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Still exercising that demon: SPOT

Posted by joeabbott on July 3, 2017

I was sure I was done with complaining about the SPOT. Hard to feel like you’re rational when you carp about an inanimate object, but as I’ve said before, the promise of how great this device could be has me frustrated.

imageAs I was putting away my gear from last weekend, I noticed the SPOT was still on; earlier I’d reported that it had turned itself off or drained the batteries. So, I figured I had just missed the “on” light and decided to try it with the batteries it has. SPOILER: the machine just doesn’t appear to like alkaline batteries. On my outing yesterday, I saw the same behavior: the unit didn’t send many messages, it appeared off when I got done with the bike ride, but the batteries appear to have juice. My solution was to order lithium batteries from Amazon when I got home … they’ll be here before next weekend.

Also, I was worried that I hadn’t oriented the SPOT correctly. It has an antenna in the body and works best when it’s face is up, pointing toward the sky. I don’t intend on wearing it on the top of my bike helmet, so I have a cord around it that I lash to the haul strap of my pack, and I adjust the body under some lashing cords on the back of the pack to ensure it doesn’t turn and face into my pack. It seems like a good setup, but I’m still not getting good results.

imageIn prior years when I wore it on a arm band, the unit worked much better. Again, those were days when I was mountaineering more and my trails were all above tree line, but whether on my arm and facing to the side, or on my back facing behind me, I’d expect similar results.

What were the results? Well, yesterday’s bike ride was a bit over 40 miles on old railroad grade beds, with a lot of it under trees but I passed through several towns in open parks and along roadways. The tracks captured by SPOT are in the map to the right.

It did a bit better. I managed to get a dozen tracks laid in and a single OK response. That’s 12 blips over 20 miles (it only seemed to capture blips in one direction) and a couple hours. Not great.

From the map, it appears that all locations are sequential from Duvall to Snoqualmie … as we’d done a round trip, this says that I didn’t get a single blip on our northward leg (we left from Snoqualmie, hit Duvall, and returned). Odd. I didn’t send a lot of “I’m OK” blips but I probably launched 5 of them and I did those while off the bike in some part of open land.

The end result is pretty modest in terms of a reliable, emergency response device. I’ll continue to play around with how I orient it and will be using lithium batteries going forward but this is downright disappointing in terms of value for the dollars I spend on the service.

I know a SPOT has the challenge of pushing data to the satellites for my location; a GPS merely has to pull in the signal from the satellites and do a bit of math (well, the SPOT does this, too, but it has to register or signal the satellites with “I’m OK” and to capture my progress for real-time display). How much easier does this make the job for the GPS? Well, here is the track my GPS captured:

image   image

Each tiny dot is a separate instance recorded where the GPS was talking to at least three satellites and the figuring out my exact location.

The elevation profile on the right has us starting in Snoqualmie at ~725’ in elevation, dropping to ~300’ at Duvall, and then returning on the same trail. News flash: it’s way harder to send information to satellites than read the data they’re transmitting.

So, while I look like Inspector Gadget as I head down the trail with my SPOT, my GPS, and often a dedicated camera attached to various straps, it appears I need (or desperately want) this sort of redundancy in functionality. Expect that I’ll continue to play with my SPOT to get the best results … the promise of it working well really is worth it … and I’ll keep my GPS so I will reliably know where I’ve been.

And thank you for finding your way to this site and the end of this post. I hope your trails are less ambiguous!

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SPOT–love it, hate it

Posted by joeabbott on June 30, 2017

I have a SPOT device that tracks my movement by relaying my locations to a satellite that then stores the data. When I’m on a long hike, I can setup a page for Suzy to view and track my progress. The SPOT has only a couple buttons: one to turn it on, another to start tracking regular movement, a third button will send an “I’m OK” message, and a final button can be configured to send a custom message … this could be anything from “come look for me but don’t send authorities” (sending in a search team can cost big dollars!), “drop food at the agreed on stash”, or “I’m getting close to our pick up spot … bring the car to get me!” Again, it could be anything but I’m only allowed a single custom message.

The SPOT also comes with a hotline straight to authorities that will trigger a search and rescue action, and it’s the main selling point of the system. I hike alone far less these days than I did in my youth, but I’ve agreed with Suzy to carry this most anytime I leave home.

When it’s working, I love it. A couple years back I was on a kayaking trip and at the end of the outing, I had a line of dots on the map that showed nearly my every paddle stroke. But when you get under even superficial tree cover or the unit isn’t positioned “correctly”, you get what I got during the ~10 hours I was out last Saturday: a few points the entire day. Here’s the map:


While some of this trip was under trees … the start, as you can tell … most was only moderately covered and I should have picked up more than 8 points. And that includes both those initiated by me as “I’m OK” messages, as well as those that tracked my regular movement. Oh, and when I got back, the three brand new alkaline batteries (yes, I should be using lithium) were completely drained … or the system had turned itself off. And that might be a good feature: for the unit to realize it’s useless and to try saving a little battery or something!

It’s just darned disappointing because when it works, it’s a wonder.

I’ll keep trying to use it, as I have the service for another year, but I’m sure hoping something happens to make this a more reliable tool.

Sorry for the bummer post … believe me, I would have liked something a bit more upbeat!

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SPOT: Love it, Hate it

Posted by joeabbott on September 4, 2012

I just got back from a five day backpacking trip in the middle Cascades and the entire time I had my SPOT device “on”. Well, that’s a bit of a stretch as I only had it on while I was actively hiking … once to camp (or back to camp), I’d switch it off to conserve batteries. That said, it gave me less than the performance I would have liked, but about what I would have expected. Alas.

Below is a map captured by the “Track” feature of the SPOT. Tracking is a $50 add-on feature to the basic “SOS” functionality of the unit. The description of the feature from the SPOT pages says:

Track Progress allows friends and family to follow your progress online in real time or to save waypoints so you can review your entire route at a later date. SPOT Track Progress automatically sends your GPS location waypoint to a Google Map every 10 minutes.

As you can see in the map below, there are a lot of tracks captured but far too many “dead zones” for this feature to really be worth it. On my “long days”, I probably was on the trail 7 hours each day (three days) and the short days, maybe 4 hours … call it 30 hours of trail time. At 10 minutes for each “ping” (or “Track”), that should amount to roughly 180 locations in the map below; I got just under 80. Less than half of what I should expect.

I’ve found that the SPOT device for any signal (“OK”, “Track”, and I’m guessing “SOS”) won’t work well (if at all) under any sort of tree coverage, regardless how minimal, and minor perturbations cause it problems. So even discounting the 7 or so hours I spent hiking the valley floor (under high tree coverage), I still should have gotten ~140 pings, but I got just about half that number.

The red dot in the upper left is the trailhead and we traveled in a clockwise direction. Considering the entire valley floor is heavily treed and I was “happy” (ok, maybe “surprised” is the better word here) to see that Tracks 1 and 2 showed up … both were in the trees. However, the trail between 2 and 3 opens up to mostly clear terrain, albeit with a ridgeline just above it (to the north). It seemed to do well on the ridgeline, capturing many “tracks” in the upper/north area of the map.

Unfortunately, when we left camp and walked the ridgeline south, the results were spotty. There was probably some tree coverage here, but very sparse. And yet, the time between Tracks 35 and 36 was an hour and a half … for a unit that sends a “beep” every 10 minutes, that’s a lot of lost beeps. And, finally, the trail between Tracks 75 and 76, again, has some tree coverage but mainly open veldt; steeply sloped and running below a ridge to the north, but otherwise open to the sky.


And so my love it/hate it relationship with the SPOT: it’s darned cool to see where you’ve been without having to manually hit the “I’m OK” button every 10 minutes, but I’d sure like more reliable operation from the unit. I’ll likely continue to spend the money on this feature as I continue to hike for long distances or when I’ll be away for many days in a row. I wasn’t going to renew the feature this year but my wife convinced me that, for her and the other wives of my hiking buddies, it’s worth it.

I’m hoping SPOT (the company) finds a way to upgrade the software (and maybe hardware) to cache data and send it later (at least “Track” pings). Until then, I’ll look at my SPOT (the device) each time I pack and shake my head a bit before tossing you into my gear pile and heading out on my trips.

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