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  1. #1

    Default Reliance on GPS navigation systems not recommended

    We who participate in the RTA Forums often advise against reliance on GPS navigation systems as a sole method of finding one's way. The recent discovery of Rita Chretien, age 56, in her van, which had been stuck in remote high desert mountains of northeast Nevada for over 7 weeks brings that advice into focus yet again.

    Mrs. Chretien her husband, Albert, age 59, had apparently sought a scenic route while traveling from their British Columbia home to Las Vegas. They traveled down a series of roads seldom used in winter, got stuck, and the wife remained with the van while the husband took the GPS unit and walked out looking for help on Day 3. He has not been see or heard from since and it's highly unlikely he survived. The wife survived 49 days on a small amount of food they'd had in the van and on drinking melted snow and creek water.

    A spokesman for the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Mike Balen, was highly critical of reliance on GPS units, saying his NF staff knew of others who'd gotten in trouble using GPS. "I would never trust any of those things. The will lead you astray", he said.

    There is, quite simply, no COMPLETE substitute for a good map and the ability to read it, none whatsoever.

    Be careful out there, RoadTrippers!


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Default A Good Time to Revist the "Sedenquist Rule of Serial Consequences"

    Foy, I know of three instances in that last month or two of people relying on GPS without tempering it with a bit of common sense and map-reading abilities. Here's an older post that looks at this in more detail....

    Good reminder!


  3. Default

    Quite apart from the fact that they are unreliable, GPS units have always exasperated me because we rarely agree on routes. They are designed with certain kinds of routes in mind and if you try to get them away from those, they do their best to bring you back 'on track'.

    I agree that there is nothing like working out your route with a map and then perhaps using a GPS as a backup - I use it mostly to find addresses.


  4. #4

    Default And right where I'm thinking of a traverse in July

    Aside from the gripping news of Mrs. Chretien's survival and the likely loss of her husband, this caught my eye due to my having recently spent some time with my Benchmark Nevada and Idaho map books doing some preliminary planning (aka "daydreaming") for a day's side-trip while enroute to southwest Montana in July of this year.

    The Chretiens had to have entered Nevada from Idaho since the location they became stuck at is not yet accessible even by the Forest Service's Elko and Jarbridge, NV offices. A little further south, and likely part of their "planned" traverse, lies a massif forming the divide between the Oyhee, Bruneau, and Humboldt rivers. Elevations there are +7,000', hence the Forest Service's statement "we can't even get there from Elko yet", even this week, due to roads being still buried in deep drifts. It was the second snowiest winter there since 1979.

    The two Benchmark map books, with all the detail anybody with a streak of common sense should need, cost around $45. Internet research is free. That's all these folks needed, and not having availed themselves of the resources available cost one of them their life. Nearly both of them, as Mrs. Chretien lost 20-30 lbs and was said to have been near death when she was found last weekend.

    Reliance solely on GPS strikes me as just as shortsighted as the teenage McDonald's cashier making change for my coffee. I often wonder if I'd get $679.35 in change for my $5 bill if the digital readout on the cash register happened to display it.


  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia


    Besides the basic flaw of relying solely on electronics, the husband added the flawed idea of going for help. It has been proven time and again, that, when in trouble, the greatest chance of being found and survival is staying with the vehicle.

    But as noted above, the solution lies in the preparation. A visit to the ranger's station, good comprehensive maps, and the ability to read them.


  6. #6
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    Computer mapping programs aren't immune to these issues either.

    Personal case in point - I use Microsoft Streets & Trips on a laptop with a GPS module in my vehicle, and I use it for route planning. Last September, I was heading through Oregon into California on my way to San Diego. I plotted a route from Klamath Falls to Lassen - and the software wanted to send me up Military Pass Road instead of through Weed. It *looked* like an interesting "shortcut" but I decided to research it a bit. When I saw that it wasn't paved and was prone to a lot of silt, I decided that it would not be wise, especially in a 2wd vehicle and traveling alone. Software doesn't know road conditions, it just knows that a road has been mapped and apparently the speed algorithms calculated that it would be a shorter route. It looks like even if I had taken it and been able to get through with no issues, it still would have been a lot longer timewise - it was only 20 miles shorter and you sure can't make the kind of time on a dirt forest road as you can on real highways. According to the mapping program, the road is 27 miles long and the things I find on line say that it takes 3 to 4 hours to take that road. Software says 46 minutes.

  7. #7

    Default The detail I was looking for.......

    Dear Readers,

    This link ( provides much more detail as to the Chretien's trip. Their intended destination of Jackpot, NV is on US 93 at the ID line, and is a good 60-70 miles as the crow flies from ID 51/NV 225. The story notes it is yet unclear what their exact route was, but if they were out of the Snake River basin and into the foothills or the mountains themselves and tried to bushwhack to Jackpot, it was the poorest possible decision. I'm hoping they were well inside of ID along ID 51 north of Owyhee, NV and were at least trying to get over to US 93 outside of the mountains and just turned south into them before reaching 93. If they got as far as Owyhee or Mountain City, NV first and tried to bushwhack to Jackpot, oh my goodness what a foolish thing to do.

    More detail here:

    Apparently I was correct in deducing they tried a bushwhack before getting to the mountains, but the hardcopy Benchmark map books I've been studying clearly show the road they took out of Grasmere to go directly south-southeast into the mountains along the divide between the Owyhee and Bruneau rivers, then east-southeast down into the canyon of the Bruneau River, crossing the river, then over TWO passes before getting over towards Jarbridge and Jackpot. Goodness gracious! This was Mission: Impossible from the get-go.

    Last edited by Foy; 05-11-2011 at 09:44 AM. Reason: added second link

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2009
    SF Bay Area

    Default Another point....

    Regardless of whether or not the road was passable, if you are going into sparsely-populated lightly-traveled territory in a single vehicle you are subject to getting stuck (accidents, car problems, etc.).

    After the sad tale of the family in Oregon I decided to pony up the cash for a PLB (personal locator beacon). Never had to use it, probably never will, but it goes in the car for EVERY roadtrip... regardless of where I think we're going to be.

    Not a guarantee it will work and people will find you, but it increases your odds significantly.

  9. Default

    Can you say more about a PLB? I am driving from Mystic, CT to Portland, OR next month, my first trip to the north west, and trying to get a handle on gear I may need in less populated areas.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    A PLB can be invaluable in the backcountry, but if you are simply traveling on mainstream roads I don't see the need for one. They start at about $200 for cheap ones. Even in less populated areas, civilization will be driving on the same roads as you.

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