I got lots to post about here, so let's go chronologically I guess.
A few weeks ago, we were starting our climbing season. So it was time to dust off all the gear and get it tuned up.
Got the new schweet boots and got my crampons adjusted to fit them nice and schnug.
Had to buy a new Garmin GPS because of the electronics-eating ice sheet in the North couloir on Crestone Peak last summer. There's fancier ones out there, with touch screens and everything, but they also eat batteries like nobody's business and there are complaints about not being able to see the LCD screen in bright sunlight. This one is very similar to my last one which I liked - I know how to use it, and I already have topographic mapping software for it, so...got my map made out in TOPO, uploaded it and we were good to go. Nice.
Tested the PIEPS Avalanche beacons. These things are bomber and I've never even had to change the batteries in 4 years...although I do think I need to send them to France, or somewhere else ridiculous, at some point for a software upgrade...boo. If you don't know what this is for, well, You strap it around your chest on a harness thing over your clothes/under jacket...it's so they can find you with another beacon if you are buried by an avalanche while wearing your beacon. You can't just have it in your pocket or in your pack, because you could potentially get thoroughly munched in an avalanche and you'd get separated from it. You must also carry avalanche shovels and probes...If it's a big slide and you can't see the person, you have to stick the probe into the snow around where the beacon flags to find them under the snow to know exactly where to start digging. As you can imagine, this is important equipment. Sorta morose to walk around wearing one, but I've heard too many stories about close calls, and read too many stories about what happens when you get buried without one...you die...for sure.
Yes it's a lot of gear and yes it's damn expensive. So when the SPOT beacon came along a few years back I was thrilled. It was cheap relative to these other things and it had two functions: more importantly, to alert search and rescue if you were in trouble and activated the emergency signal, and also it made it fun to send out "OK" messages with GPS coordinates so friends and family could track where I was on a climb on a website while the trip was in progress. I loved it for a while.
WELL the fun all ended last July. We took it up N. Maroon Peak, which has some pretty exposed class 4 on it's upper half. I was bending over a little too far and it doesn't have a good belt clip so it fell off and tumbled down the mountain about 100-200 feet. It seemed to be still operational so we were happy that we still had it. Well, it probably would have been better if it had fallen down 2000 feet and we lost it. First of all, we thought it was working when we went climbing the next week at the Crestones (yes the same trip we lost the GPS) and actually got into some considerable trouble (read the trip report in the link) and thought about pushing the help button. We managed to get through the situation without it, but found out the next day that it wasn't even working at the time...the drop the week before had killed it but all the lights and everything were blinking so we never tested it again at home...we just thought it was working...
Well the fun ended there. I called them to ask where I can send it to repair it and they told me you can't get it repaired you have to buy a new one. I was totally floored. Do I really want to spend another $150 on this? So she said...well I can give you one for $99 but there's a next generation SPOT coming out over the winter so you might want to wait. Call me back if you want the $99 one. I found out anyone could get the old version for $99 so I decided to wait. I didn't call her. My year was up in August, so I thought I'll just let the service lapse until I get the new one. They called a few times trying to get me to sign up again and threatening to cut off my service, but I ignored it because I just thought of it as a sales call and I was ticked that they wouldn't give me a deal on a new unit. I wasn't going to talk to these jokers.
So fast forward to two weeks ago and I was getting the gear ready. I had bought a new SPOT over the winter on sale at Mountaingear.com. I was pretty excited to activate it and use it...it was lighter and supposedly better. So I log on to my account to register the new unit and activate my service again. I was half way through that process when I see there is a rebate program going on for people upgrading from SPOT I to SPOT II...and I don't qualify because I bought mine too early and on sale...I thought I'd call and explain the situation so perhaps they'd throw me a bone and give me some sort of deal on my service subscription instead.
Little did I know that in August my contract "auto-renewed" (they don't give you a choice and don't exactly proclaim that this is how it works) and the credit card I had on file with them was no longer valid so I had a past due balance and didn't even know. They didn't care that my unit was broken. I had to pay for all that time I couldn't even use it and didn't know I was being charged! I tried to explain but to no avail. I asked if the amount could count at least partially toward my new service contract. No. I got threatened with it being sent to collections. I basically got called stupid because I didn't pay for service that I couldn't use and didn't know I was being ripped off.
They had all this documentation on when they called and emailed telling me I owe them money, but they never told me I owed them money...I am a frickin' accountant and when someone claims I owe them money my ears perk up a bit, ya know? I only got calls saying that my service will be disconnected which I was fine with at the time. But did they have any documentation of my prior contact with them? Broken? $99 SPOT I? No. Did it matter that they could look up and see that I hadn't used it in a year BECAUSE IT WAS BROKEN? No. Then when I asked to talk to a manager she put me on hold and came back to give me a "courtesy" reduction of $50 IF I continue my contract. If I cancel my contract I have to pay the entire $107. But no matter what I have to pay $57 for this year of service that I could never have possibly used because I did not have a functional unit. Apparently I cannot cancel NOW, but I have to call right before August 23 when my contract renews to cancel and not pay the $50 extra. That is not ok. That makes no sense to me. Ever hear the word PRORATE? Meanwhile, they will give out rebates for $100 on service, free units, etc...to OTHER people...just not me. Also, NOW they offer "repair/replacement" insurance plan for $18 a year. They didn't offer that when I bought my 1st gen unit! They know they are selling garbage.
I said fine. You're an asshole. Let's do it and I'll call on August 22 to cancel. I wrote to customer service in a last-ditch effort to save it. No reply (I wasn't exactly nice). I keep waiting and waiting for this charge on my credit card...no charge. Now I have to call these idiots again...I'm not even going to go through the story again. I'm going to pay the $107 and be done with it.
I am posting shitty reviews of SPOT everywhere. I am sending this piece back and buying a real personal locator beacon, still researching which one. They cost more but are more reliable and powerful and there is no perpetual service plan and shitty customer service to deal with. You send it in once every five years (or if you had to activate it for rescue) for a FREE battery replacement and systems check/upgrade and that's it. One company, ACR, is even offering "OK" messages just like SPOT now for $60/yr. I'm tempted, but probably not going to do it. This is a serious piece of equipment and isn't going to be dangling on the outside of my pack so I can send fun little tracking messages to my friends/family.
Since this experience I have read many more stories of the SPOT not working and people dying. I could have actually been one of them. There is no way to tell if it's working or not while you are out there. I have read that a SPOT emergency signal is to be treated as a "missing persons" report by authorities and then researched further before SAR is initiated. This is a private company with privately owned communications systems that are not top notch. A PLB signal goes right to the big dogs...NOAA, the frickin' Airforce...they are required by law to act immediately and respond. It is considered a REAL emergency. This technology was originally developed for the military and it is their satellites that receive the distress calls.
Amen brutha. I want a chopper with soldiers from Fort Carson coming for me...not some SPOT asshole riding a donkey with a band-aid in his pocket 48 hours later.
Screw you SPOT! You suck it!