GPS Aids in Mountain Rescue

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A flashlight, pocket knife, extra food, and bandages have long been staples of every serious hiker’s emergency kit. But if you plan on doing some serious hiking, there’s something you might not have thought of to add: a smartphone. Often used to play cheap games and take self portraits in the bathroom mirror, these GPS equipped phones are now helping hikers, guides, and even search and rescue teams. While most survival equipment is designed to help lost hikers hold out til help comes or relies on rescuers looking in the right place at the right time for a signal, smartphones enable lost hikers to help rescuers pinpoint their location.

 

Take for instance last December on Mount Hood. A group of experienced hikers, one whom was a veteran guide, took off across the mountain in the direction of a rustic cabin. But when the trail they were looking for turned out to have been washed away in a flood, and fog and snow rolled in, the trio found themselves lost, without shelter, and unable to find their way off the mountain. They called for help, and rescue teams used the call to place determine their general coordinates, but due to the inclement weather, search and rescue team members were unable to find them. So the trio hiked on for another twenty hours, still unable to find the cabin they were in search of. When they finally gave up, though, the experience of their guide, helped them survive the night as he was able to construct a snow cave to keep the worst of the elements at bay.

 

But with the weather limiting visibility, and even with the aid of two snowcats and skis, twenty rescuers were unable to locate the lost hikers. However, as the weather began to clear the next day the lost hikers were able to send out a brief signal from their GPS device. With better weather and a specific area in which to look, the rescuers were quickly able to locate the hikers who, while cold, had suffered no major injuries during their ordeal. Trapped on the mountainside and without enough equipment to hold out long, a brief phone call and quick GPS tracking signal were enough to save the hiker’s lives. So next time you pack an emergency kit, make sure you really have everything you need.

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Darrell Fogal

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