Cell phones in the wilderness
James H. Moss (JHMoss@LAWYERNET.COM)
Wed, 22 Jul 1998 14:57:58 -0600
James: I wonder if there is a fundamental character flaw in Americans
Boy that was close. I almost answered this question and I know I could have
sunk my ship on that one.
I disagree. Maybe look at this from a different perspective.
You leave a city to become self sufficient, to rely on your skill and
knowledge. When you are far enough out you can really put yourself to the
test. Most Americans cannot save themselves any more. They constantly rely
on someone else to rescue them.
2 weeks ago I was working as a raft guide on the Arkansas River, Royal Gorge
section. A solid desert class IV whitewater section. The boat in front of
me flipped. I pulled two people into my boat and started chasing another
person. I threw two different throw bags (lines) to the person. He failed
to grab the ropes. Both times one kick would have put the ropes in his
face. Three times I got my boat close enough someone extended a paddle to
him. All three times he couldn't grab the paddle. One time I got my boat
close enough, he could grab the boat. He didn't, we ran over him. After
chasing him through one mile of whitewater I eddied my boat out and dove in
after him. I caught him, swam through one rapid with him and pulled him out
right above another rapid. He refused to pull himself out of the river. I
physically lifted him out of the water and onto the shore. The entire time
he was screaming help and save me. He went through six flatwater sections
where he could have swam to shore. (I stumble upon these types of people 1
per year rafting. No ability to think or save themselves. I see them daily
as an attorney.)
An American med student was trekking with a group in Nepal. He fell over a
cliff and received severe injuries. The trek leaders spent eight hours
convincing this med student that they were his best hope. He kept insisting
that someone in an ambulance or helicopter would rescue him. At the time
there were four helicopters in Nepal. 1 at Everest and the other three have
guns on them. After 8 hours of laying at the bottom of the cliff, the
carried him up a hill and onto a donkey/burro that took a day to get him to
Even having the radio/phone in your pack creates a crutch. You can be a
little looser. You can allow yourself to get into trouble and consequently
put other people at risk who volunteer there time and lives to rescue you.
Not doing everything
I can to ensure that the boys for whom I am responsible if I am the
adult leader are safe is in my view: stupid.
You are confusing two different concepts. A radio/phone will not keep you
safe. They may allow quicker access to additional help in an emergency.
In my younger days I rock climbed a lot. That is why I moved to Colorado.
I climbed differently when I soloed a rock. (Climbing without a rope, just
shoes and climbing chock.) I could climb the rock, I had climbed it dozens
of times before. Yet.
Be Prepared is something I believe in. However, I also believe that
preparedness must take into account more than just my own safety and
comfort. I believe I have to examine the risk to third parties. I believe
I have to understand what I am doing.
I also look at that preparedness with an eye to what type of experience I
want to have. If I am camping in a State Park, just outside a big city, I
probably will not remove my cell phone from my car. However, I am not going
to schlep my cell phone in the mountains. It won't work there. I would
also be better off using that XX ounces to take things that will work.
I did not nor have I ever stated that cell phone carried by BSA volunteers
makes them bad. I just want people to think about why and where they carry
them. The newspapers every six months have an article about someone out
here who saved themselves because they could call and get rescued. However,
I have seen dozens of dead batteries on cell phones after
hiking/helicoptering in on a rescue. The batteries are dead because the
people did not understand they were to far away from a cell phone site. I
pulled the cell phone out of the hands of a dead hunter two years ago. He
froze/hypothermia to death. That weight would have been better spent on
food and a blanket.
GPS in Canada have a 911 button on them. In British Columbia over a six
month period of time after those came out the Search and Rescue group
received 56 responses from those buttons. Of those 56, half, 28 were not
rescue situations. Several times they responded to find out people had hit
the button accidentally, two cases they hit the button to see if it worked,
three cases to see how long it would take the people to get there. 28 times
of mobilizing volunteers and the army is a lot.
FYI cell phones work in two places at Philmont. The top of Baldy and
Phillips. By the time you hike up to where you have cell reception, you can
usually hike comfortably to a ranger station. One you get a cell site, you
have to hike back down to meet the crews versus hiking with them to the
As Bob Amick pointed out choppers are great for rescue out here. But even
they have limitations. All flight for life choppers have altitude
limitations by corporate fiat. Most times we have to carry someone out of
the mountain several miles to a lower landing pad. The Army does not follow
that exception, however, with cutbacks, finding an Army chopper is getting a
NOLS and Outward Bound have struggled with this for several years. They
made the decision that people die in the wilderness. That is not a decision
you can make in Scouting. That is a statement that most parents should
Finally, one of the basics of Scouting is Self Reliance. IN a wilderness
setting, I do not see cell phones are promoting that.
I do not believe I am stating an absolute fact about not carrying cell
phones. I have a client, one of the California universities that has all
there outings in the Los Angles National Forest. They carry cell phones
because there are so many sites around the forest, they always have one.
But before you include your cell phone on your list of must haves for every
backpacking trip, you might want to investigate what the phone can and
cannot do and what you are looking for in the adventure.
Yours in Scouting
12340 W. Alameda Pkwy., Lakewood, CO 80228-2841
Eagle Class of 69, Vigil, Denver Area Council
Terry Howerton Sakima Group, Inc. SCOUTER Magazine Kansas City