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Dangers of Cell Phone Coverage In the Wild


Sometimes I wonder if we should be adding cell phone towers that cover wilderness areas. Where I live in Santa Fe, we recently had a rescue helicopter go down after picking up a lost hiker. The rescued hiker and the pilot of the helicopter died. A third person, an officer and spotter survived with major injuries. Hearing the repeated 911 calls and the hiker on her cell phone, my impression was that she seemed calm and collected and was not in dire need of air rescue. But I leave that to the professionals. That was just my impression. She got separated from her boyfriend while hiking. It was high elevation but it was June. No snowstorms, no freezing temperatures that were immediately life threatening. She had not been starving and wandering for hours…yet. She just wasn't experienced or equipped to be out there alone. So perhaps two people would be alive if a cell phone wasn't relied upon as a convenience tool while on a trail.


I don't want this to be about a particular case and it's details but it is what got me thinking. Does having a cell phone make people think they are always safe and therefore make people think that they do not need to prepare as much when they go into the wilderness? People use them for GPS devices, for lights in the dark, and to call when they are lost.

Do I carry a cell phone? Usually, but I don't expect it to work when I am out in nature. Coverage is getting better but it still doesn't work in most of the places I find myself. It also depends on the cell phone plans , as in which wireless provider you have, because some providers have stronger signals than others in different areas. I probably wouldn't be calling 911 until I knew I was in real trouble. Most of these situations occur when a mountain or wilderness area hangs over a populated city like Santa Fe or Phoenix, Arizona. I mention Phoenix because I used to be in Arizona and remember all the people that would go up into the nearby mountains late in the day or without much water and have to be rescued.

It is not Disney World out there. Try standing at the top of the Grand Canyon right by the Bright Angel Trailhead and watch how many people start walking on it without any gear. It is quite amazing. They walk right by the signs telling about young top notch athletes that die there because they under estimate nature. I once watched an older couple looking for the wheel chair acess ramp for the trail.

If you go on a hike, you should be carrying water and snacks for at least a couple days. I Even when I'm walking near my own neighborhood, I keep a habit going and carry a small backpack. It always has water, a breakfast bar, trail mix, compass, a glowstick, waterproof matches and first aid in it, ready to go at all times. I have it at home, in my car and my RV at all times. Even if you are just going on a trail or a day hike, you should plan on being out longer with some minimal supplies. People should have maps or know an area when they go out on the trails. With a GPS device, she could mark the trailhead and always have something to head back towards when lost. So GPS devices are better than cell phones but one should not rely on them completely either. Batteries and electronic devices fail. There is no shortage of books, map and outdoor gear in stores all over the world. Be prepared.


The cost and danger of people wandering around with cell phones, doing things they wouldn't have done before they had the phone, is getting out of control. What do you think?


Adam | Jun 29, 2009 | Category: Tech

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