Maybe Technology in the Wilderness is a Good Thing

Yesterday we followed the news carefully as a 19 year old Canadian named Samuel Frappier was rescued from Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park.

We could go into a huge study about this situation. Frappier was unprepared and inexperienced. He shouldn’t have been on the peak, and he separated from his hiking companion. Frappier admits that he made mistakes on the mountain, we appreciate that.

But, there’s a different side to the story that I think is important.

While stuck on Longs Peak, Frappier used his cell phone to communicate with rescuers. I’m assuming that he didn’t have some fancy satellite phone and he wasn’t equipped with a an expensive GPS locator beacon. Nope, he knew he was in trouble and simply called for help.

Since the dawn of time…or at least the invention of the internet there’s been a lot of discussion about the use technology in the wilderness.

So, what is technology’s place in the wilderness? Is it okay to surf the internet at a campground, tweet a picture from the trails (I’m guilty of this one), or use your phone to call a loved one to describe an amazing view?

I don’t know. But I do know this. I’m pretty sure that Frappier is glad he had cell reception on Longs Peak (who’d have thought, right?). I bet there are also some search and rescue folks out there who are glad that they could stay in touch with Frappier and assist with a speedy, well speedier, recovery.

So what do you think about technology in the wilderness? Does it make people take more risks? Does it get in the way of the wilderness experience or is it okay to bring the cell phone along?



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User Comments

  1. Bill Kelly |

    My primary interest in technology on the trail is in telling me how far I’ve come. I don’t have a huge number of apps on my iPhone, but one that I enjoy is a walking odometer that works through GPS. I like having an idea how far I’ve walked, and when this little app works, I get that data. My biggest complaint with the app is that sometimes the app seems to lose me and just draw straight lines from some point on the trail to wherever I happen to notice that the app has lost me. Maybe the problem is that I like to use another app to give me my elevation, and they both call on the GPS signal. Maybe turning on the second app causes the first one to lose that signal. I also like the app that tells me my elevation, so that’s a bit of a problem.

    If I were in trouble, I’d try to call or text from the trail. In many ways, my favorite part of having a cell phone on the trail is that I could call for help if I ever found someone else in trouble. There’s still a part of me that believes that I’ll never be the one needing that help. I’m too old and out of shape to go for help and get back to a car quickly. If someone had to wait for me to hike any distance, that wait would be very long. I like the idea that I could just call for help and stay with the victim.

    I’ve just ordered some paper-and-ink topo maps, but with my eyesight, I’ll need to carry a magnifying glass to use them. One neat thing about smartphone or tablet maps is that I can zoom them with my fingers to see more clearly.

    • I’ve spent some time with a few navigation related iPhone apps. My guess would be that you are losing your GPS signal and/or when you switch apps, the odometer stops tracking like you had mentioned. Without knowing the apps I couldn’t guess and even then I’m not knowledgable enough to talk about how each one is programmed. I can say that there are a lot of free apps that can provide both a walking odometer and elevation. Maybe I’ll put together an apps blog post.

      • Bill Kelly |

        An apps blog post would be great!

        For whatever it’s worth, my odometer is called Footpath. My altimeter is just called Altimeter from what I can read on the screen. I think there’s a longer name, but I can’t find it.

  2. People seem to forget that the compass and the map were technological innovations in their own right.

  3. Lesley Prentice |

    I bring a cell phone only for emergency’s but it is not an iphone, or a smart phone. My husband has a smart phone and brings his as well. We have them for emergency’s although rarely do we even have reception. I was very surprised that the young man on Longs had the reception he needed, but glad he did. Our family personally does not check social media when hiking/camping etc. but I have no problem with those who do.

    One day while hiking there was a woman taking pictures while her husband standing near by was watching a ball game on his device. While this is not something I would do, I fault no one else. I tend to be on the very conservative side of technology personally (ie I still use a walkman :), but if there is technology out there that will help ppl be safer, or allow someone to send an instant photo of a beautiful sunset, I see nothing wrong with it. As far as taking risks, people will take risks regardless of the technology they have, as they have been doing since the beginning of time. This young man that was stuck on Longs did not know before he got up there if he would have service, but was still willing to take the risk. I say each to their own as long as it does not encroach on another person in a negative way. I don’t think having technology is the problem, I think uneducated choices are the bigger problem in the wilderness, and that many folks get into situations without the knowledge of what they are getting into, without proper understanding of their surroundings.or proper clothing/gear etc.

    One more point I will make, is I have read a lot of very negative comments about the young man on Longs, about how dumb he was etc. and while I believe he was absolutely in error, EVERYONE, including myself, (and I tend to be over prepared) makes mistakes in the wilderness, takes wrong turns, misjudges the weather, forgets supplies, goes to far, looking at the scenery and not paying attention to surroundings, gets distracted, didn’t bring appropriate supplies for EVERY situation etc.

    Things happen out there even when you are prepared, it is a risk just to venture into the wilderness, even when you have prepared for all the “conceivable” situations, it is the inconceivable that get us 🙂 and while this young man may have absolutely used poor judgement, we all put ourselves at risk of something every time we venture out there, and so I personally think technology can be a very beneficial addition to our other gear, but gear should always be paired with knowledge! Great discussion as always! Sorry so long winded! 🙂

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