In no uncertain terms technology (and Verizon) saved me from being on the news as a lost hiker this weekend. I went for a hike this past Saturday at Tonga Ridge located in the Mt. Baker National Forest two and a half hours north-east of Seattle. My wife had bailed on Friday evening, so that left me and a buddy to hike – on a day when the weather was set to be in the low 90s.
On the way out to the trail we jokingly went over all the survival gear we had for an absolute emergency – we had plenty to weather for a few days (assuming we could forage for some food). My buddy, let’s call him Steve, was showing off some of the apps that he adjust got for his brand new HTC Incredible (Verizon Android phone).
We set off on a six mile round trip hike that started at an elevation of 4400 feet and moved up to 4800 feet. We quickly covered the three miles in, as the weather was still very cool. Upon hitting the three mile mark we were presented with three different trails we could take for side hikes, only one of which was marked. We knew ahead of time that we wanted to try and make it to Fisher Lake, so we could cool off before hiking back. Not knowing which trail to take I pulled out my iPhone to see if I had internet reception and much to my surprise I had two bars on the Edge network (slow ass AT&T network). We decided to take the trail marked Bear Creek even though the iPhone said it appeared to head in the wrong direction, away from the lake. We wanted to stick to a marked trail and it seemed the best bet at the time.
Fifteen minutes into the trail Steve and I decided we were off course and turned around. Getting back we checked both of our phones and our compasses and decided on the trail heading due south, as that was the direction of the lake. Fifteen minutes in it looked like we were off course, using the compasses on our phones we checked our heading, still due south. At this point we bumped into a group of women hiking who seemed confident we were on the right trail, and told us when they had done it before explaining that you had to hike up over the ridge ahead.
Hiking along the trail became very difficult to follow as it wound through a forest and up a ridge. We scrambled (sometimes on our hands) to climb about 700 feet in less than a mile. An exhausting climb, one that we hoped we did not have to go back down. Exhausted we reached the top of the ridge – no lake in sight. We checked the compass and Google Maps (only the Incredible had reception at this point) to confirm where we were in relation to the lake. We were no where close, still about a half mile away.
After much exploring and finding a couple other trails we admitted defeat and called it quits. We turned back and hiked out, never reaching out destination and exerting more energy than we needed too.
The Ass Saving Part
As I sit here a day later on my balcony writing this I realize just how important our phones were to us in that situation. Had we not had reception we may still be on that ridge thinking we were just moments away from seeing the lake. Knowing where you are in relation to where you want to go with the precision and fool-proofness of GPS is nothing short of amazing. Had we only had a map and compass I am sure we would have gotten lost, or worse believed we where closer than we were. Map reading is easy, map reading to determine your location in the middle of the forest takes a lot of skill. Hitting a button on your phone tell you your exact location and direction you are facing takes no skill.
We turned around because the Incredible told us with 100% certainty that we had made very little progress while expending tons of energy doing it. We turned around because we knew we were not getting to that lake, and we knew that because of GPS, and the robust Verizon network. A map would have not shown us the same, it would have allowed us to question where we really were.
One last thing, when Steve and I realized that we were off course (i.e. Lost), Steve took down our latitude and longitude (i.e. our GPS coordinates) and texted them to his dad. Someone now knew where we were and could send a search party right to us if we didn’t return home that night. Smart.
Technology and Brains
Technology really did help us, but it is no substitute for playing it smart. We made the decision to turn around, we made the call that enough was enough and we were lost. The phones just gave us the information we needed to make that call. Hike smart, hike safe, take your phone with you always.
(Also it doesn’t hurt to have phones on different carriers with you, thanks for the help Verizon. Also AT&T WTF?)