National Parks

Technology Leads More Park Visitors Into Trouble

The national parks’ history is full of examples of misguided visitors feeding bears, putting children on buffalos for photos and dipping into geysers despite signs warning of scalding temperatures.

But today, as an ever more wired and interconnected public visits the parks in rising numbers — July was a record month for visitors at Yellowstone — rangers say that technology often figures into such mishaps.

People with cellphones call rangers from mountaintops to request refreshments or a guide; in Jackson Hole, Wyo., one lost hiker even asked for hot chocolate.

I used to subscribe to and read Accidents in North American Mountaineering which in places was just as humorous as this article. Add technology to the mix and you have even more brazen people going into the wilderness thinking cell service is everywhere and that they can call for a ranger for any reason.

This story overlaps with kids (escorted by adults) climbing Mt. Everest or sailing around the world (unescorted).

I have no problem with people going off into the wilderness and doing challenging things; I have serious problems with a small number of those people who are unprepared and assume they can be rescued if they get into trouble. It costs thousands of dollars an hour to fly a helicopter with a rescue team to a remote area to do a rescue and in this country few hikers, climbers, or sailors pay for this. They should, or, if they’re 14 their parents should.

We need insurance companies to offer policies that will pay for expensive rescues and then, in order to climb Grand Teton a group needs to have such a policy and sign a waver saying they will not ask for a rescue if one of them gets a blister. Insurance will help pay for rescues but unfortunately it might also give people a false sense of protection.

We all have to start somewhere and the first time I went camping I took a space blanket and a few candy bars. After one uncomfortable night in Lassen Park we walked out and took the bus home with our tails between our legs. Had cell phones been around then I doubt we’d have used one to call for help.

When I go out on a 7 mile day hike in summer (like two days ago) I carry enough gear to spend the night in the woods if I have to: flashlight/headlamp, extra clothing and a raincoat, extra food and water and a first aid kit. Yes, I do carry an iPhone although coverage is spotty in the places we hike. My candy bars (Clif bars) are better too.