Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter
JMT Hike - Emergency planning for Overseas Visitors
Display Avatars Sort By:
Diana Michaels
(DonnaL) - F

Locale: Australia
JMT Hike - Emergency planning for Overseas Visitors on 02/18/2012 01:41:31 MST Print View

We are lucky enough to be planning our fourth trip to the Californian Sierra Nevada and our first extended backpacking trip on the JMT from Tuolumne Meadows to Bishop (taking 3 weeks, in August 2012). As we are away from Australia and don't have any local contacts, no-one will really notice if we don't get to our resupply points on time! So we are looking into a personal safety communication device. Satellite phone / PLB / SPOT - these are all unfamiliar devices to us with somewhat scary tech details ... Can any of you please suggest (in simple language for non tech-savvy people!) what might suit our needs? We are really hoping we won't need to use the device at all, really just to contact emergency services if we need medical disaster evacuation. Thinking so far is that: satellite phone is good for two way communication and can be hired for our trip but heavy and recharging might be a pain ; SPOT - reliability? Cost (can they be hired?) and difficulty to set up (we won't have a computer in the USA to program the thing...; PLB - well I haven't looked into these at all and can't say I really know what they are or do... Of course we have a regular mobile phone but I'm assuming there won't be any reception where we will be...

ed hyatt
(edhyatt) - MLife

Locale: The North
JMT emergency on 02/18/2012 02:01:52 MST Print View

I did the JMT from the UK.

It's a very busy trail with many people around to help you out if you did get into any trouble; so I'd take the light option of nothing.

Bob Bankhead
(wandering_bob) - MLife

Locale: Oregon, USA
JMT emergency on 02/18/2012 10:40:44 MST Print View

The JMT in August is like a major highway; you'll meet lots of people going both directions every day.

There are also back country rangers with radios stationed along the trail, although they may be out patroling when you pass their tent cabins. You may meet one or two.

The consensus among thru-hikers is that AT&T and Verizon provide the best coverage on the PCT, but don't expect anything close to continuous coverage. We could not get coverage from AT&T atop any of the passes along the JMT, although we did not test it at Donahue Pass. AT&T has the best (and it's spotty) coverage in the Sierra; far superior to Verizon or TMobile.

See Halfmile’s list of known cell phone coverage points for specific areas.

Also see Posterholer's PCT FAQs at

In my opinion, a cell phone is almost useless in the Sierra and is just one more small thing to keep track of. It gives one a false sense of security. It's great when it works, allowing you to call ahead for motel reservations and the like, but as an emergency contact device, it's very unreliable at best. If yours has a good camera, it might be worth taking just for that.

I've never tried a satellite phone nor have I seen any hiker with one, but I'd venture they'll work just fine in the Sierra with all that open view of the sky. Still, that's a fair amount of weight for the phone and its charger or extra battery. I've never seen a current bush along the trail.

Many hikers leave the electronics behind specifically to get away from technology for awhile, but a few must always be accessible to the outside world for one reason or another. That could make the expense of a sat phone worth it.

Edited by wandering_bob on 02/18/2012 11:08:37 MST.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Probably nothing on 02/18/2012 10:58:54 MST Print View

I'll second the motion that you probably don't need anything. However if you do want something I'd guess the SPOT is your cheapest option, I don't know if they're rented.
Basically you program an email address into the SPOT. As you go you can press the OK key. That sends a satalite signal to that email address telling them you're okay (I call this the "make mom feel good feature). If you get in trouble you can press HELP and a message goes to that email that you need help. If its really life threatening you press the 911 key. This sends a message to the SPOT headquarters. They'll call your family than call the local authorities and tell them you're in trouble.
I've carried a SPOT but only for my mom's peice of mind. I've never needed one and neither have any of friends.

Diana Michaels
(DonnaL) - F

Locale: Australia
Poor Mum! on 02/21/2012 23:23:37 MST Print View

Thanks people for all this good advice. I certainly wouldn't be giving my mum's contact details to the SPOT people! I know the liklihood of disaster is remote, but I'm keen to do everything possible to be self sufficient and to minimize risk. It is reassuring that there will be lots of other people around but I suppose I'm thinking of a real medical emergency or accident or natural disaster and in this type of situation other people are only going to be a help if THEY have got a signalling device! Still hoping to hear from more people ... Does anyone have any experience with this sort of thing? (I'm happy that not many have, of course!)

David K
(aviddk) - F

Locale: SW Oregon
Satellite phone on 02/22/2012 10:19:04 MST Print View

Rent a satellite phone for the duration of your trip. If a situation would require contacting your Mum, for instance, she would be in absolute panic to receive an SOS from your spot unit. If you have a sat phone, you or someone else can call your mum, emergency responders , news media, etc. and they can call you back if necessary. The other benefit is you can be a hero and potentially save the life of another less prepared hiker.

The Globalstar GSP-1700 weighs 7 oz and when off the battery lasts for weeks. A poster at the yahoo MTR board said his wife texts him the weather daily and he talks with her briefly each day and the battery made it through his jmt hike. YMMV

Edited by aviddk on 02/22/2012 10:19:55 MST.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Satellite phone on 02/22/2012 11:46:42 MST Print View

There are many threads on SPOT, PLB, and satellite Pros and Cons here on BPL. You need to identify what is important to you and your hike.

I hike solo on the JMT, the Winds in Wyoming, the CDT in Colorado, and the Grand Canyon. Trips are typically 7 to 10 days long. Off-trail routes are common. Camps are out of sight and sound of trails, when possible.

I have a 3 year old McMurdo FastFind 210. $250US at REI and many other places. Weight is 155 grams. Battery life is 5 years. You will need to register the unit with NOAA. It's free, easy, and instant. My unit sends only "Come and get me." No texting. No "I'm OK."

When activated it sends a GPS location to a government facility which then notifies the relevant county sheriff. (In additon, it broadcasts a local homing signal to help the "near in" search.) The sheriff then coordinates the S&R. The contact information you provide is to confirm the signal is not a false alarm (amazingly common). The S&R will proceed whether or not communications are established with your contact information.

You could probably sell it at the end of your trip to recover half or more. You would have to re-register the unit for the new owner, who would then gain total control.

If you want basic and bombproof this, or whatever is current, is my recommendation.

Edit: If you can convince yourself of SPOT's reliability, it offers $50,000US of S&R insurance for $13US. If this appeals to you, check to see if SPOT and its features are supported in Australia.

Edited by greg23 on 02/22/2012 12:48:22 MST.

Carl Zimmerman
(CarlZ993) - MLife
SPOT on 02/22/2012 18:02:11 MST Print View

I've been using a SPOT for over 3 yrs now. I'm on my 2nd version. I love it. The 2nd version is much better - lighter, more 'mistake-proof,' better reception, etc. [Note: The new version has a protective cover over the 'help' and 'SOS' buttons to prevent accidental activation... a problem with the older version.]

The 'OK' messages will send an email to those 10 people on your list w/ a link to Google Maps to show them where you are. You can also subscribe for a tracking feature that will show them in basically real time where you are (have to keep the device on). This is an extra & not really needed for most folks.

I had to use the 'SOS' signal (old version lists '911,' not all countries use those number to designate an emergency) when I came upon a bad motorcycle wreck in the middle of nowhere in NZ. The SPOT folks contacted my emergency contacts and questioned them thoroughly about all medical information about us. My step-son (law enforcement officer) was quite impressed with their professionalism. Once SPOT learned that we were OK and that it was someone else that was hurt, they called back our emergency contact people and let them know that we were okay.

Now, it is possible to send text messages back in forth w/ the SPOT and similar devices. Costs more, of course, for this luxury.

First Last
(snusmumriken) - F

Locale: SF Bay Area
Emergency device on 02/23/2012 19:07:57 MST Print View

+1 on not needing an emergency communications device
But, if you are going to get one read the links above on the pros and cons of each.

My hiking mate brought a SPOT along this past summer. She sent OK messages home each night. Some of them went through and some of them didn't. I think it made for more worry then comfort for the folks back home.

Here are some low tech devices that you should bring:

Paper and pen - leaving a note on the trail that you are camped nearby and need help can be very effective. I saw this on my JMT hike in 2005. A hiker feeling unwell had put a note on the trail, the next person added to the note that they were running for help, the third person added to the note that they had checked on the hiker and by the time I came along a few hours later the ranger was there and the helicopter circling above.

Map and compass - maybe brush up on the skills if you are rusty.
Also study the map of surrounding areas and have all your bail out points annotated on your trail map.

A first aid kit, but only bring the medications you know how to use. The most important is probably foot/ blister care.

A trash bag for your sleeping bag, just in case you take a tumble into a stream you want to make sure your sleeping gear stays dry.

When I hike with friends we try to make sure that each hiker is self sufficient with everything they might need including shelter. That way if one is injured, the other can hike out for help.

But really, you are worrying to much. The trail is delightful in August and as others have pointed out, very well traveled. You'll have a wonderful time.

Diana Michaels
(DonnaL) - F

Locale: Australia
Re: Worrying Too Much! on 02/24/2012 04:21:11 MST Print View

Oh thanks Kristin, you made me laugh about worrying too much. I haven't even scratched the surface of all the things I am worrying about!!! LOL. What does poison ivy look like? Are there tarantulas / rattlesnakes ? What do we do if a tick bites us again? What if I am trapped in my sleeping bag and can't get out and a bear is clawing through the tent? What are hornets? What if we GET an emergency signalling device, but the one who falls off the cliff was the one carrying it? - do we need one each then? What are the symptoms of West Nile Disease? What if I lose my sunglasses and my eyes get sunburned and I can't see to hike - maybe I should carry spare sunglasses... What if we get sick of polenta and noodles? Lightning. There are other more intimate female concerns to do with natural bodily cyclic events that might be scheduled to occur during the hike. Enough said. And that's not even thinking about all the things that could go wrong back at home while we are away. You should see the emergency instructions I leave in a sealed envelope for the poor parents who are looking after our beloved Labrador, just in case she becomes mortally ill while we are away!!! LOL !!! Thank God for alcohol, eh? But y'know, once all the preparations are done and I feel sure we have done everything we can to be safe (and I mean EVERYTHING!!!!) and we're on the trail, and surrounded by gorgeous beautiful nature I am FREEEEEE!!! and don't worry about a thing. You are right, it will be fun and I'm so blessed to be able to do it and I'll absolutely love it. The trepidation and anxiety will make it all the more thrilling when we are actually there in the Range of Light with everything we need on our backs! Oh it can't come quickly enough !!

(But I think we'll hire a satellite phone, just in case ...)