Satellite Communication

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sierraman

 
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Satellite Communication

by sierraman » Wed Nov 10, 2021 4:16 pm

In 2020 I came within a few days of being trapped in the backcountry by the Creek Fire. To avoid a repetition of that peril, this year we decided to rent a satellite phone. The phone was expensive, heavy and something you don't want to lose or get wet. However, it was comforting to get messages from home that everything was Ok and to know you could summon help if needed. I recently became aware of a product called a "bivy stick" from a company named ACRARTEX. This device, which only weighs slightly more than 3 ounces, turns your cellular phone into a satellite communication device. The one time cost to purchase is about what I paid for a 2 week phone rental. It doesn't provide voice communication, but we primarily used our rental phone for text messaging anyway, to preserve battery life.

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mstender

 
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Re: Satellite Communication

by mstender » Wed Nov 10, 2021 8:31 pm

I use a Garmin InReach for satellite communication as I often hike and camp (often alone too) in remote areas in AZ without cell reception. I can text my wife either via pre-set messages or typing and you can call help with an SOS button. It also functions as a normal GPS though I prefer my phone for tracking however I do often upload waypoints or tracks as back-up.

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Re: Satellite Communication

by colinr » Thu Nov 11, 2021 7:58 am

Solid overview of devices here-->https://www.outdoorgearlab.com/topics/camping-and-hiking/best-personal-locator-beacon

You will likely be able to get a steep discount on InReach Mini or others during the holiday season. It's becoming common practice for people who venture out of cell range much on wilderness adventures to carry one.

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Re: Satellite Communication

by jibmaster » Wed Dec 01, 2021 6:07 pm

I bought a satellite phone a long time ago from a friend who has owned it since the '80's.
A few years ago, the company sent me a new one for free.
https://www.globalstar.com/en-us/produc ... lite-phone
I have unlimited minutes which costs me $112/month - been a customer for over 20 years...
The old phone was big and bulky. The new phone is super light and very small. I keep it in on old, hardshell sunglasses case to prevent the buttons from being pressed accidentally while in my pack.
The phone is kept turned off to preserve battery life. It has gotten me out of broken down vehicle situations in the backcountry a number of times.

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sierraman

 
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Re: Satellite Communication

by sierraman » Sat Dec 11, 2021 4:39 pm

Considering the improvements in technology and reduction in cost, it can be predicted that more and more backcountry visitors will be carrying satellite phones in the future. Hopefully the government agencies issuing permits to those visitors will develop a plan to utilize these communication devices to improve hiker safety. For instance broadcasting a missing hiker alert.

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Romain

 
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Re: Satellite Communication

by Romain » Mon Dec 13, 2021 6:54 am

I am not sure the generalization of these devices is a good thing. First, they amount to a safety net, and will encourage more risk taking - so it is not clear they will result in fewer deaths and injuries (they will for sure result in more SAR operations and costs, including many for frivolous reasons). Second, they amount to a lower barrier to entry into the backcountry, which will encourage more people to visit, under the mistaken impression that it is somehow safer than it is. Third, these devices result in more anxiety for those back home who will grow accustomed to receiving periodic news, and will worry as soon as they don't (if a device is lost, drained of battery, etc.).

Personally, despite lots of pressure from those around me, I have resisted carrying these things on my trips, and plan to continue to resist. I go there to disconnect from everything, and I feel it would ruin the experience to know you can actually stay connected.

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mstender

 
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Re: Satellite Communication

by mstender » Mon Dec 13, 2021 11:18 pm

Romain wrote:First, they amount to a safety net, and will encourage more risk taking - so it is not clear they will result in fewer deaths and injuries (they will for sure result in more SAR operations and costs, including many for frivolous reasons). Second, they amount to a lower barrier to entry into the backcountry, which will encourage more people to visit, under the mistaken impression that it is somehow safer than it is. Third, these devices result in more anxiety for those back home who will grow accustomed to receiving periodic news, and will worry as soon as they don't (if a device is lost, drained of battery, etc.).

Do you have data to support your 3 points?
I don't have a large dataset but can tell from my personal experience (myself and a couple of friends use a satellite based device) that nobody is taking more risks and it's just a peace of mind. I can tell you that my wife feels a lot better since I have the device because I can keep her posted where I am and I can also inform her when I'm running late. It used to result in a lot of anxiety when I was running late and could not inform my wife.
Last edited by mstender on Tue Dec 14, 2021 4:25 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Romain

 
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Re: Satellite Communication

by Romain » Tue Dec 14, 2021 7:52 am

I don’t think there’s data either way, really. I was just pointing out that the effects are not necessarily going to be as obvious as usually assumed. It’s a personal decision and people should certainly do what they think is best.

I recently read the operations report of Mono SAR and was struck by how many frivolous calls they seem to get - people who press the button and then when SAR shows up it turns out they are fine. Or other cases where knowing they could get rescued plausibly got people in trouble in the first place. Like a soloist who got stuck on a ledge on Crystal Crag. These folks simply should not be there. Maybe they wouldn’t be there if they did not carry a safety device.

https://www.monosar.org/missions

Example:

« July 10, 2021 Op 21-359 #14
At 1159 hours the Team was called to assist 2 climbers stranded on Laurel Mountain. The climbers stated via text message on their Inreach satellite device that they had climbed terrain they were unable to downclimb, and the terrain above was too difficult. The climbers did not have a rope, harnesses, or any gear to build anchors for a rappel. »

These guys were thoughtful enough to a bring an inreach device but not a rope. Might have been better if they’d done the opposite.

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sierraman

 
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Re: Satellite Communication

by sierraman » Fri Dec 17, 2021 7:56 pm

I think Romain has brought up some excellent points, particularly about friends or family members initiating an unnecessary SAR operation when they don't get an expected check in call. We cautioned our families not to panic if we didn't check in, mainly because we had never used a satellite phone before and didn't know how reliable it would be. But the main reason we elected to take the phone was our experience with the Creek Fire. In particular I read afterwards that some backpacking parties who had passed out of the fire zone turned around and headed back into harms way due to a lack of information. For that reason alone I will be carrying a phone in the future.

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colinr

 
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Re: Satellite Communication

by colinr » Sat Dec 18, 2021 2:58 pm

Happy Holidays, y'all. While I personally have leaned at times toward not consistently bringing nor heavily using the satellite communication devices I have owned and can relate to the sentiments Romain has brought up, I generally believe that many SAR teams would prefer that folks err on the side of quickly being able to share as precisely as possible where they are and exactly what the chief concerns are when calling for help. Aside from egregiously frivolous cases, I believe they also prefer people err on the side of putting in a call for help to potentially avert an unnecessarily bigger or worsening crisis. Many medical issues or physical trauma cases can happen through little or no fault of the patient and worsen quickly without advanced care. Sierraman's point about being able to easily receive valuable safety information (fire news, etc.) is well taken, too.

I personally had a friend use his device to help me get out safely and relatively quickly while severely injured in a remote spot and I have assisted or known other wilderness users who may have had situations turn out much better than would have occurred had rescue been delayed. There is certainly something to be said for not expecting help in the wilderness and being well prepared for adventures, but the system is generally set up to prevent loss of life and worsenening major medical issues as effectively as possible even if costly and in conflict with a piece of wilderness ethic some may attempt to maintain. Some people, including someone I came across and aided in getting helicoptered out, resist asking for help that could save a life because of concern about huge bills, misjudgement
of necessity of a quick rescue, and/or embarassment....some of these dilemmas are related to the messy state the U.S. health insurance system and misconceptions about helicopter rescues that may actually be free for the victim and preferable in multiple ways to a ground team rescue.

As far as the classic class 4 scramble on Laurel Mountain, I once scrambled right up it with no issue, but another time overcame a route finding error that had me briefly dodging rock missles from my partner above in a chute and then free soloing a couple 5.5ish moves in approach shoes to get back to the standard route. Although some safety gear may be prudent to have along, that is route where the expectation is a rope is more likely to cause problems/hazards than be of help due to easy climbing and notoriously loose rock that is unusually hard to protect and easy to knock on people below without great shelter from the potential barrage. It is not a route to be taken lightly for the inexperienced, but I'm not surprised a party got in over their heads there.

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Romain

 
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Re: Satellite Communication

by Romain » Fri Dec 24, 2021 9:00 am

What you say makes sense. There's no doubt these devices help on an individual level, i.e. a person in the wilderness is safer with than without. My point was simply that since the devices are likely to change incentives and behavior, it is not obvious that they will result in fewer injuries and deaths overall. And also that I personally dislike the thought of carrying one for reasons separate from my personal safety.


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