GPS can help pinpoint your location on a map (saving you the trouble of actually observing, and paying some attention to, the surrounding terrain), but in the Ventana Wilderness that isn’t necessarily useful in getting you to where you want to go.
Are GPS units and cell phones creating more “emergencies” in the Wilderness than they’re preventing or resolving? An article in today’s New York Times suggests this may be the case.
We’ve been seeing some pretty compelling evidence of technology-manufactured emergencies right here in our own backyard. Earlier this year, for example, the Ventana Wilderness saw two dubious “emergencies” in a single weekend.
In the first, an “experienced” hiker called for rescue (apparently from somewhere in the vicinity of Mocho Camp) because she was disoriented, or not looking forward to climbing back up the Devil’s Staircase, or … something. When the rescue helicopter was, unsurprisingly, unable to find a place to land in her vicinity, rescue personnel hiked in and provided her with … well, with hiking companions for the trip back out.
The very next day, an individual making a day hike across the Wilderness from Arroyo Seco to Big Sur developed sore feet and called for rescue while on the final stretch of his hike along the Coast Ridge. Rescuers dutifully drove up the Coast Ridge Rd., found him, and gave him a ride back down.
What’s notable about both these incidents is that the people involved would likely never have gone to the places where they found themselves in “trouble” had they not had their technological security blankets with them and, if they had gotten into those situations without a way to call for help, they would almost certainly have been able to resolve their problems themselves. Hiking a few miles on sore, even very sore, feet may not be pleasant. Standing at the bottom of the Devil’s Staircase on a hot, buggy afternoon may be acutely demoralizing. But neither of these things are emergencies in the traditional sense of the word.
The Devil’s Staircase
While we have never seen a reason to carry electronic devices with us in the woods, we have no issue with other people doing so – provided they don’t use them to call for help every time they feel fatigue or fear. They’re having their fun, just like we’re having ours. But we do worry about those who operate under the delusion that the ability to pinpoint one’s position on a map, or to call for rescue with the push of a button, is making them significantly “safer.” While serious injury or death is very unlikely in the Ventana Wilderness, none of the primary dangers one faces (heat stroke, hypothermia, falling into ravines, etc.) is made less serious by carrying electronics.
While it is easy to dream up imaginary scenarios where sending a distress signal to a satellite saves the day, real accidents where this kind of capability is necessary are few indeed. Safety in the wild begins with awareness of one’s surroundings. Anything that distracts you from giving your full attention to where you are and what you’re doing, or encourages you to believe that you need not be fully self reliant, is making you less safe.