Veteran search-and-rescue volunteer Michael Coyle advises hikers and outdoor enthusiasts entering the backcountry to turn off their cellphones to conserve battery power.
“Without fail, when people call for help, their batteries are just about dead,” Coyle told the Georgia Straight by phone from Burnaby.
But, just before hikers switch off their phones, the search-and-rescue (SAR) manager for Coquitlam Search and Rescue hopes they’ll snap a self-portrait of themselves and their party, and post it on social media.
Coyle is promoting the “trailhead selfie” because sometimes SAR teams don’t know where a missing hiker was headed and, therefore, where to look.
He said such a post may be shared on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, and should include a photo and text describing, at a minimum, the hiker’s location and destination, as well as how long they expect to be out.
Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter posts are automatically time-stamped, and users have the option to geotag them. Coyle said hikers should still identify the trailhead location in the text.
He noted hikers can provide more details if they’d like. They can also use the hashtag #TrailheadSelfie.
“What’s the last place they were, and where were they intending on going?” Coyle said. “That narrows down considerably where SAR is going start looking.”
(Update: North Shore Rescue has expressed concerns about the trailhead selfie.)
Coyle noted a trailhead selfie is easier to find if it’s posted publicly, but hikers with privacy concerns can share theirs privately with local friends and relatives.
A trailhead selfie can show an SAR team what a missing hiker looks like, what they are wearing, and what equipment they are carrying.
But Coyle stressed that a trailhead selfie is only useful to SAR teams if someone reports the hiker is missing.
“In and of itself, just posting it is not going to do much unless someone takes action,” he said.
That’s why Coyle hopes the trailhead selfie will catch on and raise awareness of the importance of hikers telling people where they are going.
Coyle asserted that hikers should always complete a trip plan and leave it with a friend or family member. Sample forms are available on the AdventureSmart website.
“You really should be filing a trip plan, and you should be taking the 10 essentials with you, and you should be prepared for your pursuit,” he said. “But if you do nothing else, at least tell someone where you’re going and when to expect you back, so that we have just a tiny bit of information on what you’re up to.”
One scenario encountered by SAR teams, according to Coyle, involves international exchange students who don’t have many local friends and use transit to get to trailheads. When they don’t return in the evening, they aren’t reported missing right away by their homestay families.
“It might be a day or two even before one of these people gets reported missing,” Coyle said. “This is something that they could do quite easily.”
Since accidents can happen to anyone, a trailhead selfie might be the last photo ever taken of an unfortunate hiker.
Coyle hopes this morbid thought will spur hikers to review their safety precautions every time they head into the backcountry.