Curtis Jones, a member of North Shore Rescue, told the Georgia Straight that his team believes these social-media posts—which include a self-portrait and text describing, at a minimum, the hiker’s location and destination, as well as how long they expect to be out—could lead to hikers feeling a “false sense of security” in the backcountry.
According to Jones, there’s a risk that tech-savvy youth will adopt the trailhead selfie as a replacement for informing a responsible person about their plans.
“They may do it instead of telling someone where they’re going,” Jones said by phone. “It doesn’t really solve a lot of the problems that we’ve been facing.”
NSR sees several problems with trailhead selfies. One for thing, posts sent to the masses on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter could lead to both the non-reporting and over-reporting of missing hikers. As well, some trailheads are out of cellphone range, and a selfie might fail to post or be hidden behind privacy settings.
Jones noted that NSR does check the social-media accounts of missing hikers after receiving a report.
But he stressed that a trailhead selfie is “not a viable alternative” to basic safety precautions, but an “extra way down the list of things you should do”.
“What it comes down to is a selfie at a trailhead is not always indicative of where a person eventually ends up on many trails,” Jones said. “When you have large networks with many entrances and exits, it could be a pretty massive search area. I think, in general, the base line for us is we will use whatever investigative tools that are at our disposal, but we see no value in proposing trailhead selfies in relation to what should be the gold standard—and that’s telling someone responsible where you are going, when to expect you back, and carrying the 10 essentials.”
Earlier this week, Michael Coyle, a search-and-rescue manager for Coquitlam SAR, told the Straight that he hopes the trailhead selfie will catch on and, consequently, raise awareness of the importance of hikers telling people where they are headed.
Coyle asserted that hikers should always complete a trip plan—sample forms are available on the AdventureSmart website—and leave it with a friend or family member.
“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 at the time. “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.”
In a February blog post, Coyle pointed out some caveats regarding the trailhead selfie.
“I shouldn’t have to say this, but SAR do not monitor social media. The advice here is that IF you’re reported missing by your friends or family, we will have a little bit of extra information to assist us,” Coyle wrote.
“No system is fool proof, posting a photo doesn’t replace any other preparatory activities; filing a trip plan, taking the 10 essentials are still part of backcountry common sense. Use the #TrailheadSelfie to remind yourself to be proud of your ability to plan for your trip.”
Jones’s message to hikers is simple.
“Pick up your phone, call your friend, family, neighbour, someone and give them a very brief description or a very in-depth description of where you’re going and when to expect you back,” Jones said. “And tell them, if you aren’t back by that time, to call the police.”