A pair of close calls in the North Shore mountains this week have underscored the dangers of relying on smartphones for navigation in the wilderness, according to rescuers.
In the first incident, two men in their 20s lost their way in the Mount Seymour area Tuesday while on a multi-day hiking trip, said Tim Jones, spokesman for North Shore Rescue. The hikers were trying to get to Lake Elsie, but ended up at a different lake, according to Jones. They had been relying on a GPS app on an iPhone.
The area has cellphone coverage in certain spots, and the backpackers managed to post a photo to Facebook as well as leave a voice message Tuesday with the father of one of the men.
"From what we saw on Facebook, we felt they were somewhere around a place called Gopher Lake," said Jones.
Using that information, members of the volunteer organization began an air and ground search on Wednesday morning, and quickly found the pair's tracks near Gopher Lake. The rescuers were in the midst of ramping up the search when the hikers walked out on their own around noon.
The following night, North Shore Rescue responded to another call, this one involving three people from New York City. A man in his 30s and his parents, both in their late 50s, had hiked into Hanes Valley behind Grouse Mountain, again using a map on an iPhone to navigate. They became dehydrated and exhausted and called for help around 9 p.m., said Jones, but initially the team was resistant to going into the area at night.
"We didn't really want to expose our members to any risk of going out there (in the dark) and snapping an ankle to got up to treat people who were generally OK," said Jones. But while rescuers encouraged the tourists to sit tight until morning, "they were not having any (of) it."
North Shore Rescue members hiked into the area, gave the hikers water and walked back out with them, a process that took until 5 a.m.
Jones suggested that the hikers, who seemed very anxious, were likely not used to being in a wilderness area.
Both rescues highlight the need to be fully prepared not just with proper clothing and footwear, but with orienteering knowledge as well, said Jones.
While there's nothing wrong with using smartphones, said Jones, backpackers should also have a paper map and a compass. Carrying a GPS unit is also a good idea because unlike a cellphone, batteries in a GPS can easily be replaced.
Smartphone GPS locators have provided false co-ordinates to rescuers in several recent incidents.