When to Call for Help

Ever have someone you know (or maybe even a total stranger) be overdue coming back from the mountains? Scary thought huh? You’re mind instantly thinks the worst has happened and you start thinking of what you could do to help them. You could call Search and Rescue and get the pros involved, or you could call a couple buddies and do some investigating on your own. Either way, you feel like you need (or should) do something.

The trouble with this scenario is that it is very important to act rationally and not create a more intense emergency by getting your own self in trouble. Often, unexpected things can happen to us in the wilderness that we are unprepared for and it is important for us to be ready for anything when responding to an emergency situation. Often, when responding to an overdue party, you really must think of taking care of two people (yourself and the victim) so you often need more gear that you think to get the job done.

But the question still remains, when is an overdue party really overdue? As a member of Teton Country Search and Rescue, we (or at least the board members) get calls from the public all the time and it is up to us to decide how quickly to react. Now, like I say, every situation is different and one would handle and missing 4 year old who wondered off near Flat Creek much different from an overdue climbing party on Wolfs Head in Wind River Range, which is notorious for epics. You have to weight each set off circumstances differently and with logical thought.

Generally speaking (though rarely followed), the rule of thumb is that you wait until the party is 24 hours overdue before you send out the troops. This typically will give the party enough time to get out if they can, or hopefully not have too much prolonged suffering in case of a real emergency. Though the urge is to immediately react to an overdue party, history teaches us to be patient, because most likely the overdue party is just running late.

Though I’ve had very few epics of my own (knock on wood), I’ve responded to some involving others. Like spending a cold night out in the elements this winter with an injured snowboarder in avalanche terrain on Teton Pass, and riding a four wheeler in the middle of the night in a snow storm high on a mountain ridge to rescue some injured, methed-up rednecks last fall. Not claiming to be a hero or anything, just saying that I’ve been in some real-deal situations while helping others and it’s not something we should take lightly.

Got a rescue or epic story of your own to tell?
Feel free to share it with us in the comments section.


4 Responses to “When to Call for Help”

  1. 1 randosteve Aug 26th, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    This one time…at band camp…

  2. 2 joshG Aug 27th, 2008 at 9:21 am

    What do you (or other readers) think about new products such as the SPOT locator, gizmo? Offers some interesting connection/info possibilities.


  3. 3 Bryan Aug 27th, 2008 at 11:51 am

    I think the SPOT device is great if used responsible. While I was on Denali this Summer, the Rangers had to respond for a SAR due to a SPOT beacon. Apparently the person had been using it in some type of transmit mode, but didn’t realize he had actually been transmitting a distress signal…. If you use it as a crutch and/or alter your decision making in the mountains because of it, I think you’re putting rescuers in undue danger if you activate that beacon.

  4. 4 randosteve Aug 27th, 2008 at 11:59 am

    I think SPOTs could give someone a false sense of security and ineveitably lead someone to make poor descisions when traveling alone in the BC. But then again…it could save someones life just the same! Tough call really…but it will be interesting to see how devices like this do in the outdoor industry.

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