View Full Version : Initiating a rescue?

02-24-2009, 03:07 PM
Have you made arrangements with your spouse, significant other, or family pet when to initiate a rescue?

spider solo
02-24-2009, 03:10 PM
for hiking wait till next day if over due.
for paddling same day if over due

02-24-2009, 03:12 PM
We leave my sister with our hiking plan and an estimated time of arrival back in Boston. She has been instructed to post on VFTT 6 to 12 hours after our ETA has passed to see if anyone can give updated info on having crossed paths with us, etc. At 24 hours past our ETA she has the emergency numbers to call and report us missing.

We always carry all needed items to survive a typical 24 hours in current conditions. In winter this includes sleeping bags and a tarp and many times a stove and cookpot and fuel. Our winter day hiking packs weigh about 25 pounds and our overnight packs weigh twice that.

Barring any serious debilitating injury, we should be able to get out on our own even if the time in which we do it is longer than expected. Also my ETA usually has about 3 to 5 hours extra time already built into it . . . (my sister doesn't know that ;) ).


02-24-2009, 03:16 PM
Yes, I always let at least a trusted friend and a family member know that within 24 hours of not returning, to notify the appropriate authorities. This has worked out well, because on some trips we have been several hours late (as in 7+), and had we not had a system in place, lots of unnecessary trouble could have been had.

Not having a system like this in place has caused some of my friends great trouble. In one instance a friend had the entire police and fire department out looking for him after he was a few hours late.

When I am late, however, I do my best to call my friends and/or family to let them know I'm going to be late. If I have no cell service or something, oh well, we have the 24 hour system!

I always tell our pets where we are going, and our family goldfish have been trained to hop out of their tank, flop to the phone, and press speed dial 1 if they have not been fed for a day or two. So far this has worked well, and saved my life on at least 4 occasions. ;)

02-24-2009, 03:16 PM
I think 24 hours is fine. However my wife and my son's mother (not the same person) want a call before we take packs off.

02-24-2009, 03:32 PM
One of the advantages of being single is that nobody makes a fuss if you're not sleeping in your own bed. In the past I've done some really annoying treks in order to get to a phone within the alloted time, when I'd rather have simply bivvied. Nowadays I usually don't tell anybody where I'm going. I figure that gives me half a month, on average, to get back before the landlord starts to worry about the rent.

02-24-2009, 03:33 PM
24 works. But every time I call my wife to let her know I'm on my way home she complains about not being able to collect the insurance...:mad:

Fisher Cat
02-24-2009, 03:46 PM
I think you should ask : How long would it be until you admit you are overdue?I would wait at least 7 days to even admit I was overdue.

I've never needed it but I usually leave with my parents or brother my route, along with likely bail-outs, should the need arise. I think it helps them feel better too. I think its great to leave the plan with someone you have hiked a lot with before. They could provide a lot of insight into your hiking style and thinking pattern to any rescuers should the need arise.

02-24-2009, 03:59 PM
It all depends on the hike and weather conditions/ how many in group & time of year as to my time-frame.

I leave itinerary and parking spot with friends and call when I can with the understanding that cell service is not available, so panic is not neccesary until 24 hrs..

If solo hiking, someone always has my out time, start to worry time, worry time and panic and call time..... my parking options...for car finding also

02-24-2009, 04:01 PM
No plan, no set-up, but, my wife always makes me leave a jpeg of my route and I leave the rest up to her. I am sure she would wait "long enough".

Beyond that, I do my best. So far , so good.

02-24-2009, 04:15 PM
A friend spent two nights out and was not even missed by his office-mates.

This is a good reminder to have "the talk" with family and co-workers and to leave an itinerary somewhere that gives an indication of where we might be. I give a call to my parents after a hike and once my mother said, "Well, it must be nice to not have any responsibilities so you can go off like that." :( I still call her anyway.

02-24-2009, 04:27 PM
its only when i solo in winter do i make sure to tell friends where i'll be, but they usually always ask where i'm going/what trails up and down i'll be taking before i even bring it up. how thoughtful. :cool:

i call or text when i'm out. they know when to start worrying.

not much use to tell my family since they live in georgia and have no clue where or what the flume slide is. but they are happy to know that someone is keeping tabs on me.

my cat would only care once the food got low in the dish. even then, there's a few mice running around my apartment.

02-24-2009, 04:31 PM
My wife hikes solo much more than I do. I don't know about the 24 hours though. If she's on a day hike and expected to be out some time in the late afternoon I think I would be reporting her missing the first thing the next morning. So maybe 10 to 15 hours overdue. If I was to wait the whole 24 hours that could easily mean another night out without anyone searching. If nothing else, I would start in on her intended route the first thing in the morning after one night out.

02-24-2009, 04:44 PM
When I am hiking alone, my BF knows to expect the unexpected. I always leave the house with about a half dozen possible itineraries for the day. I may be out very late and/or I may be nowhere near the trailhead I intended to take when the trip was first planned. If I was on a dayhike and didn't make contact by the early afternoon of day 2, there may be cause for concern. He lurks on this website and would be sure to check it for information from other hikers who may have crossed my path based on my intended route. He knows my level of preparedness and would probably just find my car in a parking lot and hike in to see what was going on with me. I don't think he would initiate a formal rescue under any circumstances.

On family hikes, my sister keeps tabs on us. She is a total non-hiker, so she tends to overreact a bit. She is forever updating our itinerary and calling us to see if we are home yet. Like sli74's sister, she has been a sister to a backpacker long enough to know what to expect.

Mike P.
02-24-2009, 06:06 PM
I picked five but it varies by trip & time of year. A summer presidential traverse, it could be several hours, I'd probably phone in from the top to provide a status assuming I got there when the building was open.

Winter on a peak with exposure & very cold weather coming I or already in place, if solo, since I get an early start, I might make it two hours with the idea they might start that afternoon.

02-24-2009, 06:11 PM
Well, I think that some folks might be surprised that I chose two hours in the poll. I give my wife a time that I expect to be home (or on the phone) and then a separate time to call the authorities to report me overdue. That second time is rarely more than two hours later. I make a real hard effort to be home, or at least back to cell phone range, by that first time. I also leave her a map and a description of what I'm doing.

In many years of responding to SAR callouts, I never minded the all-so-frequent "turnaround" call on the radio or cell phone after starting out from home in the middle of the night. And I don't recall hearing a complaint on that point from any other responder or law enforcement officer -- it's part of being a responder. Delaying the overdue report makes the search harder and puts someone's life at risk.

Maybe some of my conservatism on this point reflects the fact that I go solo all the time. Since I'm the one making the route plan, setting the pace, and making the decision when to turn back, I have a pretty good idea what sort of thing would delay me seriously. And going solo means that that "sort of thing" needs an early response, not a later one.

02-24-2009, 06:26 PM
I don't solo in winter, because I don't fel like carrying the stuff to survive the night on what's supposed to be a "day hike." When I solo in the summer, I don't need to carry anything extra to survive a night. When I'm solo hiking in the summer, the standing arrangement I have with my wife is to initiate a search early the next morning (the Rangers don't generally search at night in the summer).

02-24-2009, 06:42 PM
Interesting question. I always leave a plan for my wife, but unless I am alone / in a small, well-known group, it's hard to give her an exact time. I give her a general time frame and call when I get back to the car.

I waited until I got home to ask her and she said "I wouldn't sleep but would probably wait until early morning." That's not 24 full hours, but it's more than 5.


02-24-2009, 06:44 PM
I don't tell anyone where I'm going unless I'm bushwhacking. I have been hiking in the Whites for over 30+ years and know the trails very well. I've have taken risks with weather but have turned around when I reached my maximum comfort level. In the event of injury, there are enough hikers around nowadays to help me but if I was unable to walk, I'll crawl to get into a protected area off the ridge...in that case I would probably use my cell phone.

02-24-2009, 08:00 PM
If I am out for an easy hike on trails often nobody knows where I've gone, in the summer I'm often away for several days so it could be a long time before I'm missed

On difficult trips or winter trips, I often tell somebody where I'll be and what time to take action if I'm not back

Realistically I should get a PLB rather than expecting anybody to find me some places I go

02-24-2009, 08:04 PM
In this day and age of over-the-top safety, responsibility and leaving as little as possible to chance I deliberately sneak out a few times a year on solo off-trail excursions.

No chance of being found or picked up. All the ties are severed. "Winter, summer, springtime or fall. All you have to do is never call. I won't be there."

In spite of what one might read in a magazine laying about in a dental office I believe that doing this sort of thing brings one to a sate of awareness in a very zingy type of way.

02-24-2009, 08:04 PM
Since I don't have any of the contactees mentioned, and don't carry a cell phone. Nevah

02-24-2009, 08:31 PM
I try to give a realistic window, but give assurances to my wife and others that my mileage may vary. I learned after hiking Allen that it is really hard to get the timing message across to nervous family members. I had a due, slightly overdue, and an overdue time, but I reset them by two hours with a message from the top via cell phone (it's a matter of luck up there, but I got one through). Once I was down it took about an hour of driving to find a cell tower. While I was still in my revised window, all the main fuses had been blown, and I think the entire US Air Force was being mobilized.

Now my message and messaging are clearer. I've got SPOT, ham radio, and the cell phone. One of them is going to work if I'm in a jam or way behind schedule. People are asked to please not worry, because bad news will get through, unless I have the ultimate misfortune of killing myself. And I can deliver good news periodically. I'm far less worried about myself than I am about keeping people reasonably assured while I'm out wandering.

But back to the numbers: two seems too nervous, twenty four (at least for my treks) far too much (and nobody would wait that long). Five seems pretty reasonable. I suspect there are many in my family would say two.


02-24-2009, 08:38 PM
A search or a rescue?

Many people self-rescue.

Give it some time. I can't tell you how many dozens of times I had been called out too soon, just to discover someone stopped by a friends, went out to dinner, or the young couple was just spending some quality time alone in the woods.

But of course some cases the stakes are higher and the agenda specific.

02-24-2009, 08:54 PM
wifie says "2 days". What a woman.:D

02-24-2009, 10:26 PM
I picked "5 hours," but it's usually (effectively) the next morning. Particularly during the summer, I may get off-trail fairly late, and she knows to expect a call once I'm off. If I expect to be out earlier (by 4 or 5-ish), I'll say to call about 9pm or so, but be sure and let F&G know that I'm equipped for an emergency overnight. That lets the wheels get turning but hopefully lets everyone have a good night's sleep.

Thanks for the perspective, sardog1. Good to know what those on the "other side" would like :)

02-25-2009, 03:07 AM
My wife will NEVER call anyone if I do not return from a trip. Here are the reasons:

She has complete confidence in my ability to get home.

She is well aware of my survival skills.

She knows that if I could not get out then I would die a happy person doing what I loved the most in life.

She also knows that I may just stay in the woods and never come out!

02-25-2009, 07:04 AM
She has been instructed to post on VFTT 6 to 12 hours after our ETA has passed to see if anyone can give updated info on having crossed paths with us, etc. At 24 hours past our ETA she has the emergency numbers to call and report us missing.


that's a good idea right there and just another great use of the website..

I have always been a little lax in this respect..sometimes not deciding where I am going to until I am there.. Am getting wiser with age however

02-25-2009, 08:43 AM
Some points to consider in setting your time for an overdue report to the authorities.

Response in the winter to a remote location can easily take many hours. An evacuation will take even longer once they arrive (unless a helicopter is available.)

Never count on a helicopter being available.

Never count on a helicopter being able to fly when you need one.

Never count on a helicopter being able to land or drop off rescuers while it hovers above your location.

The agencies in charge of SAR have protocols for deciding when to dispatch teams, depending on the circumstances. Better IMO to make the overdue report and let them decide whether and when to send help. Turnarounds are part of the game for them.

YMMV as a responder, but I never minded being called out "too early." I've seen instances where "too late" made a difference in the outcome.

02-25-2009, 08:47 AM
No option in the poll for this approach.

We leave our plans, sometimes in excruciating detail ... which, of course, is always subject to change ... with my wife, who harbors the attitude, "They got themselves into it, they can get themselves out of it." She also knows where I keep the insurance policies. Other than that, we trust her good senses and instincts to know when to place an alert.

02-25-2009, 08:57 AM
Interesting question, good topic for a poll. I chose 5 hrs. I dont think I've ever come home from a hike after 8pm. If it's after midnight and I'm not home, then somethings gone wrong.

02-25-2009, 10:39 AM
Is there a form / template set of questions that F&G would ask my wife if she called to report me missing? In other words, what information besides routes, peaks, and ETAs should she have?


02-25-2009, 10:51 AM
On day hikes, I call my wife from the car on the way to the trailhead, since that is when I usually decide where I am going. On overnight trips, she gets a detailed written itinerary with map.

What she does with this information, and when she does it, is her business.

02-25-2009, 11:02 AM
Is there a form / template set of questions that F&G would ask my wife if she called to report me missing? In other words, what information besides routes, peaks, and ETAs should she have?


I'm not a SAR member, but I'd reckon they'd want to know what you're carrying in your pack/what you have with you. For example, snowshoes, bivy, stove, etc.

Bob T
02-25-2009, 11:13 AM
I'm quite surprised by how long some of you don't mind being unaccounted for! Since MadRiver didn't specify the time of year and whether you're solo or not I guess the answers are going to vary quite a bit.

I'm going to constrain my answer to solo mid-winter excursions. Click here (http://bananafish.freehostia.com/Trip-Description-Example.html) for an example "flight plan" that I file with mission control (aka my sweetie) every time I go out. It contains very explicit instructions for when to start a rescue and when not to. I primarily explore the greater Ammonoosuc Watershed Metropolitan Area so the posted plan is customized for how to start a rescue in that zone. I carry a Spot Sat. Messenger. I don't carry a cell phone. I am out for 10+ mile excursions that often include significant off-trail navigation.

I created this form for a number of reasons.

1. Peace of mind for mission control.
2. To prevent Ms. Itchy Rescue Trigger Finger from pulling the trigger too early when I'm overdue. The last thing I ever want to see when returning late to the trailhead is a SAR team out looking for me!
3. I feel tremendous responsibility bordering on guilt that I'm, in effect, subjecting my would-be rescuers to every risk I'm taking. This weighs heavily on my mind. Especially because I'm off-trail so much. I therefore want to make it as easy as possible to find me because it's going to seriously suck to get to the blah-blah slide in the middle of nowhere.
4. To force me to consider appropriate gear, current weather, impending storms, and avy conditions in a form that may be scrutinized by rescue professionals when deciding whether I was reckless. This isn't motivated by trying to avoid getting charged. It's more motivated by trying to make sure I'm well-prepared and don't so something really stupid!
5. I'm somewhat OCD and like thinking about these sort of details. :)

02-25-2009, 12:31 PM
I chose 5 hours, but that would be likely end up being the next day, as I usually don't get back to the trailhead till late afternoon or early evening.( do not usually hike alone in winter). I have atrigger finger husband, so unless he heard from me within a reasonable time period, he would be on the phone to the authorities.
I like the idea of posting on Views.

02-25-2009, 12:39 PM
I'm quite surprised by how long some of you don't mind being unaccounted for!

I am a VERY slow hiker and many times will choose to night hike as a result of my pace. I am almost always equipped to spend the night out, in winter this includes a sleeping bag and some sort of emergency shelter. The delayed response time is to allow me time to get out of the woods because most of the time the delay is related to my pace and not to any real or perceived emergency.

In the case of an emergency unless life threatening, I am equipped to surivive past the send help time of 24 hours post ETA.

I do however like your very detailed link. I doubt I would ever be on top of things enough to fill out such a form for my sister. Usually she gets a last minute email telling her the mountains and trails I will be attempting. Like wardsgirl said, sisters of regular backpackers like myself (slow) are used to such delays and the reason she is my "at home person to worry" is because she won't jump the gun and worry too soon like my parents will.

Good thread by the way.


Fisher Cat
02-25-2009, 12:56 PM
I'm quite surprised by how long some of you don't mind being unaccounted for!

I don't know about everyone else, but that's the exact reason I'm out there to begin with.

02-25-2009, 01:04 PM
My initial reaction is that most of my hikes in such a way that I would not be expected home until late. I doubt my wife would go to sleep however, with me not being home yet and not calling in no matter what time in the day I was expected home. No way.

My other reaction is that she would call for help after being late a couple of hours so she could get ahold of me to yell at me for being late :p

02-25-2009, 01:06 PM
It's such a tossup ... if someone's just delayed due to poor conditions, or came out in the wrong place due to a wrong turn and is taking a long time to get to a car or phone, then notifying SAR prematurely is a waste of people's time and resources. However, if someone's on the ground going into shock, those extra waited hours can mean everything.

In my own personal practice, I go a couple of hours until I start worrying and calling around, maybe even drive up to try to find the car, but the next morning (8 hours or so) until I make it official and call the authorities.

02-25-2009, 01:47 PM
Bob T has pretty much everything in his list that a search manager would want to know. If you want to pare it down, here is a shorter list:

Physical description -- age, race, height, weight
Description of vehicle including license plate number
Anticipated parking place
Anticipated return home or contact time
Cell phone number, if any
Exterior clothing, including footwear size and type of sole if possible
Equipment carried, especially pack color if any
Type of activity -- hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, hunting, etc.
Planned objective(s) for the activity
Experience in that activity, particularly re: navigation and traveling in the terrain at issue
Health issues and medications -- be candid!
Names and descriptions of others in the party
24 hour phone contact for authorities

Do not call the state police in NH or VT. Do not call Fish and Game. Do not call the Maine Warden Service. Do not call the AMC. Call 911. It's the only place where you can be assured that your call will be recorded and the phone will always be answered. The 911 dispatcher will get the word to the agency with the legal responsibility for conducting the SAR operation.

Bob T
02-25-2009, 02:03 PM
sardog1, I researched which phone number to use for my situation (Ammonoosuc Watershed). I called NH F&G and then the Twin Mountain State Police Barracks. They both agreed it should be the Twin Mountain SP. Just sayin'. Of course 911 would get you there as well and works unconditionally in any location.

Edit to add: the main reason I was concerned with 911 is that my mission control is in VT and sometimes in Boston. I liked the idea of them talking to humans near where I was so when mission control said the words "North Twin" or whatever the guy/gal on the phone would grok immediately that this was in their zone and they were on the hook for it.

Little Rickie
02-25-2009, 02:39 PM
24 hrs on a weekend campout to the Adirondacks. I leave on Friday early am, out of the woods Sunday. I usually call home when I'm in cell phone range while driving home.

I leave a map for my wife with my trails highlighted and where I plan to sleep. My wife said she wouldn't worry if I was delayed since I prepare well and she has confidence in me.

If I felt too tired to finish hiking out I'd bivy/campout for the fun of it but I'd have to be real tired not to be able to shuffle along. I'd just rest more often and keep moving, depending on how far it is I have to go to get out and the weather.

On a day hike if I wasn't back by supper, without calling, I'd think she would worry.

02-25-2009, 03:35 PM
. Since I'm the one making the route plan, setting the pace, and making the decision when to turn back, I have a pretty good idea what sort of thing would delay me seriously. And going solo means that that "sort of thing" needs an early response, not a later one.
I'm with sardog1 on this. I voted 2 hours. This would be for winter solo's only. In summer or if I'm with someone else in winter, my wife doesn't care, assumes I'm drinking beer and out of cell range. If I'm more than 2 hours overdue, she'd make the call regardless of my "plan", even though she knows I'm always prepared to spend the night. This is the major reason I hardly ever solo in the winter anymore: too much stress worrying about distances and turn around times.

02-25-2009, 03:53 PM
I voted “2 hrs overdue,” largely under the influence of Sardog (post #16), who makes excellent points.

At best, I carry several health risk factors with me when hiking (age, height-weight, etc.), and so possibly could find myself kaput alongside a trail one day. But so far, I have completed my latter year hikes pretty well, so I hope to continue.

My assumption is that if I get substantially overdue, it probably will be because I’ve become incapacitated in some way. Of course, as I get older the possibility of becoming confused may become more of an issue. In any event, I think it better to get started looking for me sooner than it is later.

I do carry a cell phone (at Mrs. G’s behest). But in most cases, I suspect it would not help me because of where I tend to go. For some reason I feel no compulsion to obtain a GPS unit – I’ve always managed to find my way with map and compass.

Mrs. Grumpy understands that hiking is important to me. And so, we have an agreement that should something terrible befall me in the course of doing it, there can be natural sadness that comes with loss of one’s chosen lifetime companion, but no anger. There must be celebration for Grumpy, amidst his friends’ mourning. This is not bravado. It is a sincere expression of how I view these things.

I always make sure Mrs. Grumpy is aware of my plan for the day. And I do not deviate materially from that plan as I go, unless there is absolutely no other choice.

Oh, and while I will do hikes that I know will be challenging (and invariably turn out so) for me, I do not plan to undertake what seem like great risks in setting my hiking goals and objectives. There is a strong element of caution in what I do and how I do it. (I do not equate difficulty with risk – in my mind they are related, but remain two separate things.)