Cell Phone Saves Hiker in Avalanche

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson


Not that I begrudge this hiker his rescue, but this story makes my teeth itch.

A man hiking on Granite Mountain, near Seattle, was trapped in an avalanche that swept him 100 feet from the trail. Normally, that would be the end of the story and the rest of this blog would be an obituary.

However, this lucky bloke was apparently at the tail end of the avalanche. The snow left a little air pocket when it wrapped him up. Not only did he have a few hours’ worth of air to breathe, he was also able to get an arm free enough to dig in his pocket and pull out his cell phone. He dialed 911 and the call went through to dispatch.

It took about four hours for a search team to find the man. They were aided by being able to identify the cell tower that handled his call, and by information the hiker himself supplied, which suggested he was just off the main avalanche chute on the mountain.

The whole story is here and here.

I’ll forgo comments about the wisdom of hiking in avalanche territory in spring, and hiking alone at any time of the year (well, that was sneaky of me, but I’m not sorry. If any impetuous youths of any age — including middle-aged men who fancy themselves still young — are reading this, take my comments to heart. The law of averages says you won’t be this lucky.)

What frosts me about this story is that there is a working cell tower on Granite Mountain, a place that has got to have a population density lower than my tiny town, and much rougher terrain.  Some company found a way to justify hauling a cell tower, guy wires and all, up a mountain in the Cascades. Some cell phone company found a reason to put its equipment on the tower, and the rest is one very happy bit of history.

Meanwhile, here in Tiny Town, there’s a cell tower 2.09 miles from where I sit at my desk right this minute, and the only equipment on it is our wireless broadband radio and associated electronics. Now, if my wireless antenna can get the broadband signal from that tower, I can’t see why a cell phone couldn’t do as well, if some phone company would put its cell up there.

But no, Verizon isn’t interested.  AT&T isn’t interested. Nobody’s interested.  They’re all worried about messing up their vaunted (and probably exaggerated) dropped calls record.

Why isn’t the company on Granite Mountain worried about that?  Compared to the Cascades, the hills where I live are mere pimples.

Cell phone service isn’t just a matter of socializing, calling one’s broker, and texting. It’s a matter of safety.

So I wonder: why don’t states take unto themselves the right to deny an operating license to cell phone companies that refuse to serve rural places? And if the states can’t do it on their own, how about the Fed?  That’s our air the cell phone companies are using to send their signals. We should have something to say about the conditions under which it gets used.

Am I crazy?  Or unusually cranky?  If you don’t have cell service where you live, what do you think?  Shall we start a movement?

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2 Responses to “Cell Phone Saves Hiker in Avalanche”

  1. Not cranky, righteous. And rightly so. Broadband, cell service, any kind of technology is slow to make its way to rural places. In olden days that even meant electricity. It was an act of the fed, the Rural Electrification Act in 1936, that got something other than gaslights out in the hinterlands. Takes noise to get noise, well, at least to get a cell phone ringing in too many rural towns. You are making some noise. Someone is bound to hear and listen. 

  2. As I read your post, I thought back to 2008 when my cab driver and I were lost in rural China.  He stopped in a valley, in the middle of nowhere, halfway between Beijing and Jinshanling,  to ask a woman who looked about 70 years old for directions.  She did not speak his dilect but out of her worn dress pocket pulled out an ancient Nokia cellphone.  She called someone who could give directions and we were on our way!  I was stunned that she had a signal as well as grateful. 

    In 2010, I still have “dead zones” in my Easthampton, MA home using my Blackberry.  When I call T-Mobile to report service issues, I am referred to a coverage map that belies my report.  UGH!

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