Telecom for mountain rescue and beyond

One evening last year, when checking into the lodge Dochula Pass, Bhutan, 3150 meters, I was struck by a spectacular clear view of the Himalayas, a cozy fire, and a plate of dhal. One thing stood out on my two-week tour of Bhutan: it was the only night without cell phone and internet service. In this age of telecommunications, in the most remote corners of the globe we stay connected: in remote villages in Haiti; at 5200 meters in Gorek Shep, Nepal; atop 5895-meter-high Mount Kilimanjaro; anywhere above tree line on Mount Hood. I travel a lot so sometimes I have to stay connected. Here are my favorite space- and weight-efficient telecom and electronic devices for expeditions, medical relief projects, and mountain rescue missions.

  • Although my Apple iPhone works all over the world, I also carry an inexpensive Samsung phone which accommodates two SIM cards and holds a charge for a two weeks with limited use.
  • Asus T100 notebook is my favorite option for using a tablet with a keyboard mostly because it has durable flash memory andit’s inexpensive.
  • Coghlan’s Portable Power Pack provides cell and computer power via a battery you can charge via USB plug, a small solar panel or a dynamo (which is a hand crank). Although I still carry backup lithium AA or AAA batteries as backup.
  • Suunto watches have long been my pick for adventure travel—I’m love my Vector after 14 years and three factory refurbishes. The new Ambit2 is USB-rechargeable wrist-top GPS with surprising accuracy. For a full size GPS, our team uses Garmin Map62.
  • I love the superbright Gemini Xera 950-lumin headlamp for all-night rescues in foul weather; I use the lightweight 2-cell battery. The tiny featherlight Princeton Tec Vizz uses AAA batteries producing 165 lumens—I carry as backup for rescues and as a primary emergency light for mountain bike and ski backpacks.
  • For short callouts with no notice, I may rely on my iPhone for images, but for documenting rescues and training, I use the compact Panasonic DMC-ZS5.
  • Radios come ultra compact now—our team still used ICOMs. But check out the Yaesu VX-3R VHF/UHF radio clocking in at 4.6 ounces (although FCC regulations prohibit certain uses and a license is required).

Pro Kit: Gear for Work and Play appears in Travel Medicine News, Wilderness Medicine Magazine, Meridian (Mountain Rescue Association) and elsewhere. Dr. Van Tilburg is staff physician at Mountain Emergency Services on Mount Hood, medical advisor for Hood River (Oregon) Crag Rats, Mountain Rescue Association medical committee member, editor-in-chief of Travel Medicine News, leader of 4 medial trips to Haiti with medicalstudentmissions.org, and frequent faculty for wilderness-medicine.com.

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