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, and frequent faculty for


Skimo for Spring

Spring ski mountaineering is here! With a banner early winter, we are waiting for some high pressure in the Pacific Northwest smooth out the corn. Here’s how this season’s gear end up fairing for me in midwinter powder tours, a few days on hardpack and a dozen days of fitness skinning (think inbounds uphill).

I got my first pair of Dynafit TLT binders nigh on 15 years ago. A half-dozen pairs later, I’m still using them. But Radical takes a little getting used to compared to the more user-friendly and durable Vertical. I broke the heel lifter on the Radical this year touring on Mount Hood: but I got a replacement in a week from Dynafit USA. Since Dynafit metamorphosed into full-spectrum skimo company, I tried the whole package this year. The Manaslu ski lived up to its quiver-of-reputation complete with precut Speed Skins, which took a little getting used to since the elastic on the tip (not tail). I really wanted to love the two-buckle TLT Mountain 5, but they were just too cold for foul weather, especially mountain rescue missions. vulcanAnd they were not quite stiff enough. I upgraded to the stiffer, warmer three-buckle Vulcan and love them.

The weight dropped on the Backcountry Access Float 32—and has just as much volume as last year’s Float 36 which was plenty big for my six-day Haute Route tour. Compression straps on the float 32 make it easier to take for short tours when it is not full. And it’s a super-comfortable pack. Canisters are easy to fill at a paintball supplier—technically you’re supposed to empty the canister before checking on an airline.

The Camp USA Speed Helmet was super comfortable and light, clocking in at 210 grams there’s no reason not to wear a helmet. But it doesn’t have a great goggle holder.

I have a full year using the superlight aluminum Neve Crampons and Raven Ultra Ice Axe and the bare-bones Couloir harness—all from Black Diamond. For occasional use for ski mountaineering, like the circumnavigation of Mount Hood, they are perfect. But for any technical climbing, you still probably want steel.

Finally if you are looking for an approach shoe, I climbed Kilimanjaro this spring in a pair of Crispi Monaco GTX boots: leather, rubber rand, full Vibram sole and built like a mountain boot, not a running shoe which seems to be the favor of some shoe companies these days.MONACO-GTX-N_900

On Kili, I also took the Camp USA X3 600 pack, a Solio solar charger, Darn Tough socks and bug- and sun-proof clothes from Ex Officio.

Since mountain biking season is here, and cyclocross is right around the corner, I’m testing the Mavic Crossmax SLR 29er wheelset this season (along with some other cool gear from Mavic) and 650 bikes.  


Gearing up for winter

Here’s the latest Great Gear for Work and Play: equipment tough enough for those who work outdoors and light enough for us weight weenies. I test, review and improve outdoor gear in places as far flung as Peru and the Alps and in my backyard on legendary Mount Hood. As snow dusts Mount Hood, here’s some new gear I’m loading up in my winter kit.

A skimo helmet that’s lighter than a tuque, the CAMP Speed clocks in at featherlight 210 grams! No excuses: protect your noggin.

Who would have thought a 1225 gram ski boot could provide enough stiffness in the high alpine, from sidecountry jaunts to big mountain ski descents. I geared up with ultralight Dynafit TLT Mountain 5 plus the quiver-of-one Manaslu ski (118/92/104) with speed skins, ski crampons and TLT Radical binders.

I took the Backcountry Access Float 38, the avalanche airbag pack, on a ski tour of the Haute Route last year, finally replacing my Black Diamond Covert Avalung pack. It’s a well-built pack that held a week’s gear…and it is priced much lower than comparabile airbag packs. 

On a pre-season trip, the Mont Blanc circuit, I circumnavigated the White Mountain, through France, Italy, and Switzerland. I used lightweight, Vibram-clad shoes from Chamonix-designed Millet Friction and a CAMP USA uberlight skimo pack the Campack X3 600.

Specializing in Wilderness, International Travel, and Outdoor Recreation Medicine

Upcoming appearances:

Recent Projects

  • Adrenaline Junkies Bucket List: 100 Extreme Outdoor Adventures Before You Die (St. Martins, 2013).
  • Mountain Rescue Doctor: Wilderness Medicine in the Extremes of Nature (St. Martins, 2007).
  • Editor-in-Chief of NewsShare and Communications, International Society of Travel Medicine.
  • Member of Crag Rats mountain rescue and medical committee of Mountain Rescue Association. 

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