Spot Me

I’ve been accused on occasion of being accident prone. Let’s just say if scars tell a story, my body is a novel. Add to that the fact I prefer to hike solo, and you end up with some very nervous friends.

To help, I try to follow the first rule of safe hiking: Let someone know where you’re going and when you’re coming back. The theory is, if someone knows where you are, how lost can you be? I’ve been lucky and haven’t had to take advantage of my ICE (In Case of Emergency person). Yet. Knock on wood.

I’m always looking for ways to be just a little safer. Which is how I became curious about the Spot (, a handy little device whose sole purpose is to get you help when you most need it. It is essentially a satellite based beacon that allows a hiker to send “I’m okay”,”I’m not okay”, or “I’m *really* not okay” messages to friends and family, with the hiker’s current location. For a small fee, you can also set up a website so your friends can “follow” you.


There are several such products on the market, and my decision was economical and logistical: Best Buy had it on sale and they’re within walking distance of home. The timing was good as well: I was a month from leaving for Denali.

My climbing partner and I decided to forego the $200 satellite phone in favor of the $65  Spot for our Plan B.  We tested it to make sure it worked in Alaska (while its coverage area is pretty good, the further north/south you go, the sketchier it becomes). We had half our social circles tracking our every move.

Until day three anyway.

That’s when Spot (I tend to animate my technical devices) decided it couldn’t find the satellites. The little help sheet on the back suggested I find an area with a better view of the sky. I cannot imagine there is one.

The temperature for those three days stayed below zero degrees Fahrenheit, and I suspect that was part of the issue. Fortunately, Best Buy didn’t ask if I’d exceeded Spot’s temperature range, and just gave me a new one.

Which I lost last weekend.

Spot comes with a small (and apparently cheap) carabinar. Since it works better with an unobstructed view of the sky, I generally keep it on the outside of my pack. This, combined with bushwhacking through large willows, had the unfortunate result of separating me from Spot. And of course, I didn’t notice until the last mile of the hike.

The extra fee for the tracking feature was about to pay for itself. A slow connection on my Crackberry eventually gave me Spot’s lat/long coordinates which I programmed into my GPS (I do love technology). And back I went.

My good luck continued in that the several inches of snow on the ground meant I could exactly retrace my route. The coordinates got me within two hundred feet and the tracks got me the rest of the way. And there was Spot, lying face up in the snow, happily blinking away.

The irony that I had to “rescue” my rescue device is not lost on me.

In retrospect, I am glad for the opportunity to test Spot’s ability to know where it is. It is good enough to get rescuers within shouting distance. However, with this incident and its failure to perform on Denali, I will still be emailing my whereabouts to my ICE. Being lost with Spot would be just that much more ironic.