Message system to track mountain users

Tim Lundy shows @safetymountain on WhatsApp.

If you get mugged or lost on a mountain, a simple cellphone message or tweet could help you.

Two mountain users and Wilderness Search and Rescue (WSAR) members, have set up a tracking system to monitor hikers and other mountain users via cellphone and Twitter.

Tim Lundy says it all started with an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) woman commenting on his pictures on Twitter. She told him if he’s ever in trouble he should send her a message.

He liked the idea and spoke to Anwaaz Bent, WSAR member and convener of a group named Hikers Network, who said a number of hiking groups had been making use of the system.

Tim said he and Anwaaz worked on the idea of tracking mountain users via cellphones to boost their safety.

Mountain users who were on Twitter could tweet Anwaaz, using the handle @safetymountain, and Tim, @hikingcapetown, about where they planned to hike, with how many people, their starting point and time and progress made.

The messaging service Whats-
App could also be used to keep in touch with them.

According to Hikers Network, 3 101 hikers were tracked between January and June 2016. The highest were 717 in January, the lowest in winter, 242 in June.

The service is manned by 16 volunteer trackers, all experienced people with a love for the mountains and who care for the well-being of all users.

Anwaaz says hikers who are unsure of their way can take a photograph of the scene on their cellphone and send it to the tracker who can then work out where the hiker is and give advice about the safest route to take.

A spokesman for WSAR, Johann Marais, says they know that getting to an injured patient as soon as possible is of utmost importance for the patient’s injuries.

In a scenario where someone is lost, their location being revealed by the tracking system service contributes to a speedy resolution. “It’s only when they are totally lost and their cellphone is unable to be located that the tracking system cannot assist,” said Johann.

Frank Dwyer, a registered guide and Meridian Hiking Club leader who lives in Fish Hoek, says he’s been using it since inception about four years ago.

He says it’s well used and active and there are many regular users.

“I always use it when hiking with clients or in small groups, not so much with the club as someone else will know where we’re going. It’s a great system.

“On one occasion I got messages when we were taking longer than anticipated and another time a phone call when I had forgotten to check in after finishing. Highly recommended, a great service, something that should be offered by the authorities,” said Frank.

Constantia hiker Lyn Veary says she often uses it. “At the start of the hike I send a message advising the number of PAX (people) the route and ETA (estimated time of arrival) and alternative contact number and when you are done and checking out by posting SOM (safely off mountain).

“They always confirm receipt. If it’s a long hike they request you to update them every hour. If you get past your ETA with no response they start activating systems. They’re awesome to use and fantastic people,” says Lyn.

However, two people are not impressed with the system. Trevor Rennison, a leader with CUMHike who lives in the northern suburbs, says he registered a week ago wanting to try it out. He took a group of 10 to the Aquaduct over the weekend to look for and photograph Disa uniflora. “No response to registering except for receiving a confirmation that my request had been submitted. Haven’t heard any more since,” says Trevor.

Melodie Hertslet had the same experience and registered before leading a group of Peninsula Ramblers in Jonkershoek.

Tim does not recall these cases but invites both to talk to them as their door is always open. “We can’t improve if we don’t know what the problems are,” he says.

But Graham Bellairs, a hike leader with CUMHike who lives in Rondebosch, has nothing but praise for Tim and Anwaaz.

“They deserve commendation for their public spirited contribution and leadership,” he said, adding that he does not make use of it because when he hikes alone he tells his wife Linda where he’s going and when he’ll be back.

“In such instances I use easier, popular routes and I wear a dog tag with my name and Linda’s cell number on it. I don’t take a cellphone as it may be stolen and I don’t like my mountain experience interrupted by having to use my cellphone intermittently to check in,” says Graham.

He also questions how the app would work if a mugger was to steal the hiker’s cellphone because they’d be unable to raise the alarm promptly. “But it’s a big step in the right direction,” says Graham.

To join, users should go to the Hikers Network site and click on @safetymountain and then register their details.