Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

By Andi Bourne

Saved by SPOT™


SPOT™ trackers provides a detailed map of a trip that can be watched live, shared with friends and family or used to pin point a location in an emergency.

SEELEY LAKE - Every year search and rescue crews are called into the backcountry to find recreationists who have gone missing or found themselves in trouble. Carrying a SPOT™ tracker offers peace of mind beyond the boundaries of cell service for the user and their loved ones and increases the ability of search and rescue crews to locate individuals in a timely manner if they need help. The device and service is available at Rocky Mountain Adventure Gear (RMAG) in Seeley Lake to rent or own.

SPOT™ sends the unit's GPS location and data to orbiting commercial satellites every two, five or ten minutes depending on the service selected. The locations are logged on Google Maps™. Three programmed messages can be sent via email and text to specific people at the touch of one button. The messages are for OK, Help and 9-1-1 emergency response and include the latitude and longitude coordinates and time. The 9-1-1 button notifies the GEOS Rescue Coordination Center who then mobilizes local search and rescue crews.

Seeley-Swan Search and Rescue (SSSAR) Chief Gerry Connell has used a SPOT™ Satellite Personal Tracker for the past five years. He uses it for the safety aspect and to assist with search and rescue missions.

For Connell the SPOT™ tracker allows him the peace of mind should he be out snowmobiling and need help. His wife can track him using Google Maps™ and he can send a message if he ever needs help or emergency help.

"I may not have cell service but 99.9 percent of the time I have satellite service," said Connell.

Connell said the only dead spots he has ever seen in the local area is from the SPOT™ mounted on the Seeley Lake Driftriders groomers. If they are grooming in a canyon or draw in the shadow of the ridge sometimes they will not register at one of the ten-minute intervals. However, Connell said that once they move a half-mile the satellites pick them back up again. Anyone can login via the Seeley Lake Driftrider's website and see where the groomer has been in the past week.

During search and rescue missions, Connell sends the unit with the search party and is able to have a detailed map of the areas that were searched. The Incident Commander knows exactly where the crew is at any given time. They can also use the messages for OK and Help to communicate with those staged at the Incident Command Post.

Connell said that if someone has a SPOT™ tracker and gets in trouble, not only can they communicate that they need help but it also helps search and rescue get to them faster.

On Monday, June 20, a hiker injured himself on Sunday Mountain. He used the 9-1-1 button on his SPOT™ tracker to call for help.

"We knew where he was because he had [a SPOT™ tracker]," said Connell. "The coordination center got ahold of 9-1-1 in Missoula and dispatched us. We ultimately dispatched Lifeflight. With those coordinates we were able to fly right to him. It allowed us to get help to him within a couple of hours."

Connell could only guess what would have happened had he not had a SPOT™ unit. SSSAR may not have known for days that he was missing, depending on when he was supposed to arrive home. If he had cell service, it would have been late afternoon before SSSAR could have hiked into him. And without the GPS coordinates, it could have taken significantly longer trying to locate him.

Connell cited another example of two snowmobilers that got lost in the upper Marshal Creek drainage this last February. They were found after being spotted by the SSSAR airplane.

"Had they had one of those [SPOT™ trackers], we wouldn't have had to take the airplane up and we would have been to them two-three hours sooner because we would have had the [latitude, longitude] and we would have snowmobiled right to them," said Connell. "It eliminates a lot of guess work."

Seeley Lake resident and avid hiker Doug Waldron purchased his SPOT™ tracker nearly eight years ago. He heard about the units on the news when a couple was rescued in Glacier National Park after taking a wrong turn skiing.

Waldron does not have anyone set up to receive messages from him. Instead, he uses it to track where he has hiked and plan his next trip. He also uses it when he travels to Missoula just in case something happens and he does not have cell service.

"Having the SPOT™ has made me more cautious," said Waldron. "The last thing I want to do is hit that [9-1-1] button and embarrass myself. But I feel a lot safer knowing that I have help coming if I need it."

Andi Bourne, Pathfinder

Rocky Mountain Adventure Gear (RMAG) carries the SPOT™GEN3 and SPOT™Global Phone and other survival gear including bear spray and gear pods. "People can feel safe and [can rent instead of buying] all that stuff for a short-lived vacation," said RMAG Owner Moose Jergesen.

RMAG sells the SPOT™ Trace, Gen3 and Satellite Phone and rents the SPOT™ Gen3 model and SPOT™ Satellite Phone. They can be rented starting at $15/day or $60 per week. RMAG subscribes to the service so there is no additional fee except usage for the satellite phone.

RMAG Owner Moose Jergesen thinks the SPOT™ Gen3 is perfect for someone going into the Bob Marshall Wilderness. It tracks the users location every five minutes, can send a pre-programmed message to pre-identified contacts saying they are OK, need help or make a 9-1-1 call to search and rescue. He rents them because his philosophy is that for many people, it is much more economical to rent the device for the security and peace of mind than purchase the device and service plan.

"I've never had to use my SPOT™ in an emergency situation," said Connell. "I still have it for the peace of mind knowing that I have the capability to get help if needed."

For more information about SPOT™ visit RMAG can be reached at 677-8300 or stop in the store in downtown Seeley Lake, 3192 Highway 83N.


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