Why You Should Leave a Trip Plan with a Responsible Person
Mountain Safety
March 16th, 2018

Why You Should Leave a Trip Plan with a Responsible Person

Who will know you’re in trouble when you get lost or injured in the backcountry? Maybe no one, if you don’t leave a trip plan with a responsible person.

Too often we hear of a missing person after a night—or even days spent in the bush—because no one was aware that the person was even missing. Sometimes their absence is noticed only after their truck is found abandoned at a trailhead. Or they failed to return a rental sled. Sometimes it’s not until a person misses check-out time at their hotel that the alarm bells are rung. Whatever the case may be, this delay in the commencement of a search can easily be the difference between life and death.


Leave a Trip Plan with a Responsible Person

When we head into the backcountry,  we usually have at least a rough trip plan in our head. But how much information do we really know— and more importantly—who else has that information? Things can and will go wrong in the backcountry. When they do, we can only do our best to mitigate the potential for disaster.


Right Person, Right Info

It is important to pick someone who is both reliable and available. You don’t want to be stranded on a mountain when the only person who knows where you are, happens to be sleeping off an all-nighter; or headed to a camp job for a week with no cell service. Your “ex” might also be a poor choice—you’ll want someone who still cares enough about you to actually report you missing, should you fail to return on time.

This brings up an important point, which should be established ahead of time: what is the definition of returning “late”? This may differ on a personal and per trip basis, and will be up to your discretion. But you should establish a set time that you plan to check in by. For example, you can plan on making contact by 6pm—but at 10pm, it’s time for your responsible person to call emergency services if they haven’t yet heard from you.


Trip Plan Details

Now that you have picked a suitable contact person for your trip plan and set a “past due” time for them to act, it is important to arm them with all the information you can. Think about what information will help SAR find you, should the worst happen. Write this information down for the keeper of your trip plan, so they don’t have to rely on memory during a stressful time.


Destination and Route

The more precise you can be with your ride plan the better. The more information you can give beyond what parking lot you are heading for, the better chance you have of being found quickly. This includes both the route taken and the specific area you intend to ride. It’s not always possible, but if you know for example that your plan is to “stay left at the cabin and then drop in to the third bowl”, then write that down. Even if the person you are directing has no personal knowledge of the area, this info can be crucial for a search team. This would also be a good time to mark down any GPS coordinates you may have saved from your favourite area as well.


Who Is in Your Group?

Make a list of everyone who you are riding with that day, and make a note of any special circumstance that emergency services may need to be aware of. The benefit of knowing exactly how many people are missing is an obvious one, but what about their ages? Physical ability? Level of backcountry experience? Familiarity with the area? Any new, or less-experienced riders in the group? Avalanche training? Pre-existing medical conditions? All good to know.

Every bit of information about a missing party can be helpful. The scope of a search may be narrowed if SAR knows they are looking for a less experienced rider on heart medication and a guy with a bad knee vs a fit and experienced mountaineer for example.


Vehicle and Sled Descriptions

A description of the trucks, trailers and sleds that are out (including license plates) is helpful in getting a search heading in the right direction. Finding a truck parked at the trailhead is one of the first steps in determining where to search. Sled descriptions are equally important. We snowmobilers are a pretty savvy bunch and we often might take note of other groups of riders and their sleds. If searchers canvas riders at a trailhead, someone may remember seeing an “Orange LE Polaris turbo with a 509 wrap” more-so than “a missing rider with an orange, or possibly red sled?”

Emergency Gear

A list of what emergency gear your group carries can be helpful for people organizing a search. Did you leave with nothing but a bottle of water and chocolate bar? Or does your group carry enough gear to MacGyver up a small hotel, complete with a hot-tub for the night? Tools, saws, food, spare clothes, emergency blankets, cookstove—whatever you have, list it. Note, this isn’t a discussion of what gear you SHOULD have. Just let your contact person know what gear you DO carry.


Radios & Communication equipment

If you carry radios, let your contact person know what kind they are and what channel it will be on. If you have a personal locator such as a Spot or an inReach, write that down as well. Satellite phone, GPS, cell phone—whatever you have, mark it down. If you are missing and haven’t used the communication devices you have available, that may be another clue for SAR to use in their search.


Too Much Info is Better Than Too Little

Some of this information is easily taken for granted. Much of it is likely already well-known to your contact person. And most will remain the same from ride-to-ride. Once written down you could easily reuse the same list over and over again, making small adjustments as needed.

Preparing this list may seem like a lot of work in advance, and some of it may seem irrelevant. But think of it this way: if this information becomes needed, it’s because you are looking at spending a night on the mountain. Wouldn’t you want to know that someone was going to come looking sooner rather than later? And that they have as much knowledge as possible?


– Marty