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Two Way Radios Save the Day in Backcountry Emergency in the North Cascades

I remember playing with walkie talkies as a kid – it usually ending with arguing with my brother since we were both stubborn and trying to talk over the radios at the same time. Then as I got older and cell phones became a increasingly more high-tech, walkie talkies fell to wayside. I dismissed them as communication for my technology-challenged dad. This summer that all changed with my first pair of Midland two way radios.

I began taking them on camping, hiking, and backpacking trips mainly for the NOAA weather scan feature. I’ve been caught high in the alpine when a storm — not in the morning’s forecast — rolled in quickly and ferociously. My two way radios came in handy when my backpacking group split up to scope out campsites around an alpine lake. On each adventure, I found myself using the radios more and more.  My next trip took me backpacking the North Cascades in early October.

Hittin’ the Trail with Midland Two Way Radios

Golden larches reflecting on Little Colchuck Lake - Two way radios save the day during backcountry emergency

Golden larches reflecting on Little Colchuck Lake / Image courtesy of Kayla Haas

My friends and I were lucky enough to win the permit lottery for the elusive overnight permit for The Enchantments in the North Cascades. We were excited to see the wilderness in the fall when the larches were turning a striking golden yellow. We were also a little nervous about the temperatures and weather in the high alpine that late in the season, but we were prepared. With a fresh skiff of snow on the ground, we hit the trail with smiles.

A couple miles into the hike, we realized that not everyone was at the same fitness level. Half of us were working up a sweat and getting chilled waiting for the slower hikers to catch up. We decided to split into two groups with each group having a radio. Half of us took off full-steam ahead to find a campsite, while the slower folks in the group continued on at a more casual pace.

We set up camp on the far side of the lake and were able to communicate with the other group that was a couple hours behind us. I was so impressed that we were able to communicate when we were 3 to 4 miles apart and separated by thick forest, giant rock slabs, boulder fields, and towering jagged peaks.

The Wilderness Emergency Begins

Colchuck Lake and Aasgard Pass - two way radios save the day in backcountry emergency in the Enchantments

Colchuck Lake and Aasgard Pass / Image courtesy of Kayla Haas

The next morning, a couple of us went down to the lake shore to watch the sunrise and have breakfast. After a couple hours, we headed back up to camp – where things began to go south fast.

We walked into camp to discover a member of our group was violently ill. We knew cold damp weather combined with cold sweats and vomiting was a recipe for disaster. After evaluating the severity of the situation, we realized it wouldn’t be long before our friend sweated through all of his dry layers and sleeping bag. We would have no way to keep him warm. In the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, all fires are prohibited above 5,000 feet.

We made a plan, two would hike out with a radio and hopefully, there would be a Ranger at the trailhead like the day before. I would stay behind with our sick friend and his wife and hike out after 3 hours with the second radio.

Hours went by without the situation improving and without signs of a ranger. I helped make a couple more hot water bottles for our sick friend, gave him my emergency bivvy (a heavy duty full body bag similar to a space blanket), and hit the trail with my walkie talkie. My fingers were crossed that the first group that headed down the mountain had already found a ranger.

About 4 miles from the trailhead, I was able to get through to my friends on the radio. They had not found a ranger. I told them to go ahead and drive down the mountain to the ranger station in Leavenworth, and I would wait for them at the trailhead. We were losing precious time and daylight – we needed to get help to our friend before he turned hypothermic.

The ranger station was closed–it was Sunday–so we ended up calling 911. Medics and a helicopter were en route. We relaxed knowing our friends were taken care of. But celebration was premature.

At 7pm, as the sun began to set, Search and Rescue called us. Our friend was in the nearby hospital, but his wife was still up on the mountain. The only helicopter available was small and could not carry out our friend’s wife or any gear. We would have to hike back in to help his wife and pack out all of his gear. Just as we caught our breath, we needed to devise another plan to help our friend get off the mountain.

We decided that two of us would hike back up at 6 am the next morning while another stayed in town with our friend in the hospital.

After 7 hours of hiking we were back at the trailhead where cold beers and fresh donuts were waiting. With tired legs, we were thankful to have all the gear and everyone off of the mountain.

Lessons Learned on the Trail

The backpacking crew on the trek into the Enchantments with a fresh skiff of snow / Image courtesy of Kayla Haas

My pair of Midland two way radios were critical for managing our group of backpackers. I relied on them to keep us connected when splitting up and looking for a campsite and for communicating during a backcountry emergency. This situation would have been much more stressful and challenging if we had not been able to divide and conquer. The radios made finding a campsite convenient and made our incident recovery strategies seamless.

This experience confirmed what I already had come to learn — I will never go camping, hiking, or backpacking without my Midland two way radios. They make communication in the backcountry possible even in the most rugged terrain.

– Kayla Haas, Midland Adventures Contributor


This is not the first time Midland’s walkie talkies have come to the rescue – read more about Midland radios helped save two women’s lives.