Never Out of Reach

August 1, 2014  - By
John All takes an ice sample from a glacier in the Ishinca Valley, Peru.

John All takes an ice sample from a glacier in the Ishinca Valley, Peru.

A climate scientist relies on a GPS satellite communicator to get him out of tight spots.

By Tracy Cozzens
Photos by Clinton Lewis, Western Kentucky University


Please call Global Rescue.  

John broken arm, ribs, internal bleeding.

Fell 70 ft crevasse.

Climbed out.

Himlung camp 2.

Please hurry.

That simple text message, sent May 19 via the DeLorme inReach communicator, alerted search-and-rescue monitors that the leader of a Himalayan research team was in dire straits.

Dr. John All, director of the American Climber Science Program (ACSP), was leading a team collecting snow samples in the highest mountain range in the world to study the impacts of climate change when he tumbled into a crevasse. “After crawling back for hours to my tent, I sent texts via my sat messenger for help,” All told the local Kathmandu newspaper.

Friends and family of the expedition followed the rescue efforts every step of the way as text messages were sent via the InReach to the ACSP’s Facebook page.

The climate scientist was rescued via a helicopter and admitted to Norvic International Hospital in Kathmandu with five broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder, and internal bleeding. After a day in the ICU, he was discharged for a week of rest before returning for further care in the United States.

The DeLorme inReach Explorer.

The DeLorme inReach Explorer.

In an emergency such as All experienced, the interactive SOS capability of the inReach automatically triggers remote tracking and allows users to communicate via text with responders at GEOS, DeLorme’s partner for international 24/7 search-and-rescue monitoring.

Going Out Again. All and his ACSP team departed for Huascaran National Park in Peru on June 23, just a month after his harrowing rescue in the Himalayas, for a two-month research expedition. All and several of his team members will be carrying the inReach devices.

Just like in the Himalayas, the inReach will give the team the ability to send and receive 160-character text messages from the remotest locations, provide location updates with GPS tracking, and keep them within reach of rescue with its SOS capabilities.

Besides providing peace of mind, the latest version of the inReach — the Explorer — allows the team to plan a route, mark waypoints, and create detailed track logs of their expedition.

“Knowing we would consistently be out of cell-phone range, we researched all satellite communication options to keep us connected,” All said. “A satellite phone was more than we really needed, and as a volunteer-driven non-profit program, it wasn’t very cost effective. We needed to be able to communicate back and forth in the event of an emergency, but we also wanted to keep everyone updated on the day-to-day status of the mission.”

Checking on the team’s status is as easy as visiting their Facebook page. Team members regularly post messages from anywhere in the world they might travel.


In Peru, the team of 20 students and scientists will examine changing climate conditions and the impact of human land use in the mountainous Cordillera Blanca region of the Andes, where Huascaran National Park is located. The park, a magnet for American climbers, has more than 33 peaks higher than 6,000 meters and hundreds of 5,000+ meter peaks. ACSP has been sampling snow in the region for the past three years in an effort to quantify the glacial contamination levels.

“Our work in Peru will be much more comprehensive than our high-elevation work in the Himalayas and will cover whole gamut of environmental parameters, from vegetation to water quality. The region is very remote and we will be collecting some samples from the walls of a crevasse to assess the seasonality of pollutants and their impact over time, so having an inReach with us is critical — both to communicate with each other and our team back home,” All said. Plus, he added, the students on his team will be able to communicate with their parents, providing their parents with peace of mind as their children travel to remote regions.

“Now that we’ve seen how well inReach works, we are looking forward to having more of them on this next trip — especially the newest Explorer model, which will allow us to mark waypoints during data collection,” All said.

In addition to the messaging, tracking and SOS capabilities, users of the company’s latest product inReach Explorer can view, create or navigate routes and waypoints. A map view displays routes, waypoints, tracks, and messages geo-located onscreen for backtracking or self-rescue. The built-in digital compass, barometric altimeter, and accelerometer sensors ensure accuracy and provide heading and bearing information, elevation readings, speed, and other useful trip statistics.

inReach communicates over the Iridium satellite network, providing global two-way satellite connections, high network reliability and low-latency data links (less than 60-second delivery of messages end-to-end) anywhere on Earth, with no gaps, fringe or weak signal areas. inReach has the ability to maintain a satellite signal lock even in difficult GPS environments, such as in a steep canyon or under a heavy forest canopy, DeLorme said.

The ACSP has visited Peru for climate research for three years, including in 2013 the Quillcayhuanca Valley (left) and the Ishinca Valley, places so remote that staying in touch can be a challenge. (Photos: Clinton Lewis/WKU)

The ACSP has visited Peru for climate research for three years, including in 2013 the Quillcayhuanca Valley (left) and the Ishinca Valley, places so remote that staying in touch can be a challenge. (Photos: Clinton Lewis/WKU)





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About the Author: Tracy Cozzens

Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.