What happens when someone gets hurt or lost in Great Basin National Park’s backcountry?

When this unfortunate event happens a well-trained group of park rangers will respond carrying handheld radios to aid their communication. Any incident commander will tell you that communication can make or break a search-and-rescue or emergency medical operation.

Prior to a few years ago, communication in Great Basin National Park’s Wheeler Peak Cirque, the area accessed by the winding and beautiful 12-mile Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, was almost non-existent.

The cirque, surrounded by steep craggy cliffs, is dotted with glacial lakes in summer and hosts the park’s largest rock glacier. It is a main attraction of the park, with beautiful hiking trails and camping. Wheeler Peak Cirque’s base resides at 10,000 feet above sea level, which is 4,000 feet above the Great Basin National Park Visitor Center.

Due to the remote, rugged terrain, radio communication has historically been a stumbling block for park operations in this area. Historically, park rangers were forced to space out into a relay line, transmitting one communication to the next, rather like a game of telephone, when they needed to communicate in the cirque. As expected, this method continuously fell short, but for years it was the best and only option.

Luckily, this situation came to an end a few years ago when the Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park radio unit let Great Basin National Park install a mobile radio repeater as a loan in the Wheeler Peak Cirque. The unit has made communication between rangers in the area crystal clear.

It has been tested during multiple trainings, normal Park operations, and the average 3-4 search-and-rescue events that occur between May and October each year. 

But as the mobile backcountry repeater unit was still owned by Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park, and was meant to be a short-term loan, it was due to be returned.

“I didn’t know what we’d do if we needed to return it,” said Chief Ranger Joshua Vann. “We can’t imagine operating in this area without this unit that increases our communication so drastically. It truly can be a life-or-death situation and communication can be the difference in the outcome”.

This summer the park’s nonprofit partner, Great Basin National Park Foundation, made it a priority to purchase a permanent backcountry repeater for the park.

They received grants from Mt. Wheeler Power & CoBank’s Sharing Success Program, as well as the White Pine County Tourism & Recreation board of directors, to pay for the needed equipment.

Shellie Watts, Member Services/HR Manager at Mt. Wheeler Power said, “Concern for community is one of seven cooperative principles we serve under. We believe working together is the best strategy to empower our members and build a stronger community.”

Kyle Horvath said, “Great Basin National Park is a gem that brings in visitors of all experience levels to enjoy the unspoiled and rugged terrain. We are happy to partner with the Foundation in creating the infrastructure necessary to improve visitor safety for years to come.”

As always, be safe out there—but if you do have an emergency while in the Wheeler Peak Cirque area, rest assured the due to community partnership and support Great Basin National Park rangers have the necessary communication equipment to take good care of you.