Years ago, when our two girls were still living at home and accompanying us on the occasional summer hiking adventure, we bought them each a small emergency whistle. I don't think they cost more than couple of bucks, and maybe less. As you can imagine, the girls drove us nuts for a few minutes in the car with those whistles, and then promptly forgot them.
Years later, P found them again. He's a big believer in whistles, and so when we started to do more hiking on our own, he fbrought them out. M wears one tied to the shoulder strap of her pack, and P carries his in the camera case he wears on his belt. We forget about them most of the time. The don't weigh anything, and they are now just part of our equipment.
But twice in the past three years those whistles have come in very handy. The first time was on a day hike in the middle of a pack trip. We were following a rather sketchy trail up a lonely canyon, and there were all sorts of side trails and use trails to confuse us.
Now P always hikes faster than M, so he was ahead...and realized that he hadn't seen M for a while. We do try to keep some kind of visual contact as we go, but when turned around to look. there was no sign of M. And no sign was not a good sign. So he hiked back a hundred yards more or so. Still no M. And then he began to get worried, and noticed all the use trails, and realized that:
1. We were an hour away from camp, and we had not really talked about where or how long we were going to hike.
2. We were up a canyon six miles from the nearest trailhead.
3. We might not have been lost, but niether of us knew where the other one was....and niether of us knew to go forward or back to start searching.
Not a good scenario.
So P started yelling for M. No answer. None.
The scenario just got worse.
And then he remembered the whistle. And sure enough, he blew it twice, and then waited. After a few seconds, he heard an answering whistle, coming not from above him as he expected, but from underneath the bluff he was standing on. And within minutes, we were back together again, and hiking away. Greatly relieved.
All of this came to mind last week, when we were hiking a lightly used trail in the Hoover Wilderness. At one point the trail gets quite confused, and P waved to M at that point, to tell her he was taking the lower trail. But when M got to that point, she was confused. And she remembered her whistle--and started to blow.
Which was perfect, except she didn't wait for a response, she just kept blowing away. Which P interpreted to mean that she was in some kind of serious trouble. And he sprinted back up to trail to save her from ...well. All's well that ends well.
And in the wilderness, there really is no substitute for whistle.