As we head for a summer of adventure, we offer some simple mountain safety top tips that we hope offer useful advice for new mountain goers.
After a long spell in lockdown and less overseas travel options, there is little doubt the coming summer will see unprecedented numbers enjoying the UK mountains. This is fantastic, but at the same time staying safe in the hills needs planning and judgement. Mountaineers also need to prepare for the unexpected. So it seemed a useful idea to identify some of the key equipment and preparation points we think hill goers should consider before heading for the mountains. We hope you find our mountain safety top tips useful.
What do you plan to do?
- Planning an itinerary for a day in the hills is part of the fun. Whether heading for a mountain scramble or planning a hill walk, time spent thinking carefully through the proposed option is always time well spent. Spread your maps out, grab a guide book, gather clues from the internet and quiz friends who have been there before.
- What hazards does the route present? Maybe, for example, there are rivers that may come into spate if it rains or tricky navigation sections. Are there route finding trouble spots, loose rock or dangerous cliffs?
- Does your plan fit with the weather forecast predictions? Weather forecasts can be wrong sometimes but they are usually pretty reliable. Look at several options to get a broad overview and choose mountain specific forecasts. The Mountain Weather Information Service or Met Office Mountain Forecast are two of many useful sources. Depending on the time of year and if you are in Scotland, you will also want to take account of other resources like the Scottish Avalanche Information Service (SAIS) forecasts.
- Will recent weather cause problems? It is important to consider not just what the weather is going to do but also what the weather has been like in the lead up to your day out. For example, will the rock be slippy? Are rivers likely to be running high? Will the ground be very wet? Will south facing climbs be a better option than those on north faces?
- Are you physically capable of the route planned? It is good to set a challenge, but overtaxing yourself can lead to problems. Have a plan that leaves you with plenty in reserve to cope with the unexpected.
- Do you have the skills required to navigate the route you are proposing? Just as importantly, do you have the skills to still cope if the weather and visibility change considerably? GPS units and smartphone apps are a great aid to navigation but shouldn’t be relied on alone. Always back them up with good map and compass skills.
Luck favours the well prepared
- Leave details of your route and an expected return time. Then, make sure you check back in with the person holding those details once you are down safely. Also, let the person with that information know what to doing if you don’t check in as planned.
- Make sure you are suitably equipped. You need equipment to stay comfortable during your adventure as well as carrying equipment to deal with the unexpected. What you need will vary according to many factors. It should usually include emergency shelter, a headtorch, whistle, suitable spare clothing, first aid kit (mentioned below), spare food and a drink.
- Carry a mobile phone. I have mentioned the limitations of smart phones above but I always carry one. They can often be the simplest way for calling in help. It is also well worth signing up for the emergency texting service. Sometimes a text message can be sent even when there isn’t enough signal to get a phone call out. Signing up only takes a minute and the details are in the link above.
- Carry a first aid kit. Having said that, the crucial thing isn’t having a stack of fancy equipment. It is having the skills to deal with emergencies. Only a small percentage of attendees on our outdoor first aid courses are individuals improving their skills (most are outdoor instructors and guides) and yet, if the worst happens, you might feel it was the best money you ever spent. Details on our Outdoor First Aid courses are here.
- Understand the additional risk involved in travelling alone. We aren’t saying don’t travel alone because there are lots of great things about solo missions. However, be aware that you are certainly putting yourself at higher risk if you have an accident that immobilises you.
- Consider communication systems. One way to help ensure you can communicate in areas where you can’t get a phone signal is to carry a satellite communication device. We aren’t saying this is always a must have, but devices operating via satellite gives the chance to get an emergency signal out when other means won’t work. There are lots of types on the market and it is beyond the scope of this article to discuss them in detail. Suffice to say they could be worthy of consideration.
- Think before calling help out. This may sound obvious but some mountain rescue teams have raised the issue of parties calling them out when they may have been able to solve the problem themselves. No rescue team will hesitate to attend an emergency request, but the tradition of self reliance has been a long held tradition in the UK mountains. If you have the equipment and skills and can walk yourself to safety maybe that is possible in some circumstances.
Never regret a retreat
- Lastly, in offering mountain safety top tips it goes without saying to treat the mountains with respect. We have all bitten off more than we can chew at times and knowing when to call it a day is important. The objective will still be there for you to return at some point in the future. Have respect for the mountains and, as the old mountaineering saying goes, never regret a retreat.