Mountains and moorlands can be treacherous places without proper care and there are many, many ways to enjoy the mountain environment, be it walking, climbing, running, cycling or skiing. There’s no subsititute for experience, but there are steps you can take to minimise the chances of getting lost or hurt.
Prepare and plan
- Plan before setting out a route that is suitable for the forecasted weather (but expect it to be worse) and suitable for the weakest member of your party. It gets colder the higher you go and wind-chill will have a significant effect on your body – don’t under estimate its effect.
- Tell someone responsible what that route is. Have an escape plan.
- Develop the mountain skills you need to judge potential hazard, including the ability to read a map.
- Think about the equipment, experience, capabilities and enthusiasm of your party members, taking into account the time of year, the terrain and the nature of the trip – and choose your routes accordingly.
- Learn the basic principles of first aid – airway, breathing, circulation and the recovery position. It could make the difference between life and death.
- Many accidents occur towards the latter part of the day when both your energy levels and those of your phone battery will be run down. Did you remember to charge your battery before setting out?
Wear suitable clothing and footwear
- Wear suitable footwear with a treaded sole, and which provides support for ankles.
- Clothing should be colourful, warm, windproof and waterproof and always carry spare, including hat and gloves (even in summer the tops and open moorland can still be bitingly cold, and it’s always colder the higher you climb).
- Several thin layers of clothing are more effective than one big thick layer
Carry food and drink…
- Take ample food and drink for each member of the party. In addition to the usual sandwiches take chocolate, dates, or similar sweet things, which restore energy quickly. You may not need them yourself, but someone else may.
- Snack frequently throughout the walk to deliver a regular supply of energy
- In cold, wet weather a warm drink is advisable, and always carry water – even in cool weather it’s easy to become dehydrated.
- Of course, large quantities of water can weight heavy in the rucksack, so take a smaller water bottle and top up when you can
…and the right equipment
- A map (covering your route) compass (and the ability to use them).
- If you carry a GPS, at least know how to read your current position. It could save a lot of hassle in an emergency when speaking to the Mountain rescue Team. Never rely upon them to the exclusion of a compass and the knowledge to use it. They are fantastic pieces of technology until the battery goes flat! A GPS is an aid to compass navigation, not a replacement for it.
- A mobile phone is a useful tools but don’t rely on it to get you out of trouble – in may areas of the mountains there is no or unreliable signal coverage. Mountain Rescue Teams have many years of experience in calls from mobile telephones and, whilst they are excellent when they work, there are many things that can go wrong. Even moving a few feet in the mountains can mean losing the signal. You will be advised of best practice when contacted. If you are able to summon help using your mobile phone KEEP IT SWITCHED ON SO YOU CAN BE RE-CONTACTED.
- Take a whistle and learn the signal for rescue. Six good long blasts. Stop for one minute. Repeat. Carry on the whistle blasts until someone reaches you and don’t stop because you’ve heard a reply – rescuers may be using your blasts as a direction finder.
- A torch (plus spare batteries and bulbs) is a must. Use it for signalling in the same pattern as for whistle blasts.
- At least one reliable watch in the party.
- Cllimbers and mountain bikers should wear a helmet.
- Emergency survival kit comprising spare clothing and a bivvi bag.
- Take a first aid kit with you.
- If you intend to carry things (and best you do) have a rucksack that is comfortable and large enough to carry everything -place items in plastic bag.
- If the terrain is rough or remote you may even think of getting or taking a good walking/trekking pole.
Before you set out
- Charge your phone battery! Many accidents occur towards the end of the day when both you and your phone may be low on energy.
- Check the weather forecast and local conditions. Mountains can be major undertakings and, in the winter months, night falls early.
- Eat well before you start out.
- Leave your route plan including start and finish points, estimated time of return and contact details with an appropriate party.
On the hill
- Keep an eye on the weather and be prepared to turn back if conditions turn against you, even if this upsets a long planned adventure.
- Make sure party leaders are experienced. Keep together, allow the slowest member of the party to determine the pace, and take special care of the youngest and weakest in dangerous places.
- Watch for signs of hypothermia, particularly in bad weather – disorientation, shivering, tiredness, pale complexion and loss of circulation in hands or toes, discarding of vital clothing. Children and older people are especially susceptible.
- If you prefer to go alone, be aware of the additional risk. Let people know your route before you start, stick to it as far as you can and notify them of any changes.
- It is no disgrace to turn back if you are not certain. A party must be governed by the capabilities of the weakest member.
- If you think you need mountain rescue, get a message to the Police (999) as soon as possible and keep injured/exhausted people safe and warm until help reaches you.
Dangers you can avoid
- Precipices and unstable boulder.
- Slopes of ice or steep snow, and snow cornices on ridges or gully tops.
- Very steep grass slopes, especially if frozen or wet.
- Gullies, gorges and stream beds, and streams in spate.
- Exceeding your experience and abilities
- Loss of concentration, especially towards the end of a long day
Dangers you need to monitor
- Weather changes – mist gale, rain and snow may be sudden and more extreme than forecast.
- Ice on path (know how to use an ice-axe and crampons).
- Excessive cold or heat (dress appropriately and carry spare clothing!).
- Exhaustion (know the signs, rest and keep warm).
- Passage of time – especially true when under pressure – allow extra time in winter or night time conditions.
- Accident or illness (don’t panic – if you send for help, make sure you stay put and the rescuers know exactly where to come)
Check out the new Safe in the Hills website – pioneered by the Kirkby Stephen MRT, for more information about how you can keep safe whilst walking in the hills.