Safety In The Mountains
Mountains, high ground and wild areas are exhilarating places to visit and allow us to discover much about ourselves, our friends and about the environment. But they can also be challenging and sometimes dangerous places, if you go unprepared. Therefore we are keen to promote a “common sense” approach when venturing into these fascinating natural arenas. Below are a few tips that have served us well over the years and we hope will help others to maximise the adventure and minimise misadventure.
Prior Preparation and Planning
The 3P’s. A proven format that helps prevent unnecessary mistakes being made, avoids injury and enables people to revisit wild areas with a feeling of confidence in their own ability.
Firstly, Get fit, be fit. Both mentally and physically. Know what’s ahead of you and be fit enough to take on the challenges that lie ahead. If in doubt about your fitness, but keen to go into the wilds, choose a route you know is achievable. Then build on your success.
The same applies to the group as to the individual. The fitter everyone is, the easier it will be for everyone.
Prepare The Group
A group will have strengths and weaknesses and is therefore only as strong as its weakest link. Get out there as a group and tackle low level challenges in order to get to know one another. Then build as you go along. That way a group will define itself.
Prepare A Route Plan
Make a route plan prior to departure in order to get to know the area. Do not leave the map reading to one or two people. Keep a route plan with the group and give another to a reliable person back at home. It will be the role of the person you leave the route plan with to raise the alarm if you do not show up at the time your route card says you will.
As a guide, a 1: 25,000 map is good for micro navigation when detail is required. A 1: 50,000 map is best for macro navigation, e.g. less detail, but a better over view of an area. Make sure you have enough maps in the group. A map needs to be in a good qualitiy waterproof map case and you need a good quality compass.
GPS (Global Positioning System) & Mobile Phones
Both electrical devices have given many people the confidence to venture into the mountains in the belief that they are not going to get lost. They are great instruments and keep getting better…but they all rely on batteries, good signal coverage and need to be kept dry. Mobiles are notorious for not getting a signal in the mountains, while GPS work where there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites. Remember, with both mobiles and GPS, it is key to charge batteries, have spare batteries that are charged, ensure that there is more than one mobile and/or GPS in a group and they are kept in good quality waterproof covers…then learn to navigate using a map and compass just in case!
Get a weather forecast from a reliable source before you set out. Television and radio weather forecasts are general and often unreliable. Local outdoor activity shops, specialist internet weather sites, mountain guides and local people are often the most reliable sources, or a combination of all. When out in the open, keep a “weather eye” as you go along. You will notice the changes in wind direction, temperature and cloud cover if you are looking for them. Be prepared to make the necessary adjustments to your route if conditions are changing. Use escape routes, known short cuts, or turn back. Remember to let people know the changes to your route and your ETA for your return as soon as possible.
Prepare Emergency Procedures
Take a detailed, printed copy of your emergency procedures with you. If needed, it will be easier to read them off in the heat of the moment, rather than trying to remember them. Make them relevant to the group and that the group is aware of them and understand them. They don’t have to be complicated, but they do need to be common sense.
Remember to leave a copy of your emergency procedures and a copy of your route plan with the same person back at base.
Who To Call In An Emergency
In UK, call 999 or 112 and ask for the Police. If you do not get a signal, follow the international distress signal of six whistle blasts repeated at one minute intervals. If you don’t have a whistle (often found on the chest strap of some backpacks – usually orange) use any flashing object, e.g. torch, mirror, glasses etc. If you have mini distress flairs, use them. Don’t worry too much if you forget which one is for which purpose…just get attention to allow someone to get a fix on your position.
Have a first aid kit to suit your needs and those of your group. Then go on a good quality first aid course and keep your knowledge up to date. You will be glad you did, or someone else will be! Remember there is a recognised “duty of care” amongst people who go into the mountains. Understand the role you may need to play if you encounter a person in distress while you are in the mountains or other remote areas.
Everyone should be responsible for their own personal medication. E.g. asthma inhaler. Epi-pens, prescription drugs etc. It should not be part of the group first aid kit, it should be on the person who may need it. By all means have a back up supply in the group first aid kit.
Prepare Your Kit
At all times be responsible for your own kit. Never let anyone else pack for you and never let others look after your kit. When going through the kit you think you will need, remember, “…It is knowledge you need to pack, not an extra bit of fancy gear…” For detailed kit lists visit www.mykit.co
Prepare Your Food
Start thinking about your food intake in the days/weeks leading up to your trip. Your body needs feeding to take on the challenges of a mountain day, as you will be exerting more energy than in a normal working day. This will mean that the night before you will be eating for the following mornings exercise. Then in the morning, you are feeding the body for the main part of the day. So start the day with a wholesome breakfast e.g. porridge, a fry-up, an omelette, or all 3! For longer trips, expeditions and extended travel, it is worth thinking of building up a fat layer. Often on overseas expeditions you are visiting countries where the food is different and initially you may not be getting what you like or need. In time you will adjust to local foods and their taste. The extra fat reserves you build up prior to departure will carry you through the early stages of acclimatisation.
Food & Drink During The Day
You need to prepare your food in advance, e.g. a packed lunch, some high energy snacks and emergency food. You will also need to have plenty of drinking water. People rarely take enough water as it is heavy to carry and often think they will find a water source en route. Water in the mountains can not be relied upon and may be contaminated. As a minimum, a 2 ltr water bottle or bladder is necessary. We would also advise a flask of hot water or a hot drink depending on the season and the length of time you are expecting to be out.
Extra Food / Emergency Food
Towards the end of the day people have usually finished their food and drink and are getting tired. Tiredness can lead to a lack of concentration and that is when most accidents occur. To avoid this, pack extra food and drink or leave food in a suitable place for when you return, e.g. car, mountain hut, tent etc. It is the responsibility of the individual to pack their own emergency food. Depending on your tastes, emergency foods range from, dried fruit and nut mix, energy bars, dates, mint cake, chocolate bars, cakes, sweets etc. If you know you are prone to low sugar moments, carry a pack of glucose tablets with you. They are a better way of getting sugar into the body and will prevent a “sugar rush”. They can be bought at most chemists. (Dextrose) If you need to give your emergency food to someone else, be careful that they do not have an allergic reaction to it. e.g. nuts, sugar etc. Remember when people are tired, they may not respond in a normal manner, so they grab a handful of anything and in it goes! If you try to drive home after a big day, without stopping to eat and recover, you are likely to put others in danger as well as yourself. Tiredness Kills.