“Can’t see why I’d ever need Mountain Rescue” – famous last words

logo: Mountain Rescue - England & Wales

Article from  Andrew Simpson MREW Press Officer

No matter how experienced or careful you are, in the blink of an eye you can find yourself in need of rescue - your life in the hands of a rescue team. And, should you be unfortunate enough to need their help, you'll receive a professional, world-class service - from a group of highly trained, highly motivated individuals.

The mountain and cave rescue service in England and Wales is provided by around 3500 volunteers, available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Whatever the weather. Their bread and butter may be the wild and wonderful uplands of England and Wales but, besides being called to help those who become ill or injured in the moorlands and mountains, teams are frequently tasked to assist the police in the search of semi-urban areas for missing persons - the young, the old, the vulnerable.

They've assisted the ambulance service with remote or difficult to access areas. They've provided expertise and manpower during major civil emergencies such as the Grayrigg train crash or the Lockerbie disaster; assisted the fire service with moorland fires in Lancashire, Yorkshire and the Lake District; helped rescue people from their own homes during extensive flooding in Cockermouth, Gloucestershire, Carlisle and South Yorkshire; and searched snowbound roads for stranded motorists. They've even searched for forensic evidence and helped preserve the scenes of crime.

So... whether you're a walker or not, and thought you could never need mountain rescue you could well be mistaken.

However, there are some simple precautions you can take before and during your treck out into the great outdoors:

Prepare and 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.

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). 

Carry food and drink...

Take ample food and drink for each member of the party. High energy food such as chocolate and dried fruit are ideal for a quick hit.

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 - streams on hills are drinkable if fast-running over stony beds.

...and the right equipment

A map and compass are essential kit and should be easily accessible - not buried in the rucksack!

A mobile phone and GPS are useful tools but don't rely on your mobile to get you out of trouble - in may areas of the mountains there is no signal coverage.

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. In winter conditions, an ice-axe, crampons and survival bag are essential.

Emergency survival kit comprising spare clothing and a bivvi bag.

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.

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 and loss of concentration.

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.

For more information or to make a donation to mountain rescue log on to:

First published in CJS Focus on Outdoor Recreation in association with The Campaign for National Parks on 20 June 2011

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