Mountain Safety Advice

staying safe

Adventure Smart Lake District Cumbria

We're delighted to have been involved with the development of this exciting project. For helpful advise, please have a look at http://www.adventuresmart.uk/lake-district-cumbria/

Watch the weather

Be prepared, by getting a reliable local weather forecast before you set off.

http://www.lakedistrict.gov.uk/weatherline, the National Park Weather Service for felltop conditions, temperatures, cloudbase, etc. Plan a route that is suitable for the forecasted weather (but expect it to be worse) and suitable for the weakest member of your party, and tell someone responsible what that route is. Make sure you have a map covering your route and a compass. Know how to use both. www.mwis.org.uk is also a very good site, were a forecaster actually looks out of a window as well as using the science. Beware of websites that rely just on computer modelling!!

Do you know about windchill? At a given air temperature, wind speed reduces the temperature experienced by the body by an amazing amount. More information, including a wind chill calculator at http://www.csgnetwork.com/windchillcalc.html

 

Think about your gear

Take appropriate clothing including waterproofs, spare warm clothes, hat and gloves, a torch, enough food and drink for the planned trip plus a bit extra for the unplanned part. Take torch, a survival bag (if you don't have one or know what one is get down to you local outdoor shop now - they cost next to nothing and may save your life).

Develop your skills

Whatever your planned activity for the day, be honest with yourself about you and your companions’ knowledge, fitness and ability. We all like to kid ourselves that we are fitter, or indeed more capable than we are but in this instance it pays to be honest. Try to avoid relying on communications or position finding technology. It's all very well until you drop it, its batteries fail, or some bug or otherwise eats its insides. Or it becomes too dark to see it and you forgot your torch!

If it all goes wrong

If it all goes wrong, don't panic. Don't immediately get out your mobile phone and dial 999 (or your Mum, 'cos she'll dial 999 for you...it's happened!), unless it's a medical emergency. Think; Are we really lost? If we continue this way and end up in the wrong place, is it the end of the world? Can we get ourselves out of this? All the best mountaineers have got themselves out of mires so deep their feet wouldn't have been touching the bottom. Read their books! Joe Simpson, Doug Scott, Simon Yates, and many others. They all gained from the experience of sorting themselves out.

If you do find yourself in need of mountain rescue anywhere in the UK

Send someone (or two if there are enough in your party to leave one behind with the casualty) to the nearest phone call 999 or 112, ask for the police and say you need mountain rescue. Or use a mobile phone, if you have a signal. Your phone may roam to another network to allow you to make a 999 call, but nobody will be able to phone you back. That is why it is important to have the following information available:

Be prepared to tell them:

  • your name and address.
  • the number of the telephone that you are ringing from, and any mobile phones in your party.
  • why you need help.
  • how many people are in your party.
  • how many people are injured and what are their injuries.
  • where you are (preferably using a grid reference).
  • the weather at the incident site.
  • what survival equipment you have between you.
  • the registration of the vehicle you travelled in and where it is parked.

Once you have requested help follow exactly any instructions given to you. If told to stay where you are you must do so. If you move you risk losing any mobile phone signal and impeding any rescue team coming to help you.  The Mountain Rescue Team will want to call you back. You will probably be asked to wait where you are while someone comes to speak to you, although don't expect ambulances and flashing lights to necessarily come your way, you may not have come down the quickest or easiest way.

The whole process can take several hours, or more. Please don't expect a helicopter to whizz in and carry out a brief job. This is rare, and it is much more likely to be done on foot.

Lightning Strikes

Summary –Staying safe

  • Stay off ridges & summits, and away from single trees.
  • Walls can be protective but keep more than 1m away.
  • All metal objects (karabiners, crampons, ice-axe, ski poles, etc) should be stored safely.
  • Move quickly away from wire ropes & iron ladders.
  • Lightning currents can travel along wet ropes.
  • Crouch immediately if there is a sensation of hair “standing on end”.
  • Crackling noises or a visible glow indicate imminent lightning strike.
  • Airborne helicopters can be struck.

Prevention of problems

  • Check weather forecast.
  • Seek shelter as soon as hear thunder. Don’t wait until you see the lightning.
  • Lightning can travel 10 miles in front of storm clouds. 10% strikes occur when blue sky is visible.
  • A storm can travel at 25 mph.
  • Most common time for injuries are before the storm or at the apparent end of the storm.
  • 30-30 rule
  • Danger of being struck is when flash to thunder time less than 30 seconds (approximately 10 km away).
  • Don’t climb for 30 minutes after last thunder & seeing last lightning.

NO PLACE OUTSIDE IS SAFE DURING LIGHTNING –AVOID THESE:

  • Small, open huts, caves & overhangs (increase risk from side flashes).
  • Sheltering under small outcrop or overhang may increase risk of injury, as lightning that has hit a hill literally “drips” onto the person with the rain as it arcs over the ground.
  • Water or wet stream beds.
  • Near the tallest structure in the area e.g. single tree.
  • Tents not protective (metal tent poles act as lightning rods).
  • Stay away from high ground (ridges and summits).
  • Power lines
  • Ski lifts
  • Metal objects

 

Further advice, particularly relevant to winter is available by clicking here.

First aid

Learn some first aid, and take a first aid kit with you. And get your friends to do the same. They're the person who's going to sort you out!

Safety Tips

Always carry a torch

What ever time of year, always carry a torch. You never know when or why you may be delayed.

When it goes dark in the hills, it usually goes VERY dark! There's little ambient light unless you are lucky to be out when there is a good moon and little cloud. I

t's worth carry a set of spare batteries as well. If you're lucky they'll be the same size as other devices you might be carrying such as GPS.

Modern LED torches are very reliable, and batteries last a long time, and it's well worth considering a headtorch in favour of a hand torch, leaving your hands free.

Battery life

Even modern batteries hate cold weather. Their performance deteriorates significantly in lower ambient temperatures.

Keep battery powered devices protected inside bags or jackets, and always carry spares for 'mission critical' devices (apologies for that phrase, but it does best describe devices such as torches and GPS).

Beware of battery life indicators on devices as well. They actually signify voltage drop, and most batteries maintain a steady output for most of their life and then drop off VERY quickly. A battery showing anything less than full charge may not have much life left in it

Be prepared to change your plans

Make sure you allow enough time to complete your walk and that it is within your capability. Be prepared to change your plan if things aren't going well.

Choosing a route and setting the pace

The choice of route for a day out but take into account the ability of the weakest member of a party.

There's no harm in setting a challenging route, but there has to be a contingency plan and escape routes factored in to the planning. There's no harm in cutting a route short, or turning back. The mountains will still be there next time!

The pace should be set by the slowest member, and they should be given time for rests. It's better to walk at their pace, than to find yourself hanging around for them, and much more social!

Don't expect to be rescued by helicopter

Although MRTs enjoy an excellent relationship with both military SAR helicopters and civilian air ambulances, the majority of rescues are still carreid out on foot, with NO helicopter support.

 

Helicopter limitations...

 

Military aircraft. Although capable of being flown in the dark and in very poor weather, they have many priorities and will generally only be sanctioned in life threatening circumstances. They can be grounded at their home bases by poor weather or turned back en-route for the same reason. They are stationed approximately 1 hour flying time away.

 

Air Amulances. Based much closer, their operation is much more limited. Poor weather can ground them and they have NO night flying capability. The injured person has to be loaded with the aircraft on the ground and the engine shut down. This means they need enough flat ground to land on... not always easy to find.

 

If you're not injured then you are unlikely to be rescued by helicopter, and may be depriving someone in genuine need of a sparse resource

Drinking and hydration

Not something you need to worry about in the Lakes, surely?

Well yes it is...

You need to drink plenty, especially on warm/hot days. Dehydration, even by a small amount, causes brain impairment, and may be a factor in slips and trips in the afternoon, the biggest cause of callouts for us. In more extreme cases it is life threatening. It can be linked with hyperthermia and uncontrollable rise in body temperature.

The best drinking water is tap water taken with you. Easily 2 litres or more might be required. If you run out, then it should be safe to top up from moving, well airated water. Check there's not too much by way of livestock about, and if it's rained recently, then be extra careful.. faecal matter can be washed off the surrounding grass and transported in the water. The higher you go, the lesser the risk... Cryptosporidium is probably the main concern.

Helmets

Helmets... usually a contentious and much debated issue.

Climbing helmets are designed primarily to protect your head from falling rocks, rather than from a fall. They're certainly worth considering when summer and winter climbing, gorge scrambling, canyoning, off-road cycling.

If you're organising a group of novices or children then they should be considered essential. Otherwise it has to be an informed decision.

More information is available from the The British Mountaineering Council (BMC) in this article about climbing helmets.

Hypothermia

The effects of hypothermia are insidious and can creep up on people.

Have spare, warm clothes, and carry plenty of high energy food to keep our glucose levels topped up.
Beware of wet clothes exposed to the wind. The cooling effect is MUCH greater through wet clothes.

Learn some first aid

A two or four day course is ideal, but even a one day course would give you the basics.

You would learn the basics of ABC, how to do CPR and control bleeding. It can take us up to an hour to get to an incident scene, sometimes longer, if you haven't given us an accurate location. Your intervention might make the difference between life and death.

Make sure you can navigate

It is essential that you can navigate.

Relying soley on a GPS, either free standing, or software on a smart phone, is a hazardous strategy, and can land you in trouble.

Being able to orientate a map to the ground you're are on, recognise features on the ground as they appear on a map and being able to tell you direction of travel and distance travelled are skills that not only make remote area travel safer, but it is also VERY satisfying.

If your party gets lost, you cannot blame someone else for navigation errors. It's EVERYONES responsibility!

Courses are available and they are often taught on a day out, so you don't waste time sat in a classroom.

The ability to navigate and keep moving in poor visibility, extreme weather, darkness and in unfamiliar terrain is a vital skill.

Not taking a map and compass in the first instance is unforgivable!

Mobile phones

Mobile phones have, without doubt, contributed to saving people's lives in the mountain environment. However they have also been misused and abused and led to much time-wasting for voluntary mountain rescue teams.

If you're taking your phone with you for emergencies, then make sure it's fully charged. If it's a smart phone, and you spend the day using its features, then it is quite likely it won't have enough battery power to use it later in the day in an emergency. Be careful if using apps for navigation. Full mapping software is available, but the stuff like Google maps doesn't provide anywhere near enough detail to navigate by.

Quote from British Mountaineering Council:

"This is not a safety device, nor does it guarantee the delivery of any perceived or needed services in the mountains. Use of a mobile phone in the mountains, in a non emergency situation, may be an infringement on the mountain experiences that others have come to enjoy and an intrusion into the wilderness experience. Using a mobile phone to

  • Ask for directions,
  • Ask for additional food and clothing to be brought to the user,
  • Ask to be rescued for a non life threatening or disabling injury,

is properly considered by those agencies who might be called upon to render such assistance as an abuse of the technology, both on a practical and philosophical level. A cellular phone is a communication device that may be aid in the saving of lives and limbs if used solely for that purpose in the mountain environment, after all the above have been taken into careful consideration."

Mountain roads in winter

Many of the local roads become impassable in winter due to snow and ice.

Kirkstone Pass is often effected, and signs are put up to say so. However, lack of a road closed sign isn't a guarantee that the road IS passable. AND a 4WD is not a guarantee of a safe passage either. Many modern 4WD cars have tyres that are not design to grip in snow or ice.

Other more remote roads are more likely to be affected since it is impractical to grit them. Wrynose and Hardknott Passes are often impassable, sometimes due to significant icy patches.

You can't blame your sat-nav. It can't tell you anything about road conditions. Only you eyes and common sense can provide that kind of information

Winter driving advice is particularly relevant in mountain areas. See RAC Patrol Tips for Winter driving.

If emergency services are aware that you are stuck, stay with your vehicle. If you decide to leave your vehicle for any reason, walk along the road towards civilisation. Don't cut across country, even if it looks like a shortcut.

Wear appropriate footwear

Your footwear is the link between you and the ground.

Buy the best you can afford from a reputable outdoor shop. The comfort of your boots is vital, reducing fatigue and giving support on rough ground. Fashion boots aren't suitable and trainers are only suitable for easy terrain on good days. The lightweight specialist fell-runners wear dedicated shoes with deep studded off road tread, not road running shoes for this reason.

Winter requires additional support, with '4 season' boots capable of taking crampons and also with a more rigid sole, allowing the 'edge' to be used for grip on steep or snow covered ground.

Winter equipment

For many people, winter is the best time to be on the hills.

A beautiful sunny, freezing day on ice and snow covered ground high in the hills can be one of the best days of your life. It goes with out saying that winter days are colder, shorter, and can be wetter. Snow and ice adds an extra dimension.

When there is snow on the ground, an ice axe and crampons should be regarded as essential. You may not need them, but if you do, there is NO substitute.

Four season boots will keep your feet warm and dry, as well as provide a solid platform to fix the crampons. Put them on BEFORE you need them and take them off AFTER. Hopping on one foot on steep ground is not the time to try and put them on. Anti-balling plates, or a thin carrier bag fitted between boots and crampons will stop snow building up and freezing on to your feet!

Ice axes are a personal choice, but if you're walking don't be lured in to thinking a climbing axe will be better. The steepness of the pick and curvature of the shaft will make it much less useful on anything but very steep ground.

Carry the axe in your hand, or down your back between your rucksack straps where it is accessible as soon as you think you need it. It's NO use attached to the back of your rucksack.

Take buying advice from a reputable outdoor shop.