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Mountain Rescue - How to Prevent Having to Use Their Services

Updated on August 3, 2012
The Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team brings an injured climber down Scafell Pike
The Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team brings an injured climber down Scafell Pike | Source

Keeping Safe on the Mountain

In the UK Mountain Rescue teams consist of volunteers and rely on donations from the public to keep going. Every weekend they are called out to a number of emergencies which could probably have been prevented. The types of incidents the Mountain Rescue teams deal with are getting injured climbers and walkers back down the mountain safely as well as people who have been taken ill, to helping those who have lost their way. The Mountain Rescue teams are diligent in their work, but they would rather not have to come out to help people when a little more preparation would mean that incident could have been avoided!

Having to be helped off the mountain, for whatever reason, but the rescue teams is not a great way to end your day. So how can you prepare to try to minimise the chances of their services being needed?

Firstly, make sure that you are probably prepared for a mountain walk. Many people take on mountains like Ben Nevis, Snowdon or Scafell Pike (the highest mountains in Scotland, Wales and England respectively) with no more thought than they would give to a walk around the block with the dog! People attempt to climb dressed in trainers, carrying no food or water, and no extra clothing. In the middle of July in 2012 a lady had to be helped down from Ben Nevis suffering from hypothermia – a bit different from your average walk in the park!

Good footwear is essential – well fitting sturdy boots which will help prevent your ankle twisting on the rocky ground, and protect your feet from the rough stones underfoot. Even if you start your day in brilliant sunshine, most of these walks will take 6 to 10 hours to complete, and the mountain weather can change a lot during that time so lightweight, breathable waterproofs that you can pack into a back pack are definitely needed – together with extra clothing to put on as you reach the higher, colder altitudes. walking poles will help you balance, and also take some of the strain off of your legs.

The paths up the UK’s major mountains are fairly well marked, usually with marker cairns. However, sometimes other paths criss cross the route you are following, and in mist it is very easy to take a wrong turn and soon become very lost indeed. Before you set out on your mountain walk you should make sure you know how to use a map and compass, and remember to take these with you. Even if you are using a GPS a good old fashioned map is still a good backup. Be very wary of using a GPS app on your mobile phone – these applications are heavy on the battery, and you may find it fails at a critical point. It is far more important to retain a good charge in your phone in case you need to make an emergency call!

Pick your day to hike up the mountains very carefully, taking good note of the mountain weather forecasts. You don’t want to be walking in fog, snow or gale force winds. Rain, whilst annoying, isn’t dangerous on it’s own unless it is affecting visibility. Do not plan the date for your walk and then keep to it whatever happens – if it’s not advisable to walk that day due to the weather – stay are sea level.

Be sensible about the level of fitness of you and your party. Most people who are moderately fit can get to the summits of the three main UK mountains, but if there are any doubts, please consult a doctor. The walks are strenuous, and can be a strain for a weak heart or joints.

Before you start your walk make sure someone knows where you plan to go and what time you plan to return – that way the alarm can be raised if you are not where you should be and a search can begin to find you.

Should the worst happen and you find yourself lost on the mountain, or injured or ill and unable to make it down by yourself you can contact the Mountain Rescue Team for help. To call out the team in the UK dial the Emergency Service Number – 999 and ask for Police, Mountain Rescue. Do not ring a mountain rescue team directly.

But let’s hope that by following this advice you will have a wonderful day on the mountain, and return safely with plenty of memories of your achievement – and plans to take on the next summit.


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    • Outbound Dan profile image

      Dan Human 5 years ago from Niagara Falls, NY

      Great tips, most wilderness rescues can be prevented with just a little preparation before going hiking. You made a good point of avoiding GPS apps on smartphones. We have had a few rescues with people that had their phone batteries die. Of course, they weren't carrying map and compass.