Emergencies for walkers and mountaineers
Scott Muir offers some valuable information on dealing with emergencies and looks at ways of avoiding them.

Emergencies for walkers and mountaineers

You really don't want to be the subject of an emergency - and even being involved in someone else's can be very traumatic. Emergency situations may make great tales but unfortunately, some involve serious injury. If you visit the hills regularly it is inevitable that eventually you will encounter an emergency situation, hopefully not your own.

An emergency is any situation, which is life threatening, or one that could develop into a life-threatening situation. This may include occasions where someone is unable to descend to safety due to an immobilising injury. Getting lost and spending a night out is survivable with relative comfort, given that you are carrying suitable gear and correct decisions are made. This requires everyone that goes on the hills to take full responsibility for their actions and personal training. Mountaineers and hill walkers should aim to be self-sufficient at all times.

Everyone has 'an epic' at some stage, some have more than others

Everyone has 'an epic' at some stage, some have more than others. I firmly believe that an epic or adventure is essential part of the learning process that shouldn't be actively encouraged, but by the same token, shouldn't be missed either. The experience gained by working through a situation is unmatched by any amount of formal training. Obviously we all have our different degrees of 'epic'. To one person, their epic might be something as simple as losing their hat and gloves in a gust on a cold wintry day and how they manage to improvise. Whereas to another, their epic doesn't begin until they've broken half a dozen bones and spent at least two days out in the open with only berries and roots for sustenance, knowing that the nearest civilisation or rescue point is a week away by mule.

The learning curve

Provided that you learn from the experience and avoid making the mistakes that caused the problem in the first place, mini epics build a strong base that will serve you very well in the future and as such they should be embraced. However, the rescue services can be stretched throughout the year, especially in the winter and mostly consist of volunteers that get out of their beds to assist those in desperate need. It is worth bearing this in mind before making a call to the services that is not life threatening, as you may be stopping someone in far more serious need from receiving urgent treatment. Always attempt to get yourself off the hill, even if it is only to somewhere more accessible.

Rescue call

If you have to call out the mountain rescue services, dial 999 (you don't need an area code, even on a mobile phone) and ask for 'Mountain rescue'. In most circumstances you will be connected to the local police station. They will then take control of the rescue. If you know it, state your location clearly, or your last known point. Ensure that you know how to take and give an accurate grid reference, as this will be requested to aid any rescue. Note that if you are calling from a mobile telephone, call centres are often miles from the actual place you are walking, so be sure to state the area and region that you are in, and if possible give the unique Ordnance Survey code highlighted on every map in large, blue, outlined capital letters.


There are a few items that can make a huge difference in an emergency and should be carried by everyone. They take up little space or weight and are a sound investment that could save or at the very least, make someone else's life more comfortable.
  • Mobile phone
  • Spare hat and mitts
  • Flask of hot liquid
  • Emergency shelter
  • Spare synthetic filled / fleece jacket
  • Aspirin (in case of heart attack)
  • Small First Aid kit with a 'sam splint' and lightweight adjustable neck collar
  • Blister pack
Extra winter items include:
  • Snow shovel
  • Small square of foam mat or back system of rucksack
First Aid

Anyone regularly going on the hills should attend a basic First Aid course. Many situations that arise can be easily dealt with quickly and such courses will help you to manage more serious situations whilst help is on the way. First Aid courses and the excellent the Summer Mountain Leader Award cover emergency situations in varying degrees of depth. Alternatively, spending time on a voluntary basis with a Mountain Rescue team can be very rewarding and much will be learned in a very short time.

Stay calm. Emergency situations are generally quite traumatic, but nothing is gained by losing your head

Decision time

As the leader of a group, some serious decisions need to be made, especially if you come across an injured person who is not part of your group. Your main responsibility should always be for the safety of your group. It's rare, but you may have to make the decision providing assistance is not possible if this compromises the group. You need to think carefully before getting involved and seek the group's approval, as it is likely to be the end of their day. However, a group will learn a lot from an experience of this nature.

Golden rules

Follow these guidelines to greatly ease and avoid the need to experience the epic:
  • Stay calm. Emergency situations are generally quite traumatic, but nothing is gained by losing your head.
  • Think carefully about all the outcomes before you make any decisions.
  • Prior planning and preparation and the selection of a realistic objective that is not too far beyond your comfort zone will reduce the likelihood of an epic occurring.
  • Anticipate problems. During the preparation for a walk, note all the possible escape routes in case of poor weather
  • Develop a good skill base that you can draw upon through further learning
  • Use your map at all times. Identify features and locate your position before the cloud comes in.
  • Carry the appropriate emergency equipment.


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