Mountains and moorlands can be treacherous places without proper care and there are many, many ways to enjoy the mountain environment, be it walking, climbing, running, cycling or skiing. There's no subsititute for experience, but there are steps you can take to minimise the chances of getting lost or hurt.
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.
Check out the new Safe in the Hills website – pioneered by the Kirkby Stephen MRT, for more information about how you can keep safe whilst walking in the hills.