If you are thinking of starting hill walking or returning to the hills after a long break then it is important that we discus the boring stuff like safety. I know in the modern world we constantly harp on about Health & Safety and the ‘Nanny State’. But safety is there for a reason and none more so than when you are on the hills. We are not necessarily talking about going off piste and climbing Snowdon, Scafell Pike or Ben Nevis, you could be just going for a walk along the South Downs Way or similar footpath. Wherever you go the same rules apply.
If I were to sit down with a group of my OS Get Outside colleagues and start a list of safety rules it would probably run to tens of items. All would be valid but we have to be a little more practicable or you will hide away and never venture out of the front door. Therefore I am producing here what I think are the 5 most important and basic rules relating to safety on the hills.
Plan your trip – Make sure you plan your route meticulously, use a route sheet to calculate leg lengths and height gain/loss. Plan escape routes and highlight any danger zones that you may encounter. Highly recommend OS Maps – a brilliant tool and well worth the money. Always (and I mean always) carry a map and compass and know how to use them. The planning is pointless otherwise. Check the weather before you leave at The Met Office, if there is any doubt that the weather may be unsuitable then there is No Doubt – Don’t Go.
Tell Someone– It is very important that you tell a responsible person about your. They need to know where you are going, route details, party size, where your cars are parked and what time you are due off the hill. The responsible person also needs to know when and how to raise the alarm – One Hour Overdue, call 999 ask for Police, tell them you need Mountain Rescue. I use a route safety card specifically designed for the purpose by the OS.
Carry the right kit – your kit will vary depending on the time of year and where you are walking but as a minimum you should always carry spare warm clothing, waterproofs, spare socks, basic survival bag, whistle, torch/head lamp and spare batteries, fire lighter, first aid kit, high energy food (mint cake), water. During the winter you may well wish to add a bothy bag, crampons, ice axe, quilted jacket.
Allow plenty of time – having done all of the planning don’t be tempted to leave home at a leisurely time. During the winter the light fads very early and quickly and you do not want to be caught out on the hills in the dark. If your planning says your route will take 5 hours then ensure you start the walk at least 6 hours before dusk so that you will to return an hour before darkness. Do not forget to factor in the time for food or rest you plan to take.
Know your limits – this is very important both for yourself and any others you may be walking with. Tiredness and fatigue can come on you very quickly especially on a cold, damp winters day. If there is any sign that you or a member of your team is suffering from fatigue, is unwell, or injured – then turn back or follow one of your pre-planned escape routes off of the hill. The hill will still be there next week.
One of the most important things to remember is:
Getting to the top is optional – getting home safely is mandatory!