Many years ago it was drummed into me that you should never go hill-walking alone. Back in the day the recommended minimum number for any ‘adventurous’ activity was four. The rationale behind this was that if one became incapacitated then one would remain with the casualty and the other two would go for help. At the time this probably made a lot of sense as, for those of you who are under 25 years old, we did not have mobile phones, pagers or satcoms. So what has changed to make it now acceptable to go it alone?
The quick answer is communication. We live in a world of amazing mobile communication technology. It is very rare to find anyone on the hills without a mobile phone. Now whilst this does not guarantee reliable communications’ the coverage is constantly improving and the majority of the country, with the exception of some of the more remote parts of Scotland, have reasonable coverage.
For the more affluent hill-walkers there are satellite phones. Many companies provide phones and access to the satellite networks and with the number of satellites in orbit you are virtually guaranteed contact. However, the down side is the cost of the both the phones and the tariffs to use the satellites. There are however, numerous plans available and competition will eventually drive prices down.
I am neither rich nor have access to someone elses satellite phone so how do I improve my chances of communication and rescue if all goes wrong?
Whilst it may not always be possible to make a voice phone call it is often the case that sms messages will get through. In order to use this facility to its best there are several apps that ca be downloaded.
- From the OS is the excellent ‘OS Locate‘ app. Apart from giving you your position it also displays your altitude and heading. This information can be shared via sms with a text message about whats wrong.
- Similar to the OS Locate app is the ‘LocSMS‘ app. This sends your positional data via sms along with a text message.
- In order to use both of these apps effectively the information should be sent to the emergency services via 112 or 999. However, in order to send sms message to 999 you first need to register your mobile number. Just go to http://www.emergencysms.org.uk/
Unlike the majority of hill-walkers, I am a Radio Amateur (radio ham) and I specialise in portable operations from hill tops. As a result I carry HF and VHF radios with me all the time giving my UK and European communication capabilities. In addition I have a GPS connected to a VHF radio which constantly transmits and updates my position using Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS). This facility also allows me to send messages as well.
Not withstanding all this amazing technology, the best way to ensure you will be found if something happens is to leave a route safety card. There are numerous ones available on the internet but I prefer to use the one produced by the OS download as pdf. The key information must include:
- Your route, including start and finish points and any escape routes planned.
- Who is in the party, including details of cars and where they will be parked.
- Details of survival/safety equipment carried plus details of any known medical conditions.
- The time you plan to finish and, more importantly, what time you plan to ‘check-in’ with your safety card holder.
Always designate a responsible person to hold the route safety card and ensure they know not to call 999 until one hour AFTER your latest ‘check-in time’. When they call 999 ask for Police and tell them you require Mountain Rescue.
Coming Soon: Solo Hill-Walking – Why I choose to walk alone