Fell walking - emergencies

The best advice is to be prepared. Things can and do go wrong when out on the fells and being ready to deal with them can be the difference between life and death (literally).

The main emergencies that can arise include:
  • Illness/injury
  • Bad weather
  • Getting lost
If you walk solo, then it is even more important to know what to do as there may not be anyone around to assist you and panicking will only make matters worse.

Ultimately, you (or the leader of the group you are in) have the responsibility to learn the following:
  • Basic first aid
  • Navigation with map and compass
  • How to summon aid
In addition to this is knowing when to quit. There is absolutely no shame in acknowledging that the conditions are too bad to continue an ascent and, therefore, turning back. The mountain will still be there tomorrow. The key is to make sure you are too.

First aid can be self-taught or, better still, enrol in a first aider's course. Navigation can also be self-taught. So, I will limit my suggestions to how to summon aid.

How to summon aid

If you have a mobile phone and a phone signal then the obvious advice is to dial out for help. In the UK, that means dial 999 and ask for (if you are in the mountains) the Police followed by mountain rescue. However, they can't help you if the cannot find you! If you have a GPS you can provide them with an exact location. However, having the skill to read a map and locate yourself and being able to accurately convey that information is essential.

The problem is that mobile phone signals in the mountains are not reliable. In some locations there may be no signal at all. In others, it may be possible to find a good signal by moving around (if you are able to). In any case, electronic devices can and do fail - often at the worst possible moment.

Therefore, it is essential to carry a good whistle and a powerful torch. These can be used to attract attention. When summoning help, blow on the whistle six times and then wait for one minute. Then repeat. And repeat. And repeat. And keep repeating until help arrives. Don't stop blasting on the whistle if you hear someone coming - they may be using the sound of your whistling to locate you.

Carry a Rescue Beacon

Imagine the scenario: You are out on the fells and the weather is poor. You have no mobile phone signal. You injure yourself or become unwell. You use your whistle for over an hour but no-one comes. It gets colder and darker and you are in trouble, possibly in life-threatening danger. Now what do you do other than sit it out and hope you survive?

If you are carrying a rescue beacon then help can be summoned in less than a minute. These devices are not cheap, but what price would you put on your life? As they last for 10 years or so, the actual cost amounts to about £20 a year - a tiny amount for the benefits they give.

Once the rescue beacon is activated, the UK Coastguard is notified of your position within minutes. They can then alert whichever rescue service is appropriate for your location. They can also inform your relatives of your situation. As these devices work internationally, their benefits are impossible to exaggerate.

I would advise anyone who ventures out into the hills to get one. Register it with the Coast Guard (a free service) and carry it with you at all times.

Further information

The following links give more information about survival in the mountains.