Top Tips for Hill Walking Safety
Posted on January 9, 2013 @ 1:53 PM in
A keen hill walker and outdoor pursuits enthusiast Pauline Mc Gurk completed the 6 peaks challenge in June 2012 - a time when the weather should have been reasonable for hiking...but not in N.Ireland! Along with her partner in crime Emma McCann, she completed the challenge in the most horrendous weather; including gale force winds, rain and sleet. Fortunately they were well prepared with lots of changes of gear and plenty of food and hot drinks which was a major contributing factor in allowing them to complete the challenge in just 21 hours.
Given her experiences and the fact that Pauline is a volunteer with North West Mountain Rescue Team, we thought there was no better person to ask advice for walking in the hills safely now that Winter is in full swing. There are many wonderful mountains and hills in Northern Ireland waiting to be explored however the importance of approaching the hills with extreme care and good preparation can not be stressed enough. Using guidance from the North West Mountain Rescue website Pauline has given the following advice to anyone hoping to enjoy a safe and fun day out hiking in the hills:
Mountains can be killers without proper care. The following points cover the minimum precautions you should take if you want to avoid getting hurt or lost or, in the event of an accident, minimise further harm.
PLANNING AND PREPARATION
- Plan before setting out!
- Consider the equipment, experience, capabilities and enthusiasm of the party members
- Check the weather forecast and local conditions
- Remember night encroaches early in the winter
- Learn first aid
- Many accidents occur towards the latter part of the day when both your energy levels (and phone battery!) will be run down. Did you remember to charge your battery before setting out?
FOOTWEAR AND CLOTHING
- Wear suitable boots with a treaded sole which provide support for ankles
- Clothing should be colourful, warm, windproof and waterproof
- Take spare warm clothing and perhaps a hat and gloves; it is always colder on the tops
FOOD AND DRINK
- In addition to the usual sandwiches take chocolate, dates, or similar sweet things, which restore energy quickly. Even if you don’t need them yourself, someone else may!
- If you run out of water remember streams on hills are drinkable as long as the water is fast-running over stony beds
EQUIPMENT AND ITS USE
- A map, compass (and the ability to use them), and at least one reliable watch in the party should always be carried
- If you carry a GPS, at least know how to read your current position. It could save a lot of hassle in an emergency when speaking to the Mountain Rescue Team
- In all conditions, it is wise to carry a whistle, torch, spare batteries and bulbs
- Climbers and mountain bikers are all urged to wear helmets at all times
- If in groups, make sure party leaders are experienced; do not let the party become separated
- Take special care of the youngest and weakest in dangerous places
- 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.
- Be prepared to turn back if conditions are against you; even if it upsets your plan
- If you have a serious problem, Dial 999 and ask for mountain rescue as soon as possible. Prior to dialling 999 be prepared to state your contact number (so that the Mountain Rescue Team can contact you), your location if known (if unknown state your starting point and any known landmarks within your vicinity), the nature and number of injuries if any
- Keep injured/exhausted people safe and warm until help reaches you. If you cannot contact anyone, use six whistle blasts or torch flashes, repeated at minute intervals, to signal an emergency. Report any changes of route or timetable to someone who is expecting you
- Do not rely on a mobile phone to get you out of trouble. Signal coverage in mountainous areas is very unreliable. Mountain Rescue Teams have many years of experience in calls from mobile telephones and, whilst they are excellent when they work, there are many things that can go wrong. Even moving a few feet in the mountains can mean losing the signal. You will be advised of best practice when contacted. If you are able to summon help using your mobile phone keep it switched on so you can be contacted
DANGERS – THAT CAN BE AVOIDED
- Precipices or Cliffs
- Slopes of ice or steep snow
- Very steep grass slopes, especially if frozen or wet
- Unstable boulders
- Gullies, gorges and stream beds
- Streams in spate
- Snow cornices on ridges or gully tops
- Exceeding your experience and abilities
- Loss of concentration, especially toward the end of a long day
DANGERS – THAT REQUIRE CONSTANT MONITORING
- Weather changes - these can be sudden and more extreme than forecast
- Ice on path (carry an ice-axe and crampons - and know how to use them)
- Excessive cold or heat (dress appropriately)
- Exhaustion (know the signs; rest and keep warm)
- Accident or illness (don't panic - if you send for help, make sure you stay put and the rescuers know exactly where to come)
- Passage of Time - especially true when under pressure - allow extra time in winter conditions
Always remember it is no disgrace to turn back if you are not certain. A party must be governed by the capabilities of the weakest member.
Now you’re prepared with the knowledge of how to stay safe in the hills, check out WalkNI.com for a whole host of walking routes in Northern Ireland’s majestic mountains. Happy Hill Walking!