Thursday, August 3

Walking - Safety & Route Cards - The what if?

As a walker on the hills, especially solo, safety has to be taken serious. Even a windless and a sunny day walking along a good track can change.

With one small stumble.

A quick scroll through the Mountain Rescue Teams incident reports (essential reading IMHO) quickly throw up sunny days gone wrong, particularly for the ill equipped or down right stupid. The hills are a wonderful play area, but unlike your local park help is usually not merely a yell away.

I don't mean to sound alarmist on this, just realistic.
That's Lesson One.

Read the introduction any good walking guide - they all give the same advice in the preface before the real book content starts.
Correct footwear; Carry map, compass, 1st aid kit, spare clothes, food, water (Kendal mint cake?) survival bag & waterproofs. Allow for sudden weather changes. Leave word of where you've gone.

It's that last piece of advice that is this post's message.

To quote the Ramblers' Association website advice:
"Before setting out, you should leave a copy of the card with a responsible person, and notify them on your safe return. In the event of an accident, help will arrive more quickly if rescuers have detailed information about your route. If you feel a detailed card would unnecessarily restrict your movements, at least leave a few notes about your intended whereabouts"

The Mountaineering Council of Scotland have a slightly less authoratitive tone, with some extremely well thought out considerations, but the message is the same

1. Tell someone where you're going
2. Check in regularly.

In the event of the unforseen, this is what a Mountain Rescue Team will use to find and help you, in the extreme case you're unable to help yourself.

Route cards can vary in layout and content for example
this this or this but the basic information is the same. Here I am; Come find me.

If you like thisdetailled approach then one benefit can be a much closer attention to route detail, even down to the compass bearings etc, which is why the GPS related software usually offers routecard production as a feature.

But for me the route card is too prescriptive.


I know my main route, and how I intend to travel along it. If I fancy a sideways wander, I'm know from experience that I won't be too concerned about what I wrote on a piece of paper 300 miles away. I enjoy the freedom of the hills, not stomping along a tarmac road at a stated compass bearing and walking pace, worrying if I'm 20 minutes behind a schedule. Takes the U out of fUn.

Another drawback of a card. Where to leave it? Mounted on the dashboard of a parked car seems to me to be an invitation to the criminally minded. Not quite what I want to worry about high in the hills for a few days.

So, for what it's worth, here's my approach.


I write down my start point, day, and time. Then I provide a list of key features that I intend to cover, with escape routes that I may use in the event of bad weather (likely) or injury (fingers crossed - not something I've ever used, or hope to)

And now the important piece.

I arrange a regular check-in (usually nightly) via mobile phone with home to let them know whereabouts on my route I am, or any changes I've come up with since last we had contact. In the event I'm moving into a mobile signal shadow for any extended period of time, I arrange my call-in time accordingly.

In the event the signal is available but poor, a simple SMS message is all that's necessary. However a useable signal is usually available on a ridge, within sight of any small hamlet these days (I speak from personal experience here, of the Lake District, Wales & Dartmoor. Of Scotland I've no experience - but please leave a comment if you can help)

A quick aside - Mobile phones - love or hate them, they are here to stay and can have a use. Just remember the golden rule. Switch it on when you want to use it. And then switch it off. Battery life measured in weeks!

Anyway back to the plot ....

The standing instruction I always leave:
'Not heard from me for 2-4 hours beyond the pre-arranged check-in time? Dial 999 for a MRT call-out!' The time period is dependant on the terrain I expect to be travelling over.

I've wondered about that last instruction. I'd be mortified to be the cause of an unneccessary MRT call-out. Those guys already have their hands full, especially at this time of year, with the less aware. As a responsible adult I accept the risks associated with my particular pleasure, and will take reasonable steps to minimise them. And in case of difficulties I've warm clothes, tent, food and bedding to sit out most eventualities and to properly work out a reasonable escape plan, rather than complicate things in a panic.

But in the event my check-in seems likely to breach the time factor, I've given myself long enough to get off the hillside and to the nearest contact point - village, pub, bus route or worse case, a road to flag a car down.

Better that than MRT on the hills and missing their tea.
;-)

A minor disruption for me, as a new check-in can be arranged and then I'm back up that slope.

That's my safety net, and it's worked for me over the years. A mix of good sensey & flexibility from my perspective.

My tactics, and my opinion. For what it's worth

Stay safe out there. Remember indestructable immortality is for comic books. Take a few simple and sensible precautions.

And enjoy them thar hills, partners.

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