How To Be A Safe Mountain Hiker
Mountain rescue teams across the country are braced for another busy year, after the busiest year on record during 2021. In Scotland alone, there were 951 separate call outs, which were largely dealt with by volunteer crews, although the most serious incidents were responded to by the police and the RAF.
During the lockdown summers when international travel was largely off the menu, outdoor pursuits in the UK enjoyed a boom in popularity. This year, the trend has continued, as many people have discovered a love for the countryside during the pandemic, and have been put off international travel by airport logjams and the cost of living crisis.
This has led mountain rescue leaders, who run their operations mainly from charity donations, to call for people to prepare themselves properly for a trip to the mountains, hills, and valleys of the UK. While they welcome the new enthusiasm for visiting the countryside, many of their callouts could be avoided with some planning and preparation.
The number one issue that rescuers report is people not wearing the right kit for the terrain. One of the most common mistakes people make is climbing a mountain in inappropriate footwear. For mountain hiking, boots with a sturdy rubber sole and ankle support are best. If you only have trainers, they should have good grips on the soles.
Even if you set off in good conditions, you should always pay close attention to the weather forecast. In higher altitudes, the weather can change quickly from mild and sunny, to dense fog, or high winds, rain, and chilly temperatures. Therefore, always take spare warm dry clothing with you, even in the summer months.
Don’t rely on an internet connection on your mobile phone for a navigation tool, as it is unlikely to work along the whole route, and you will want to preserve your battery for emergencies. Take a good paper OS map of the area with you, if you are walking a long distance over unfamiliar terrain.
Take your time learning a new route in advance, and mark it out with a highlighter pen on your map if it helps you to keep your place. One of the biggest mistakes inexperienced hill walkers make is straying from the designated path, and into territory that requires more advanced skills, or has hidden drops or other dangers.
Always choose a route that is appropriate for your level of experience and physical fitness. For example, if a route is classed as a ‘scramble grade’ then it will have sections of steep terrain, which require the use of hands and feet to negotiate. You will need to have a reasonable amount of strength and flexibility, and a good head for heights.
Another common issue is known as ‘benighting’, when walkers become lost or stranded as darkness falls, making it much more difficult for rescue teams to locate them. If you going out for a full day, always take more food and drink than you need, torches, spare warm and waterproof clothes, and a means of attracting attention, such as a whistle or flares.
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