Getting off the mountain

By Andrew Joseph – reproduced with kind permission from www.mtb-guiding.co.uk

“The Incident Pit”

This is a term used in diving and climbing to describe a series of accidents, mistakes and errors of judgement that result in worsening chances of survival.

And so begins our story…

… Okay, the fall wasn’t so bad, I can still feel my arms and legs, but wish my right shoulder didn’t hurt quite so much. Pick up the bike ‘Arrgh!!’ don’t pick up the bike. But I can’t leave it there, it cost 2 grand before the upgrades!

I know! I’ll ring my mates! Signal’s not too good though, I’ll have to go higher.

Gently ease up the bike with my good arm and start walking up over the slippery rocks… thump bump crunch. Oh cripes, I’ve got a chainring embedded in my knee! Did things just get a lot worse? I can’t walk, I’m in real trouble now! On the bright side, I’ve got some signal! I’ll ring Tony.

beep beep beep, “this is a recorded message, the person …”

Humph, probably in the pub!

Um’; it’s getting cold now.

Where am I, where’s the nearest house? I’ll look at the map I ripped out of the GB road atlas. Bugger, this is useless! Maybe I should have bought one of those OS maps, but £8 is a bit steep when I don’t know how to read a map or use a compass.

I’ll phone the ambulance’; oh flip, the battery is dead. No one knows where I am, I’m hurting and shivering and I’ve got no space blanket and it’s getting dark’;..

Oh shit…

Ok then, apart from falling off the bike in the first place, how many errors of judgement did I make?

Let’s start before I left the house:

Not buying a map, because I can’t read one and I’ve got no compass and anyway I don’t know how to use one of those either. So now I don’t know Where I am, The nearest source of help, The safest way to the nearest road:

Costs: Map £8, Compass £10, knowledge, Free

Not having emergency kit:

Costs: Space Blanket £ 5, Torch £ 5, Whistle £ 1

Not leaving a note or telling anyone where I’m going and what time I should be back:

Costs: Nothing

Trying to walk out with a bike.

Costs: A chain ring in the knee.

Not phoning emergency services straight away.

Costs: Depends.

Best Case Scenario: A cold and painful night before being found by a farmer next morning.

Worst Case Scenario: A Coroners verdict of ‘Death by Misadventure’ and my bike goes to a new owner.

Moral of the story: Don’t be stupid, get yourself prepared. See my other article: Are you prepared?

How to get help

On your own:

Even if you can get a phone signal and manage to contact emergency services, they won’t be there in two minutes. It may be several hours before help arrives.

If you can’t move, then you need to make sure you are warm. Put on all the clothes you have, keep your head covered. Wrap yourself in your space blanket, blow your whistle, and wait.

Depending on your mobility, think carefully about your next move. It may be best to move to a more sheltered spot if it is near. Assess your ability to move to get help. How far is the nearest house or road? What is the terrain like? How good is your mobility?

In a group:

If you are in a group or just with a mate, someone may have to walk out to the nearest phone, house or road. If you can contact emergency services from where you are, all the better. Even if your phone shows no signal, it is worth trying 999 or 112 (European standard emergency number), it may get through.

Once you have identified where the group is, you now need to locate the nearest help and the safest way to get there. Send a helper to that point with the map. If you have enough people, send two to get help. The rest should stay with the casualty to help in their care and also to avoid anyone else getting lost.

Note that the safest route may not be the quickest. As the helper, use the map to keep yourself safe, it’s best not to try crossing raging rivers at the widest point. Falling off cliffs won’t help much either. An injured or lost helper just adds to the problem.

Write down the grid reference of the casualty and other important info (name, injuries, symptoms etc.). For that you need some paper and a pen or pencil. I recommend a pencil, it will always work.

Once at the source of help, call the Police, (they may then put you through to Mountain Rescue). Give them all the info you have, the grid reference of casualty and also where you are calling from. You can give them the weather conditions on the mountain, (heavy fog, sleety rain etc.) Then you follow their advice. They may need you to stay where you are so you can lead Mountain Rescue back to your mate.

When you are all home and safe, make a donation to Mountain Rescue.

Position

A word of caution about mobile phones and ‘GPS Mapping’. Some newer mobile phone have mapping software and can show you where you in ‘real time’. As far as I am aware, this uses mobile phone mast information to triangulate your position. Unless it has true GPS receiver built in, you will not get your position if you can’t get a phone signal. Don’t rely on mobile phones. Its best not to rely on a GPS device either, you may not get a fix depending on weather conditions or topography, and the batteries can go dead when you really don’t want them to.

My mate, Paramedic Ian Morgan, tells me that the Emergency Services can get a fix on your mobile phone position. This can be extremely useful and possibly life saving. However, please don’t rely on this, you may not get a signal when you need it. You may also have to move some distance from the casualty to get a signal, so you still need to give co-ordinates for the casualty to the emergency crews. A map works in all weathers, a GPS device is a useful backup.

Whistle Blowing

Did you know… The international signal for help is 6 short blasts on the whistle, pause to listen for searchers whistle, 6 blasts, pause, 6 etc. until you hear calls/signals around you, then you change to 3 blasts, to inform the searchers you have heard them. Keep on whistling until you are found.

Not a lot of people know that.

References

Much of the information I have gleaned comes from several places, one of the main sources I used is the booklet edited by Judy Whiteside:

‘Call Out Mountain Rescue. A Pocket Guide to Safety on the Hill’

Published by: Mountain Rescue (England & Wales)

ISBN No 978 0 9501765 8 1

I recommend it to anyone involved in outdoor activities.

 

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