What do I do if something goes wrong up a mountain?

We hope that every day out in the mountains is a safe one but with hundreds of thousands of people climbing Snowdon each year and many millions more venturing out into the hills it’s inevitable that accidents will happen. Knowing how to deal with them can be the difference between life and death.

IMPORTANT If you’re on a MountainXperience event your mountain guide will take charge of any incidents. They are highly trained, qualified and experienced mountaineers who will know exactly what to do and who to call for assistance. They carry essential survival equipment including a group first aid kit and an emergency shelter and will ensure those that need help are well looked after.

The key to managing mountain incidents is to stay calm. Take a deep breath and compose yourself before stepping in. If a casualty can see panic on your face it’s only going to make them feel worse. Be sure you can’t deal with the incident yourself before calling for help. Mountain Rescue services in the UK are staffed by volunteers who all have normal lives and full-time jobs. Depending on your location it can take several hours from your initial phone call to help arriving so if you’re able to get the casualty off the mountain yourself without causing any further damage then that can often be a better option. Of course if you’re unsure or the casualty is in too much pain never hesitate in calling for help.

If you’ve decided you need help on the mountain then there are a few important steps you should follow:

Step One – Where are you?

Before calling for help you need to know EXACTLY where you are. Saying you’re on ‘Snowdon’ is not going to help the emergency services find you. Try to give a detailed description of your location for example ‘We’re climbing Snowdon on the Llanberis path in between the Halfway Station and Halfway House’. Even better (and what you should be aspiring to) is an accurate Ordnance Survey six figure grid reference eg SH 598 571 or better still a full grid reference such as SH 59802 571976. This will pinpoint your location to a 10m² area which is perfect. If you’re not yet a competent map reader you can get the OS grid reference for your exact location using smart phone apps like OS Locate or OS Maps (check out What smart phone apps can improve my mountain day?) Newer services are also becoming more common as they can be easier to use however they do rely on technology. One such company is What3Words which has cleverly divided the world into 3 metre squares and given each square a unique combination of three words such as ///tinned.prompts.juggled.

Step Two – Gather some basic information

The emergency services will ask you some important questions which are essential for allocating the right resources to best help you. If you can have all this information written down in advance it will speed up their response and save valuable mobile phone battery life. You may also find you have to move away from the casualty to get a signal so having everything to hand will save you running back and forth.

You should write down the following information:

  • Your exact location from step one above.
  • Exactly what’s happened. Who is injured (their approximate age, general condition, etc). How they’re injured. What position they’re in right now. Do they have any medical conditions. What they’re wearing. If you’re first aid trained and can give more information about the casualty’s condition then even better.
  • If you’re in a group what is the make up of the rest of your party? Are they in a safe place? Do they need assistance? Is everyone warm and dry?

Step Three – Call for help

Dial 999 and ask for the Police and then Mountain Rescue (in the UK the Police liaise with Mountain Rescue services to arrange help). They’ll ask you for all the information you’ve gathered during steps one and two above.

You may need to relocate if you don’t have a phone signal from where the casualty is. Your phone will route 999 calls through any network so keep trying even if you don’t think your own network has service where you are. Be sensible about your battery life from now on as you may need it again.

You can also send a text message to the emergency services using the emergencySMS system. You need to register your phone in advance of your day (simply text the word ‘register’ to 999 and follow the prompts) then when you need help you send a structured text message to 999 such as ‘police/mountain rescue – 60yr old male hiker suffering heart attack – SH 59802 571976’.

Step Four – Look after the casualty

Remember, unlike calling for an ambulance to your workplace or in the town centre, Mountain Rescue will take some time to get to you and this could be several hours. After your initial emergency call, mountain rescue volunteers assemble at a central location to get their gear together and then need to make their way to you. If you’re a long way from a road then this can take time. You need to make sure that you, the casualty and everyone in your group are safe, warm and dry. If you’re not moving around or the casualty is lying on the floor they will get cold very quickly so use all your spare clothing and emergency equipment to prioritise those most in need.