INSTRUCTOR’S INSIGHT: What To Do When The Worst Happens.

25 April 2019

Every hike comes with risks, it’s simply the nature of the activity. From injuries to finding yourself stranded; prepare to know the ins and outs of how to help yourself and others. With this said, hopefully, you’ll never find yourself in any of the situations we use as examples below. However, when faced with a worst-case scenario, after reading this blog you’ll be able to carefully and calmly pull yourself out of it. And, the good news is that none of it is as complicated as it seems!

WHAT WOULD A PRO DO?

Whether you’re a professional or an amateur hiker, there are a number of things you should be doing to avoid the worst from happening Peter Stollery (NY3P Guide) shares his expertise…

Peter, owner of NY3P looking out onto mountain range.

Pete’s insight:

“Don’t be a fool, keep your cool!”

  • A good instructor always assesses a situation before taking action and, so should you. My priorities as an instructor are ordered as: firstly myself, secondly my group and, then anyone else involved in the situation. I never compromise myself as this could consequently compromise the group. Don’t become helpless, avoid escalation and think ahead.

“Be proactive, not reactive.”

  • Make a plan of action: are you going to stay put or call in for help? As an instructor, once I’ve taken the time to assess the situation, I’ll work out the different approaches I can take to reach a resolve. Generally speaking there are two options: stay put and use a phone to call for help OR stay put and deal with the situation at hand. In cold weather, if you are going to stay put, you should always protect yourself by wearing a belay jacket and by putting yourself in a comfortable position to support the other person (in case you are there for a while). If you need to evacuate a casualty, make a plan of what’s needed and think about whether it’s worthwhile.

“There are essential bits of kit that I WON’T leave the house without: a blizzard jacket and cling film are just a couple of them…”

  • What an instructor carries for when it goes wrong. I’ll always be prepared and you should be too. Essential bits of kit that I carry include a blizzard jacket and an adapted first-aid kit which includes an extra triangle of bandages, sanitary towels (extremely useful for stopping bleeding), cling film (instead of duct-tape which can be used to compress and support injuries and a medic or others can clearly see the injury and monitor things like the blood flow to the injury), as well as a good sized group survival shelter composed of polyester.

DON’T PANIC. WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU, OR SOMEONE ELSE IS INJURED.

It’s human nature to panic, but panicking is possibly the worst thing to do. Flooding your body with adrenaline (and not the good kind) will make everything more difficult to cope with. While it’s impossible not to panic altogether, there are a number of ways that you can rescue yourself from a situation and keep yourself safe without escalating things. Follow the points below to keep your cool when faced with  a troublesome situation when hiking:

  • First of all, assess the injury. If it’s a minor injury, a first-aid kit will usually do the job. Jumping to the worst conclusion isn’t going to help in any given situation, let alone that of an injury. Take a moment to establish the severity of the damage caused to either yourself or the other person and go from there. Administer treatment where possible and return to your base using the quickest and safest route.  
  • For more serious injuries… Assess the situation as above, taking into account the severity of the injury. Even with first-aid experience you may not be able to treat yourself or another party properly. You should use your judgement to find a route back to a safe area where appropriate treatment to the injury can be made.
  • If it’s a break or sprain, keep moving! Though it sounds counterintuitive, the key to preventing pain from worsening with these types of injuries is to keep the blood flow going. Do this by moving! Keep hiking boots on and descend from the mountain carefully back to a safe spot for treatment.
  • If in doubt, contact emergency services. It’s always wise to take time to assess an injury, but if you feel uncertain about doing this or your gut tells you the situation needs outside help, make the call! Give as much detail as possible to the phone operator and even if they don’t need to come out to help directly they will have enough information to advise what you should do next.
A hiker walking over rocks and grass terrain

YOU CAN AVOID THE WORST HAPPENING. DO THIS BEFORE YOU HIKE.

There’s no predicting the future (though we’d all like to at times), however, there are a number of simple and easy things you can do to prepare yourself in case the worst happens during a hike.Tick off the points on the checklist below before you embark on your next big walk:

  • Give out rough coordinates. People should know where you are before you set out on your adventure. Where possible notify family and friends of your whereabouts by providing a description of your route and the time that you’ll be returning. Stick to this route where possible!
  • Check the weather and abandon your trip if it’s not looking good. Flexibility with plans is key to making the most out of a hiking experience. You should check the weather forecast in advance of the day(s) that you plan to get walking to avoid any unexpected harsh conditions. The Mountain Weather Services is a great reliable source for checking out this information. If conditions look extreme, or like they could go that way, rearrange your plans rather than end up in a situation you could have simply prevented.
  • Prepare your clothing. The weather can be unpredictable and, therefore it’s important to be equipped to face all the elements. Have a solid waterproof jacket, trousers and boots at the very least. Thermals are an essential for overnight stays, and should be used when hiking in cold weather. Don’t forget to pack a hat, scarf and gloves too!
  • Action plan at the ready! Even with precautions set in place, it’s wise to lay out a clear action plan that you can follow if needed. Think about the closest and safest spots you can return to if one of your party becomes injured, also consider the quickest routes to these places.
  • First aid required? It’s highly recommended to get familiar with even basic first aid, not only for hiking but rather as an everyday set of skills. Consider enrolling on to a short course so you know what to do if you need to help yourself or anyone else hiking with you.
  • Know the numbers. It may seem like common sense but you should know your emergency contact numbers, for well…emergencies! The two numbers you’ll need to contact in case of an emergency are 999 (the main emergency number for all emergency services from ambulance to mountain rescue, it can even be dialled from a locked mobile phone) and 112 (another emergency number which does the same job, but really usefully will work from any mobile in the world).
  • Register for Emergency SMS. You’re stranded, injured and you’ve got no mobile coverage. This could prove troublesome when attempting to call the emergency services. Luckily, you can still use the SMS emergency texting service. In advance of your hike send an SMS with the word ‘register’ to 112, you’ll then be guided as to how to register fully for this service.

SURVIVAL KIT MUST-HAVES.

All hikers should carry an emergency survival kit, but knowing how to put together this kit is key. No two kits will be the same as only you know where you’re hiking and your skill level, but consider the following…

  • A pocket knife – a multi-purpose tool that will come in handy, always.
  • Duct tape – it fixes things. A good enough reason to add it to the survival-kit.
  • A headlamp – being lost in the dark is always worse than during the daytime. Keep calm with a headlamp.
  • Firemaking tools – even if you’re a pro, pack some firestarters.
  • Water treatment tablets – especially important. Hydration is important but we don’t need to tell you that…Any form of drinkable water will help your chances of survival in a bad situation (those boys trapped in the Thai cave for over two weeks survived by drinking the moisture dripping from the cave walls, remember that?)
  • A compass – if your smartphone is out of battery, a compass is the (second) best thing to find your way.
  • A space blanket – you never know how cold it could get out there- best be prepared with your very own hiker’s comfort blanket.
  • A black bin bag – a versatile bit of kit, use it for shelter to collecting water.
  • First aid supplies – to treat cuts, splinters, blisters and more.
  • An emergency whistle – hopefully you’ll never need to use it but it’s always a good idea to have a way of attracting attention if needed.
A hiking essentials survival kit displaying gloves, boots, rope, a compass and a first aid kit.

THE WORST THINGS TO DO WHEN HIKING.

We’ve covered the ins and outs of best hiking practice to help you to deal with and avoid any possible mishaps. Now, let’s take a look at bad hiking practice. Here are 6 things you should definitely not do when hiking:

1. Hike on a hot day – at the top of mountains, the sun’s heat is a lot more intense than when low on land. Heat stroke and dehydration can be dangerous!

2. Not keep yourself hydrated – sports drinks may seem like a good option for a quick energy fix but they provide very little real hydration. Ditch sugary and caffeinated drinks and opt for water, always.

3. Bring only junk food junk food isn’t good, never mind when you’re trying to hike. Replace the chocolate bars with nutrition-rich trail mix and opt for cereal bars where you can.

4. Wear flip-flops, denim clothing or cotton – it may sound obvious, but flip-flops aren’t practical, denim isn’t comfortable and cotton can be a heavy material to wear.

5. Go off trail – make a route and stick to it. Don’t be tempted to wander, you could end up lost. Also, if you have informed someone in advance of your route, this is the route they will look to if you do not return and they go looking for you!

6. Hike alone – try and always bring a companion (as the saying goes, two heads are better than one!). If you really have to go it solo, let others know where you are.

young woman hiker hiking on sunrise mountain peak

ON A FINAL NOTE.

No matter where you’re hiking, be it the North Yorkshire 3 Peaks Challenge, National Three Peaks Challenge or a shorter climb, always put your safety first. As a very basic requirement, you should know basic first aid, have a pre-planned route and a carefully packed bag with the bits of kit that’ll save your back if needed.