Recent high-profile mountain rescues have made us even more grateful for the outstanding service and dedication that Mountain Rescue volunteers provide. Here are some suggestions for what to take onto the fells, how to ensure your adventures are as fun and as safe as can be, and what to do if anything does happen to go awry.
Before you plan your rural expedition, however long or short, consider how your gear, fitness, experience and the weather could affect it. If there is a change in weather or someone less able wants to join your party, you may need to alter the plan or delay it for a few days.
Mountain Rescue say, “Just a bit of planning can help you avoid many a dangerous situation, add to your enjoyment of the hills and ensure that mountain rescue volunteers are available for the unavoidable emergencies that can happen to anyone”. Their latest safety leaflet is worth a look as a great visual guide.
Most weather forecasts, even the BBC’s, focus on the towns and villages where people live, and high on the fells it can be dramatically different. Mountain weather is notorious for changing unexpectedly and suddenly, and of course temperature, rainfall, and windspeeds vary considerably with each 100m gained in attitude. Sometimes just rounding a hill can make a huge difference.
Two places to check before going anywhere remote are the Met Office’s ‘Mountain Weather – Lake District’ site and the Lake District Weatherline, both of which offer details at different heights above the valley and, indispensably, tell you the predicted ‘feels like’ temperatures and often give you some clue about ground conditions – as do a number of local Facebook pages which are worth following whilst you’re on holiday.
If you feel that there is any chance you don’t have the kit or experience for the predicted weather where you’re heading, do delay or alter your plans accordingly.
WHAT KIT SHOULD YOU TAKE WITH YOU?
It’s a great idea to keep a kit list somewhere handy to make getting ready quick and faultless (in your backpack? By the front door? On your phone?). If you know Joanna at all, you won’t be surprised to hear we have a separate list for each activity blu-tacked inside one of the kitchen cabinets. For us, this works better than keeping a bag ‘ready to go’ because you never know if someone borrowed the compass, took the last plaster or ate the emergency supply of Kendal Mint Cake!
Essential Kit List – for almost any rural outing:
- well-fitting shoes or boots (George Fisher in Keswick operate a boot hire service so that you don’t have to spend huge sums on boots for fast growing feet; also they often have second hand children’s boots at very reasonable cost),
- waterproof jacket and trousers, hat and gloves (even in summer!),
- appropriate clothes for the weather and activity (not cotton jeans which chafe when wet)
- spare warm layers
- snacks or a whole picnic, plus an emergency provision such as Kendal Mint Cake, just in case you end up being out for longer than you expected. Try not to eat it unless you need it or have returned safely!
- someone in your party should be wearing an old-fashioned watch, so you aren’t reliant on a mobile phone for the time.
- map, plus waterproof cover if it isn’t waterproof, and compass … and someone who knows how to use these, seriously. See section below.
- survival bag, which these days pack very small. If someone is injured or ill, this will help them retain their body heat and protects from wind and rain. At less than £13 this little investment could prevent hypothermia.
- small First Aid kit, again you don’t need to spend much; a walker’s basic pre-packed kit is under £13
- some ID
- mobile phone
- whistle for calling for help in an emergency. Six blasts, wait a minute, repeat.
- Don’t forget your head torches! We learnt this lesson the hard way many years ago; we hadn’t planned to be out anywhere near dusk but events altered our plans and before we knew it we were descending a rocky single track path in the dark with just one headtorch between us … Thankfully we got back to our cottage safely, but it was a needless risk. If you need to use the head torch to summon help, six flashes, wait a minute, repeat.
Other kit to consider
If you are running or going a long way, also take a rehydration sachet and consider a portable mobile phone recharger, plus some cash for emergencies.
Night hikers will need top notch headtorches, spare batteries, and some high vis kit in case of emergency.
If you’re entering a long-distance fell or trail race, the organisers will insist on you carrying a minimum kit appropriate for the race, so ensure you have everything on their mandatory kit list.
Cyclists should consider that they will be much more exposed to the wind, and of course basic tools and a puncture repair kit (someone who knows how to use it would be handy!).
If you are taking your dog, do take a collapsible bowl and spare water, plus the usual treats, lead and poo bags.
In winter conditions you’ll need significantly more gear, probably at least crampons and an ice axe … and as always the skills to use them, which you can pick up on a Helvellyn Winter Skills course.
There is no end to what you may want to take with you, if you are strong enough to carry it! Binoculars, a specialist camera, a flask of something warming, a stuffable down jacket, sketch book and pencils are a few examples. We take extra gloves and hat if the first set are likely to get wet, as this little comfort can make all the difference. Handwarmers are also a good idea in winter, and UV protection and sunglasses for much of the year. A light waterproof bottom-sized pad is a wonderful creature comfort for keeping out the cold and damp during a picnic. Walking poles are a brilliant way to exercise the upper body and relieve pressure on the hips and knees.
Where to buy your kit
Keswick is the outdoor enthusiast’s shopping heaven, with shops for all budgets. For great advice on choosing products, we recommend talking to the staff in George Fisher (all fell activities), Kong Adventure (especially for climbing/ running), and the Keswick branch of Cotswold Outdoor.
ON THE SUBJECT OF PHONES …
… coverage varies enormously in the fells. It is a great idea to ‘register’ your phone to the 999 service which enables you to text 999 in case of weak signal, but in the mountains remember that there are lots of spots with no signal at all. Another app to download is What 3 Words. This is another app for locating your precise location, handy for Mountain Rescue purposes but of course it also relies on GPS and signal. Bear in mind that GPS can be power-hungry, so keep an eye on your battery power and switch off unnecessary apps to preserve it during your outing.
PAPER MAP & COMPASS (… & THE SKILLS TO USE THEM!)
For all but the simplest of walks, do take a good paper map, and know how to use it – getting lost is remarkably easy when the weather suddenly closes in and you lose GPS signal. For anywhere rural in the UK, the two best brands of map are Harvey Maps (scale 1:40,000) and Ordnance Survey (Explorer OL orange series maps at scale 1:25,000 usually perfect, but Landranger pink maps at 1:50,000 are sometimes more appropriate). Both companies do four large maps which cover the Lake District, although Harvey Maps do brilliant route-specific waterproof sheets (best to order these online before your holiday). You could even order a bespoke OS map centered on your holiday cottage! OS maps can be bought with a waterproof coating, but the lighter paper ones are just as good, they just need to be used with a plastic case.
There are many GPS devices and apps appropriate for the fells. We can recommend subscribing to the OS Maps App; both for plotting and then following routes, or even just to confirm your location. But remember that any GPS based app can and will sometimes lose signal, so always take a paper map, with some form of waterproofing, and your compass. When planning your route, consider the odd ‘shortcut’ in case you need to return or descend the mountain quickly for any reason.
If you aren’t yet a confident map-reader, there are plenty of trails lower down the fells that require little or no map-reading (we’ve listed some great ones in another blog post, here). Alternatively, sign up for a course to learn this wonderful skill. Joanna recently refreshed her skills on a Mountain Run online course (a live zoom type event), which was excellent. Why not book a navigation course to brush up on your skills you’re here in the Lakes? There are lots of guides offering this – a quick search for ‘navigation courses in the Lake District’ should help you find one that suits you.
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY
- Dial 999 and ask for Police first, then Mountain Rescue (NOT ambulance).
- You will need to be ready to tell them the nature of the emergency, and/or who the injured person is, their age, and how their injury appears to you. They will need to know how many people are in the party and your phone number. They will ask for your location so get your map out and figure out the grid reference, and possibly your What 3 Words location (if you have signal). And then don’t move!
- Should you have insufficient signal to dial 999, you will have hopefully registered your phone with the 999 service (see above) and can text them all this information.
Mountain Rescue volunteers are always on call; in the Lake District alone they average two rescues per day – if you multiply this by at least eight volunteers attending each call, that adds up to a lot of voluntary hours worked! Despite the name, they work in lowland areas where necessary too, and are also on hand to support the other emergency services in attending to large incidents. To make donation towards the kit, vehicles, helicopters, fuel, training, medical supplies and so on that is necessary for this critical volunteer service, follow this link.