Written on 22/08/17 by Paul Oldham

Keeping Safe on the Fells

Over on the UK Hill Walking web site you can read a very recent post My Scrambling Fall by Lyndon Marquis. Lyndon was scrambling on Cam Crag Ridge in Langstrath and unfortunately he had a fall of 30-40m down a rock studded slope.

As I bounce 30-40 metres down a rock-studded slope, I hear more bones popping inside. The world cartwheels around a fragile, little hub of pain, fear and panic.

As a result of the fall he traumatised the nerve cluster that worked his left arm (so that was now useless), and broke his back, his right collar bone, seven ribs, and his right leg. His post recounts this incident and what happened afterwards, both on the day and since, and it makes fascinating (if slightly gruesome) reading.

Langstrath from Eagle Crag
Looking down into Langstrath from Eagle Crag

But there are some key points in it which I think we should all take away from it even if we're only gentle fell walkers.

Now you may think that as a walker, rather than a scrambler, you're unlikely to come to much harm on the Lakeland fells. But the reality is rather different. We keep an eye on the reports from the various Mountain Rescue Teams (MRTs) around the area and a lot of them are call outs where people have to be stretchered off the hill because they've broken an ankle or a leg on what should have been a benign walk. I speak from experience here too: years while walking on a pavement, not even on the hills, I slipped on some ice and broke my ankle badly so had to have it pinned. There is no way I could have done anything more than crawl after that break. I could have done that equally easily on some slippery grass on a summer's day on the fells.

So you have to assume you could come to enough harm that you couldn't walk off the hill. Which brings me to my next point: how do you summon help? Well Lyndon quickly discovered that even in the Lake District, where cellphone reception is getting better, there are still lots of locations with no coverage and he was in one of them.

But he had done the right thing: he had left a route description with his family and he knew they would call Mountain Rescue if he wasn't back by 17:00. They did and Keswick MRT found him at about 20:30.

In summary then if you're going walking on the fells do:

  1. Make sure someone knows:
    1. where you're going (if you're going on one of our walks give them a print out or the URL or even just the walk number);
    2. when you expect to be back;
    3. who to call if you're not back by then (the police, on 999, and ask them for mountain rescue).
    If you're staying at a B&B or hostel then the owners might be suitable people to give this information to but there's no reason why it shouldn't be someone back at home who you simply phone once you're down off the hills.
  2. Carry a mobile phone and register it in advance with the emergencySMS service as sometimes if reception is poor you can send a text even when you can't make a phone call to 999.
  3. Carry a whistle - a recognised signal if you're in distress is six blasts on a whistle once a minute1. Whistles cost peanuts and weigh nothing, why not keep one on your key ring or permanently in your rucksack?
  4. Carry a torch - even if you're not injured but just late down then you could get benighted and you will be very grateful to have light. We always carry a Petzl E+Lite Headlamp which weighs very little and takes long life batteries.
  5. If you do a lot of hill walking (or sailing, which is my other vice) then you might also think about buying a PLB. They're relatively expensive but they will summon help quickly and accurately from anywhere in the world.

Anyway I hope this hasn't scared you too much, fell walking is generally very safe so long as you're sensible but being sensible includes being prepared in case it all goes pear shaped.

  1. I should mention here that if you're ever out and hear this signal then first phone 999 and tell the police, assuming you have coverage, only then try to find the person who's blowing the whistle. If you have a whistle yourself then reply with three blasts of the whistle.

Tagged: equipment, safety

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WalkLakes recognises that hill walking, or walking in the mountains, is an activity with a danger of personal injury or death.
Participants in these activities should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions.