Safety in the Mountains
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Navigation | Route
Planning | Equipment | Walking
Alone | Mountain Weather | When
Things Go Wrong | Carrauntoohil
if you will, but remember that courage and strength are naught
without prudence, and that momentary negligence may destroy the
happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste, look well to each
step, and from the beginning think what may be the end".
Edward Whymper, first ascensionist of the Matterhorn, 1865.
consciousness of self-dependence is one of the lures to adventure
which will always take men of spirit to dangerous and far-off
places, but with it goes the duty for a man to be equal to the
occasion if a mishap should strike, whether to himself or others.
He should know what precautions to take to reduce risks, how to
give aid on the spot, what equipment and facilities are close
at hand and where to seek help. He should give his share of help
Mountain Rescue Committee
The mountains of Kerry are not high by international standards,
and severe snow and ice conditions are rare, but nevertheless
they should not be underestimated as they can be unforgiving for
even the most experienced and well-prepared walkers. Severe weather
conditions can set in in minutes (particularly given the proximity
of the area to the Atlantic seaboard) and navigation can be difficult
at the best of times due to a scarcity of obvious paths and tracks.
Do not venture into the mountains
unless you are fully equipped and prepared!
The ability to navigate accurately and efficiently in all conditions
- particularly low visibility - and on all types of terrain is
the single most important skill a hillwalker or mountaineer can
possess. There is no mystique about good navigation (although
it does take a little practice), and there are currently many
recognised high quality Mountain Skills courses which teach navigation
an easy to understand way using qualified and experienced instructors.
Despite this, many hillwalkers still take to the hills with inadequate
map and compass skills, and navigational error remains the single
greatest contributory factor to incidents resulting in Mountain
We do not encourage people to construct or add to cairns
(piles of rocks which serve as rudimentary route markers). Not
only do they look unsightly but they can encourage the ill-prepared
and inexperienced to venture further into the mountains than may
be wise, with a false sense of security. Instead, inexperienced
walkers are encouraged to either learn to navigate on one of the
recognised Mountain Skills courses mentioned above, or join one
of the many excellent clubs in Ireland, which organise regular
walks led by experienced walkers and mountaineers. Most clubs
organise walks to suit all ability levels, and many also organise
their own navigation training sessions.
For information on hillwalking clubs in Ireland, and approved
training courses, visit the MCI website at www.mountaineering.ie.
would particularly like to alert all walkers to an extremely dangerous
situation which exists on Carrauntoohil at present. As many people
know, the summit is surrounded on three sides by very steep
ground, and has always required careful navigation to locate the
correct route in descent, particularly in poor weather. This situation
has been exacerbated in recent times by the fact that a visible
‘false’ track has now developed leading from the summit directly
towards dangerous ground.
should exercise extreme caution when navigating from the summit,
particularly when visibility is poor. It should be noted that
there are NO safe descent routes anywhere to the N, NE,
E or SE of the summit. All
parties should carry a map and compass and should include at least
one competent navigator (ie. capable of consistent accurate navigation
in darkness or white-out conditions) as part of the group.
To get the most from your day in the mountains you will probably
wish to spend some time in advance deciding on the most suitable
route. Factors to be considered include:
Distance and height gain of route, and time required for
Amount of daylight available and estimated time of return.
Size, fitness and experience of group.
Nature of the terrain, and possible conditions underfoot
Possible escape routes.
Weather forecast, and poor weather alternatives.
You may or may not wish to prepare a detailed route card, but
at the very least you should let someone know your intended route
and your estimated time of return. Do not forget to notify
this person of your safe return! If you leave word of your intended
route, it also goes without saying that you should stick to your
plan, unless, of course, you feel that this will place you or
your party at risk. A blank sample route card can be obtained
from the download section at the bottom of this page.
When selecting the best route line during your walk there are
many obvious dangers to be avoided, such as clifftops in windy
weather and icy slopes, however you should also be conscious of
less obvious hazards. This includes such things as grassy slopes
and lichen covered rock slabs, which may look innocent, but which
can be every bit as dangerous as the more obvious hazards, particularly
in wet weather. It is a good idea to get into the habit of asking
yourself how great are the chances of a slip, and what the likely
consequences of that slip might be. Remember that a simple slip
is the cause of a large proportion of serious mountain accidents.
If you are on a slope where rocks could potentially be dislodged,
keep your group bunched tightly together so that any dislodged
rocks do not have the opportunity to build momentum, but can be
stopped immediately by the person behind. Be particularly aware
of the danger you may pose to other groups below you, and of the
danger you may be facing from careless groups above you. If a
rock is accidentally dislodged, the standard procedure is to shout
"Below!" as a warning to all others.
As a general rule of thumb you should always pack with the assumption
that you may end up having to stay out after dark, even if it
is through no fault of your own (for example you may be required
to help another walker in distress). Try to be an asset and not
a burden to any group that you are a part of. A minimum
list of equipment to carry on a day's hillwalk includes the following:
- Waterproof jacket and leggings
- Quality walking boots
- Plenty of warm clothing (nylon or fleece, but not cotton)
- Hat and gloves
- Map and compass (and the ability to use them!)
- Food and fluids (and spare food!)
- Survival bag
- First aid kit (including pencil and waterproof paper if
- Torch (+ spare battery and bulb)
Other items to consider include sleeping bag, emergency shelter,
walking rope, ice axe and crampons, walking pole, rucksack liner,
gaiters, watch, sun cream and hat (we all live in hope!), binoculars,
camera, penknife etc..
Mobile phones can be useful to carry, and there is no doubt
that in some emergency situations they can save hours in calling
for help, and can be extremely useful for enabling Mountain Rescue
Teams to communicate directly with a party on the hill.
Be aware, however, that coverage in many mountainous areas is still
poor and a signal may not always be possible. A sensible approach
is to carry a phone but not to depend on it (ie. carry it with the assumption that it will not
work, and view it as a bonus if it does). It should certainly
not be viewed as a substitute for knowledge, experience and essential
equipment. Remember the mountaineering ethic of self-reliance,
and please don't call out a Mountain Rescue team prematurely.
walkers enjoy heading alone into the mountains, and the extra
challenge and rewards that this activity can bring.
solo walkers should be fully aware of the unforgiving nature of
what they are undertaking however, and the full implications of
the activity they have decided to embark upon.
As a solo
walker your risk level is dramatically elevated and your margin
for error decreases accordingly. Your full range of mountain skills
must be first rate to allow for this and to minimise the chance
of an unintended ending to your day. Even the most skilled and
experienced walkers can have a simple accident (eg. broken ankle)
and the seriousness of your situation increases considerably if
you are on your own at the time of any mishap.
indication of the serious nature of solo walking is that three
out of every four fatal mountain accidents attended by Kerry MRT
in recent years have befallen solo walkers or walkers who had
inadvertently become separated from the rest of their party at
the time of their accident.
Ireland's proximity to the Atlantic means that the mountains
here can sometimes experience storms of a ferocity seldom seen
in many larger mountain ranges elsewhere.
Wind speed increases with height and can be one of the
greatest dangers to hillwalkers, at times being strong enough
to literally knock people off their feet. In these conditions
the best advice is not to venture into the hills at all, but if
you are caught out, rope your party together if you are carrying
a walking rope, and try to descend as soon as practicable, avoiding
precarious ground and cols (saddles) if possible.
Temperature decreases with altitude, at a rate of approximately
2-3°c per 300 metres height gained (known as the lapse rate).
In reality, what this means for the mountaineer is that the temperature
on the mountain tops may be as much as 10°c lower than that
at the valley floors, and when increased windchill is taken into
consideration, winter temperatures may fall as low as -20°c.
These are severe conditions indeed, and require the best of equipment
just to survive.
Precipitation on the other hand increases with
altitude, and may be up to 300% greater than in neighbouring lowlands.
Mountain rivers can become raging torrents extremely quickly,
and what was crossable in the morning may not necessarily be crossable
on your return in the evening. Drowning may not appear on most
hillwalkers' lists of potential dangers but several hillwalkers
have been drowned in the past, and it should be regarded as a
very real danger - if in doubt,
do not attempt to cross!
Mist and cloud present obvious complications for navigation, and
can appear surprisingly quickly in the mountains.
Severe lightning is rare in the Irish hills, but nevertheless
can occasionally present a danger to walkers. If caught out, conventional
wisdom is to try to avoid summits, ridges, spurs, cave entrances
and obvious danger spots such as trees. Descend as soon as you
can, or sit on your rucksack on an open slope, particularly on
a boulder field where the current may pass safely beneath you.
Winter conditions obviously present a full set of dangers
of their own. Always use an ice axe and crampons (after learning
how to use them correctly!), and do not venture out unless you are fully familiar with the additional risks posed
(eg. cornices, avalanche danger etc.) and the ways to minimise
Cold, wind and rain, combined with exhaustion, are the principle
causes of hypothermia, therefore it is hardly surprising
that hillwalkers and mountaineers are potentially at risk, given
that these are the 'normal' conditions we find ourselves exposed
to. The good news is that a little knowledge can go a long way
in preventing, recognising and treating hypothermia, and there
is no reason why it should become a major problem, providing that
you take sensible precautions (particularly in relation to clothing,
food, fitness level, choice of route and awareness of weather
Do, however, be aware of the hidden danger of mild hypothermia
- that you may become mentally as well as physically lethargic,
impairing your judgement and causing you to make poor decisions
(eg. navigation). This has the potential to result in your situation
rapidly spiralling out of control.
When Things go Wrong!
Despite all the best preparations, mountains are hazardous and
unforgiving, and accidents can happen. It is also possible that
you may find yourself first on the scene of an accident involving
When things do go wrong, above all else Stay Calm! Think
Clearly! Think Logically!
The initial time you spend assessing the situation is critical.
If early decisions are rushed, you may regret them later. By it's
nature, Mountain Rescue is a slow business, so do not be afraid
to take as long as necessary to think your situation through and
decide on the best course of action. Making the right decisions
at this stage may well save time in the long run - There's
no point in running if you're on the wrong road!
If a Mountain Rescue Team is to be called out, either use a
mobile phone or try to send at least two competent walkers
(carrying a written note) to raise the alarm. Whether phoning
or sending messengers, the following information should be to
hand: the nature of the problem, the number of people involved,
the exact location (both with a 6-figure grid reference and a
written description), and your intended course of action. Consider
carrying a pre-prepared incident report form and casualty card
on waterproof paper in your first aid kit, which can be filled
in when needed (a blank sample incident report form and
casualty card can be downloaded from the download section at the
bottom of this page).
To call a Mountain Rescue Team, dial
999 or 112 and ask for Mountain Rescue. The messengers
may be required to wait by the phone for further instructions,
and may be used to guide the Team to the exact location of the
incident, so they should be the fittest group members if possible.
Be prepared for a long wait - comprised of the time it takes
for your messengers to reach a phone, the team callout and assembly
time, and the time required for the team to walk to your location
with heavy equipment. You may decide that if there is a danger
of hypothermia it is best to evacuate most of the party and leave
a small group remaining with the casualty. You may also decide
that it is necessary to move the casualty to a more sheltered
or safer location (if so, ensure that someone will be on hand
to guide the Team to your new location).
Consider how your group members or passers by can best be deployed,
and how the equipment carried by the group can best be redistributed
and utilised. Consider 'alternative' uses for the equipment you
are carrying, for example camera flashes can be used to attract
attention in the dark, a rope laid out along the ground will maximise
your chances of being located in poor visibility, and a survival
bag can be used for attracting attention. The standard distress
signal is six sharp whistle blasts (or torch flashes) followed
by a one minute silence, repeated.
Don't lose touch with common sense when coming
to any decisions!
Finally, don't be put off by this page - most people
will spent a lifetime in the mountains and never be involved in
an accident. Do try and take on some of the points contained above
however. Knowledge might not fit into a rucksack but it is the
most important thing carried by any of us in the mountains - and
what's more it doesn't weigh a thing!
For comprehensive information
covering all aspects of hillwalking and mountaineering, refer
to "Mountaincraft and Leadership"
by Eric Langmuir, published jointly by the Mountain Leader Training
Board and the Scottish Sports Council.
This is a book that no hillwalker should be without!
below to download a blank sample Incident Report Form, Casualty
Card and Route Card. A Route Card should be completed for each
walk, while Incident Report Forms and Casualty Cards can be printed
(ideally on waterproof paper) or photocopied (photocopies may
be more stable in wet weather) and kept in your first aid kit