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Dealing with emergencies - "You just don't know what you're going to get"

We've run a few Mountain Training Association CPD workshops in recent years, night nav and ML ropework, but members attending, representing all the walking awards, requested a future workshop that looked at dealing with emergencies.

We ran this last week, a few legs of night nav led us into a suitable location to look at practical solutions and importantly discuss options and limitations.

Below is an overview of the evening, the kit, discussions and outcomes.


For this workshop I packed more than I would typically carry for a day on the hill. Standard in the bag kit for me is : head torch, some spare clothing, group shelter(s) one for the group and one small one for me, walking pole(s) first aid kit, blizzard bag. There are numerous variables involved in kit choice, so items can easily be added dependent on what we are doing, where we are going, the weather and who with.

The photo on the left is the core kit we played around with last week.

First Aid

As a group of award holders we didn't discuss what first aid techniques we would use for any given scenario. We did agree being current is important. For this workshop and the time we had, it was very much a case of "Assess the situation, I'm safe, the rest of my group is safe, deliver first aid, Ok what happens now........?"

In an ideal world, the casualty will get up and walk off the hill with you. However, we all know it isn't always an ideal world.

Improvised Carries

The need to move someone shouldn't be taken lightly. Again all the variables need to be considered. The nature of the injury, your location, distance to travel, terrain type, numbers and fitness levels in your group, casualty size/weight.

We might have to move somebody because of objective danger (rockfall, steep drops).

With assistance I've carried somebody a short distance. It worked ok and gave Mountain Rescue a night in. The injury wasn't serious (sprained ankle that wasn't easily weighted) the path was good, downhill, and it was only a few hundred metres. The group were all competent.

Others examples I can think of were exhausting, and lengthy.

So it can work and might be a possibility. Your leadership, first aid, judgement and decision making skills will be tested.

Last week we looked at carries involving all the above pictured kit, making use of our hands, walking poles and rucksacks, ML rope, pole/jacket and rucksack combinations and group shelters.

We reminded ourselves that these were very much improvised carries - a simple range of responses to a range of potentially more complex scenarios. Ultimately we had the mindset that staying put and waiting for help could/should be our only option.......

Staying put

At one end of the continuum you might be just too far away to reasonably carry, an otherwise not seriously hurt casuaIty. It might be just you and your mate in the middle of nowhere. At the other end it could be an immobile casualty. Someone who, because of the injury real or suspected cannot and shouldn't be moved. Broken bones, head, neck, spine injuries, illness, unconscious etc etc.

We looked at casualty care, insulating them against the weather, and also making sure we looked after ourselves and our group, using the kit we might be carrying. For some organisations I work for, carrying two shelters is procedure.One for the casualty and staff, one for the group. Through experience keeping the two separate has been beneficial.

We discussed raising the alarm, what information to give, what do if there is no signal.

Response times were an interesting topic. For Lowland Leaders, perhaps operating in less remote locations and being reliant on ambulances not mountain rescue, this could be considerable. One of last weeks group is a current and experienced firefighter. Potentially up to 6 hours was one example they gave.

In the mountain environment a Mountain Rescue team will come. They are a welcome sight, and in my experience they deal with situations with professionalism, efficiency and care. Whether a helicopter will be available if required, is open to discussion. Response times for help may vary depending on your location. Be prepared to wait.

Last but not least we discussed the bigger picture of these scenarios. Who do we report back to within the organisations we work for, what are the procedures. I also shared the fact I carry my next of kin details, and an overview of calling for assistance should it be me that is the casualty. I'm not infallible and not all clients I work with will know what to do or who to phone.

Definitive answers

One ML training candidate I worked with last year was a trauma doctor. This part of the week unsettled her. The limited nature of our potential responses and the locations we might find ourselves in got her thinking.

I mentioned at the start of the workshop last week, that I couldn't provide definitive answers to how we might respond. Those who attended walked away with some new ideas and techniques, but moreover plenty to think about.

So we don't know what we are going to get. A range of responses to a range of possible scenarios, and keeping ourselves current and up to date is a good start.

For further information download the ML scheme handbook:

All our courses for 2019 can be found below:

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