12 Mountain Survival Essentials
ALWAYS. BE. PREPARED.
Despite the forecast heatwave this week, winter will soon be upon us! HURRAY! Last week, news broke from Mont Blanc that dozens of keen adventurers found themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place (ahem) on the cable cars due to a technical fault. Whilst most were rescued pretty swiftly by the good eggs from Mountain Rescue, at least 30 people were left dangling overnight as the rescue operation was halted due to darkness. Don’t worry, they all got down safely eventually, but it got us thinking… what if the worst happens and you find yourself in a seriously dangerous situation up in the mountains? We’ve put together a few suggestions to make sure that, like a good little scout, you’re always prepared!
1. Warm gear
Not just a hoody… actual technical warm gear. Compact puffer jackets that pack down to the size of a camera – either down or synthetic is suitable. Also remember warm waterproof gloves, warm hat, thermal base layers and a waterproof outer shell… (like a SNOOKS Jacket maybe). THE LOT. Even if you’re in the mountains during the summer, temperatures still drop dramatically after dark to below freezing!
2. A lighter or box of matches and a tampon
Providing you can find some dry tinder/twigs/bits of wood, lighting a fire can be incredibly helpful in a survival situation. Fires are also useful for sending smoke signals to alert rescuers of your location – ‘live’ leaves and branches create a lot of smoke! As for the tampons… they are very good fire-lighters!
4. Swiss Army Knife
These handy little wonders are incredibly useful. You never know when you might need to buff your nails, tweezer a bee sting, or cut the rope – ‘Touching the Void’ style.
5. Map of the area and a compass, or GPS system
…for obvious reasons.
6. Mobile phone
Being able to contact friends, mountain rescue and emergency services is a pretty big bonus if you find yourself in danger. And you can take some gnarly survival selfies. #priorites. Also remember emergency telephone numbers – mountain rescue, local police, resort, family, the local pizzerria… Y’know, the essentials. Always tell someone where you are going. Not just to be a show off, although that’s fun too… but if something happens and nobody knows where you’ve gone, it will be a hell of a lot harder to locate you!
7. Avalanche safety gear
If you’re going off-piste (not recommended unless you have the gear, and all the idea, and preferably a guide), then you should definitely take the right kit with you! This includes a transceiver, probe and shovel; make sure you friends have these also, otherwise it’s pretty pointless. Never go off piste alone!
8. Food, water, brandy (last one optional…)
Keep it simple with energy bars, protein bars, nuts, chocolate, Kendal mint cake etc. to ensure you fuel yourself. And brandy to raise your spirits… (NB despite common belief/movies telling us that a brandy bearing St. Bernard will warm you right up… alcohol is not actually a good idea in a survival situation as it can impair your judgement and decrease your core temperature, increasing the risk of hypothermia. ‘Beer Jackets’ are a myth, unfortunately.
9. Sun cream, SPF lip balm, sunglasses and/or goggles
The sun at altitude can be savage, especially when reflected off the snow.
10. Cash/credit card
You never know when you might need it!
For attracting attention or refereeing a spontaneous mountain-top kickabout.
12. Carte Neige and Insurance
A Carte Neige will get you off the mountain free of charge and drop you at the doctor/medical centre/hospital. It’s about 3 Euros a day, available from the lift pass office, so just do it. Your your own insurance won’t cover you for rescue off piste!! Remember to get wintersports insurance too however, as it will cover you for medical expenses if you get injured. You will also need your EHIC card if you’re a British citizen and travelling to EU destinations (well, for now at least). If you are unfortunate enough to get injured on the mountains, make sure you are protected, as rescue and medical costs could set you back literally thousands.
Whilst emergency situations can’t always be prevented, you can prepare yourself as best as possible to ensure you come out the other side. Always be cautious and mindful of the environment and hazards around you.