Fell Safety

The dangers of running on the Fells

Author: Andy Gartside

When out fell running, you need to be minimisingthe risk of something going wrong, but then if something does go wrong, you need to be able to get yourself and others who may be involved out safely

Minimising things going wrong

Things can go wrong to either you or someone with you:

  • Injury
  • Getting too cold
  • Getting too hot and dehydrated
  • Running out of energy

Getting lost is not a safety problem in itself unless it results in one of these. And any one of these can quickly cause the others to become an issue as well.

There are two different scenarios to consider:

1. When you are by yourself. In this scenario you have two responsibilities:

  • For yourself
  • For those who may be called upon to help you should something go wrong

2. When you are part of a group, you have four responsibilities:

  • For yourself
  • For the casualty if it is not you
  • For the other members of the group
  • For those who may be called upon to help you or your group should something go wrong

Think about these very carefully. Every time you go on the fells as an individual or as a group you owe it to others to minimise the potential impact on them. It does not matter if you pursue the philosophy that if something happens to you, it is down to you alone and you don’t want others to have to help. The truth is, they will try and help whether you like it or not. And that will involve risk to them. You can’t avoid it! You have a responsibility. Also, do not rely exclusively on an experienced and equipped group leader. What if something happens to them? Familiarize yourself with the area and carry your own equipment (see below).

Best practice

  • Every time you go out ensure that you have the fitness, skills, knowledge, experience and equipment necessary to minimise something going wrong.
  • If something goes wrong, if possible, be able to get yourself or your group out without the need to call on others.
  • If others are required to help, for example Mountain Rescue, minimise the risk to them as they endeavour to help you.

Fitness, skills, knowledge, experience, equipment

1. Fitness

It has been said that the fitter you are the harder you are to kill! Fitness allows you to go for longer to get yourself out, whether lost, injured or going for help for someone else in your group. Plan your adventures taking full account of your fitness levels.

2. Knowledge

In fell running knowledge of your surroundings and environment are vital.

  • Check the weather forecast before you go. http://www.mwis.org.uk/ is useful for the higher, wilder regions. Decide on route and equipment to take based on this, and pay particular regard to the fitness and abilities of yourself and others in your group.
  • Build a decent knowledge of your surroundings before you go. What are the specific characteristics of the area that you are heading to? Have a good look at your map and build up an awareness of the area before you go. In particular, what might be your escape strategy if plans have to change? Is there an obvious escape route or general direction that would lead you out? Are there any dangerous features that you need to be aware of or avoid? Do not place your well being to the care of another runner Blindly. Personal safety is ultimately our own responsibility.

3. Skills

Know how to read a map. Know how to use a compass. Go on navigation and mountain first aid courses. The Scottish National Outdoor Centre at Glenmore Lodge and the Welsh National Outdoor Centre at Plas Y Brenin both have an excellent reputation, and there are many groups and private organisations offering similar training.

4. Experience

Recognise your limits. The ability to judge your pace and fitness will eventually come naturally. Don’t be afraid to say if you feel that you are not yet up to what a group is proposing in terms of experience. The ability and courage to say NOT FOR ME is one of the most important safety measures you can take. Not having the courage to say NOT FOR ME has probably resulted in more outdoor epics and calamities than all the other causes put together! Don’t have too much pride to speak up at the planning stage. Be assured, if you speak up, others less courageous than you in the group will be hugging you for it in their heads. Choose your races according to your experience and talk to others if you are in doubt. And remember, the high mountains are a very different environment to the local moors requiring a big step up in terms of skills and experience. Take every opportunity to spend time with those more experienced in these environments.

5. Equipment

  • Summer bum bag
  • Mobile phone in waterproof pouch for raising the alarm, or for advising home that you will be later than expected.
  • Pain killers to ease that hobble home if injury occurs.
  • Credit card and £20 – For that taxi or hot meal at the destination you didn’t intend to end up at (becoming lost, tired or driven off by weather).
  • Whistle for attracting close-by attention.
  • Thermal hat
  • Thin thermal running gloves
  • Good quality lightweight hooded waterproof fell running jacket and trousers
  • Mars bar equivalent
  • Compass
  • Thin foil space blanket
  • For those longer summer runs in more serious or unfamiliar territory, you might want to upgrade to a small running backpack containing these additional items:
  • Thermal top
  • Water bottle
  • Additional energy food
  • Small simple first aid kit
  • Map or map photocopy of relevant area in waterproof case.
  • Head torch and spare batteries
  • GPS (never rely just on GPS)
  • Foil emergency shelter (folds astonishingly small and can cover 6-8 people)

Winter backpack additional items to consider:

  • Balaclava (waterproof ones are available)
  • Lightweight ski goggles for driving snow
  • Waterproof gloves or latex / washing up gloves to go over your thermal gloves
  • Ice spikes that slip over your fell running shoes
  • Plastic emergency bag and emergency storm shelter
  • Thin long johns
  • Fleece top
  • Waterproof socks if you find you like them.

And of course…..the right shoes for the job! Talk to others and try different shoes. The perfect shoe for all terrain probably does not exist. Know your shoe! Studded fell shoes tend to be excellent on soft surfaces but can be dangerously poor on wet rock.

When it does all go wrong

A) By yourself

  • Get out of the wind. Even the slightest hollow or shrub can produce remarkable shelter and hence reduce chill
  • Get out of the rain if possible.
  • In an emergency that has stopped you, use everything you have STRAIGHT AWAY! Do not wait till you feel like you need another layer before donning it, as you will already be on the slippery slope. Put on all your layers,get into your emergency bag or shelter. Mental processes reduce rapidly with falling body temperature.
  • Use all means available to attract attention – whistle loudly and continuously (use the standard SOS routine), flash your head torch. Call on your phone if you have a signal. If you have no signal, can you crawl over the brow of a slope…a signal might only be feet away.
  • Stuck in a bog? Do not panic (easier said than done). Try and float rather than thrash around.

B) In a group

  • Look after yourself and keep warm. Becoming a second casualty helps no one.
  • Keep the casualty warm and reassured. Share bodily warmth. Wrap them up as much as possible. For example, feet can be put in a rucksack. Get them out of the wind, again into even the slightest hollow, or stack rucksacks around them. Build a rock wind brake if there are loose rocks around. Keeps bystanders warm and active in the making!
  • Send someone for help, if possible a pair of people. Two people can look after each other. You don’t want more casualties. Make sure they know the casualties location to pass on to the rescue services. 999 will be able to alert mountain rescue. The people who go for help need to be well equipped as they may need to wait for a significant time and guide mountain rescue to the casualty.
  • Ensure everyone in the group has the right equipment before setting off. Otherwise in an emergency someone will have to do without in order to cover an ill equipped casualty. You might have a minimalist philosophy, but if you are lying there with a broken leg or concussion, your friends will cover you in their emergency personal equipment, even though you have not brought your own, thus becoming potential casualties themselves.