How much is your life worth? How much money would you spend to preserve your life?
On 2nd January 2017, a couple from Leicestershire and their dog were rescued by Cairngorm Mountain Rescue after being caught in arctic-like conditions over night, simply because they miscalculated how long their chosen route would be. After leaving their house for a New Years Day walk, like most of us would have done, they soon got caught by terrible weather conditions that closed in on them rapidly. With knee high snow, visibility worsening and a dead head torch, they were forced to take cover using their Bivouac Sack (known to some as a bivvy bag). They weren’t discovered until midday the following afternoon, but they survived.
There are countless stories like this that have ended so much worse. Just last year The Lake District Search and Mountain Rescue Association reported just short of 20 deaths in their area alone. I would say that a large percentage of these deaths could have been avoidable. With the right experience and knowledge of what you’re doing, where you’re going and your own capabilities, you can feel secure that you are going to be fine. ‘I know my limits, I know what I can manage and I know what I’m doing,’ we’ve all said it. But what if something so unpredictable, such as the weather, just creeps in on you and leaves you with very limited options? If you’ve read my article on a trip to Snowdon I took in February 2015, you know what I’m talking about and you know that you can have as much experience and knowledge as possible, but what really counts in these situations, what really can save your life is what you put in your rucksack before you even walk out of the front door.
If you’ve suddenly just had an ‘oh crap, what do I need?’ moment, then don’t panic. Allow me to cover 10 essentials that you should really consider taking on your hike.
- Water – the source of life
- Waterproofs – even Michael Fish couldn’t predict the weather (BBC weatherman)
- Navigation: compass and map, and the knowledge to use them! – Do any of us really know where we’re going?
- Dry/warm clothes – when you get cold and wet
- First aid kit – a fool can suffer
- Food = energy = warmth
- Shelter – The trust bivvy bag
- Torch – ‘happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light’
- Knife – the possibilities are endless
- Fire lighting kit – fire = warm = happy (fire = warm = food = happy)
I live in Buckinghamshire, England. Home of the beautiful rolling Chiltern hills (and fabulous ales)- considerably different to the grandeur of the Peak District and not much like the Cairngorms either. However, if you were to find me in the woodlands when I am out and about with my dog and say ‘show me what’s in your sack,’ initially I’d think you’re a bit strange, but eventually you’d be enlightened to the wonders of all 10 of those items and more impressively how they all manage to fit inside my 20 litre rucksack, because everywhere I go, I take these essentials.
No matter what the weather or where I’m going, I will carry at least these 10 items, plus a few bits more. You can mix and match the rest of the kit to your own personal needs and desires, I know that at least one of my friends will have some Scotch in his rucksack for example. Not a great example, granted, but it shows that there is still room in your sack for those extra bits.
So far I have had very, very few occasions where I’d end up using every piece of kit, but there will be those occasions and when they arise, I’d be considerably more prepared than those who didn’t consider the possibilities.
Hypothetically, let’s just cover a quick scenario, a little role play perhaps. Perhaps not, but stay with me, you’re doing well.
Dave and Julio are out for a walk around the mountains, the nearest pub with a beautiful crackling log fire is 20 miles away and the last person they saw was the postman doing his morning rounds. It’s just gone midday and they have just finished their sandwiches sat on a dry stone wall looking over a stunning green valley with a sparkly lake in the middle, in the distance the sky appeared to be getting a bit grey and horrible, but they crack on. Dave suggests perhaps heading down the valley, cutting their ramble a little shorter because he has noticed the weather coming in, but Julio, being the renegade that he is, immediately disregards Dave’s suggestion and continues along the ridge. Dave joins in. Suddenly Julio slips, falls to the ground and bashes his head on a big rock. Dave laughs. Then Dave notices that Julio hasn’t laughed and appears to be in a spot of bother. Then it starts to rain. Dave explains to Julio that this is why he suggested leaving the mountain early, points at the sky and the rain and gets cross. Julio doesn’t care. He’s more concerned about the fact that his foot is pointing backwards and is really quite painful. Because Dave is sensible and prepared, he immediately is able to help to the best of his abilities. He calls for help, because there is phone signal, but they are only reachable by the friendly neighbourhood Mountain Rescue team, a few hours away. He proceeds to help Julio put his waterproof jacket on but because his foot hurts, getting the trousers on isn’t worth the moaning. What he does have is a bivvy bag though. A super fashionable bright orange weatherproof plastic sack (essentially). Dave isn’t a doctor, but he tries his best at securing Julio’s foot, with what is in his first aid kit, so it doesn’t wobble about, then helps Julio get into his bivvy bag. Hours of moaning from Julio go by and it gets dark. Thankfully, Dave brought his torch and a spare one just in case. By the time Mountain Rescue arrive, Dave has prepared a lovely cup of tea for the team on his gas stove and they all laugh about how ridiculous the whole situation is, and how lucky they are that Dave was sensible. Julio missed this part as he was being winched into a helicopter. Dave and Julio fell out and now do not talk, but they are both alive. Hypothetically.
Are you Dave or are you Julio?
I have obviously painted this in a fairly jovial way, however it’s a serious consideration we should all make when we get out on our trips. Are you prepared? Do you have the right kit to cover worst case scenario? You may never use it, but when you do, you’ll be glad you had it.
So how much is your life worth? How much would you spend to preserve your life?
Remember that couple with their dog on the Cairngorms? They spent £5 on a bivvy bag, and it saved their life.
Fail to prepare.. Prepare to fail