Cave Rescue

Accident Procedures and Advice

The information in this section is 'required reading' for anyone heading for the mountains. Incident management is information taken from the pages of the Mountain Rescue Council Handbook and describes the correct way to behave in cases of emergency or accident. The section dealing with winter conditions and avalanches are short but concise, the time spent reading these section will be time well spent.

Section Contents:

Managing an Incident

If you are involved with an accident or illness in the hills your first responsibility is to safety - your own and the casualty's. Once you are satisfied that there is no further risk of injury, the situation should be analysed, and if appropriate, help should be summoned. The best method is to send a person to the nearest telephone armed with a written description of the injuries, the location and the time of the accident. If a party is overdue, the decision to call for help is not easy, but its usually better to err on the side of caution and refer to the Police who will ask a Team Leader to discuss the matter with you. In either case contact, initially, should be made with the Police through the 999 system. They will refer the incident to the local team. Many teams now use pagers to summon an initial party, telephone call-outs are also widespread and in remote areas it may take some time for a team to assemble and reach the area. In more popular areas, turn out time can be measured in minutes but you should be aware that in Mountain areas the turn-out will not be the same as you might expect from emergency services in a town centre. If you are with the casualty you should monitor his condition at regular intervals and keep a written record that can be passed on when help arrives. If you are making the call for help, please remain by the phone or at an agreed rendezvous until the team has spoken to you.

Where the incident involves a casualty at a known location, the usual format is for an advance party to set off as soon as the first team members arrive. They will be equipped with first aid, stretchers, ropes and other equipment and will be backed up by the rest of the team as the incident progresses. In cases of severe injury or in difficult terrain, team leaders through the police can request assistance from helicopters (usually the Search and Rescue Flights of the RAF or Royal Navy), but this should not be assumed. The team on the hill will be in contact with base by radio and if extra help is required, another neighbouring team may be asked to attend.

Behind the scenes many other people are involved in keeping the team at a state of readiness and their role should not be under-estimated. In case of a missing party, the team leader in discussion with the police and the informant will make the decision whether to initiate a search and if so when and where to start searching. Increasingly the services of the Search and Rescue Dog Association (S.A.R.D.A.) and the R.A.F. are called on at this stage of the proceedings. Small groups of rescuers may also be sent out to search obvious routes and possible descents from the planned journey. Although nightfall may limit the search it does not prevent it and in all cases of injury or missing person it should be remembered that Mountain and Cave Rescue is a twenty four hour, three hundred and sixty five day service.

Should the initial search draw a blank, the area will be widened, usually at first light, with extra teams and dog handlers being called in. Management of such operations may be handed over to a panel drawn from the regions teams or to specialist Search Managers that are being used in some regions. On reaching a casualty, the team will usually take over responsibility but you should remain on hand to help re-assure the patient. Evacuation by stretcher can be more awkward than it may appear at first sight and a carry-down can sometimes be a protracted affair. If a missing person is found by a search party uninjured then they can often be walked off to the nearest road or track. If there is an injury however, a rescue party will be assembled and sent swiftly to the scene. All of this takes time during which the casualty and other members of party including yourself will start to cool down, make sure you use any extra clothing available and take occasional drink and food to keep the body systems ticking over.

Once a casualty is brought from the hill, a good deal of work remains to be done. Vehicles and equipment must be dried out and returned to its proper storage place, casualty details must be passed on to the police and hospital authorities and in some cases, the attentions of the media may also occupy some time.


The Mountain Rescue Council is primarily concerned with rescue and all issues relating to maintaining and developing effective resources for teams. However, not to take advantage of the opportunity to educate and inform interested parties - on the basis that prevention is better than cure - would be remiss.

Preparation, often more than half the enjoyment from a venture is found in the planning phase, and forethought has added to, not detracted from, an experience. The following may prove useful to this process:Intended Route (Is there enough daylight)

  1. Intended route - make use of local knowledge, assess physical ability of participants, time scale of journey, anticipate problem areas, devise alternatives in order to cater for change in weather, condition of party etc. Leave route detail at appropriate point (home, hotel, camp site, etc.) but please remember to let relevant people know if for any reason your destination has changed e.g. navigation error, weather conditions, or time taken far exceeds anticipated journey time. This will ensure that the emergency services are not activated in good faith, when no real problem exists. Please do this at the first opportunity! Not after the pubs have shut! N.B. Route detail left on parked cars has led to many thefts and a number of false alarms through inaccurate information.
  2. Ensure all members of the party are equipped for the venture. Take account of the time of year and the nature of the activity you are taking on.


Choice of purpose designed equipment is now very broad indeed, and there are many retail outlets throughout the country who will offer advice as to the most appropriate item to suit your needs. Having the kit is one thing, but knowing how to use it is vital. (A false sense of security can develop because one has the required items, but little knowledge of application.)

For the individual, clothing needs to have good insulating properties combined with comfort. Outer layer needs to be windproof and water proof (jacket and overtrousers); headgear and gloves are important. Jeans are not recommended as they give no protection when wet (not windproof) and can be very uncomfortable.

  • Footwear: Many accidents are caused by inappropriate footwear being used. Boots with a good quality Vibram type sole are essential. Remember also that well worn old soles are a hazard in themselves. Boots that have a sloping front edge to the heel section have also proved a problem on steep wet grass and snow. Also a cut away angle at the back of the heel does not allow the boot to be firmly dug into the slope.

  • Food: Always carry some extra food for emergencies, e.g. sweets, chocolate, glucose tablets etc. Remember an active day in the outdoor environment does use up a good quantity of body fuel. No fuel, no go.

  • Map & Compass: Essential items, but of no value if you don't know how to use them. Also referring to a map when you need to may be too late. Carry it on your person, not in your rucksack, and refer to it on a regular basis. (Makes all sorts of decisions so much easier if you know precisely where you are quicker and more accurate too).

  • Whistle: Learn the signal for rescue. (Six good long blasts. Stop for 1 minute. Repeat). Carry on the whistle blasts until someone reaches you. Do not stop because you have heard a reply, because rescuers may be using your blasts as a direction finder (especially in bad visibility).

  • Torch: A must. Spare bulbs and batteries are a sound precaution. (Can be used for signalling as well - as for whistle).

  • First Aid: A small kit can be invaluable in dealing with minor problems, thus preventing them becoming major ones (Elastoplast, wound dressing, crepe bandage etc.). Useful additions to the list are pencil and waterproof pad for written messages in an emergency. For more serious injuries, splints, bandages and even stretchers for certain injuries can be improvised from ice axes, skis, tent poles., etc.

  • Survival/Emergency Kit: A polythene survival bag for shelter and spare clothing for warmth if benighted or injured are invaluable. 

Winter Conditions

Snow and ice, plus the reduced daylight hours, can change a pleasant 4/5 hour stroll in the summer to a long epic journey in mid-winter. Paths which pose no real dangers or problems can change overnight, and many real hazards are formed by the ground conditions. A good example would be the Llanberis path up Snowdon, and the dangerous snow slopes that can build up on it for most of the winter. Correct kit is obviously very important, as is understanding the limitations and problems inherent in using such equipment. Most waterproofs, tops and trousers, are very slippery if you fall on snow or ice (less friction).

Having an ice axe offers the only protection - if you know what to do with it (what about practising braking on a safe slope) and crampons can be invaluable. Carrying survival equipment is very important due to the fact that the odds of an accident are higher in these conditions. Adding a sleeping bag to everyones list makes good sense. There is a flip side to every situation and good snow conditions can enable one to travel quite quickly, in full control. Glissading can help on down-hill sections, but beware unless you know the ground and snow conditions for the full length of the slope.


In recent years there has been an increasing number of avalanche accidents. These have been caused mainly by climbers attempting routes during or shortly after a heavy snowfall which has fallen on older snow or after a sudden thaw. Various types of slab avalanches and wet snow avalanches are most common and their danger and frequency should not be underestimated. New snow or drifting snow accumulates as soft or hard slab under the influence of the wind, particularly in the lee of ridges and other natural features. Such places should be avoided until the snow has consolidated.

Avalanche Victims

This is one of the few incidents when you should NOT go for the rescue team. Your efforts and those of any companions could be the avalanche victims best chance.

Life expectancy after half an hour drops to 50% and therefore the first hour is crucial.


  1. Your first concern should be for the safety of you and your party, check for further danger.

  2. Mark the last seen point of the victim.

  3. Quick search, listening carefully and looking for any signs, mittens, hats or rucksacks.

  4. Mark the point carefully and dont remove any items found these can be useful clues to the line of fall of a submerged avalanche victim.

  5. If avalanche cords or tranceivers are being used your task should be relatively straightforward.

  6. Undertake a thorough search.

  7. If after an hour you have not made any progress, send for further help. If you had a reasonably large party, you might have sent for help earlier, but never at the expense of an immediate search being undertaken.

  8. The casualty dug from the snow should be removed to a place which is safe from further avalanche, their nose and mouth cleared or at least checked.

  9. All avalanche victims should be insulated from the cold ground (or snow) and should be treated for hypothermia and shock. Partially submerged victims should be pulled from the snow very quickly.The golden rule of not climbing for 24 hours after a heavy snowfall is good advice. It should be remembered however that good knowledge of the previous weeks weather is also important. Heavy winds some time ago could have produced windslab slopes which could still be dangerous, particularly if a stable cold period has existed. A good understanding of windslab and its significance is therefore advised as well as the 24 hour rule of thumb.

For further information read Mountain Leadership by Eric Langmuir.


Conditions in Scotland are materially different from those in other parts of the UK; the country is more rugged and longer distances must be covered on foot, whilst inhabited dwellings in mountainous districts are few. Experience gained only in England and Wales can be misleading. Weather conditions are more unreliable and more severe; even in the summer months blizzards of snow or sleet may occur above 2500 feet and in the winter the snowstorms may reach Arctic severity. Gale force winds are frequent and increase exhaustion both by the general buffeting and disturbance of balance and by their chilling effect on the body temperature.

For these reasons mountaineering in Scotland requires a high standard of physical fitness and endurance, some experience of snow conditions, adequate reserves of food, warm and windproof clothing, ice axe and proper boots. In winter, boots with vibram soles with crampons for use on hard snow and ice are a sensible combination. It cannot be too emphatically stated that vibram soles without crampons on snow and ice are quite unsuitable for Scottish mountaineering.

Expeditions should start early; in the winter the day is short and it may be necessary to start before dawn. A careful watch should be kept on the weather and condition of the snow during the day, and if doubt exists about the suitability of the surface, the weather and the ability of the party to complete the climb before dark, then it should be remembered that retreat is better than benightment or the need for a rescue party. If caught in a blizzard or lost, seek or build a temporary shelter or dig a snow hole before any of the party is exhausted or gets cold. Exhaustion and cold together are killers.

Rock Climbing

This sport takes people into many different environments these days; for example sea cliffs, slate quarries, roadside crags, high mountain crags, etc. This does pose an interesting dilemma for the participants as to what kind of kit to take; for example, on a low sea cliff traverse: is a rope or a life jacket most appropriate? The meeting of two different environments, as in the above example, does introduce a number of new hazards which have to be taken into account. Other examples could be gorges, gills, etc. From accounts of incidents over a number of years the following are a few of the lessons which can be highlighted:

  1. Helmets save lives. The most frequently occurring serious injuries are to the head, which is least able to withstand them. Whether from falling rock or sustained in a fall, appropriate headwear will greatly reduce injury. Gone are the days of what seemed like 10 kilos of fibre glass stuck on top of your head. Modern materials have made them light, comfortable and even stronger. (U1AA or BS4423 are the design standards to look for) it simply makes sense!!

  2. Scrambles down to, or after a climb can pose real problems. Lack of concentration, wearing smooth soled friction boots which are great on rock but more like skis on grass.

  3. Incorrect use of equipment. Generally; harnesses, ropes, belay systems, too much friction off runners, bad positioning of karabiners, incorrectly tied knots. These are skills that are easy to develop and much information is available from many sources including the M.L.T.B.

  4. If climbing on sea cliffs check the tide times, plus their height. A difference of 3/4 metres can alter a route a great deal. Weather conditions influencing sea state/swell can play a big role too, also changing the nature of routes elsewhere.

  5. What is the location of the nearest telephone should a problem occur. 
  6. Take account of other people who may be climbing in the same area. That stone you knocked off by accident may not be a danger to you, but who is below? Everyone is there to have a good days climbing, and consideration of factors like noise, leading through, etc. can only add to the experience.

For more detailed climbing info :- B.M.C., M.L.T.B., A.M.I.


This thorny issue has always been a consideration that hill-goers and climbers have had to bear in mind. The increased pressure on our limited areas of wilderness makes it even more important that individuals find out what the situation is in their intended area of activity. Many factors influence status of access, from Public Rights of Way to courtesy footpaths by agreement, seasonal variations depending on birds nesting or deer-stalking. Guide books are generally informative, especially when added to local knowledge. Ignorance of this issue is no defence when problems arise.

Environmental Considerations

The majority of people who go out of their way to remote areas of our country have always done so in a manner that pays regard for the future of that environment (there are always a few who have little thought). However, the increasing pressure on limited resources by folk who wish to experience the great outdoors are issues we cannot ignore. Whether you have been climbing 30 years or 30 days gives one no more or less a right to be there, but how you make use and take care of that environment is ultimately the bottom line. There are no simple answers to many of the problems and many differing views as to their origin and solution.

The symptoms of such problems as erosion, declining habitats etc. are very obvious, yet some of the treatments - such as limiting or denying access to certain areas - are difficult, contentious issues. We all take on some of these dilemmas by our use or abuse of these resources. It goes without saying that care and respect for the countryside and other users, whether animal or human, as embodied in the Country Code is a basic, minimum practice; but reality - through observation of users, day after day - is of some people paying scant regard to these issues. You buy into this complex area by taking that first step outdoors (being there), not by joining specialist organisations or pleading ignorance.


This section does not do justice to the many issues of safety and other considerations when taking part in an activity on the hills. However, we hope to stimulate your interest in developing skills in this area, and thus help you and others gain real pleasure from the venture you undertake.

It is not possible, in a single section, to cover all the issues or all the information that is available, but we have endeavoured to highlight key areas that need to be taken into account. So many different uses of the mountain environment exist at present (rock climbing, walking, running, ice climbing, biking, alpine and cross country skiing, etc.) making the subject too broad to cover in fine detail. To help individuals become more aware of key issues we hope through the Bibliography to help you to access further sources of information for more detail and further development of what can be essential skills in certain circumstances. Developing this skill level and adding experience to it is, in many ways, what the 'Mountain Environment' is all about. The points highlighted above are the learning outcomes from many years of accident statistics, and actual experiences of people who have ventured out on to the hills and have ended up in situations rarely planned for. These are not theories thought out around the fireplace or committee table, but have been proved sound practice by mountaineers of all standards in many parts of the world and on varied terrain including those in this country. A greater awareness of these will, we hope, increase peoples enjoyment of their sport, and ultimately decrease the demands made on rescue services through good practice and sound judgement.