HR Kit: Hazards and Emergencies

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It seems only appropriate that the next post be about emergency kit eh?

Survival Bag

If you’re not carrying a tent in the mountains then some kind of water proof bag to crawl in to is essential in my opinion.

Surival shelter, bothy bag, mountain shelter, group shelter, Kisu… can someone please come up with a good name? Whatever you call them, LB and I have snoozed comfortably in one for an hour and a half on a snow covered mountain top in the Cairngorms with the wind blowing at around 60 mph (100kph).

If someone trips and turns an ankle or breaks an arm or if the weather goes bonkers and you have to bivy overnight these things can literally save your life. They’re not called “survival” shelters for nothing.

Plus they’re great for a lunch stop if the conditions are terrible. It’s much nicer eating in a snug, warm and dry tent-like thing if you’re stuck on a mountain in a howling gale and no visibility.

I’ve carried a Bothy 4 by Terra Nova for years (mine’s 428 grams but they state 560 on the site) but if I was going to buy a new one then the Integral Designs Ski Guide’s Tarp would probably be my first choice (stated weight of 375g). I’ve not used one yet but I’m tempted to get one to shave some weight!

Phone

I’ll be carrying my mobile but it will be switched off of course. It’s mainly for use as an alarm clock, video recorder and MP3 player (not music – but more on that later).

Journeys to and from the airport and meeting up with the rest of the party can often be very much easier with a mobile so it’s worth considering taking one for that.

Since my phone is tri-band and even without a roaming agreement a network will accept 112 calls it looks from the coverage maps like we might be able to get a signal over a great deal of the route. Of course you might not have coverage where you really need it so it’s not to be relied upon.

Waterproofing

Ortleib make amazingly good “document cases” that are lighter, cheaper and less prone to tear than many dedicated mobile phone cases I’ve seen. Phones react very badly to getting wet – so do the people that insure them.


Spare batteries

For the GPS and torch. I also carry a spare torch, an old version of the Petzl Tikka. I’ve considered carrying a lighter model but since it takes the same batteries as the Petzl Tikka Plus, my main torch, and the Garmin Geko 301 GPS I consider them to be my spare set. So it’s only the weight of the torch itself that counts. At 38 grams even an e-lite would be very little saving. But perhaps a Photon Microlight Freedom might be worth a try.

Repair kit

We carry a couple of really stout needles with about four meters of very tough synthetic thread wound around some card. It only weighs six grams and could prove vital to repair a shoe or a rucksack so it’s a no-brainer.

I also carry a McNett SilFix Fabric Repair Kit since, less the patches and with the end of the tube removed and a piece of magic tape over it instead it only weighs 16 grams. It’s mainly for when I carry a tent but sometimes urethane glue is the only thing that will make a repair. Even Mr Ultralight himself Ryan Jordan carries something similar so I don’t feel I’m overdoing it!

Lightning

Lightning can be a particular hazard in the mountains since storms tend to form around them and if you’re on an exposed top you can easily become the highest point. So if you see a great fat cumulonimbus cloud coming, choose a lower route or descend as quickly as practical.

If you get caught in an electrical storm, never shelter in a cave or under a boulder. Lightning often follows water seeping down through fissures which broaden to form caves. You may become the thing that the lightning uses to jump the gap created by the cave. Two friends of someone I knew in the USMC were killed doing just that in the Polish Tatra a few years ago.

There are some things you can do if you are caught that will lessen the risk of being hit. The book Mountaincraft & Leadership has some good advice which I’ll précis here (I’m sure that old-fashioned and rather stuffy title dissuades many readers but it’s a goldmine of information).

Features above seven meters tall tend to attract lighting. There’s a sort of ring-doughnut shaped safe(er) zone around such peaks of roughly the same radius as the height. But sit too close to the peak and you risk becoming part of the track of the lightning. So stay at least three meters away from the rock face. Then there’s “safe” zone outside that of approximately the height of the peak, making the doughnut shape.

Lightning strikes are, in a sense, initiated from the ground as well as the air. The ideal spot is on some broken scree sat on a rucksack, which provides some relatively dry insulation. By doing that you reduce the risk of a positive streamer forming through you. Don’t prop yourself up on your hands as they provide extra wet points of contact with the ground that could allow a streamer to form.

Finally don’t believe any tales about metal implements attracting strikes. Throwing away axes and poles could have serious consequences later on. Just lay them down next to you whilst you wait out the storm.

Bears

There are no bears on the HR at the moment so I’ll leave the advice that LB accumulated from several Swedish web sites for another day.

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