/ Frequency of winter accidents in the UK
It would be great to see some analysis from an authoritative source.
Then we could all speculate/infer as to the cause.
Is it a symptom of the rise in adventure sports?
If indeed there has been an increase in people going out into the hills in winter!
There does seem to be a online frenzy when it snows.
Taking a long-term view (my personal knowledge covers around 20 years, with some knowledge of earlier historical trends) this year is regrettably not unusual.
For Scotland, the Mountain Rescue Committe has dvetailed stats on this which they publish around this time of year I think. From memory there was a drop last year in the number of incidents and fatalities generally over the last 10 years they're rising. A simple comparison with last year's stats doesn't tell you that much. The MRCofS report is pretty detailed, with type of injury/time of call out/casualty gender etc all recorded.
> It would be great to see some analysis from an authoritative source.
Agree. MRT callout logs might be a good place to look for some hard(er) data, although there are issues with that too.
Without that, I think a few tragic incidents in a short spaces of time is just that, and not something to start turning into a general trend and blaming on gear mags or mobile phones or whatever...
google trends would suggest that levels have been fairly flat over the last few years.. (based on people searching)
not sure how well that will tie in with the reality.
http://www.google.co.uk/trends/explore#q=scottish%20winter%2C%20climbing%20accident&geo=GB&c... might be clearer as a search
Looking at it from the winter walking (as opposed to climbing) point of view as someone who is out steadily all year round in the southern Highlands, I'm pretty sure there's been an increase in the numbers of people who are going out in winter underequipped, with iffy navigation skills and often remarkably slow-paced (with consequent issues about margins for error in Dec/Jan daylight). I quite often now see people on snowy/icy Munros with poles and maybe low-ground spikes but no axe or crampons, and it's fairly common to read write-ups by such people on Walkhighlands or Scottish Hills.
I'm as sure as I can be from anecdotal observation that there's been a marked increase in this over the past decade - there seems to be a mindset that poles/spikes are enough in the way of gear to allow standard routes up Munros and Corbetts to be done safely. There's also a related thing where an increasing number of people don't seem to be giving much thought to aspect of slope in winter - not just re avalanche risk, but also with regard to general iciness (the classic southern Highlands example being the top bit of the main path up the Loch Earn Ben Vorlich, which is steep and faces north - you can see some alarming things going on there).
By and large these people seem to get away with it unscathed - thank goodness - and one would hope that the learning process is rapid after a scare. There have been recent-ish incidents where underequippedness has been a factor, however, although without a detailed analysis of stats from MRTs it's hard to say whether this is leading to any kind of overall trend in terms of an increase in accidents and callouts.
For example, the latest badly written and factually questionable article:
At the risk of huge generalisation, I do think that inexperienced hillwalkers are probably a little less cautious than they used to be because of hugely improved clothing, satellite navigation and, dare I say it?, mobile phones. A bit too much reliance on modern technology, and a bit too little respect for the elements, perhaps.
From the research I've done for my 'A Place to Go' project ( http://www.henryiddon.com/A-Place-to-Go ) I'd suggest that there are proportion of incidents to the number of people visiting the uplands is less. There certainly appear less multiple fatal incidents.
I may be wrong but there appears to have been a lot of multiple fatal incidents in the 50's when access to the UK hills was getting easier - buses, private cars etc and outdoor pursuits were increasing as a past time, weather forecasting was poor and - importantly - clothing and equipment was still 'basic' and often ex army issue.
There was a long article in The Times Jan 12th 1952; pg 7; issue 52207; col F that discussed this issue.
"Accidents on the hills have however, become numerous enough to cause much concern among the more responsible mountaineering bodies. After the tragedies of last Easter, when abnormal snow and ice conditions contributed to a dozen or so incidents, a committee was set up to consider what might be done. On it are such bodies as the British Mountaineering Council and Ramblers Association are represented"....
Every activity has risk.
We must keep these rare tragedies in proportion. Its a fair price for adventure for a large number of people despite the undoubted individual catastrophes that befall occasionally.
100 cyclists killed on the roads, doesn't stop me riding a bike.
2500 deaths on the roads probably doesn't stop anybody from driving.
I actually rarely see any totally ill equipped folk about in winter these days. When I started walking with my University club in the 80s, we all went up Ben Nevis in a big group, half were carrying shopping bags and wearing trainers.
The golf course remains the commonest place for fatal accidents/illnesses apparently (urban myth alert).
I do remember reading that an A&E doctor in Edinburgh said he'd rather fix broken limbs from mt biking at Glentress than deal with the results of childhood obesity when commenting on a press scare story about the number of injuries from the MTB trails there.
The reduced fatalities must surely be the result of modern technology, viz. mobile phones, improved clothing, and in some cases the ability to pinpoint the injured/immobilised thanks to sat nav.
It makes sense to me. I think he's saying that over-reliance on technology can make it more likely that the inexperienced will get into tricky situations, but thanks to modern technology people are more likely to be saved (and hence there are fewer fatalities).
I'd say that's a fair analysis in general terms. The poles thing worries me - certainly 20 years ago and probably even ten years ago it was a case of axe or nothing in terms of carrying an implement on the hill. Now there's the middle-ground of poles, and a lot of people are going for that. I sometimes wonder if it's in part because of the way axes are marketed in magazines etc - the pictures advertising them often seem to portray people in pretty serious situations, so the humble winter plodder (in which category I would include myself) is at risk of being dissuaded from getting an axe on the grounds that it's too technical for what they want to do.
There must be lots of other factors in play, of course. One thing I've found myself thinking about quite a bit of late is the apparent decline (from when I started 30 years ago) of the once-commonplace thing of seeing two regular sidekicks out together, who would know each other's habits and strengths and weaknesses, be of similar pace, be likeminded in terms of snack-stops etc. There's a lot of safety in being a well-matched pair. These days married (or whatever) couples are probably just as common as ever, as are solo walkers and (occasionally) club groups. But what appears to have slightly replaced the well-matched duo is the gang of half a dozen mates. There are more issues re peer pressure in such groups, and a lot of moving parts - personally I'm never very convinced that a group of any more than four is a good idea on biggish hills in the depths of winter.
> It makes sense to me. I think he's saying that over-reliance on technology can make it more likely that the inexperienced will get into tricky situations, but thanks to modern technology people are more likely to be saved (and hence there are fewer fatalities).
As you say, makes sense. There could also be some irony in the increase in numbers of people out in the hills helping to reduce the incident rate....more people around to ask for help if you get lost or the wheels come off? Of course not true in all mountain areas.
Pretty much, yes. Increases numbers of call outs, and d f.
You've summed up, well, fleshed out (from your greater knowledge), what my hunch is about.
I think there could be some truth in this, and I might take it further by suggesting the trend in walking axes becoming shorter and techier every year might compound this effect. After all, beginners are told time and time again "don't get a long traditional axe, you'll grow out of it; buy a 50cm semi-technical tool." And then there's the trekking pole effect you also describe ...
I actually think it wouldn't be a bad thing if the long walking axe made a comeback. I'd far rather carry an 80cm axe in winter (when on a non-technical day) than trekking poles and a 50cm axe.
Mobiles phones must have made a really big difference. Don't know if anyone remembers the two missing girls from (IIRC) Cambridge Uni who disappeared on Ben Nevis? MRT went out I think three days in a row before finding them in OK shape in a snowhole on Raeburn's Easy Route. Presumably now it would just be a quick, and probably apologetic call, at 9 pm saying "We're cragfast!" and a couple of the MRT would be up there in short order and able to guide them off. Back in the early 90s there camera crews camped out in Fort William, presumably waiting for the bodies to be found, but actually getting the great good news story when they were found.
> The reduced fatalities must surely be the result of modern technology, viz. mobile phones, improved clothing, and in some cases the ability to pinpoint the injured/immobilised thanks to sat nav.
Indeed. I think more accurate weather forecasting has also had a huge impact - 60 plus years ago people could be heading out into the unknown. In 'general' an impending storm within one or two day scan be reliably predicted.
> Indeed. I think more accurate weather forecasting has also had a huge impact - 60 plus years ago people could be heading out into the unknown. In 'general' an impending storm within one or two day scan be reliably predicted.
Yes, good point. The way we can now actually 'see' bad weather coming, thanks to satellites etc. is a fantastic improvement. In the short term they're not really 'forecasts' any more because you can quite literally see it. When I started climbing, the aneroid barometer reigned supreme, and in an Alpine hut, woe betide any fool who tapped the glass before the chief guide had done so.
Is there any evidence of a number of accidents being attributable to any of these factors???
That's spot on, thanks for the link. Interstingly, it says in the introduction:
"In numerous cases, a variety of reasons are given, making it difficult to pinpoint cause and effect. However, one clear conclusion is that very few incidents are the result of wilful negligence, lack of skill or awareness or poor equipment. The great majority appear to be genuine accidents where it would be wrong to cite a specific cause. They result quite simply because mountaineering is a risk activity and it is impossible (and
undesirable) to eliminate all risks."
I hadn't seen your post whilst I was replying.
I didn't answer your earlier point about walking poles now (terrifyingly) being seen as some kind of standard replacement for ice axes on so-called easy ground. When I started climbing, how you used the ice axe as a brake in an emergency was a huge subject, widely taught. Now, it's virtually gone. Now, if you slip on any hard icy slope of more than about 10 degrees with just a walking pole, you're a gonna.
Well, you're "gonna" go to the bottom of the slope perhaps, but its hardly a guaranteed demise!
> I didn't answer your earlier point about walking poles now (terrifyingly) being seen as some kind of standard replacement for ice axes on so-called easy ground. When I started climbing, how you used the ice axe as a brake in an emergency was a huge subject, widely taught. Now, it's virtually gone. Now, if you slip on any hard icy slope of more than about 10 degrees with just a walking pole, you're a gonna.
Whats your opinion on the combined pole/walking axe design that grivel sells (the condor?), it seems like a well intentioned idea, but i can't help thinking that it would be unweildy to employ in either situation... and I wouldn't want it to be unweildy to deploy my axe for an arrest, not when the most likely way I'd muck it up is digging the wrong end in!
...so everyone admit defeat, bung away the map and buy the GPS...
The relevant figure, as in all accident rates, is in any case relative to the levels of participation, the accidents per mountain mile as it were, not absolute numbers. That is of course also needed to be broken down by the time of year when people go out.
> Is there any evidence of a number of accidents being attributable to any of these factors???
No, these just sound like possible options to put it kindly or pet hates to be more cynical.
Yes, looks like one of those compromises that does everything badly.
> That's spot on, thanks for the link. Interstingly, it says in the introduction:
> "In numerous cases, a variety of reasons are given, making it difficult to pinpoint cause and effect. However, one clear conclusion is that very few incidents are the result of wilful negligence, lack of skill or awareness or poor equipment. The great majority appear to be genuine accidents where it would be wrong to cite a specific cause. They result quite simply because mountaineering is a risk activity and it is impossible (and
> undesirable) to eliminate all risks."
That's an extraordinary quotation. Where on Earth is the logic in that? And with that view of accidents how can we possibly work to reduce them? "A genuine accident" - what is meant by that?
It might indeed be wrong to cite a specific cause - many accidents have multiple reasons - but to say that they simply happen because "mountaineering is a risk activity" is missing the whole point of analysing accidents.
Yes I was a bit surprised; I wondered if what was meant that there was no obvious pattern to the accidents and it was a variety of factors involved.
From the accidents I've looked at there are often several minor errors or oversites that combine to create one major 'issue'.
As I said earlier improved weather forecasting is a major advantage to the modern mountaineer.
> The relevant figure, as in all accident rates, is in any case relative to the levels of participation, the accidents per mountain mile as it were, not absolute numbers. That is of course also needed to be broken down by the time of year when people go out.
So how is the Rates for numbers attempting Everest versus accidents ?
> ''I didn't answer your earlier point about walking poles now (terrifyingly) being seen as some kind of standard replacement for ice axes on so-called easy ground''.
Sorry but this is just one more example of evidence-free assertion in a thread which is just littered with it.
> At the risk of huge generalisation, I do think that inexperienced hillwalkers are probably a little less cautious than they used to be because of hugely improved clothing, satellite navigation and, dare I say it?, mobile phones. A bit too much reliance on modern technology, and a bit too little respect for the elements, perhaps.
Spot on I think Gordon. There is also a view, I think, that climbers have that because they are climbers etc, they already possess the core mountaineering skills required to travel in the winter hills. This clearly isn't the case in many instances I have seen.
A new thing also is the desire to be see to be slick and competent which often manifests itself as a glossing over of some things and a fear of seen to be a learner.
We are all learners. Many MICs have much less experience as mountaineers than many walkers do. Vice versa.
It's what happens either side of the climb itself (in winter) that is often the most dangerous and intangible.
Experience can't be taught.
Massively more people (inexperienced) on the hills in recent year, coinciding with a series of 'challenging' winters, with rapidly changing and unpredictable conditions?
> A new thing also is the desire to be see to be slick and competent which often manifests itself as a glossing over of some things and a fear of seen to be a learner.
What evidence do you have for this 'new thing'?
> We are all learners. Many MICs have much less experience as mountaineers than many walkers do. Vice versa.
What evidence do you have for this?
Experience can't be taught.
Eh? yes it can - Experienced Mountaineer: "Based on my long experience i would always try to avoid a gully after heavy snowfall"
Inexperienced Mountaineer; "Really. Well in the future I will certainly do that also".
There you go.
according to a moving comment on another thread, the person that died in the cairngorms recently was someone of long experience in the hills.
My personal experience my dear chap out on the hill, so much more important than stats.
Secondly, I know a lot of mountaineers and it's clear to me that MIC, or any other ticket, is not evidence of massive experience. Often they are, but often there are other recreational mountaineers who know a lot more.
Thirdly, no, experience can't be taught, it can only be acquired. Your sentence is just a demonstration of poor communication, not that experience can be learned.
> according to a moving comment on another thread, the person that died in the cairngorms recently was someone of long experience in the hills.
I wasn't referring to specifics, more the possibility of general trends. Wasn't the recent incident during another period of unstable weather?
It’s inevitable that there’s a lack of hard evidence for a lot of this given that much of it concerns near-miss / lucky escape incidents – where the walkers get home to their beds OK after a worrying episode en route or where everything has gone smoothly but they’ve still arguably been underequipped. The rescue teams don’t get involved – the people extract themselves under their own steam or with the help of other walkers – so there’s no official logging of it.
The walk forums do provide some firm evidence, though – eg this is a good example from just a few days ago – the guy got up and down in one piece but was by his own admission underequipped: http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=28826
There are quite a few accounts along those lines each winter.
There was also lengthy walking-forum discussion in January of an incident on the Easains – which did involve mountain rescue, who talked two blokes down using mobiles and text, and which had a fairly clear out-of-their-depth feel to it. And in terms of the genuine tragedies, I know that one incident this winter involved a fatal fall from hard snow by a person wearing Grivel Spiders rather than crampons and whose axe was found in his car.
I’m not for a minute saying that such things didn’t used to happen, and I’m not sure whether they are in fact on the increase (although my gut feeling is that they are), but clearly both schools of thought – that there is more happening versus there being no real problem – are always going lack hard evidence to an extent, given that a lot comes down to who one does or doesn’t happen to encounter in one’s own hill wanderings. But I don’t think it’s true to say these are “evidence-free assertions” – you just need to look at the various rescue and hill report sites to find quite a bit of it. Here’s another such incident, from yesterday, which did involve the MRT and ended happily: http://www.grough.co.uk/magazine/2013/02/12/walkers-rescued-after-getting-stuck-on-icy-lake-district...
For the majority yes so have I, but in the 17 years I have seen a fair few ill-eqipped. For example on the cullin ridge a few years back I saw tourists near the summit of Sgurr Alasdair wearing trainers. Not surprisingly enough when we made our decent and were near Glenbrittle we saw the rescue helicopter heading for the corrie.
Perhaps not related, but a good chance.
A few years ago I was followed up the Great Stone Shoot to the summit of Sgurr Alasdair by a guy in trainers who then asked me what peak he was on! When I suggested that his general level of knowledge might make soloing in the mountains a little risky, his reply was, "I saw you going up and I thought it was safe!"
I thought trainers (well approach shoes or fell shoes) were de-rigueur for swift ridge traverses these days?
Perhaps not a pair of white indoor sports trainers :)
I couldnt imagine going up the Great Stone Shoot in trainers!
It is surprising how often you see very lightly equiped fell runners out in winter/rough weather. One ankle twist away from hypothermia ? Or does experience preclude them from the cold?
I was wearing a battered old fleece held together with holes, a pair of equally ripped and battered Helly Hanson polar pants, and sandals!
As their lecture and concerns were all in good intent, I didn't have the heart to tell them I'd spent the day soloing Hadrian's Wall, & Zero, and that inside my sac was enough gear to tackle a major alpine route - including my boots, which I often used to remove on long boring path descents when the weather was good, in favour of a pair of sandals.
> Perhaps not a pair of white indoor sports trainers :)
> I couldnt imagine going up the Great Stone Shoot in trainers!
I've done it--wasn't any more or less uncomfortable than other scree routes in trainers (5.10 Guides to be precise), and it made the Coire Lagan round a lot easier...
I think if you search Scottish MR statisitcs there is a reasonably good PDF or something similar on the type and number of incidents. Not sure how far back it goes but the Ogwen team has a great graph that shows the rise in callouts for minor injuries in the 1990s as mobile phone proliferated. Although fatalities and serious accidents have stayed about the same over time by there records.
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