What to do when it all goes wrong

There was a question on the American reflector recently “Who should my wife call if I don’t return home?” basically asking which of the diverse law agencies someone should call in the US. Of course that is reliant on your wife knowing where you are and when you will be back.

Roll on Sunday, I’d told my wife where I was going and she’d looked at the map and said “that’s a long way” and I’d pointed out it was mainly on forest tracks and roads so smooth you could get an F1 over them without it grounding. I arrived at Invercauld Estate near Braemar and parked up. On the drive up I’d had a bit of twinge in my back when changing gear but as I put on boots in the fabulous sunny morning I felt fine. I’ve done most of this walk before on the way to Culardoch GM/ES-015 and my target Carn Liath GM/ES-020 is not so far up the road.

I had no problems walking on the level tracks and made good progress climbing through the woods. However, my back twinged again when I started climbing the very short cropped heather slopes. Just the odd twinge but nothing much. That stopped when I got to the summit of Craig a’Chat. You drop down about 50m then climb up again. Except I couldn’t go down. Well I could but it hurt rather a lot. Oh heck! I was about 6km from the car and having difficulty walking.

1st thing is not too panic. There are lots of very big boulders in the area and one made an excellent seat. I rested up for 5 mins and tried again. I could descend but slow. Now it would be the most stupid thing in the world to press on and I did actually think about it as the summit was only about 35mins away. Then a few seconds later decided what a wonderful “Darwin Award” thing it would be to go on. So out with the phone and I managed to change my alert to say it was cancelled and why. I tried to spot myself that I was aborting due to injury and the phone lost data connectivity. I rang my XYL but she was out. So next I rang G4ZRP who I knew would be chasing. I told him were I was and the plan and we agreed I’d ring him when I got back to the car. At that point he’d know I was off the hill. No call and he’d alert the emergency services.

As it was it took about longer to get down that to get up and my back was fairly sore by then. Lifting my bag into the car and changing boots was accompanied by much swearing. Finally in the car it was heated seat to max and aircon to max. The drive home needs what feels like a million clutch operations so I was glad to get back and was able to get out of the car. A hot shower helped as did an evening of assorted painkillers. I now have a stiff back and walk like Igor out of Young Frankenstein. A few days rest and I’ll be fine.

The important point was that I was able to alert someone as to the possible predicament. Now that isn’t always possible. I live a tiny country with a big population and mobile coverage, even in the wilds, is quite good. So it is essential you let people know where you will be going, not just the target but the approximate route too and how long you’ll be. We all get complacent at this kind of thing because accidents happen to other people not ourselves.


This is a timely reminder to all of us.
Many of us are walking in the hills alone, which is not recommended.
I always give my wife a timed itinerary, with NGRs, even if we are in different parts of the country. I always text to update my position (eg, just arrived at summit, just leaving summit etc). The only problem is that mobile phone contact is sometimes not possible from where I park the car. I also let her know if there are any incidents that delay me (like road traffic INCIDENTS - not accidents - almost all have a cause) or change my plans (like finding an essential piece of kit has been forgotten).
To abandon, retreat, give up is no shame. The mountains will be there tomorrow, next year or whenever - make sure your actions allow you to be there as well.
Keep safe, Dave G6DTN


What hurts most David is not that I had to turn back, or that I didn’t get to play radio or that it was an absolute cracking day in the Cairngorms. No what hurts most (back excepted) is I had to pay £2.50 car parking and didn’t get my unique summit!


Never mind Andy at least you have the consolation that you lived to pay the £2.50 again another day :wink:

(Ooops guess that’s adding insult to injury…)

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The £2,50 car park hurts more than the £20+ worth of diesel used :slight_smile:

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Yes, I always leave a note at home with NGR of parking spot and an outline of my proposed route, and an ETA home. I don’t normally make contact whilst out, as we work on the basis that no news is good news, and so phone failure doesn’t cause any anxiety.

The other thing that occurred to me recently is how useful trecking poles are as an emergency aid. I gave my ankle a mild tweak on Friday walking up Moel Siabod, and although it didn’t cause me any problems, I reflected that a pair of poles would allow me to get off a hill - albeit slowly - with an injured leg / foot in a way that would be impossible without…


Thats one calculation I stay WELL clear of, at least it is cheap at the moment, but when is this high pressure coming !


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Hi Andy,
Glad you made it back. If I might be so bold as to offer an opinion: Sounds like a muscle strain. Fortunately although painful and crippling not fatal. After sitting in the car for a while the first thing to do is some stretching and bending exercises to get the muscles back in action and warmed up a titch. I’m sure we are all aware of the benefits of a warm up. As one of mature age I find this invaluable in warding of simple strains. Athletes and serious sports people do a serious warm up. IMO SOTA activators should do a milder version. Something as simple as putting on your boots or putting on the pack can cause an unprepared muscle to spasm and be strained. As always you should seek independent professional advice and not act solely on my opinion.

Hope to read that you have returned and conquered that summit very soon. In the mean time I recommend mixing the pain killers with cussing.


Sensible decision Andy.

And interestingly when I was away activating GM/WS-348 last week -

Loch Hourn From The Summit Of GM/WS-348 (Buidhe Bheinn - Vo-eee vYnn - Yellow Mountain) - 8th Sept 2015

On returning home Anne gave me a bit of a ‘hard time’ in that “you never left your map details on my Desktop as to where you were!!!” My reply - “well I have shown you how to use aprs.fi - live APRS map to find out where I’m at!”, but Anne replied “I prefer to have an ACTUAL map and checking out SOTAwatch it allows me to verify that you are on schedule and INDEED made it to the top of the summit”. She had a point.

This was a deviation from my normal procedure with these remote summits and although gm4cox-7 worked (via GM4OAS’s Igate - thanks Gordon) it really is a good idea to allow your intentions be known should things go ‘t**s - up’.

Now thinking along these lines - could we not post our .mno (Memory Map) hardcopy .jpg or similar to be Tagged to the SOTAwatch/ALERT just as when you click on the Summit Ref it takes you to that Page you could have Intended Route Page? A possible for the future development?



PS: Andy I’ll get back to you re your recent email. Just clearing work commitments at the moment.

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Rookie mistake.

Lost your point here John? Rookie using APRS or SOTA or Activating or Route Planning??

Jack (;>(

The correct order of operations here is: admit mistake, apologize, offering of comfort, THEN explain the Automatic Position Reporting System :wink:

While we’re on the subject of backup plans, my own consists of a satellite beacon (a SPOT, in this case,) and a person back home with a destination, route name, and cutoff time. If I get into trouble during the day I can hit the SOS button on the satellite beacon, and if my contact hasn’t heard from me by the cutoff time then they call 911 to report a missing person (which is how SAR is activated in this part of the world.) I like the SPOT because I can check in with an “all’s well” from beyond cell coverage, but non-subscription beacons are available. Highly recommended.

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Yes John, I have been looking at satellite technology for the remoter areas of GM. But we have been expanding the APRS network in GM and I had been ‘schooling’ Anne GM4UXX my XYL in viewing APRS.fi with various previous Activations etc.

My normal pre Activation procedure is to convert my .mno (Memory Map) route file with it’s overlays to a .jpg. This .jpg then resides on Anne’s laptop till I return home. Checking with SOTAwatch she has an idea of my progress. Works pretty well. Also with multiday CW Activations and RBNgate.



That’s a neat way to do it. You might also consider writing up a profile with some notes in case SAR needs to come find you. Search groups are usually concerned with the following information, which they use to assign priority and allocate resources for different subjects:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Medical conditions/Medications
  • Disabilities
  • Outdoor experience
  • Basic equipment (first aid kit, overnight gear, meds, etc.)
  • Alternate means of communication

Children, seniors, the disabled, and those with medical conditions automatically receive a high priority. Healthy adults with outdoor experience, equipment, and no ailments sometimes get to spend the night out unless they are in a hazardous area (cliffs, avalanche terrain, open water, etc.) or the weather inhibits their ability to survive.

This is making me think hard.

When I started hill walking Dick Tracy had a wrist radio that was well beyond the actual technology of the time, and a practical walky-talky would be the size of a rucksack. When I got more seriously involved mobile phones were a Star Trek concept, they were science fiction, impossible in practice. You went out in the wilds with nothing more than a head full of self reliance, you left a route card in your tent or with somebody, just in case, but basically you made sure that nothing went wrong - if only because if you made a cock-up of it your mates would never let you hear the last of it! So, in recent years I have strolled out alone into the hills full of the confidence of a lifetime of experience, unaware or uncaring that the echoing emptiness of the hills had been supplanted by multiple modes of communication and location. I have an uneasy feeling that something has been lost, but I also realise that in effect I have been neglectful and this must change. The old way was a heap of fun but youthful insouciance is not appropriate for a retiree.

Thanks for the heads up, Andy, I hope that all those dinky little bones etc in your spine will be behaving themselves again real soon - an internal embrocation of single malt is a suggested treatment, if you’re paralytic you can’t move them!


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I often get that, usually when I’ve sat at the computer for too long during the working day. :wink:

Thankfully I suffer far less out on the hills, the ascent of Ballencleuch Law SS-075 in June '14 being the last time for me. Paul and I had already activated Well Hill GM/SS-112, made the steep descent and were well on our way on the ascent of Ballencleuch when I got the twinge and feeling of nausea. It was easier and certainly no further to go on to the summit than it was to take the track back to the car, so after discussing the pros and cons, we took it slowly. After a couple of pain killers and a rest during the activation, I was back in action, though I did suffer a bit on the drive home. For once I was pleased to have such modern conveniences as motorways and cruise control. :smile:

I hope your back soon recovers and that you get out on them thar hills again soon.

73, Gerald G4OIG

Like me most of the time, Andy :slight_smile: - however, whenever I walk out the door, I always have my back-meds in my pocket, so if the back “goes”, I have at least something to allow me to get going again. My meds? - Voltaren/Diclofenac 75mg caps + Tramadol 50mg caps + Omeprazol (YMMV). The combo works like a dream, relieving practically all pain in the back - but it takes a solid 1 1/2 hours for them to start working. A must-have when you have four trashed vertebral discs…

Hiking sticks are always with me in the hills to protect knees and back and even if they get lost or they break (the sticks, that is :wink: ), I always have my Swiss Army knife with a saw to cut a branch or stem to make a new stick - been there, got the T-shirt…

Get well soon,


Sympathise with you Andy. A whole year and I’m only just confident enough to venture on to the harder hikes, Done a few in the last couple of weeks and after 5 hours of hard walking the back starts to ache but never enough to affect the walking. The bog and tussock tramping is the hardest thing for me at the moment - Kirriereoch yesterday was a bugger!.

Cat, my xyl always asks where I’m going and I always give her more than enough information about my routes etc. If she comes for the drive and her own trail walk and I know it could be dark o’clock before I’m back I tell her that I should be off the hill and on a forest road or rover track by dark time. Plus it helps that she has her radio licence so we can communicate via radio if needed. But saying that - even if she didn’t have a licence it wouldn’t worry us if she had to use the radio in an emergency.

I usually sent a text to Cat and one or two others to say leaving summit and coming down or heading to next summit.

As mentioned a few stretching exercises when you park the car up will make all the difference. Hope it gets better soon so you pay your £2.50 again. :wink:

Take care, Neil

This is exactly the reason I have a Delorme Explorer for solo activations, just in case there is no phone signal, which happens frequently. I can send sms or email (except to SOTA spotting, sore point) and keep someone posted on my progress. It has worked very well on my EA6 trip

Victor GI4ONL

Not good at all Andy, is this the first time that it has happened? You should get checked out.

After two visits to my doctor I was told that I had sciatica. An MRI scan revealed not. I was recently sent for an X-Ray on my lower back and the result showed that I have Osteoarthritis, the doctor wanted to put me on the waiting list for my right hip replacing and the left one is not far behind. I’m only 47 and activating even an easy summit is very difficult indeed. Walking poles help a little and I have more drugs than the local junkie. I’m holding off having surgery for as long as I can, it’s bearable most days though I do have a high pain threshold. It hacks you off big time when you are unable to do the things that you want to do.

Hope it’s nothing serious for you.

73 Chris M0RSF