Even a well prepared hiking tour can end with an emergency situation. Maybe the weather changed quickly or somebody got hurt. In such a situation, you have to know exactly how to react and what to do – this knowledge might save your life!
In case of an emergency you have to know the emergency number of the country you are hiking in. Save the number in your phone when planning the tour.
Emergency numbers in the Alps:
Germany 112 (mountain rescue: 19222) / Austria 140 / Switzerland +41 333 333 333 / Italy and South Tyrol 118 / France 15 / Slovenia 112
If you do not get a connection because of a weak signal, you have to change your position and try again. When connected to the alpine rescue service, communicate as concise as possible the following six informations:
- Where did it happen? → specifications about the accident location and the weather
- What happened? → description of the accident
- How many injured persons are there?
- What kind of injuries persist? Especially life-threatening injuries need to be stated!
- Who is calling? → information about the caller and his/her phone number
- Wait for the rescue service to respond, don’t hang up.
If you don’t get a phone signal you have to give visual and acoustic signals:
six times per minute/ every ten seconds whistle loudly or give light signals with your head lamp. Pause for a minute, then repeat. The answer of the alpine rescue service will be three signals per minute.
The mountain rescue can only fly a helicopter if the weather allows it. In case you have to stay outdoors overnight, find a shelter that provides a “roof”, like a cave or a dense forest. Wear all the clothes you are carrying to prevent hypothermia. Use your bivouac as a sleeping bag and the backpack as a mat. Stay close to each other to warm yourselves!
Lightning risk management
Avoid the storm in the first place! The weather can change rather quickly in the mountainside. First, and most importantly, you should check the forecast before leaving and always keep an eye at the sky while hiking! Growing puffy cumulonimbus clouds, increasing wind, mist, consisting vapour trails and thunder are indications for bad weather. If you have a feeling that the weather changes, end your tour immediately, turn around and be safe!!
You can easily estimate the distance of a thunderstorm: count the seconds between lightning and thunder. Multiply the seconds with 333 meters and you will know the distance between you and the upcoming storm.
If you get into a thunderstorm anyway, you have to know how to react! Stay calm and take the proper precautions.
When lightning hits the ground, the electric current runs through the ground. So even if you are some hundred meters away from the point of impact, the current can get to you. Your contact area with the ground should be as small as possible, so DON’T LAY DOWN.
Hunker down with your feet touching, head between the knees – this is the safest position! Make sure your clothes and hands do not touch the ground!
If there is no metal on your backpack, use it as a mat to squat on top of it. This position allows the current to travel up one leg and down the other – the torso with the organs will stay untroubled.
Quickly leave the peak, ridges or other exposed places.
Stay away from single trees, especially in open areas → stay in dry, low-lying areas, even if this is against your natural instinct of searching for shelter.
A forest offers protection from lightning. Make sure you position yourself next to smaller trees.
Stay out of water and away from metal (via ferrata!) – those are great conductors of electricity. (If you are still in a via ferrata, get out as soon as possible but do not disconnect your ferrata set, you might fall!)
→ Drop your belongings – especially if you are carrying a via ferrata set, carabiner, climbing spurs or ice pick. Also drop your hiking poles. Move away from those objects.
Be aware of rockfall!
If you are in a group, keep a distance of approximately 10 meters between each other.
If you find a cave to seek shelter, don’t sit or lay against the stone – it also conducts electricity. Position yourself in the centre of the (big) cave and – again – hunker down. If you find a hut, make sure it has a lightning rod. If not, stay away from the building as it is not safe. If there is a car nearby, get into the vehicle and close the doors and windows.