Planning for the unexpected
I am a “belt and braces” type-person, so as you read the packing list, you’ll probably see that there are duplicates of quite a lot of the essential bits of kit that I was carrying – and that included spare walking shoes and even a spare rucksack (albeit it was the dry-sack for my sleeping bag which doubled up as a rucksack and which i used to carry my blogging equipment to the pub in the evening).
So I felt I was reasonably well prepared for a major equipment failure, and could probably struggle on with my backups for a day or two till I could get replacements.
I was actually more worried about having an accident and nobody knowing where I was. I wondered about carrying a “SPOT” satellite emergency transceiver, but they are expensive, heavy and I’d heard reports of the emergency services being “scrambled” too often as a result of false alarms.
The “Buddy Beacon” facility which comes as part of the “ViewRanger” app actually provided a similar functionality and at no additional cost. The details are all on the “keeping in touch” page. I knew that people all over the world were following me, so that if I stopped for too long or disappeared, the alarm would eventually get raised and people would know where to look.
I also phoned home in the evenings (or used FaceTime for video if there was wi-fi but no mobile signal) so my wife knew that I’d got safely to where I was supposed to be, and where I was going the next day.
This all worked fine except in parts of the far north of Scotland. Up there, there was no mobile phone signal, so my Buddy Beacon wouldn’t work. But usually I could get on line at the end of the walk, and send an email to let people know where I was. The only place where I felt really vulnerable was on the hike from Dundonnell to Knockdamph. I knew there would be no mobile phone signal for most of the route, and none at the bothy (I checked the coverage map before I set out). I also knew there was a difficult river crossing in the middle and that if the river was in spate, I wouldn’t be able to get across. If that was the case, I would have been a day late in getting to the bothy, because I would have had to make a massive diversion and wild-camp midway.
So my wife knew she wouldn’t hear from me at the end of the day, and may not at the end of the next day either, if I was delayed by the river. But this was also the remotes stretch of the walk, over a rocky bog with no path, and no other people about. So it was probably also the section where I was most likely to have an accident. So if I hadn’t called after the second day, nobody would know if I was delayed by the river or because I’d fallen. But failure to call after the second day wouldn’t automatically mean the emergency services should be called, either, because I might well have made it to the bothy but unable to let anyone know i had.
In the end, none of these catastrophes happened. The river wasn’t in spate, and I didn’t fall. But in retrospect I think I should have made a plan – probably an agreement that if nobody had heard from me by noon on the next-but-one day (by which time even if I was delayed I knew I would be able to reach the shooting lodge at Oykel Bridge), then rescue should be called. And if I was injured, but not life-threateningly, I reckoned that I could probably survive for a couple of days at least with the food and drink I was carrying and by getting into my sleeping bag and wrapping myself in my tent (on the assumption that I was sufficiently badly injured that I wouldn’t be able to assemble it properly).
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