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Safety In The Hills

The recent mishaps and misadventures by runners venturing into the mountains the last few weeks has had me thinking about the consequences of “what if” and evaluating what I do and do not carry on trips, as well as what I do before and during while on an adventure in the mountains. I am easily influenced and find it easy to be wooed by the exploits of the likes of Kilian Jornet scaling Mt Blanc with little more than a cup of water and a gel for 8hrs, or Tony Krupicka and Joe Grant scrambling 3000+ meter peaks wearing only a pair of Daisy Duke shorts and using a tent peg to negotiate snow slopes. These feats are impressive, but for us here in little old New Zealand, bang smack in-between the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocen, with wet, cold (and most critically) relatively unpredictable weather patters coming in from the South Pole, this type of travel can be asking for trouble if the “what if” turns to “oh shit”……..

Now, I am in no way saying that the people that you may have read about recently have been unprepared- from what I have read there were some great examples of doing things right and being prepared when things do not go as planned.

It seemed that a post on BCR touching on some of these thing would be appropriate, and just as I was about to start on something, a post popped up on the Wellington Ridge Runners Facebook group page, touching on what I was about to write- written by Mike Sheridan. Mike is far more experienced than I with this subject and someone I have a lot of respect for. I respect anyone that takes on being a Race Director and Mike is the race director for the Tararua Southern Crossing- which is one burly race. The Tararuas are an exposed, jagged mountain range and to take on race director duties for an event like this is a big undertaking. Below is what Mike had posted on the Wellington Ridge Runners’ page, which he has been nice enough to let us share.

A few years back I transferred my volunteer time from Search and Rescue to my children’s Scouts. Both activities involve the outdoors. SAR being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff and Scouts summed up by its motto: “Be prepared”. Helping to set up Wellington Ridge Runners many years back and now being Race Director for the Tararua Mountain Race (which by the way is coming up on March 9th) I have periodically made posts on being prepared for your run. Over the past few weeks a couple of runners from the local mountain running community have been rescued from the mountains as a result of accidents/mistakes that can happen to any of us that get out there into the mountains. Thankfully both SAR outcomes were successful – although it may take a while for the broken ankle to recover!

The following is my summary of things that mountain runners need to think about and action before heading out on an adventure. (These are not necessarily things that went wrong in the recent incidents.)

1. Preparation. Make sure you have the right skills, fitness and experience for the adventure you are taking on. The key skill (or lack of) that often leads to trouble is navigation.
2. Intentions. Write down your intentions, who is going, what gear you have and a panic time. Leave this with a trusted person.
3. Gear. You need the right gear and food to be able to cope with any misadventure. If you have the right stuff with you it will give you more options for making the right decisions, and less pressure to panic. The Tararuas and Rimutakas are unforgiving, if you slip and hurt yourself or get lost you need to be able to look after yourself until help arrives.
4. Log books. Even on a good day, record your intentions in every hut log book. It’s the first place SAR will check.
5. Don’t make things worse. When things go wrong, problems can easily compound from your actions. Think through what you should do and make it easy for searchers to find you.
6. Solo. When you go out on your own, the risks are higher. Make sure you factor this into the gear and food you take, and the route. I think an Eperb is essential if you are on your own.

Suggested gear list:
• Wear a wool or poly pro t shirt
• Hat and gloves
• Two long sleeve tops.
• Long johns (and over trousers if heading above bushline)
• A parka.
• First aid kit: Painkillers, strapping tape, crepe bandage and chaffing cream
• Torch
• Cell phone (and Eperb if travelling alone)
• Fire lighting equipment (matches and candle stubs)
• Survival tube that you can crawl into – ie. more than a blanket.
• Map (and a way to keep it dry while in use) and compass and whistle
• Pack to keep everything in, plus a plastic bag to keep things dry.
Mike Sheridan

BCR Note- For those interested- the Tararua Mountain Race is on March 9th and entries are stills open


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A Backcountry Running Community for New Zealand trail, mountain and ultra runners- We want this to be the place you come for all things trail running including race previews and reports, interviews with New Zealand runners and hopefully a whole lot more! Our aim is to provide as much original content- previews/reports/interviews on New Zealand trail, mountain and ultra races. We can't be everywhere- so feel free to get in touch if you have the scoop on a race or event.

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