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Mountain rescue - and the importance of self reliance

In Scotland we are fortunate to have 27 volunteer mountain rescue teams (including cave rescue), with over 1000 volunteers, plus an additional three Police teams and one RAF team.
The teams offer a world class, voluntary search and rescue service that is available any hour, any day and any weather. It’s also free of charge. The national umbrella organisation for all these teams is Scottish Mountain Rescue

Mountain rescuers at an avalanche site on Buachaille Etive Mor

Teams are made up of committed mountaineers and hill walkers who live in the local area and who know their hills extremely well. As volunteers, they all offer their help and expertise to anyone in distress in the hills free of charge.

The Police have a statutory responsibility for any accident, including those on the hills, and it is the Police that coordinate a rescue. They can call upon a civilian team or helicopter assistance if they feel it is necessary.

The mountain rescue teams are also supported by the work of search dogs. There are two organisations in Scotland who provide search dog cover. These are SARDA Scotland and SARDA Southern Scotland.

We are fortunate to have free support in the event of an emergency, but it is our responsibility to be self-reliant and not call teams out unnecessarily.

It is the responsibility of mountaineers to be prepared for any eventuality. This means being committed to self-reliance from the outset. The mountain rescue service should never be viewed as a ‘free ticket off the hill’. Before calling 999 it should be very clear that you are unable to help yourself and that outside help is necessary. Unnecessary calls are costly for the teams and could divert resources away from a serious emergency.

If, however, you do require the assistance of mountain rescue, these pages give very useful advice:

For you, self-reliance means being able to cope with most eventualities that may befall you on the hill. For mountain rescue teams it means being called out less for trivial or unnecessary reasons. You owe it to yourself as well as your friends to be competent at what you are tackling and to cope with any misfortune to the best of your ability.

  • Learn mountaineering skills necessary to judge potential hazard; know what lies ahead through map reading, assessing changes in the weather and assessing avalanche risk
  • Judge how your companions are coping and know when the best decision is to turn back
  • Use local knowledge, guidebooks, reports and maps to glean as much information as possible about your intended route - including escape routes and river crossings, and areas of avalanche activity
  • Learn the skills of self-rescue: mountain First Aid, improvised carries, security on difficult or complicated ground, rope techniques and evacuation from crags
  • Carry the appropriate equipment and clothing that would help you survive the severest conditions – and know how to use it