SMR statistician, Mark Leyland offers a light hearted look on how not to become a statistic.

As I look out of my window, there is still snow on the hills, even though the month changed from March to April at midnight. That was the deadline for Teams affiliated to Scottish Mountain Rescue to submit their statistics on the previous year. 

For mountaineers there is some welcome news. Early indications are that the number of mountain rescue incidents has fallen in 2017 compared to previous years. 

The patterns of incidents and callouts is similar to those in past years and there are no real surprises at the moment.  

Scottish Mountain Rescue has been gathering statistics for a long time, and, thanks to this large quantity of information, we are now even more prepared than the best algorithms in predicting where accidents will happen and thus how to avoid them. 

Based on the most findings from 2017, here are some tips on avoiding the attentions of Mountain Rescue. 

 Tip 1 – Choose when to go carefully 

Across the country, MR members have learnt over the years to have an early tea on a Saturday. This has been based on intuition, but 2017 statistics confirm that Saturday is the busiest day for Mountain Rescue Teams. By avoiding mountaineering on a Saturday, you will therefore reduce your risk of having to call out a Team to help you. Sunday is slightly less prone to callouts, but if you really want to reduce the chances, then Thursday is the day to go for with less than half Saturday’s number. 

Time of year is also important. From Easter onwards, the chance of having an MR contact increases towards a peak in July or perhaps August. November and December are almost always quieter times for Teams and are therefore recommended. 

 Tip 2 – Location, Location, Location. 

Scotland is vast and has a huge variety of mountains and landscapes. 

The Highlands –from Dalwhinnie and Glencoe northwards- invariably have the largest number of incidents in any year,71 recorded by the SMR Teams in 2017. 

Other hot spots are the South East Highlands, Tayside and Argyll.  You will be much safer heading to Arran or Galloway where there is less MR activity, or have you thought about Lanarkshire where no mountain rescues took place last year. 

Tip 3 – How steep should I go? 

Slightly counter-intuitive this one. 

Every year, 70 to 75% of mountain callouts are to assist summer hillwalkers. By contrast, Hillwalking in the winter only occupies 20% of incidents whilst Rock Climbing, Scrambling and Snow /Ice climbing at 5%,4% and 1% are low. 

Of course, if you only go out as a member of a Mountain Rescue Team then your chances of an accident are below 1%. 

Top tip then, give up the Hillwalking and stick to the steep stuff. 

Tip 4 – Move house

The place that you call home can have a huge influence on your mountain rescue probabilities.  Sixteen different nationalities, mainly European, were rescued. Moving to Holland or France would reduce your odds, but you don’t need to go that far.  In the year 2017, 172 UK nationals were recorded as being rescued. Of these, 103 admitted to living in Scotland, 32 in England, and 37 didn’t admit to anything.  Moving to Northern Ireland might be the nearest way to be a little safer. 

 Tip 5 – Older and Wiser 

There isn’t a lot we can do about our age, but it may be a relief to know that generally as we age, our chances of calling on that MRT, generally reduces. The 2017 data followed previous trends of a peak incident age of 26 – 35. Previous years have shown a second peak at “retirement” age, but this was absent this time so perhaps older is wiser (and safer). 

 Tip 6 – Preparation 

Now the serious stuff.  What actually causes the incident. 

There isn’t anything we can do about the main cause of mountain accidents which remains a simple slip/trip. This accounts for nearly 30% of incidents. Being lost and navigational errors also consistently account for 30% but having the skills to avoid these is something that all mountain goers should acquire.  

 Not sticking with your partner, not having the right equipment and not reading the weather runes correctly all catch people out and are of course avoidable. 

 More good news. 

Despite all that can befall us on the mountains, over half of the incidents resolved in 2017 had no one hurt or injured. 

 Nearly a quarter of incidents did involve a fracture or sprain, and not surprisingly the majority of these were to the lower leg or ankle. It is worthwhile being prepared for this type of injury wherever possible. 

 On top of all the mountain-based activity, MRT’s who are based in their communities also get called to a range of other incidents such as: missing person searches, assisting the ambulance service and resilience work. 

 In 2017, volunteers gave up over 20,000 hours of their time for rescues and many more hours of training as well. 

 In all, SMR member teams responded to 423 incidents during the year

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Scottish Mountain Rescue, formerly known as The Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland, is a registered Scottish Charity – number SC045003