The most frequent dangers in the mountains and how to avoid them
Mountains are charming and peaceful, but during winter, if you are not so careful, they can become also dangerous and unforgiving.
The risks on a mountain may be external, such as avalanches and heavy snowfalls, or internal risks, the ones we can't see, like altitude sickness, disorientation, and hypothermia.
We must always be alerted when we reach the top of the world if we want to return safely back home. Below you can read about the most common threats we may encounter in the mountains and a couple of tips you need to remember. However, do not forget that there is no mountain rescue in Greece and if you love mountains and you want to learn more about this terrain you should definitely get some training from mountain specialists.
Avalanches are obviously the bigger alert in the mountains, and the reason of course is the loss of so many lives from avalanches yearly.
Avalanches don't discriminate. They will hit snowboarders, skiers, snowmobilers, or anything in the field. Winter is not the only dangerous season, as fatal avalanches have occurred during springtime, too.
Prevention starts with education. Get your lessons, training, and certifications, don't rush, and don't take unnecessary risks.
History showed us that we will never know enough to avoid an avalanche and we will never be prepared enough when we go mountain climbing. MORE ABOUT AVALANCHES HERE
2. LIGHTNING BOLTS
Only 10% of people hit by lightning bolts are killed, leaving the remaining 90% with varying disabilities.
There are specific guidelines for what to do when a storm is approaching - and number one is always to seek shelter in an enclosed and sheltered area. But what do we do if we find ourselves on a mountain with no immediate shelter nearby?
Most deaths usually occur on mountaintops, under a tree, in flat open spaces, and near water. So, the first tips are to avoid these areas. Find a low, dry place away from any tall objects.
Descend the mountain by following the tree lines through the forest.
Avoid water areas, ditches, and crevices.
Stay away from rocks.
Do not enter small rock holes.
Do not stand under rock ledges.
Stay away from metal objects. Remove anything metal you have on you.
Spread out with the rest of your companions.
Stay away from isolated trees
Avoid being the highest point of the field you move.
Myth: If it's not raining or there are no clouds overhead, you're safe from lightning.
Fact: Lightning often strikes areas more than 5km to 25km from the center of the storm, away from the rain or storm cloud.
The best way to deal with the fall is to practice it. A fall on the mountain can leave us helpless and exposed for hours and unable to get back up, which is literally a nightmare.
To avoid injuries:
Be fit. Fatigue is the most common cause of falls.
Stay hydrated. Dehydration leads to fatigue, drowsiness, and headaches, making you more prone to falls.
Stay on the trails, trails were created for this reason. Wandering in the mountain could bring you face to face with dangerous terrain, rocks, or even avalanches.
Therefore, keep your mind on the path. Winter trails are difficult to distinguish. Always keep an eye on your project and where you are heading. Leave from the path only when it is absolutely necessary, e.g. as if you meet large snow masses or ice, etc.
Lighten your bags. This will keep you nimble, conserves energy, and help you avoid a fall.
Remember that your knees are the most vulnerable area - you don't want to be on top of the mountain with an ACL injury.
Learn how to stop when you fall. Take the lessons or follow a mountain course or alpine ski school. You will learn the type of boots you must use, and how to use your crampons, and axes when you climb or when you fall. Furthermore, you will learn how to choose the right route, avoid steep terrains, and move at a steady pace that will allow you to avoid dangers. If despite precautions, the worst happens, the use of the ice ax is what can stop the slide before it becomes an uncontrollable fall.
Don't underestimate the weather. A wrong judgment can have serious consequences for the trip and most importantly for your health. The weather can kill you. Before and during any mountain project, pay close attention to the weather forecast and study the weather carefully. Unexpected weather conditions can be one of the biggest dangers when climbing mountains.
When you move on a trail, be careful of sudden changes in temperature because the weather in some areas can quickly change from nice and mild to extremely rough. Heavy snowfalls, strong winds, or extreme temperatures are dangerous because they can also contribute to snow instability and are increasing the risk of triggering an avalanche. This happens when these forces are applied quickly and the sudden stress causes the accumulated snow to break up.
Wind can be very dangerous because the wind draws heat from exposed skin and freezes it. The resulting overcooling due to heat transfer from the body to the environment is the last thing you want when dealing with winter conditions. The wind chill temperature is lower than the air temperature. So, the lower the air temperature is, the greater the effect of wind chill gets. For example, if the air temperature is minus 29 ° C and the wind is blowing at 56 kilometers per hour, then the wind chill temperature is below -48 ° C. At this temperature and at this wind speed, the exposed skin can freeze within five minutes.
Obviously, exposure to windchill temperatures can be life-threatening, so when exposed to windchill temperatures try to stay out of the wind. You can do the same calculation for any combination of temperature and wind speed. However, don't forget that windchill only affects exposed skin, speeding up the relative cooling time. This means that if you are properly dressed for the surrounding conditions (a thermal, fleece that provides good insulation, a waterproof outer jacket, a warm hat, face protection, and gloves) the windchill is reduced or negated.
You probably know that mountains create their own weather, and microclimates (which can change suddenly). Remember that forecasting the weather many days in advance often does not apply to the mountains. Keep an eye out and do not rely on long-term weather forecasts.
Perhaps the most insidious of all dangers.
Exposure comes in many forms and often after several hours. If you are exposed for too long, a number of things can happen to your body:
Dehydration: You will have cramps, and severe headaches, and your mouth will be dry. Death from dehydration can occur after three days. Always have enough water or a filter kit to avoid this scenario.
Hypothermia: Hypothermia is a serious risk for skiers and snowboarders, as is frostbite. When you are exposed to the cold for a long time and the body temperature drops, there is a risk of hypothermia. Watch for chills, progressive feelings of weakness, confusion, and paleness. These are signs that you should definitely get out of the cold and retreat. As hypothermia progresses it can be extremely dangerous, even fatal.
Frostbite: Not fatal, but extremely painful when tissues rewarm.
Snow Blindness: A temporary, painful condition where the corneas essentially shut down ... and you won't be able to see at all. Always wear sunglasses at high altitudes.
Wear appropriate clothing in the current weather. Make sure you use and wear high-quality snow gear to prevent injury, frostbite, and hypothermia.
The modern equipment is fantastic and allows us to withstand adverse weather and conditions. Make sure you wear a thermal and change your thermal during the day to avoid getting too wet and/or cold when you stop. Most days we are covered in the isothermal and waterproof during the climb. Never forget to have an extra fleece or an extra inner jacket with us.
There are no statistics on how many people each year lose their orientation and get lost in the mountains. There are some points that we can pay attention to in order to avoid this scenario:
Schedule. Tell someone your plan and where you're going, for how long so that if you don't make it back on time, they can call for help.
Have a map and compass. iPhone can be fantastic at saving your route even without a network but what if it runs off a battery when you need it?! A map and compass are lightweight and will help you find your way back even in the fog.
Use GPS or any other device that can track your location in case you get lost. And don't forget to charge their batteries!
Memorize signs from the route so you remember where you passed. This way you will avoid circling around the same field if you lose your way and it will be easier to find/remember how to get back.
Never climb the mountain alone, always with at least one companion.
The friends we climb with can also be a danger, as they can move slower than us, be sick or less equipped, or require more of our own energy, care, and attention. Anyone around us, moving in the wrong place, can cause an avalanche, that potentially hit us all.
Time is important when snowboarding and skiing. We often want to finish the descent before the weather changes or the sun gets too strong and affects the snow.
We can reduce the risk of accidents by being on the exposed ground for as little time as possible.
On the other side, the rush is something else. Rushing makes us less focused and less proactive when assessing risks and making decisions, which increases risk.
Many psychological processes begin when we are on group mountain expeditions. The reason can vary from a lack of leadership causing problems in decision-making, to over-reliance on the team's "expert" to steer everyone safely. Also, group dynamics are such that people are often reluctant to express their own concerns or hesitations about a situation. No one wants to be the only one who gets scared or the person who makes the whole team go off-target or turn around. The fact that some are not comfortable can put the whole team at risk.
Most accidents could be avoided with a better knowledge of off-ski hazards. It is not uncommon to see skiers and snowboarders start off-piste without proper avalanche gear, or head for a project without first consulting the weather or knowing the mountain and specific terrain. When we leave the resort without basic avalanche awareness, we are the biggest danger we will encounter. We are much safer when we are armed with proper knowledge of snow safety, weather, orientation, and first aid.
All this information may seem overwhelming to some people.
Many of these skills require practice before we use them on the mountain.
For those who are unsure and new to the sport, some winter and mountaineering skills school or mountain guide tours are necessary so that you gain the essential experience to stay safe and out of danger as far as possible.
Learn mountain emergency protocols and phone numbers.
Splitboarding is an intense sport. Make sure you stay fit all year long. Before you start, warm up your muscles and body with light exercise. This can help prevent injury.