There is no doubt that this winter has been memorable. Extensive snow cover, combined with low temperatures has provided us all with an exceptional winter playground. Whether it’s hill walking, mountaineering, ski touring or climbing the opportunities have been endless. And there has been no shortage of us getting out there ‘doing our thing’ enjoying the great conditions. Social media and the outdoor press have been awash with inspiring adventures and stunning photography.
I guess it’s always going to be a numbers game; an increase in the number of people enjoying the hills often reflects in the number of people getting into difficulties and, sadly, in the first three months of 2018, 10 people have lost their lives in the Scottish hills. I think it is really important that we are able to access information regarding what went wrong so we can all learn and potentially avoid the same pitfalls. What is very clear to me, studying accidents, is that it is rarely a single error that results in a call to our mountain rescue services. We are all human; none of us can be total experts in our field due to the very nature of the environment that we choose to play in. However experienced we are or however thorough our preparation and planning is, curve balls will head our way. We can never totally predict the vagaries of nature that can be thrown at us in a Scottish winter environment and neither would we want to, as that is part of the attraction, the adventure, the making decisions that have very real consequences.
This story is fictitious but the ‘slices of cheese’ described illustrate the causes of accidents this winter: navigation errors, over-reliance on modern technology, slips and hypothermia.
What’s crucial for us all is to recognise when we come across a ‘slice of cheese’ and make the right choices. We all learn by experience; in fact experience is a hugely effective tool for learning. Think of each slice of cheese as a key opportunity to learn and readjust plans for the day, each of our experiences adding to our adventures rather than escalating through one hole after another with the resulting negative outcome.
Take a look at ‘The Swiss Cheese Model of Accident Causation’ below, which highlights how, with the awareness to recognise these layers or challenges that we will inevitably meet with during our adventures on the hill, we can turn them into positive decision-making moments, continuing to learn and enjoy our magical winter wonderland.