Since the clocks go back this weekend, suddenly the Sunday evening sunset will arrive significantly earlier. It's easy to be caught out. So to help, let's shine a light on some steps you should take to avoid being unexpectedly out in the dark on the hills.
In Ireland and the UK, the clocks go back one hour at 2am on the last Sunday in October, which is 30 October this year. It's probably no coincidence that it’s also the time of year when many mountain rescue teams report an increase in callouts to ‘no torch’ incidents! Basically, people forget how early the sun goes down, forget to take a torch, then get caught out by darkness falling and can’t find their way off the hill or mountain.
It’s unfortunate because search operations cost hundreds of pounds and many hours of volunteers’ time. Careful planning, appropriate equipment, and knowledge of some basic but essential skills will help you avoid a night-time epic and the prospect of having to call for assistance. Here's nine ways to avoid it:
What you should do
1. Check sunset time and weather forecast
Even if you know what time sunset is, it may get dark much earlier than expected if there’s a lot of cloud cover, and unanticipated bad weather can delay you and catch you out!
2. Plan your route
Don’t know where you’re going? Then you probably won’t know how long it’ll take you to get off the hill. Make sure you have at least the bones of a plan before you set off
Don’t overestimate how quickly you think you can walk over long distances, especially if you don’t have much experience. It’s always better to underestimate! Be realistic about your fitness levels, the terrain, and the amount of time your route will take you.
4. Lighten up!
You can never have enough torches; in fact, everyone in a group should have their own, even if you expect to be back before nightfall. And don’t forget to pack spare batteries!
5. Get kitted up
Make sure to carry other appropriate equipment, including spare warm clothing and a whistle for summoning help.
6. Know your navigation
Don’t get lost! Carry a map and compass, and know how to use them. It’s tempting to just leave it up to your phone, but try not to rely solely on smartphone apps for navigation
7. Always go full-bar
Before you leave, make sure your mobile phone is fully charged. And keep an eye on how much battery is left before you take too many photos and drain it dry. You can’t call for assistance with a dead phone.
8. Drop a pin
If you’re about to get benighted, check your surroundings and plot your exact position while you can still see landmarks. Then take a compass bearing and follow it to make sure you know where you’re going.
9. Who you gonna call?
Calling for assistance should be the last resort, but don’t leave it too late if you are in trouble; emergency services can’t help if they arrive too late.
Sending for help
If you are unlucky enough to require emergency assistance in the hills or on inland crags, call 999 or 112 and ask for Police – Mountain Rescue, even if you are at a roadside crag, as ambulance staff are not trained or equipped to go off road or scrambling up cliffs.