We hope it never happens, but sometimes things go wrong: perhaps conditions turn dangerous or someone is injured.

Then the group focus shifts from recreation to safety and survival. The coordinator’s role also changes to a decisive style. When an accident occurs, there is no time for lengthy debate.

Prompt, effective action is needed, and it should be directed by someone with training and experience. The coordinator should stay “hands off’ as much as possible, directing others, maintaining an overview, and thinking ahead to the next steps. The party should be guided by the four rules of rescue in managing a crisis:

  1. The safety of the rescuers comes first, even before that of the victim.
  2. Act promptly, but deliberately and calmly.
  3. Use procedures you have learned and practiced; this is no time to experiment.
  4. Stay with your group. It is sometimes necessary to scout around while route-finding, but you should always be within communication range, and preferably within shouting distance.

It is easy to think that all trip mishaps are life-threatening situations and that the outcome depends solely on what the rescuers do. In fact, neither is usually the case. First, most accidents result in cuts and bruises, sprains, sometimes broken bones, but only occasionally anything worse. Second, the outcome is usually determined by factors beyond the rescuers’ control. All that can be reasonably expected is that the trip coordinator draws upon training and experience to devise an appropriate plan and then carry it out as safely and effectively as conditions permit.

The best way to avoid trouble is to anticipate it. Coordinators should always be thinking ahead, asking, “What if?” In camp, they think of the climb; on the ascent, of the descent; in success, of retreat. They look for early signs of fatigue in participants, mentally record bivouac sites, keep watch on the time, and note any changes in the weather. Everywhere on trips, coordinators mentally cross bridges before reaching them. Trying to stay a step ahead, they hope to avoid problems or to catch burgeoning ones before they become crisis. Get in the habit of anticipating trouble while you’re planning your trip. For example, “On this ridge, what’s my best escape route?”

Accidents are unexpected, but you can prepare for them by taking courses, reading, and mentally rehearsing. All trip coordinators must have a valid First Aid certificate. Anyone participating in outdoor activities in the mountains should supplement their First Aid training. Check out our course schedule for more information.

Also, you can benefit from studying the experiences of others climbers. The American Alpine Club and The Alpine Club of Canada jointly publish Accidents in North American Mountaineering (available on Amazon.ca) This annual publication contains detailed descriptions and analyses of mountaineering accidents and is instructive.