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June 2014 Issue
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After hours

If you're prepared, an unplanned night out is no drama. Photo: David Norton

Stay put and keep calm if you’ve misjudged your trip time and it has become dark, advises Nathan Watson

You’ve planned your route, which mountain to climb and great places to take a break and enjoy the views. You’ve told someone you trust where you’re going and that you’ll be back for Sunday dinner at 6pm. But what do you do if 6pm rolls around, it’s dark and you’re still out?

Don’t panic While being late may be an inconvenience, it’s unlikely to cause major issues or harm to you or your party. If you can’t make contact, then the best approach is to accept that you’re late and stay focused. Avoid rushing and making silly decisions.

Stay put If you’re not familiar with the track or terrain – and you don’t know how far the car park is, stay put until first light. If you’ve left detailed intentions with someone you trust, they can raise the alarm and the search team will know where you started, your planned route and your end point. You may have included a contingency for being late – i.e. I’m due back Sunday night but if I’m not back by Monday lunch time there’s a problem.

Find shelter Use any remaining light to prepare a shelter. Look for a good spot like a rock overhang, a large tree or bank. You may have a tent or bivy with you, but if not, get creative and use the natural resources around you.

Keep warm Most body heat is lost through the ground and from your head, so wear a hat and ensure you have as much insulation as possible – use your survival bag, pack liner or foam mat plus any additional items of clothing you’re not wearing. Put on all the clothes you have. Consider some basic stretches and exercises to promote blood circulation. Build a fire for warmth and to give a morale boost (good trip planning means your emergency kit has a lighter or matches in it).

Eat and drink Always carry some emergency food, even on day trips. Plan your food and water intake and ration it to last as long as possible.
– Nathan Watson is Mountain Safety Council’s outdoor land safety manager