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How to be Prepared for Climbing Emergencies

Always Carry The Ten Essentials


Bill Springer smearing up an immaculate granite slab at Vedauwoo in southern Wyoming.

Doc Bill can't always climb with you so carry the Ten Essentials and you'll be prepared for every climbing emergency.

Photograph © Stewart M. Green
How to be Prepared for Climbing Emergencies

Don't be afraid to call for rescue if your partner has a climbing injury. A helicopter rescues an injured climber on Mount Snowdon in Wales.

Photograph copyright Win Initiative/Getty Images
A climber crosses a high snowfield on Gannett Peak, the highest mountain in Wyoming

Carry the Ten Essentials when you're climbing in remote areas like Gannett Peak in Wyoming.

Photograph copyright Spencer Swanger

When you go rock climbing and mountaineering, you’re out in the big wide world. But no matter where you are, that world can quickly change from a benign sunny day to a stormy deluge, from a fun outing to a scary nightmare.

Be Ready for the Unexpected

Things happen in the great outdoors. Thunderstorms build up and lightning pins you below a ridgeline. Rivers and creeks rise to dangerous levels. Loose rocks tumble off mountainsides. Fog obscures landmarks. Daylight slowly fades to inky darkness.

Bad Things Can Happen

When these events happen, bad things can happen. Climbers can slip and break a leg, get struck by lightning, get soaked in a torrential rainstorm and become hypothermic, get benighted on a mountain ledge, get trapped by a rising river, or get lost. Every outdoor trip you make has the potential to go terribly wrong.

Be Prepared with the 10 Essentials

When you head out to the mountains or cliffs, it’s a good thing to be prepared for emergency situations. The Mountaineers, a Seattle climbing organization and publisher of the classic book Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills, has long advocated carrying the Ten Essentials.

Rely on Yourself for Rescue

The Ten Essentials are ten special items that should be carried in every climber’s pack, especially on a long climb or one that involves a lot of hiking and wilderness travel. When you’re out in the backcountry, you have to be able to take care of yourself and your climbing partners if things go wrong. You can’t rely on a cell phone call to a rescue service to extricate you from every situation. Instead, by carrying the Ten Essentials, you’re able to survive outside for a couple days and can respond to emergencies.

The New Ten Essentials

Since the classic Ten Essentials list originally came out in the 1930s, a lot has changed so when the Mountaineers republished the book in its seventh edition in 2003 they decided to update the essentials not with items but by using a system approach. The items you carry are ones that fit into broad categories in the system rather than specifics like a map and compass or a pocket knife. For a day of rock climbing at Hueco Tanks, you’re going to carry different essential gear than if you were climbing a Fourteener in Colorado or going hiking on a maintained trail in Oregon.

Your Brain is the Main Essential

The most important thing about carrying the Ten Essentials is not so much what you carry but if you know how to use what you have. There’s no sense carrying steel and flint if you can’t strike a fire like a mountain man or toting a GPS unit if you have no clue how to use it to navigate back to your truck. Because training and knowing how to use the Ten Essentials are the most important things you carry, a lot of emergency responders say the Number 1 item on your essentials list is your brain. You’ve got to use your head if you’re going to survive.

Click here to learn the updated 10 Essentials.

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