Published 14th March 2020, 15:02

    THERE'S an old saying that 99 per cent of all statistics only tell 49 per cent of the story.

    That may well be the case, but comparative figures for 2017 and 2018 from Scottish Mountain Rescue make fascinating reading.

    The stats for the two years are included in the 2019 edition Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal, a collection of features, news, reviews, routes and obituaries.

    There are 27 voluntary civilian mountain rescue teams in Scotland, 23 of them members of SMR. The other four, Cairngorms, Glencoe, Lochaber and Tayside, are independent. 

    There are three police teams – Grampian, Strathclyde and Tayside – two search dog teams (SARDA), one aerial search and rescue team (SARAA-Scotland) which assists with the use of drones, a Scottish Cave Rescue team and an RAF team, which has made such an important contribution to rescue work over many years. 

    The increase in hill incidents over the past few years has been well documented, so it's hardly a surprise to have it confirmed. The numbers are significant, though. SMR teams reported a rise from 466 call-outs in 2017 to 557 in 2018, while the police figures went up from 176 to 203. Taken together, it meant the total number of hours involved leapt from around 21,000 to more than 29,000.

    The area breakdown throws up surprises too. For instance, there were more call-outs for the Ochils than for Torridon in 2018, and four times as many in Galloway than in Kintail. The Tweed Valley team had most call-outs (61), nearly double from the previous year. There were also significant rises for Arrochar, Moffat, Ochils and Torridon. Most other areas saw slight increases, but there were a few reductions, for Arran, Braemar, Hebrides, Killin and Kintail.

    MR teams are not just called out for mountain incidents. They also assist the emergency services in a wide range of actions, including working in remote communities and helping in searches for the elderly and vulnerable. It's also worth remembering the majority of mountain call-outs produce a successful conclusion.

    Cairngorms was the only one of the four independent teams to provide figures. They had 43 call-outs, but a more forensic examination reveals the broad range of incidents they had to deal with.

    These included: runners collapsing from heatstroke; a crashed paraglider; someone falling off their bike; providing advice about a car left in parking for five days with its windows blown in and filled with snow; checking out two unaccompanied dogs behaving strangely; retrieving three workers stranded at a wind farm. There were also false alarms – one after a woman set off an emergency call while putting on her motorbike leathers, another involving the discovery of a pile of neatly folded clothing and empty wine bottles at the side of a loch.

    Most of their mountain incidents happened in the winter months, when the high plateau and snow-plastered faces prove a magnet for snow and ice climbers and walkers. It's a stark contrast with the experiences of the Skye team, whose busiest hill spell was from mid March through to September. 

    The reasons are likely two-fold: One, the majority who tackle the jagged Black Cuillin tend to do so outwith the winter months, and the ridge is generally less likely to be in condition than the Cairngorms so numbers are far lower; Two, the massive summer influx of tourists, which is borne out by the number of call-outs to the Fairy Pools, The Storr or The Quiraing. Rescuing a bull mastiff which had managed to get cragfast, however, must have been a relatively new experience.

    The overall picture around the country shows 217 rescues (up from 153), 116 searches (78), false alarms 21 (14) and animal rescues 12 (8). It seems that even our four-legged friends are becoming more accident prone.

    Summer hillwalking produced the majority of incidents, 151, and winter walking 75, while rock climbing and winter climbing only amounted to a total of 11.

    The gender breakdown suggested that females were quicker learners, their incident rate dropping from 138 to 98, while the males just seemed to carry on regardless, resulting in a slight rise from 159 to 164. When it comes to age, those in the 26-35 range had the most accidents, the least being those over 66, although if they are anything like me, that may just be down to the fact they couldn't remember having any.

    Biggest cause of accidents was a simple trip or fall, followed by navigation errors or simply getting lost. Interesting too, that eight incidents were put down to tech reliance compared to zero the previous year.

    The split between injured and uninjured was fairly equal, the highest percentage of casualties sustaining fractures or dislocations – mostly ankle or lower leg. Sadly, the number of fatalities rose from three to nine.

    Most people involved were from the UK (there is no further breakdown for the home nations), with France and Germany highest among the rest of the world. 

    To sum up: If you are a British male between the ages of 26 and 35, and you are going walking in the Tweed Valley this weekend, you are most at risk of tripping and breaking your ankle. Don't say you haven't been warned.