Assessing the risk of slippery mountain conditions

"Being aware of all the potential dangers of slipping is the most important part of being safe."

From my extensive experience being a part of a mountain guide and rescue service in accidents on mountains, and from talking with similar services in different countries in the world, I can make a constatation that slipping is one of the most common reasons for accidents while mountaineering. 

Because of this fact, it is always necessary to make a good assessment of dangers and risks which you could encounter through the mountains, before every mountaineering tour. 

In order to be able to make a good assessment of the risk of slipping during mountaineering, you need to be aware of part of the reasons that most often lead to creating this danger, and with that how to successfully deal with it.

Slipping happens in all the periods of the year, but it is the most common in the autumn and winter months of the year and for the following reasons:

  • More frequent raining in autumn 

  • Trails are covered with leaves from the trees and are wet and slippery 

  • The days are shorter which means lower visibility

  • Remains on the trails of morning snow and frost

In winter one should be mindful of the chosen trajectory of the trail in the snow because then there is no classical trail. It is compulsory to wear and use winter mountaineering equipment for safety (ice ax, crampons, mountaineering sticks, rope, and so on). 

On the other hand, in spring and summer, often there is morning dew on the grassy surfaces, condensation on the rocky terrains, occasional streams of rainwater across the trails for walking that can bring a lot of gravel that in the ratio with the slope of the trail could be potentially dangerous. These types of sudden watercourses can also damage or even erase part of or the whole trail which can cause additional problems. 

In the summer months, the lush vegetation can often be a problem, like for example branches of roots or plants that can be an additional cause for tripping or congestion that can cause slipping and landslides. 

That is why it is recommended before every trip to the mountain to keep in mind and to think about the following: 
    - The weather prognosis
    - Which and what type of terrain is a part of your mountaineering 
    - If you have the correct equipment for the challenges that come
    - Assessment who and how much can be endangered by our choices 
    - Assessment if the potential injuries are worth for the risk you want to take on
    - Which safety measures you should take and with that take the risk to an acceptable level
    - Can you as a part of a group impose or even enforce the safety measures for every single group member 
    - How will you act in the event of an accident 

    In the end, occasionally review the plans that you made based on these assumptions to make sure that you are making the right choices over and over again. Being aware of all the potential dangers of slipping is the most important part of being safe. 

    Written by: Petar Nolev, mountain guide, and rescue service

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