Mountain safety

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Winter is hiking and climbing time in Queensland.

Queensland national parks naturally include an array of mountain experiences—some accessible by graded walking tracks and some by incredibly difficult summit routes that require a high level of fitness, rock-scrambling and climbing skills.

To have a great experience, it is very important you choose activities suited to your fitness level and skills, and that you are well prepared for your activity. Whatever mountain experience you choose, you’ll see some of nature’s best and finest on display.

    Consider not climbing culturally significant mountains

    Some mountains hold spiritual and sacred significance for First Nations people, who would prefer visitors choose not to climb the summits. Please check the park or forest’s web page information for whether this is the case for the mountain you are visiting. You can decide to respect First Nations peoples’ beliefs and wishes and be a great example to others. Remember, you can still enjoy the mountain without climbing to the summit.

    Getting to the top

    It’s important to remember that, while mountain adventures are fun, some activities are risky. If you are walking to a mountain peak, rock climbing or scrambling a summit route, there are hazards involved. The hazards vary according to your activity and location, type of terrain and time of year, the weather, your hiking experience and physical fitness, and how well you plan and prepare before you set out. However, no one is immune to accidents.

    In the last two and a half years, 117 people have been rescued from summit routes in Glass House Mountains National Park alone!

    People have died attempting to reach or return from summits, many have been injured. If you need to be rescued, it’s not only life threatening (not to mention embarrassing) for you, but also risky for the rescue teams, especially in bad weather when rescues can be delayed.

    Make sure you understand the difference between a graded walking track and a summit route—they require very different skills, fitness and preparation.

    Graded walking track safety

    Walking tracks to mountain summits are generally graded walks and the level of difficulty and experience varies. Tracks can range from moderately difficult grade 3 walks, which require some walking experience, to difficult grade 5 walks that are recommended for very experienced walkers with specialised skills (including navigation and emergency first aid).

    Hazards vary for each walk, depending on several variables including the walking track grade, track surface, climate, geology type—proximity to cliffs, scree slopes, rock rubble, pea gravel and other slippery surface types. Once you have chosen the destination, make sure you read the walking track description, and safety information on the relevant park or forest’s web page before you visit. Also read our general bush walking safety information—it could make a big difference to your visit.

    Summit route safety

    Summit routes are a very different experience to a graded walk—it’s not just walking; it’s using your hands and feet to rock-scramble steep inclines and in some incidences using ropes. Summit routes are often very physically challenging and have a lot more hazards to consider, including extremely steep exposed ridges and cliff faces with near vertical drops.

    Some mountain peaks create their own weather—causing cloud or fog that reduces visibility, or significantly increased winds or an isolated storm. One or more of these sudden changes may mean you need to stay overnight, so be prepared.

    To undertake a summit route, you and the people in your party need to be well-prepared climbers with a high level of fitness and rock-scrambling experience.

    Summit routes are not walking tracks and are unsuitable for young children and inexperienced people who cannot climb unassisted.

    It is critical that you assess your abilities before setting out. Summit routes are steep strenuous climbs. Recognise your limits and avoid tragedy. Remember, your safety is your responsibility.

    • If you feel unsure about your ability to climb or keep up with the rest of your group, then don’t attempt the summit route.
    • Serious injuries and deaths have occurred on summit routes.
    • Rescues are risky, even for experienced rescue teams.

    It is essential to read the summit route, risks and safety information on the relevant park or forest’s web page before choosing your activity and tackling a summit route. Where summit route safety videos are provided, take the time to watch as the information will influence your preparations. Pay close attention to all danger, warning and safety messages and signs on site. Read Tips for staying safe to prepare your adventure.

    Hazards vary for each summit route but may include:

    Hazard - rockfallHazard - steep slopeHazard - slippery rocks

    • Falling rocks and loose rock debris—can fall anytime and sometimes in huge amounts.
    • Steep, exposed ridges, rock faces and slabs.
    • Very slippery rocks or surfaces during or after misty or wet conditions—don’t climb when there is a likelihood of rain.
    • Strong winds.
    • Poor visibility in cloud, mist or fading daylight.
    • Heat exposure—can cause heat exhaustion and dehydration.
    • Sheer cliff edges—people can become trapped on cliff edges when they deviate from the route.
    • Slips and falls resulting from inexperience, poor preparation and inappropriate gear.

    Tips for staying safe

    Some mountain experiences are more hazardous than others. Here are some tips to stay safe and make your mountain visit memorable for all the right reasons:

    Know your fitness and capability

    Make sure you are aware of your own physical capabilities and limitations and choose a walking track or summit route climb that matches your abilities.

    Be weather wary

    Always check the weather forecast before leaving because the weather can change suddenly.

    For a better mountain peak experience, climb during the cooler months (April to August), when it’s more enjoyable; you are less likely to be heat stressed and dehydrated; and you generally avoid the storm season (September to March).

    If walking or climbing during warmer months, you should choose a shorter walk or shorter summit route. Head out soon after sunrise so you can return before the day heats up; choose mountains that are in cooler, treed areas; and take plenty of drinking water to stay hydrated.

    Plan your trip

    Prepare properly, know your limitations and choose activities that suit the skills, experience and fitness of everyone in your group. Plan your activity so that it suits the person with the least experience and lowest fitness level.

    Get to know the walking track grades (level of difficulty and experience required) by visiting Walk with care and then check the grade of your walk.

    For summit routes, visit the relevant park or forest’s page for specific planning and safety information—summit routes are highly demanding climbs that require preparation; a high level of fitness; and rock scrambling and climbing skills.

    Discuss your climbing tactics with others in your group and agree on emergency plans.

    Let someone know

    Notify a reliable person and/or leave your plans with them. They can raise the alarm if you don’t return when expected. Remember to always notify them if your plans change and when you return.

    Head out early and complete your adventures in daylight

    Start early in the day so that you have plenty of time to complete your activity before darkness falls, or the weather changes.

    Go with someone

    Visit with one or two other people and preferably with someone who has undertaken the route before.

    If it is your first time visiting a mountain, it is recommended that you take a guided tour with a group of friends, or someone who has successfully completed the route safely before, or go with a trained tour guide.

    Wear suitable clothing

    Wear sun-safe clothing, a hat and sunscreen and flexible soled footwear with good grip.

    Pack for safety

    • Bring plenty of drinking water and high energy snacks.
    • Take a fully charged mobile phone and save its battery life. Bring a personal locator beacon (PLB) if you are in an area where there is likely to be no/poor mobile phone reception. Visit PLBs to find out more.
    • Carry a torch in case your return is delayed.
    • Take a first-aid kit and know how to use it.
    • Take equipment for the activity you are planning: if you are climbing or rock scrambling on a peak with high-risk rock fall areas, take and wear a helmet.

    Visit Find a park and check out the visiting safely pages for the park you are visiting, to ensure you have all the information about how to stay safe in that area.

    And remember when visiting Queensland national parks, to leave no trace, so that we can all keep enjoying these precious places.