Research into Scottish Mountaineering Incidents


In the last few years Bob Sharp has been involved in an ongoing analysis of Scottish mountain incidents and has produced two comprehensive reports:

1. Strategies for Improving Mountain Safety

The overall purpose of this study was to provide a complete understanding of mountain accidents and accident prevention, which would provide a framework for co-ordinating and developing strategies for promoting mountain awareness/safety. The report looks at the policies used to promote mountain safety used by different agencies and also examines the various tools and procedures used to promote mountain safety. Three separate surveys were carried out and are described in the report. The first survey asked a variety of user groups (mountain leaders/instructors, retailers/manufacturers, national governing bodies, press/media) the extent to which they recognise and value the safety of individuals, the procedures they use to promotion safety, whether their efforts to promote safety are effective and  what tools they use to measure the effectiveness of their promotional activities. The second survey examined a number of problem areas identified in the first survey. These were navigation, self-reliance and winter skills. The third survey involved a comprehensive analysis of over 1000 mountain incidents. The essential purpose of this investigation was to identify those groups of people most ‘at risk’ in the Scottish mountains and to identify the causes of accidents.

The study concluded that effective safety promotion is best dealt with in a co-ordinated manner by all the relevant agencies. It drew attention to the difficulties in measuring the effectiveness of safety campaigns. It concluded that the best methods to promote mountain safety are those which involve people in practical or interactive ways. It highlighted the critical importance of navigation and winter skills as well as self-reliance. Also, it produced a profile of people at risk and described a variety of factors which contribute to mountain incidents. 

A copy of this report can be downloaded in PDF by clicking here



2. Scottish Mountaineering Incidents (1996 – 2005)

The second (and more recent) study focused on the analysis of over 2500 mountaineering incidents over the ten-year period 1996 – 2005. This study is the most comprehensive study of its kind ever carried out in the UK and provides a reliable and current picture of who is at risk in the mountains and the kinds of problems that occur.

Amongst the main findings are the following:

  • Men are more at risk than women and the age group 21-30 is a higher risk group.
  • Almost two-thirds of those involved in mountain accidents are considered to be "experienced”.
  • Twenty percent of all those involved in mountain incidents are students.
  • Fifty two percent of all those rescued do not live in Scotland.
  • February and August show a relatively high number of accidents. March and November are two low points.
  • Women make up a relatively high proportion of summer casualties and men make up a relatively high proportion of casualties in the winter months.
  • Hill walking results in almost three quarters of all mountain incidents and snow/ice climbing a further 12%.
  • Incidents in rock climbing, snow and ice climbing and scrambling involve more men and more experienced people than overall.
  • Incidents in hill walking involve more women and more inexperienced people than overall.
  • Of those who are injured, limb injuries are the most common followed by fatal injuries, multiple injuries and medical problems.
  • Men are more likely to suffer serious injuries (fatal, multiple and spinal) whereas women are proportionately more likely to experience lesser injuries and medical problems.
  • Scrambling results in the highest proportion of fatal and multiple injuries.
  • Overall, injuries tend to reflect the activity undertaken by the casualty.
  • A large proportion of incidents take place on hill paths (23%).
  • Men are less likely to be involved in an incident on a footpath or on the open hillside or when the ground is wet but more likely to be involved when the terrain is rocky or covered in snow or ice.
  • The weather variable that accompanies more incidents than any other is wind.
  • In almost a quarter of all incidents there is no wind, rain, snow or cloud. Many incidents therefore take place when the weather is otherwise fine.
  • Navigation is the most commonly cited cause of all incidents (23%), closely followed by bad planning (18%) and inadequate equipment (11%).
  • Women are proportionately more likely to make navigation and planning errors.
  • Eleven percent of all incidents are caused through equipment which is inadequate or missing.
  • Poor clothing or footwear are rarely contributing factors.
  • Twenty seven of all incidents involve slips, trips and stumbles.
  • Women are proportionately more likely to slip or be lost whereas men are more likely to fall or be cragfast.
  • Over the ten-year period of the study the proportion of hill walking incidents has increased and the proportion of climbing incidents has decreased. In this sense, the study provides evidence to suggest that mountaineering in Scotland may be undergoing a change in the relative importance of the various activities that constitute mountaineering. I.e., more people are walking and less people climbing.
  • The proportion of inexperienced people has increased, but only amongst those involved in hill walking incidents.
  • There is an increase in the proportion of incidents where poor or absent items of equipment is a contributory cause.

The study makes a number of conclusions and recommendations. It confirms that hillwalking is not without risks and that experience does not guarantee safety. It draws attention to the ongoing problem of slips/trips and the prevalence of poor navigation and inadequate planning. The findings of the study provide a reliable and comprehensive frame of reference for those working in mountain safety, rescue and leadership training.

A copy of two reports (main report and a digest) can be downloaded:

Digest Report (8 pages)


Word doc

Main Report (45 pages)


Word doc


Last updated 9 Dec 12