How to keep safe and avoid problems when hiking in the Swiss Alps
Switzerland is a perfect place to go hiking with its thousands of marked trails. However, hundreds of people get into accidents while trekking every year, and some die. Here is what you need to know to be safe.
The Swiss mountains are one of the country's most notable and most visited sites. There are activities to enjoy during all seasons and hiking the Swiss Alps is something that people of all ages enjoy in the winter or summer months.
However, mountain rescuers are called every year to help people in emergencies. Last year, there were 1,525 cases of hikers in distress - a number higher than in any other type of sport. In 2021, there were only 500 emergency calls from skiers and 342 made by mountain bikers.
Bruno Hasler, who is responsible for mountain emergency statistics at the Swiss Alpine Club SAC, says that many people overestimate themselves and that is dangerous. "The hikers need to be better informed. The authorities must inform people as well as possible about the dangers of mountain hiking", he told public broadcaster SRF.
What are the main recommendations when hiking?
The first recommendation is to make a realistic self-assessment. Mountain hiking is an endurance sport and people planning on doing a trek should avoid time pressure and choose their trails and times well.
In that sense, it is essential to make careful route planning and evaluate the length, altitude, difficulty and current conditions (including weather forecast) of the trek. Thunderstorms, snow, wind and cold significantly increase the risk of accidents.
Don't forget to plan alternative routes and keep emergency rescue numbers on hand (REGA 1414 and the european emergency number 112).
Take practical equipment for your hiking conditions and the proper footwear too. In a backpack, take as little as possible but as much as necessary, aiming to keep it light but full of valuable things such as sun protection, a first aid kit, rescue blanket, water and a mobile phone.
The most common cause of accidents is falling because of slipping or tripping, so be sure to walk on marked paths (reducing the risk of getting lost) and keep a sure foot and safe pace.
Don't forget to take regular breaks not only for eating and drinking (necessary to maintain performance and concentration) but also to enjoy the landscape.
Be responsible for the children in the group, treks that require long-lasting concentration are not suitable for children and in passages with risk of falling, and one adult can only look after one child, according to the Swiss Alpine Club. Small groups are the best for hiking because they ensure mutual assistance and flexibility at the same time.
The PACE checklist
The so-called PACE checklist helps hikers keep track of the most important things. PACE means plan, assess, consider, and evaluate, Swiss Alpine Club SAC says.
Plan your route and duration and give yourself extra time and alternatives. Inform someone else about your trip. Assess if the hike is suitable for you, and do not undertake challenging trips yourself. Consider if you have what you need for the walk, like sturdy hiking shoes, protection against harsh weather and food and water supplies.
Finally, evaluate while hiking. See if you are too tired, keep eating, drinking and resting regularly and pay attention to the time you need and any changes in the weather. Do not leave the marked trail and turn back in time if necessary.
What to do in case of an accident?
If there are accidents during your hike, you should first provide life-saving help to anyone seriously injured and then call emergency services. Do not leave the wounded alone and do not put yourself at risk.
Mark the accident area clearly and give signals. The international emergency call sign consists of giving a sign (such as a flashing light or waving a cloth) six times a minute and then repeating it after one minute.
For helicopters, holding both your arms up (making a V shape) signals that you need help, while keeping one arm up and another down (forming a diagonal line with your arms) means you do not need help.
What do I do if I see animals on my hike?
It's common to find animals while hiking in the Swiss alps, especially cows in the pastures. A cow will protect their calves, so keep your distance. Do not touch the animals, and keep dogs on a leash.
Slowly and carefully move around at a distance and continue your trek.
You may occasionally find herds that dogs protect. It's possible to inform yourself online in advance to find out where these herds are and avoid them. Still, remember that packs and their guardian dogs should be disturbed as little as possible. So stay calm and keep your distance - avoid any brisk movements.
If you are hiking with your dog, put it on a leash and slowly and calmly detour around the livestock.
If a guard dog barks and runs in your direction, try to stay calm and give the dog time to assess the situation. Stay far from the herd, don't run or make sudden movements. You can use a stick to keep the dog at a distance by stretching them out, but don't raise it or wave it around.
Once the dogs have accepted your presence and stopped barking, continue at a slow pace on your way.
Don't forget: the Swiss rescue number is 1414 or you can also reach them using the European emergency number 112.