14 good reasons to turn back before the summit

Live for the Outdoors (LFTO) wrote a serious, advisory post following an article in Trail Magazine about reasons that should make you think about turning back before reaching the summit.  Whether you are a walker, mountaineer, mountain biker, skier, runner or other, these reasons are certainly worth considering:

  1. Bad Weather – snow, rain, cold and wind can all come in severe doses, so make sure your prepared but sometimes preparation isn’t enough, so know your limits!
  2. Weather Hazards – associated consequences from bad weather such as rockfalls and lightning
  3. Avalanche Risk – make sure you check local avalanche reports right up to the point that you depart, and on an ongoing basis if at all possible.
  4. Fatigue – tiredness can put a real strain on your senses, your alertness and obviously your ability to continue safely.
  5. Hunger – food and drink is your body’s fuel to continue safely and can affect your physical performance, rationale and ability to think quickly.  Remember to account for enough food and drink reserves to return you back again.


Src: Flickr, Strange Ones Photostream
Avalanche Warning. Source: Flickr, Joe Shlabotnik

Although, we thought there must be more reasons to turn back as there are so many influencing factors on a successful climb, run or ride…or are we just being soft?

  1. Injury – some people like to bag summits a little too recklessly, some injuries worsen if not cared for (think of the last time you continued to walk with a sprained ankle, and consider the bruising and swelling that continued to grow from not resting it properly).
  2. Illness / Conditions / Vulnerability – without the suitably warm outdoor gear, such as a fleece or insulated jacket, it could very well mean that you become susceptible to cold and wet conditions which might bring on hypothermia.   Illness can overcome your body fast if you’re tired – a common cold can really effect your progress and make you even more vulnerable…be careful.
  3. Without the right outdoor gear – that mac that you screwed into your pack might be OK for the odd shower but torrential rain and gale force winds are dealt with far better by a waterproof mountain jacket.  Another example could be needing crampons for more technical, snowbound climbs up hill-faces…
  4. Broken gear or equipment – if you took the right gear, but broke it by accident, maybe it’s time to return back if you cannot fix it in any sort of semi-permanent way.  A broken tent pole for instance could cause a very unpleasant nights sleep under the stars if you don’t repair it or replace it sufficiently for the weather conditions.
  5. Unsure of your route – you might have made it so far but inexperience or lack of clarity in the mapping might mean that it would be safer to return before you get lost.
  6. Closed routes – similar to the point above, if you cannot follow the route that you intended then it’s worth considering returning or at the very least let people know that you will be changing your route.  For this reason it is often advised that you have a primary and secondary route that you share with someone who is not going with an estimated time of return (ETR).
  7. The route is beyond your abilities – it might be that you set-off thinking that your route is within your technical and physical capabilities, but things may have changed or maybe your research was not comprehensive enough?
  8. Broken-communication lines – there are some places people only like to venture when they know that they have support at a form of base-camp, or Without communication lines (mobile phones, satellite phone communications, etc) it can leave you alone and without the right support if the worst was to happen.
  9. Make progress to the abilities of your weakest member – check around with your hiking, running or riding mates to see if each of the above are are all in check and there’s no reason to consider turning back.  it might that you’re OK, but what about others?

Any others reasons for turning back?  Your mum calls and says that dinner’s ready, or that you forgot your hairbrush…?  Share your ideas with others…


2 thoughts on “14 good reasons to turn back before the summit

  1. There is only one reason to turn back before you reach the summit and that is because you are a wuss.

    Just because your broken leg is hanging onto the rest of your body by a single tendon after you were struck by a large boulder following a rock fall, that is no excuse for turning back.

    Always remember, whatever mountain you are on, my grandmother could skateboard up it.

    About 12 years ago I was backpacking in Scotland with two friends. We were climbing up Ciste Dhubh (981 meters), between Kintail Forest and Glen Affric Forest. The mountainside was steep, we had heavy rucksacks and progress was slow. We were perhaps 150 meters from the summit and we could see that the weather was closing in. One of my friends was reluctant to continue and the other wished to proceed to the summit. I went back down the mountain with one friend whilst the other friend headed up to the top. When the three of us met up again at the bottom I reprimanded my friend for splitting up with us and for continuing to the summit. He told me that he knew I would tell him off but that he could not bear to think of himself sitting in his office the next morning having failed to reach the summit when he was so close. As it happened no harm was done on that occasion but it could have ended badly.


  2. Thanks for sharing your story Daniel. So does this mean that because you turned back, you are indeed a ‘wuss’?!

    One thing though, although I am not a professional mountaineer, or anything close for that matter…I would be interested to hear what other people would do in a similar situation to yours…would they let their friend continue by themselves? How would you manage such a situation?

    Also, it would be good to know what the BMC’s view is on such situations…I can imagine it would be to stay together, but at some point you have to think of the others that you are walking / running or riding with? I have emailed the BMC, referring to this post, to see what their stance is.

    Thanks Daniel for sharing and triggering this debate…

    Ben, admin


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.