Few expeditions in modern times are prepared to go to the lengths of an earlier era when it comes to self-rescue. With satellite phones, GPS positioning, and modern air transport, it is unlikely that any major expedition to any area on earth, no matter how remote, will ever again be as isolated as famous expeditions of the past. The epic survival stories, such as that of Ernest Shackleton and his stranded Endurance crew in Antarctica, are largely the stuff of history. However, even today, ships still sink with all hands on board, and climbers still are lost and their bodies never recovered.
Expeditions have limited resources for treating threats to life and limb. Prevention of injury and illness is therefore extremely important on expeditions. For example, it is better to ascend slowly to high altitudes than to rush up a mountain and be forced to treat expedition members with high-altitude illness. If proper prevention measures fail, however, then the expedition physician must be prepared to deal with untoward events.
It is in the spirit of preparation for untoward events that this chapter on expedition self-rescue is written. Some of the measures taken in advance will complement self-rescue planning. These include provision of communications gear, such as satellite phones and external rescue plans. Other measures, such as including expedition members with search and rescue experience, selfrescue experience, and medical skills and bringing along rescue and medical equipment may enhance the ability of an expedition to perform a self-rescue and evacuation of ill or injured patients.