Mountain rescue. A service that anyone who does serious hill walking hopes never to need – but one I think we are all very glad to know is there.
I was prompted to write this post by a newspaper article I’ve seen shared over Facebook. A climber got stuck on Blaven on Skye and had to be rescued. There seems no doubt about the fact he was woefully under equipped or prepared; Skye is probably the most challenging mountain terrain in Britain, and definitely not a place for the inexperienced and unwary. The terrain is rocky, and most of the routes involve a degree of scrambling, and even rock climbing. It’s not somewhere you want to muck about, and most people have to hire a guide to tackle at least some of the hills. The fact that the rock is gabbro (and therefore magnetic) also means the compass doesn’t work. Not that the bloke in the article seems to have had one, but if he had it probably wouldn’t have made much difference. The story – like another recent one of a girl who narrowly escaped hypothermia on Ben Nevis – had a happy ending; not all such stories do. But MRT give of their time, as volunteers, to provide a vital rescue service for those that go out into the hills – whether they are prepared or not.
I’ve seen some unsettling things on social media recently about such rescues. Something that seems to come up every year is whether those venturing into the hills – particularly in winter – should have insurance, as is the case in much of Europe, or should be charged for rescue in the event of being ‘underprepared’. But what happens if someone without insurance has an accident or someone gets into unanticipated difficulties? People who go into the hills underprepared probably don’t realise they are, at least not until after the event. I can’t see any of the emergency services presenting someone with a bill and saying ‘pay up or we’ll leave you here’. And accidents happen to people who are prepared for the conditions. Knowing how to judge conditions, acquiring skills such as how to ice axe arrest or scramble won’t always prevent an accident. A simple trip, or a fallen rock can have serious consequences.
Another thing I’ve seen recently is assumptions about competence based on where people are from – with some nasty overtones. The newspaper noted that the climber in question was from London which – whilst there was no suggestion of this by the newspaper – led some more unpleasant members of the Facebook community to declare that him being incompetent on the hill was therefore a given. Living in London (as I also do) we aren’t exactly blessed with accessible hills; getting to the mountains requires a lot of effort, and in some situations that probably does result in ‘going out whatever’ in order to avoid a perceived wasted trip. (I don’t subscribe to that; if the conditions aren’t good I’ll do something else instead. The hills aren’t going anywhere. I will be eventually, but hopefully I’ve a few good years left in me yet).
But preparation isn’t in my view a factor of geography; I’ve seen people walking up Ben Nevis in unsuitable kit, and met a young Scottish bloke on a mountain in Glencoe with nothing even remotely resembling suitable gear, and carrying a newspaper (bizarrely, he seemed to disappear into nowhere, making us wonder later if we’d imagined him or possibly seen a ghost). You see under-equipped people on a lot of popular Lake District hills, and don’t even get me started on Snowdon! But the majority of people who tackle a reasonably straightforward hill in less than adequate gear are fine. And if they aren’t, MRT will help them. Just as they do those who are prepared for whatever the hill might throw at them – but get unlucky.
Let’s hope that this will always be the case.