Scouts first month report.

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Scout has been with us one month now and has settled in really well. The other two dogs Monty and Olly are gradually accepting him although Olly still remains to be convinced Scout is a keeper. But this does not seem to phase Scout in the slightest. He has a firm personality and a strong character, he refuses to be bullied by the other dogs and is gradually ingratiating himself with them. He is happy to be part of their gang or spend time on his own.

Scout has gradually increased his levels of activity and interest. At first he showed no real interest in toys but now is gathering quite a collection. Still the best toys seem to be toilet rolls and egg boxes, oh and soil, he likes soil. He sleeps through now and is on the way to being house trained, but more work needed on that.

This coming month is a big one for Scout. Tomorrow he will be able to go out for the first time and walk around. So far he has had car journeys and visits to shops and offices and people, all good for him, sights and sounds, smells and touch. He has coped really well and shown no signs of distress. Tomorrow morning he goes for his first walk around the common. Lots of trees and grass and smells. Lots of other dogs too so he can start to join a wider community. Only 15 minutes of walking for him, twice a day to make sure he does not strain his limbs.

Next weekend he attends his first SARDA training camp up in the North Yorkshire Moors. He will attend puppy class, learing obedience, getting ready for his first tests. Walking to heel, staying put and the biggy passing a stock test where he has to ignore a flock of sheep.

Later in the month he takes on his first fund-raising work for his team Woodhead Mountain Rescue. He will be at Sheffield Train Station collecting for team funds. Then a few weeks later he is at Scholes Gala helping raise more funds. A busy time.

SCOUT Search and Rescue Dog

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Well we are finally on the way to becoming a Search and Rescue Dog Handler with the arrival of this little fella on Friday evening. This is Scout a Border Collie puppy dog from Derek Scrimgeour at Killiebrae Sheepdogs. He is pretty neat and full of energy, which includes jumping over steps, falling down staircases and getting under our feet at every opportunity.

At the moment its just a puppy life for him, the real training starts in a little while, but he already respondes to his new name, the original was Killiebrae Jigg. In the months and years to come we both have a huge amount to learn and hopefully put to good use out in the hills and mountains.

He already has a sponsor, Wapentac will be looking after certain aspects of his health and well being which is really nice. I just have to fend for myself.

If you want to know more about SARDA the Search and Rescue Dog Association have a look at their website here at the SARDA website

 

Survival

Photo courtesy and by permission of Coniston Mountain Rescue
Photo courtesy and by permission of Coniston Mountain Rescue

Its snowing hard here today. I had thought of getting out into the Upper Derwent Valley to reccie a route for Sunday, got dressed to have fun in the snow, but watching the opposite side of the road disappear in a curtain of white snow caused me to pause for thought. I might be able to get out, early in the day and with energy levels high and snow on the roads still a bit mushy. But what about later, when snow and cold has sapped energy levels and the roads have become impassable. Would I get back.

In England we do not get that much snow so when it comes the excitement of getting to play in it can be a real pull. All that new kit, hardly used, all those techniques desperately waiting to be tried. It’s a very tough decision to decide not to proceed, even harder one to make if it means turning back. The winter press is filled with stories of people who never returned home, they had no intention, I am sure, of the day ending that way, but minute incremental mistakes can and often do lead to disaster.

No one sets out to have an accident and it is very rarely down to stupidity. Ignorance  and naivety can play a major factor in winter. Take Bleaklow in the Peak District National Park. A mass of peat groughs designed to test any navigator, with thick bog and few landmarks for orientation. Yet, it is just 30 minutes walk from a major trans pennine route, which on a bad day you can hear, and stand in the right area, you can see. What can possibly go wrong walking here? Yet people do become disoriented, injured, lost. That’s when the day out walking can change. Little by little, the situation can become one of survival against the odds. Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it, but it happens all over the country.

You do not have to be a novice to get in to difficulty, there are numerous reports of well equipped walkers, climbers and mountaineers becoming stranded either through injury, bad luck, weather, error, or as often as not a combination of all of these. So if you are unfortunate enough to find yourself in a situation where you need help what can you do to not make the situation worse, especially in winter.

I am not an expert in outdoor survival. I do have 40 years experience in walking all around the UK in all seasons. I am a National Park Ranger, Walking Guide and member of Mountain Rescue. I also suffered a life threatening accident and lived to tell the tale due to the skills and courage of the women and men of Coniston Mountain Rescue and enough knowledge that helped me stay alive long enough for them to rescue me. So these are my thoughts on what will help an individual if they find themselves in need of rescue.

Read what MOUNTAIN RESCUE recommend here for a day out in the hills.

THINK THINK THINK

The decision today not to venture out was the right one, even if, as I type this the sun is shining and the sky is blue. So making a choice not to go or change the plan to a  local route within walking distance is a good start. If you do decide to go and the weather deteriorates to a point where a little voice in your head starts to sound a bit panicky, stop, think objectively, think what may happen, play the film to the end and seriously consider turning around.

WHO KNOWS WHERE YOU ARE

If the weather is fine and no signs of calamity are showing, one of the essential things you can do, probably the most critical thing, is to leave details of your day with someone. A route card sounds such an amateurish thing to do for an experienced hill person, but it can save a life. I regained consciousness after falling a long, long way down a rock face and laying in deep snow for 30 minutes. I was able to raise my own alarm, I was lucky. But I also had left a route card with the manager at Holly How YHA who acted immediately I had not returned by the time I had stated and also raised the alarm. Had I not come round, this one action would probably have saved my life. I had increased my margin of survival.

EQUIPMENT

Winter walking requires much more kit and kit that you are comfortable using. But the kit that will keep you alive and help rescuers may not be high on your list of priorities when all the excitement of getting out there is all consuming.

FIRST AID

If you can get yourself to safety with the use of a first aid kit then you probably do not need that much help. The first aid kit can help in minor injuries, but in a survival situation is probably not much use if you are on your own. You can use it to stop bleeding, strap a broken bone, give some basic pain relief, but that’s about it.

In winter if your injuries mean you simply cannot get off the hill under your own power or with the help of friends then equipment priorities need to change. Similarly, if you are lost, the same applies.

PHONES

Lets assume you are on your own, in winter with failing light and falling temperatures. Getting help is the most important thing. The quickest way is by phone. My phone was in the top of my rucksack as was my spare. But the rucksack had been torn off me by the fall. Luckily I could see it near me and could scramble down to reach it, even with significant multiple injuries. That was lucky.

Now I keep my phone about me. I carry a spare phone that is not used during the day and that I save purely for emergencies. It is a smartphone. This is helpful for mountain rescue. They can use a system called SARLOC that sends you a message that you can reply to that gives them your location. Really helpful for a speedy rescue. Not all teams have the use yet but it is becoming more widespread.

Lets assume you need to phone. Dial 999 or 112 and ask for Police/Mountain Rescue. If you can give them your location this really helps. Having a basic GPS on your person that can give you an accurate grid reference is superb, the best option by far. Carry spare batteries for your GPS as a back up.

If no GPS try to get the map out of your pocket and try to work out where you are. Notice the map is in your pocket with your compass, not in the rucksack.  Think back to your last known point and if that is all you can bring to mind, injury and fear can cause definite confusion, it did for me, it will be helpful. As much information as you can give the police controller is very, very helpful.

If you have no phone signal then you may be able to send a text message via this service SMS EMERGENCY TEXT SERVICE. Text use less power and so can often get through.

Keep your phone on for emergency services to contact you. I received several phone calls from Coniston Mountain Rescue, telling me their progress in getting to me. This was such a powerful boost to my sense of survival it made a huge difference to me to  hear that voice.

Personal Locator Beacons such as the Spot2Messenger are also helpful in raising the alarms and particularly helpful in locating a casualty that cannot raise the alarm. I now carry one as a matter of course. It plots a route of your walk on a website which can be viewed by people so your location can be identified with relative certainty. Just remember you partner can also see the web page so make sure you turn the device off before entering a pub for a few hours!!

If no method can be used to raise the rescue services you will have to prepare to wait for rescue and that may be some time.

TRY TO REMAIN CALM. STAY STILL

You objective is to ensure survival until the rescue team reaches you, so keeping calm is very important. Now is not the time to start running around. If you are lost or injured and you have spoken to the rescue services remain where you are, DO NOT MOVE. This gives the rescue teams the best chance of finding you, rather than having to search for you in an ever-increasing area because you are moving around. If you cannot raise rescue and can move, seeking shelter is helpful. If you cannot move or there is no shelter near by you need to raise your level of protection.

PROTECTION

In winter the biggest threat to life is not the twisted ankle but the cold seeping into your body as you wait for rescue. I had one of those orange bivvy bags which provided a modicum of protection. Due to my injuries I could not place it over my head so I lost a large amount of heat. Because of the length of time I did suffer from Hypothermia which did become serious later on in hospital.

A survival shelter is much more useful and not expensive to buy or heavy to carry. Carry one that is large enough for you and your kit. One with a window is also useful so that you can signal rescuers with a torch. The shelters warm up incredibly quickly turning a raging gale outside into something survivable inside. Use a foam mat to insulate from the cold ground below. The more you can minimise heat loss the greater your margin of survival.

Carry a spare set of clothing in your rucksack. If your clothes have become wet, change into these clothes or place the dry clothes on top of the wet ones if removing clothes is too impractical. Stopping heat leaving your body is the important point here.

ENERGY

Cold saps energy from a body like nothing else I have known. The effects can be debilitating and demoralising. I always carry spare food, emergency rations in my kit. It may be a Mars bar that hasn’t seen the light of day for 2 years or a bag of nuts or energy bar. It doesn’t matter what it is so long as it provides energy, both short-term and long-term and is satisfying. I had a piece of old fruit cake which really perked me up even though my teeth had been badly smashed. I also kept back a small amount of hot drink in my flask, which helped put a little bit of warmth back. A bottle of water even if cold can also help replace lost fluids. Sorting these small bits of pleasure out and eating them kept me busy, alert and brought a little bit of positive comfort to me, which was much needed. Time was marching on and darkness was starting to fall as were the temperatures.

GETTING ATTENTION

So, you have raised the alarm, patched up what wounds you could, got into some sort of protective environment and replaced some lost energy. Now all you have to do is sit and wait for the rescuers.

They will get to you a lot quicker if you can help them along a bit. They already have the grid ref, accurate or not, but there is much more that can be done. You can let them know where you are by signal. The standard way is by whistle, six long blasts with a minutes wait then repeat. But here is the thing. On a Mountain Rescue exercise last winter I was performing the task of the casualty, I think they were taking the mickey a bit, but that’s the way with MR.  So I was hidden on a moor, on a cold winter night with clear skies and no wind. I used my whistle to attract attention. When the team got to me I asked how far away they were before they could hear me whistling. The distance was just 200m, not far at all, it made me think. Light travels much further than sound, so I could have attracted attention more easily with my torch. Use the torch in the same pattern as the whistle. Carry spare batteries for the torch as a back up and have a spare torch in case yours gets lost or damaged. This would have been even more useful if the search was protracted and I had become unconscious. If I had placed the torch where it could be seen, even if unconscious, the rescue teams could probably still have located me. Just a thought, but one I will keep in mind.

CLOTHING

I used to hate all the lurid orange clothing that I saw about the moors and mountains, but my accident caused me to rethink. I was wearing my Paramo gear, lovely gear and dark blue. Take a look at the photo at the top of this post. The helicopter is hovering above me, shining a very powerful light on me to guide the team. Can you see me.

It’s impossible to distinguish me from the rest of the boulders.  So wear something that can be easily seen, reflective even. That is what I have today, its important to me given the experience I had. Being seen is more important than being cool.

AFTER

Thankfully most incidents end happily with the rescue of the injured or lost party. Serious accidents can be life changing events not just for the casualty but for the rescuers too. Mountain Rescue is made up entirely of volunteers who want to help people in distress irrespective of circumstances. They also are all self funded through donations and team members actually pay to be in the team. Often their help is needed in extreme weather conditions and over a long period of time. My own rescue took 17 people more 3 1/2 hours of time spent at the casualty site before I was airlifted off. This does not include the time taken getting to the site and finding me, or getting back off the hill to base to clean and re-place all the kit that had been used. It was cold, dark and wet, not the most ideal way to spend a winters night. They also put themselves at risk, albeit a calculated one to help those in need. Never feel you cannot call out Mountain Rescue.

There is one thing I would ask anyone who reads this, especially if you find the need to use the services of Mountain Rescue. Please do not forget Mountain Rescue when you are safe at home and out of danger. A thank you goes a heck of a long way to let team members know what they do is appreciated, and if you can proffer a donation to help the team continue then you will be giving back a great deal.

If you would like to add to this, please do in the comments section. I would love to hear of people experiences and advice.

How to fall off a mountain

Low Water
Low Water with Levers Water in the background, shortly before my far too rapid descent!

The first foray in to the Lake District of the season brought me to Coniston and a night at the YHA Holly How. I planned to walk a circular route from the YHA via Dow Crags and the Old Man returning to the YHA by the coppermines track, the following day. So a nice curry and drink took me to bed and an early rise next morning. There was still snow about and I had brought crampons and ice axe ready for an assault on the South Rake of Dow Crags, so I was eager to get going. A breakfast with fellow room mate was the first mistake as talk delayed the set off by 30 mins so I was on the back foot already. I left a route card with the YHA manager and walked down the track behind the hostel, leading towards Coppermine YHA. The day was clear, snow had largely cleared in the valley but still clung to the tops. I followed the track bearing left at the bridge and eventually reached the Walna Scar road. The walk was easy going and I was making good time to make my check point that would lead me to Goats Water. I met a few people on the way, a family with small children. I always make it a point of talking to people on my walks. One its polite and sociable, and more importantly, ranger training has taught me to ask in a friendly way where people are going to, so that if any mishaps happen, I may have a clue as to their whereabouts. Such a question brought disdain from the family mother and a grunt of mind your own business. A sad way I think to conduct a walk with small children in such an environment. Carrying on I walked up the track to Goats Water and then took the left path towards Dow Crags. Plenty of snow was still evident on the South Rake and I made my way up with care, sometimes waist deep. There were footsteps already frozen in place so I was not the first, nor I suspect the last. After around 40 minutes I suddenly popped out onto the top with Buck Pike to my left and a roaring wind ahead of me. The crampons had done well giving confidence and support where needed. Lunch was had crouched behind rocks, away from the wind and then a walk over to the Old Man on a mixture of snow and ice brought me to the cairn and trig. A couple who had walked up Brown Pike struggled along behind me, the female having no crampons was struggling with the icy surface, but carried on gamely.

My intention was to descend via Levers Hause to Levers Water, but on reaching the turning point a snow crevice made me track back and descend a little further south to regain the path. And that is the last I can really remember until I came around some 30 minutes later 100ft below where I was previously and with blood pouring from my head and my rucsac laying a few feet below me. I had obviously taken a bad tumble somehow and was now in some state of distress to say the least. The rucsac hand become separated from my body in the fall but had luckily landed a few feet from me. I managed to grab the rucsac and take out my phone which had survived the fall. Amazingly I had a good signal and dialled 112 and was quickly talking to a controller at RAF Kinloss who had immediately scrambled a helicopter and raised the local Coniston Mountain Rescue. He also had my grid ref which he had me check with my own map. After 5 minutes I could hear a siren which I thought would be from the MRT vehicle coming up the coppermines track. It was now 4.30pm, by 5.15 it would be dark and the cold was starting to envelope me. I dug out my survival bag and spare clothing and tried to make myself comfortable and warm. I always save a few cups of warm tea in my flask for the end of the day and these were welcome warmth in the dropping temperature. Blood was still pouring from my head and my chest and leg hurt so I knew I was in a bad way. A phone call from Caroline of Coniston MRT reassured me they were closing in and I was able to give further details of my position so that soon they appeared at the head of Levers Water a few hundred feet below me. At the same time the helicopter appeared from the direction of Coniston. There is no better feeling than the sight of rescue teams heading towards you, soon Caroline was with me and I was being questioned and examined as to my injuries. It was not the end of the ordeal though. Due to conditions and the fading light rescue was difficult and it took 3 1/2 hours to stabilise me and lift me off the mountainside. 17 people from Coniston MRT were involved in my rescue, 3 air crew and even the manager at Holly How YHA had raised the alarm when I did not return.

I was taken to Carlisle Hospital where I was treated for a broken ankle and leg, 8 broken ribs, severe head wound as well as various other bumps and bruises. An operation spliced my foot and leg back together with nuts bolts and plates, 12 stitches put my head back together, Xray and MRI scans surveyed the damage and confirmed nothing more was wrong. Days in hopsital gradually brought me back to some semblance of oneness. I am here due to the skill of the rescue teams, nurses, surgeons and physios. What went wrong back on that mountainside? I have no idea what happened? I can only assume that I stepped on to what I thought was firm ground and as I transferred my weight the ground gave way and I careered down the mountain, eventually coming to rest as my foot hit a boulder rock and prevented further progress. What happened after that was a loss of consciousness for about 30 miuntes. I know this because I know what time I came round and can remember what time I last looked at my watch as I was aware that the day was starting to close in and descent was in order. The fact that I had survival gear with me I think helped my cause and stopped hypothermia developing fatser, it did become a problem later on. Spare clothing and drink was also a godsend as was that all important phone signal. If the phone signal had not been there then the route card left with the YHA manager with an indication of return time should and did alert him to a problem and he did raise the alarm.

So what do I take from the incident.
Always leave a route card and time of return with someone who knows what to do. Always carry survival gear, spare clothing and food and drink. Carry the phone on me and not in the rucsac. Metal drink containers survive a fall better than plastic bottles. My Sigg bottle is heavily dented but did survive and still held the contents. Keep calm and await rescue.

Perhaps I could have chosen a different route down, but there was no signs that the route I had chosen was problematic. At the end of the day this was an accident, one that could have been deadly, but one which I survived with the help of my training and the expertise, courage and dedication of RAF, and Coniston Mountain Rescue.

The art of walking

The art of walking

What is it about walking that is so appealing? By walking I don’t mean the walk that takes me from the kitchen to the table or from the sofa to the bed at night. By walking I mean the walk that means a journey, of more than one kind, into a wilderness type area, with or without populated communities, and that involves the use of skills in navigation, route selection, landscape interpretation, clothing and gear selection. I have been walking now for almost 40 years and looking back there has been a process of development in walking. At first it involved little equipment and poor weatherproof clothing, poor nourishment and hydration, a bottle of Tizer or orange squash sufficed along with crisps and a ham sandwich, all held in a WWII gas mask sack. Woolly jumpers, the ubiquitous cagoule, gabardine trousers and an old pair of boots with steel nails in protected the body and provided sweltering walking conditions in summer as well as wet, cold, heavy clothing the rest of the year.

A walk back then would involve a 20 mile storm from A-B in lands that were new and interesting, but were blasted past like a closed railway station on a mainline. Little interest was shown in the surroundings or indeed in navigation. The use of map and compass was secondary to oblique maps drawn in cheap guide books and carried in hand the whole length of the walk. When a map was consulted it was a bewildering array of colours, lines and writing, none of which bore any resemblance to the surroundings in which we stood. But, and here is a big but, we never got lost, well only once or twice and we never engaged with the countryside or any of the people in it. Except that is on a Sunday morning in Pond Street Bus station in Sheffield waiting for the No.272 bus to take us out into Derbyshire as we knew it then. There were dozens of people waiting with us, I cannot remember anyone talking to us, nor we to them. What I do remember is with our mediocre gear and clothing, we didn’t look out of place, although it has to be said that I did covet one of those map cases that hung around the neck and made anyone look as though they knew what they were doing. Walking back then was simpler, cheaper and exciting.

As the years of walking experience grew so did my range of walking as well as my gear. Once you have walked in the same area a few times you need to move on to paths new. Adding new walks then became the game along with more advanced gear. A rudimentary rucksack was added along with a thermos flask, which always broke, the coveted map case and T shirts. But we still trudged from A-B, still took no real interest in our surroundings and still used the guide books, doing someone else’s walking and paying them for it. At some point a girlfriend and a camera were added, the girlfriend was blond, slim and open to certain suggestions. The camera was at first a Zenith SLR which was quickly superseded by a Canon AE1. Now the walk was more about taking pictures and becoming a landscape photographer. Strangely, walks never ventured on to moor lands or tops of hills, except Mam Tor, for fear of getting lost, so walks always involved valleys and clear, very clear footpaths. The photography gear increased but sadly not the landscape photographer’s career. This was extinguished by a father who knew the best thing for a 16 year old in Sheffield to do was to get a job for life in the steel works; such was his ambition for his son and his foresight come to think of it. Ten years later there were very few steel works left.

Then came the next phase of walking. No longer was the camera taken on walks, too much to carry. Gone was the girlfriend, she’d got fed up of all the suggestions. Now I walked with a wife and children. It is still a mystery how I ended up with a wife, the only thing I can think of is that she was at first open to certain suggestions, but quickly followed up with a wedding and children and ending of suggestion activities. The walks didn’t really change. Same routes, more gear, more crying from children, more panicking as I got lost, this time with a young family in tow. Walks back then were more like expeditions and always involved tears and arguments and a gladness to get back home and a resolve never to do it again, but if we do, not to do it the same way, which we always did.

Eventually, family and career took over and walks stopped, except for the odd bank holiday walk, amongst thousands of other families all whishing they had chosen to go to the seaside instead. I never looked upon walking as an escape from everyday life and yet that is just what I should have been back then. Career developed, children grow up and all was followed as night follows day by divorce.

It was at this time that walking came back in to my life. Only now walking was different. It involved highly technical clothing, boots, weatherproof maps and joy of joys, GPS. For a gadget mad male with time on his hands this was heaven. Saturdays were now spent in the new outdoor shops that had sprung up, looking at gear, the more exotic sounding names, the more expensive, the more it made me look like mountain man, the better. A whole range of compasses were purchased, not the new fangled GPS, which seemed expensive and unworkable and not purist. So now I could walk the same walks I had always walked, with same guide book, but have all the correct gear for an expedition in Patagonia, with all the correct unreadable maps and more importantly, look the part when trudging from A-B. It was at this point that my now wife came in to my life. Alison inhabited a different world to me, one of art and design as opposed to mine which was of business. She also came from a very different background. Posh voice, very beautiful and very simple outlook on life. Use what you have to hand, use time to experience new things and don’t blast past what’s going on around you. Enjoy the moment and relax. This was her unspoken philosophy and I had trouble getting in to step with it.

Yet over the years my walking has changed. Perhaps it is a consequence of time and age, my wife’s influence, whatever, but walking is now more about learning and experiencing. Sure there is still gear, which Alison has also succumbed too a little in the clothing department. My gear is now more selective and of higher quality and chosen by necessity, sometimes! I have three GPS devices, don’t know why, each one seems to promise ever more nirvana like happenings, but essentially they all tell me the same thing. My skills have developed hugely. I can now read and use a map and compass, even navigate with them and interpret the landscape. Ironically, I hardly ever use a GPS except to record my routes for my log book, which is an anorak part of walking that I like. I became a National Park Ranger volunteer for the Peak District National Park, something I never thought would have happened to me. This then morphed in to becoming a walking guide for a walking holiday company, another thing I never thought would happen.

Lately a strange thing happened on a solo walk. I now spend more time walking in the uplands, moor lands and mountains of Britain and on a recent walk around the Kinder Plateau; I stopped for a drink and a snack, and having consumed the food quickly started to rise to carry on with my march from A-B only to suddenly think why am I moving. I am camping out, so do not have to meet a bus or train, why am I in such a rush. Relax, take in the scenery, watch and learn. So that is what I did and that has made all the difference to my walking. I now walk within the landscape, being part of it at that moment in time. It has made all the difference and now I really do escape from the world. As John Muir put it.

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

Wild camping

Terra Nova Photon Laser tent
Terra Nova Photon Laser tent

My first wild camp took place last night in a wooded area on the edge of the Peak District National Park. It is illegal to wild camp in England and Wales with the exception of the Dartmoor National Park, without the permission of the land owner. So I sought permission from the land owner. As this was my first experience I ventured out at 6pm and walked for an hour until I found a suitable spot, quiet, out of the way, and protected from any wind. The spot was below and away from a rock outcrop, within a wooded area that was set above the main landscape and gave fine views across the valley, whilst maintaining privacy from unwanted visitors. I have to admit to being a little nervous and somewhat apprehensive about being found by young revellers or worse people up to no good. So being out of the way was important. I found a nice dry flat area protected by large rocks from the wind, which only needed a little clearing of twigs, then I set to work putting up my Terra Nova Laser Photon tent, which after a little practice earlier on in the day, went well. There are a few things that could be improved with the tent and I will review these in a later blog on equipment. The next step was to make a good brew with the Jetboil Flash and this provided a nice cup of tea. Then it was off into the tent as the light was fading.

This produced the first problem. How to get into a sleeping liner and a sleeping bag. First take off boots and socks, this proved to be relatively easy despite the limited head room in the tent. Then into the sleeping liner and bag. This meant some flexible movement of limbs, which I am singularly un-equipped for, and after much grunting I managed some semblance of the right pose with most of my body, but not all in the bags. I was laying on top of the Thermarest NeoAir mattress, which seemed strong and did provide good insulation. I had taken a book, radio and earphones as well as my head torch, so settled down to read for a while as it was a little too early to sleep.

I first noticed the thumping of bass music when I took my headphones off and was immediately ripped by fear the youth had arrived and I was about to be discovered and unsettled. Nothing happened and slowly it dawned on me that I had spotted an outdoor wedding function taking place across the valley and in the night air the music must be coming from there. Eventually sleep overcame me and I must have slept for a few hours although it was uncomfortable at times and seemed to be a little lacking in space. I suspect this is my lack of experience and i do not yet have the skills to have a prolonged nights sleep under canvas.

The weather was kind with only a slight drizzle in the morning. I boiled water for tea and sat looking out over the valley drinking tea and feeling rather pleased and changed by the whole experience. I seemed to have walked through a door that led to calmness. It was strange, moving and likeable all at the same time.

It took less than an hour to break camp and I walked through woods and across fields to reach a small village where my wife collected me. So a successful learning experience with good knowledge gained for the next step which will be a two day hike with overnight stay.

Walking back to fitness

Alison preparing to go walking in the Lake District during the wettest summer for 100 years

It’s the end of August 2012. The big news is that this summer has been the worst for rain, lack of sun and cold, for 100 years. No news to those who have been out and about walking and climbing. As I write this on the last day the sun is shining and there is a coolness in the air, the heather is in full glorious purple bloom and I am starting to think about purchases of winter walking clothing. All of which portents autumn just around the corner. Looking at my walking log I see that I have completed just short of 150km of walks with 5100 meters of ascent. I’m quite pleased with this, and how my body is starting to respond to all this exercise. Following my little mishap in February whilst descending Levers Hause in the Lake District National Park, (you can read about that here), my body has slowly and sometimes painfully rehabilitated itself to its new way of walking. More importantly my mind also seems to be growing stronger as there was a time when I was very apprehensive about where my feet went and probably made things harder for myself mentally. With lengthening and ever more adventurous walks this mental attitude seems to be receeding, replaced by a more robust “can do” attitude which is more useful out on the hills.

I have had the good fortune to be assisted in my recovery by my wife Alison who has been a tower of strength and superb support and by friends who have accompanied me sometimes on walks. The Peak District National Park Ranger Service of which I am a volunteer has also been crucial in helping me along the road to recovery.

Preparing to start the Derwent Valley Heritage Way in The Peak District National Park

I started the month wanting to put together a series of walks that were both challenging in length and terrain, not necessarily within the same walk, but certainly extending the boundaries on a progressive basis. I looked at some of the National Trails and was enticed by the Yorkshire Wolds Way & Cleveland Way as both are reasonably near where I lived, but time was a constraint so I looked around for a trail that offered distance along with the ability to do it in sections on a come and go basis. I settled on the Derwent Valley Heritage Way which is much nearer my home and is reasonably flat, meaning I could put in some mileage to strengthen my muscles, whilst at the same time not have to worry about ascents and descents. I have now completed the first 2 sections totalling 30km and have to say I have enjoyed the route tremendously so far. I will post a more comprehensive account of the walk when it is completed. Following the injuries there was a great deal of muscle wastage in my ankle, knee, leg and lower back as a result of being laid up, coupled with a refusal of the NHS to provide physio, due to cut backs and the fact that I was active before the accident and therefore capabale of getting myself active again in recovery. So walking distances over reasonably level ground is fine but doesn’t stretch the joints to produce strong ligaments and tendons. The answer for this is moorland walking over rough paths and across moors with no descernable route other than through tussocks of grass, heather, bracken and bog. Add a good ascent and descent and you have enough ankle, and knee turning opportunities, thigh building and hamstring stretching movements to strengthen any wastrel.

My walking log says that there have been several Peak District National Park Ranger Service patrols across moorland and up narrow cloughs, crossing streams, swearing profusely and generally regretting my choice of route. But it is having a beneficial effect with muscle build up, strengthening of ligaments and tendons and a reduction in body fat which built up over the period of incapacity. There is still plenty of room for improvement and muscle tone is still seriously lacking but confidence is increasing and this has been a serious issue, especially on descents, down rough paths and tracks. The walking has brought with it it’s own issues especially pain in the knee joint and lower back, this has lessened over the weeks with ongoing use but still flares up if I extend a walk beyond the limits my body has become used to. A day or two after is then required for recooperation. I am fine with these bouts of pain, they are nothing compared to the weeks of inactivity and I have learnt about vitamin (I) or Ibruprofen.

On a recent walk along Derwent Edge in the Upper Derwent Valley I was showing a walking friend the trig point at Back Tor. You have to climb up on to the top of a gritstone rock to get close, which I managed to do with a little grunting. I noted that my body was not helping the climb by being out of balance and instead of leaning into the rock which sloped upwards, it seemed to over balance backwards. I managed to correct this but it was a tense moment and a little fear reared its ugly head. On the descent there was a greater problem. How to get down? The rock seemed to move in my eyes and my mind could not grasp where to put my feet, there being no real handholds a very real panic started to gnaw at me and I could visualise myself falling. My friend asked if I needed help, that’s how bad I was. I ended up sitting myself down and shimmying across the gritstone until I reached a ledge I could use for a descent to ground level. It was disturbing to note how my mind had very quickly built up a doomsday scenario.

My body was responding to exercise and progressing well with good ascents being made in reasonable time. Descents were a little more precarious, both poles being in use and a heel pronounced gait very active in evidence. I needed to add a little more toughness to the walks and was finding it hard to achieve that in the Peak District, so we booked a few nights over the bank holiday weekend in the Lake District. Opting for Langdale as a base I prepared two routes, Coniston Old Man and Pavey Ark. I use OS maps and compass to plan out each leg of the route, noting times, distance and ascent. All this then goes on to a route card which also carries contact information, start time and most importantly when we would expect to return. Preparing the card helps me focus on the area and highlights any problems we may encounter. The card would be left with the National Trust campsite manager so should anything untoward happen help would be at hand. Monday came and brought rain, wind and a flat battery, so a walk up onto Pavey Ark was in order. It proved to be quite a testing walk in more ways than one, and was both good for the soul, mind and body. I will write it up later, but suffice to say the experience had all the elements of a thriller. Due to the flat battery we did not continue our holiday and so did not get to Coniston, something I have to put right.

So that has been August 2012 and the rehabilitation programme is in full swing. The muscles, ligaments and tendons are building strength, perhaps next is to increase the range of movement. What is more important or worrying depending on your point of view is my mental strength. I am still hesitant, not entirely trusting my body to stay upright, something I think will recede with time and effort. But there is also a degree of fear that was not there before, it can show itself when crossing the top of the stairs and I look down, the image of what could be flashing through my minds eye. There are also the dreams, which wake me up in a sweat, heart racing as I look around to find I am in the safety of my bedroom.