Looking back at the photos from 2016 I came across this one taken of fellow team mates on a very cold January Sunday at 08:00 hours at Soldiers Lump triangulation pillar on Black Hill.
The reason why we had got up at an ungodly hour on a cold, frozen, snowy day was to walk in the dark, across the moor from Holme Moss Transmitter Station and set up a transmitter station and checkpoint at Black Hill for the fell runners taking part in that years Trigger Race from Marsden to Edale.
Woodhead Mountain Rescue team members man all the checkpoints and provide safety cover, especially needed on days like this picture shows. The fell running community are great supporters of Mountain Rescue and this is one way that they raise funds for the team; donations that are badly needed.
Winter is still holding back in England, but it will arrive and with winter comes accidents and people in distress. Already this year Woodhead Mountain Rescue have rescued a lost walker in harsh winter conditions and rescued a badly injured climber in the middle of the worst storm this year.
All this takes money, not to mention the time members of any Mountain Rescue team give voluntarily, leaving jobs and family to go and help total strangers. Money is critical in a voluntary service. It buys fuel for vehicles, provides funds for premises and training, and buys specialist kit for team members. Team members also buy their own kit too and the fuel to get to a callout. Each year a team knows it has to raise enough money to remain operational, if they aren’t there, who else is going to go out and find a lost walker, rescue the injured climber. That amount can be anything from £25000 upwards. It’s a lot.
Raising the money takes various forms. Team supporters, without whose help teams would not be able to function, hold collection days at local venues, sell merchandise, provide hot food and drinks at fell race events. Pubs and shops put a collection tin on the counters for locals to drop the pennies into. Local children raise funds through village fairs, school events. Local and national businesses provide donations to buy equipment.
All donations are welcome. One of the most treasured is from the people teams are asked to go and help. Mostly individuals who send a cheque and a thank you note; those are really nice to read. Sometimes, as in a recent Mountain Bike accident, friends of the injured party do something special, like cycling the Pennine Bridleway to raise funds for the team, a really wonderful way to give something back and fantastic to receive. One person sells a special beer and has raised thousands another sells neck buffs with team logos on. Team members play Father Christmas, the Easter Bunny, Guy Fawkes in their communities at traditional events and helps raise funds. People give through websites such as Just Giving which increases the amount donated with Gift Aid. Donations range from the thousands to a 50p coin pocket money from a child. It all helps.
To those who give, it makes a huge difference to someones life, literally. Without your donations Mountain Rescue could not do what it does. What you do is vitally important.
A few years back Alison and I were walking up Cut Gate on a cold autumn day that had a wind cutting in to you with icy strokes. As we approached Mickleden Edge Alison wandered off to have a look at something and I carried on a little then waited for her to catch up. As she approached me she seemed to be walking slowly and a little ungainly. I asked her if she was OK and she said her legs were tired and she had no energy, she said this with a slurring voice. We had not been out that long and the day was dry, but it struck me that she might be suffering from light hypothermia. I got her out of the wind and gave her some hot tea to sip and cake to eat, whilst putting on a few extra layers. I could see the woods around Langsett Ranger Station, it was ridiculous this could be happening, we had hardly walked any distance, Alison had recently run the New York Marathon so was not unfit, but here we were dealing with the effects of wind chill on the human body. Alison recovered quickly and we made our way back to Langsett. It turned out that some medication she had been given had thinned her blood making her more susceptible to cold.
Norah Leary was not so fortunate. The seventeen year old rambler from Sheffield froze to death on Broomhead Moor on the 14th December 1937. A rescue party made up of police, local people and gamekeepers, found her body beneath a 10ft snow drift. The report, above, from the Manchester Guardian on the inquest gives further details. A photo here shows the rescue party bringing the body down Mortimer Road towards Ewden Beck. The clothing on the rescue party would have been very similar to the clothing worn by the ramblers.
A recent rescue of a walker near to the Cut Gate path could have had a very different outcome if Woodhead Mountain Rescue had not found them in time. A day walk in good conditions had turned into a life threatening event in harsh winter conditions with snow and sub zero night time temperatures. Being correctly equipped can make the difference between getting home safe or not at all.
The Dark Peak makes you pay for simple mistakes, especially in winter. The area can be at its most beautiful at this time of year, it can also be at its most brutal. So far the winter has been mild, many of us had wished for better winter conditions, hopefully it will come, for there is nothing better than walking across moorland in snow with a blue sky above.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.