Thoughts on Mountain Rescues

I have written a lot about mountain rescue over the years, from my article on UKC that the Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team had a disclaimer added to emphasising that it was my opinion, through to many post on this blog about my involvement in actual rescues. As 2009 draws to a close i thought it a worthy to have a round up of both recent rescues and the year in general, adding my thoughts.

This morning I was woken at 10am (It is the Holidays people!), the call out was two males stuck on the PYG track in need of assistance. They instantly wanted a helicopter, however people need to realise that helicopters don’t fly into cloud for idiots. I have seen the RAF taxi hover into position through mist and cloud when a life was on the line but like everyone a risk assessment for a couple of scally’s stuck on a footpath in cloud, high wind and driving snow was not worthy of the RAF assistance.
A call out last night saw a similar situation some idiot had walked themselves into a dangerous situation on the top of Snowdon, and had fortunately lost the railway track on the way down, before he slid down the killer convex into Clogwyn Goch. This is one of the Accident blackspot on Snowdon this time of year.
Apparently Ogwen had five call outs in one day to rescue people out of their depth in winter conditions. It happens every year, unfortunately this festive period has seen some awesome winter conditions with hard repeats and first ascents of many North Wales Winter Classic. Baggy’s blog highlights how good the conditions are for the experienced climbers who are out there. However, inexperience, incompetence and bad judgement seems to prevail this time of year.
One of the Llanberis team keeps score on the number of jobs we have responded to this year on facebook, and he makes it 155 jobs to date. This is something of a conservative estimate, as others have mentioned numbers in the order of 180 to 200 callouts for Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team alone. As a voluntary organisation with around 30-40 active members this sheer volume of rescue this year, almost double that of previous years, is simply staggering. With  3/4 rescues a week throughout the year. This year as well as callouts increase the number of deaths on Snowdon has doubled, mainly due to the winter conditions earlier this year.
I highlighted this growing pressure when we were looking at around 100 rescue a year. However the rocketing figures do little to highlight the pressures on a team. Think about it, 3/4 rescues a week, is like having a part time job, that you carry out alongside your full time work. We are supposed to find time to train in and amongst all these rescues.
Rumour has it that a future review of Mountain Rescue in England and Wales is looking at trying to standardise and quantify Mountain Rescue, by having what sounds like qualifications or ‘Standards’ that teams must reach. Interestingly people who provide training in various MR techniques sound like they are at the forefront of this move. The fact is that every team has different needs and has different skills in its members means that any attempt to standardise teams will probably be met from resistance from those on the frontline, seemingly having unneccessary breauracy forced upon them.
My personal belief is that we do need to reassess mountain rescue but rather than setting standards, we need to look at various ways to educate people. The Mountain Safe group that operate in North Wales often get their message across to locals in North Wales. However statisitcs show that this information needs to get to men between 20 and 30 from the south east. This group doesn’t even have its own operational website, and search mountain safe on google, and you only find one BBC report. What this group needs is a more professional approach, and a budget from North Wales Police so it can do its job effectively. The fact that if you search Snowdon Safety you don’t find a hit to Mountain Safe organisation on google means that they might as well be pissing in the wind for all the good that hard talk is going to be.
I have heard similar accusation of the uselessness of the Wardens on Snowdon, and not just from me. They presently occupy the cafe building that is closed to the public. Where they pretty much hide all day doing god knows what (probably writing there memoirs!), when if they got off there seats and spent a couple of hours each morning advising people of the prevailing conditions on the mountain. Like say at the moment recommending people without ice axes and crampons don’t venture beyond certain points because of the icy conditions, might well help reduce winter incidents.
A seemingly growing issue in the last couple of years, although I have no official figures at present, is that as a rescue team, Llanberis has responded to a growing number of Asian walkers in difficulty over the last few years. From an insiders perspective, and someone who spends a lot of time in and around the hills, it does seem like a disproportionate number. As such does someone or some body need to engage with this section of the population and offer advice and training. However, having been involved with the BMC which has a equal oppotunities committee which is working on trying to do just that, however breaking into the Asian community isn’t as easy as it might sound.
Perhaps we needs a national advertising campaign like the RNLI or Coastguard, however as a voluntary organisation, made up of many individual teams it is hard to pull together to fund such a scheme. 
I have heard talk of a need to fine some of the worst offenders for pointless callouts caused by walkers own stupidity. However the big counter argument is that people won’t call the team out instead get into worst situations by trying to save themselves some cash. Although this could be eased by offering say a ticket scheme where walkers can purchase ‘insurance’ for the day in car parks at a £1-3 a day. The argument that says that people would not call due to the cost seems sheer speculation, as I am unsure of this being cited as an issue in places like America and Europe, where charging is a common thing along with people having insurance.
For me though despite the growing number of rescues, it is great to see North Wales so busy. We after all rely heavily on tourism, and without all these people our economy would become even more depressed. 
Just remember though, these are just my opinions and thoughts on rumours and by no means the official opinion of any rescue team. I am a climber first, instructor second and rescuer third, as such my opinion differs from most on the llanberis rescue team

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