#72 – “It looked like a canny way down….”

Gloomy weather moving in – Buttermere in the Lake District

After twenty five years, I can still remember those words being spoken as if it was yesterday –  “It looked like a canny way down….”   The person speaking was the survivor from a mountain accident that I became involved with.  Two walkers had been caught by a storm on a Lake District mountain, and had been benighted as a result.  Early the next morning, tired and cold, they tried to find the way down ….

Bad weather on the cliffs of the North Face of Ben Nevis

It turned out that it wasn’t such a ‘canny way down’ after all – the path they took led to the top of a graded scramble route, and the survivor’s companion slipped on the descent.  The mountain rescue team and a RAF helicopter recovered the body later that morning.  (To preserve the privacy of the survivor, I have been deliberately vague about my involvement and the location of the accident )

A wintery day in the Yorkshire Dales

A natural reaction is to say, “What did they do wrong?”  The answer is, well, not that much really!  I had been out fell-running the same afternoon, about 8kms (5 miles) away, and had been caught by the same storm.  I was wearing lighter clothing and carrying less kit than the couple who came to grief, but as a runner I had speed and fitness on my side – I was off the hill and back home about the time they would have realised that they were going to spend the night on the mountain.

My mate Ian dodging the weather on the Aonach Eagach

A torch might have got them down, but the narrow beam of a torch might have led them to the same outcome, the ‘canny way down’ that wasn’t.  A mobile phone might have saved them, but mobiles then were still fifteen years away from coming into popular use.  Sometimes circumstances start to conspire for the worse, and then luck starts to become important.

Bad weather brewing in the Lake District

A surprising number of people get caught out on our smaller British hills, forgetting that although our mountains don’t have altitude, they do have latitude (or even attitude!)  On top of that, our maritime climate often produces ‘freak’ variations, such as those we had recently – to quote from the Daily Record last week  “… It was 2C in snowy Aboyne, Aberdeenshire, where a Scottish record temperature for March of 23.6C was recorded a week ago.”

Mountains with Attitude! (JB)

Down safely in the dark

Now we are back in ‘British Summer Time’, there will probably be fewer walkers telling their rescuers that, “…It got dark!”  (It’s been getting dark every night for millions of years now, but walkers still get caught out!)  Getting lost remains a problem though; Langdale-Ambleside rescue team had a callout some years ago from a group of lost walkers requesting that a helicopter be sent, as they would otherwise be late for a dinner engagement (and if they are reading this I hope they hang their heads in shame!)

Weighing up the route (JB)

Great Close Hill near Malham

So, a couple of weeks ago I was out near Malham doing my bit for mountain safety.  Mark, from Leeds, has completed his Mountain Leaders training, and wanted to get some practice in before he goes for assessment.  We had a great time in T-shirt weather, working on a variety of map and compass skills.  When Mark passes his assessment he will be qualified to lead walking groups in the British mountains in summer conditions, passing on some of the skills that he has learned to the next generation.

Mark from Leeds on Great Close Hill with Malham Tarn below

Working out the next leg

So, if you don’t know a resection from a re-entrant or a compass from a contour, perhaps it time to brush up on YOUR navigation – stay safe this summer!

Staying safe! The author enjoying a coffee break (JB)

Scottish winter

Text and images © Paul Shorrock – Images tagged (JB) © John Bamber

p.s. For readers outside the UK (and possibly for some living here as well!) ‘canny’ is a word from the Northeast of England, meaning ‘good’ – so  ‘Aye, he’a a canny lad’ means ‘Yes, he’s a good chap’.  ‘Fell-running’ is running on mountain trails, from another northern word ‘fell’, meaning hill or mountain.

p.p.s.  Sometime within the first two days of this post being published, the blog will pass the 7000 hits mark – thanks due to Carol for advice, John for extra images, my fellow bloggers for advice and encouragement and all of you for reading.  Please keep coming back – a new post with a mountain or hill-going theme out every Monday.  Remember, you can subscribe to receive email updates by clicking the “Sign me up” button on the right.

About Paul Shorrock

I've been mucking about in the mountains for longer than I care to mention. I started out by walking my local hills, then went on to rock climbing, mountaineering and skiing. Still doing it, and still getting a buzz. I'm now sharing the fun, through my guided walking business (Hillcraft Guided Walking) and by writing routes for other publishers, mainly Walking World and Discovery Walking Guides. Just to make sure I keep really busy, I am also currently a member of my local mountain rescue team.
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23 Responses to #72 – “It looked like a canny way down….”

  1. Simon says:

    Enjoyed that a lot – informative and engaging!


  2. antiquityandadventures says:

    ” sound ” post as the scousers would say,


    • Haha… Thanks for that!

      Me Da’ would have liked that comment – he was born in Woolton, but moved away before he had the chance to develop an accent 🙂


  3. Kinder is one of those ‘lower’ hills that often doesn’t get treated with the respect it deserves and as a consequence Kinder MRT was always fairly busy – ranging from people spending a whole night wandering around the plateau ‘cos they can’t find a way off, to people breaking a leg etc falling down a grough. Injuries of course, can happen to anyone, but not everyone seems to realise a) how long they might have to wait for help to get to them and b) how cold they are likely to get in the process.

    And being a dog lover, I also have to say that I have been upset several times over the years, after seeing dogs close to hypothermia when their owners have been benighted/stuck etc in freezing conditions, but they hadn’t thought to carry any emergency snacks or a coat for their faithful companion either……


  4. I started carry a ‘bothy shelter’ a few years ago, and still carry it all year round – light, compact and big enough for Chris, me and ‘Mist’!
    A night in a big plastic bag with a wet dog wouldn’t be high on my list of ‘things to do’, but better than managing without – as you say, injuries can happen to anyone.


  5. Hi Paul,
    Hope you’ve got your 7000 hits + now! 🙂

    A great post with good reminders and warnings in it and also humour – I certainly laughed-out-loud at your comment about it having got dark every night now for millions of years!

    I remember the incident about the folks who tried to call out the ‘copter ‘cos they were late for ‘dinner’ and I hope they do read this! But that does seem to be one problem with mobile phones (although, as a lone walker, I think they’re good things in general) – that many people rely on the fact they have one instead of planning and navigating.

    Having said that, I’m not the world’s best navigator and tend to tailor my walk to fit my limited skills and the weather (either prevailing or forecast). I’ve done the courses many times but think I’m just too lazy to put myself in situations where I need to micro-navigate and just choose things where I can handrail my way off or use vague headings without risk (i.e. non-craggy stuff where you can descend anywhere and then sort it out so a vague heading will do). I do keep a really sharp eye on changing weather conditions when I’m on the hill though – I think that’s very important.


    • Hi Carol, and thanks for the advice a couple of weeks ago on tags – 7003 hits as I write!

      I think you are being overly modest about your navigational skills, though – you know how to navigate alright, and there’s ‘nowt’ wrong with being a bit lazy and looking for the easiest way to do things. Life is difficult enough as it is!


      • I think one of my main gripes about micro-navigation is that, if you’re needing to navigate, it’s usually a horrid day so I don’t want to be standing around for ages with my map and compass – I’d rather keep moving and keep warm. Also, apart from one Harvey’s map, all my maps are non-waterproof OS ones and tend to ‘melt’ in bad weather!


      • … and, looking at your blog, you get far more comments than I do on each post even if you don’t get quite as many ‘reads’ so you’re definitely doing something right! 🙂


  6. nittylizzyrozzy says:

    A canny read, thanks Paul, enjoyed it – and very good advice!


    • Thanks for that Anita, though you’re another one who doesn’t really need advice about which way up to hold a map 🙂


      • nittylizzyrozzy says:

        Maybe so. On a good day. On a bad day I need reminding that facing 180 degrees away from the direction you think you are facing is not a good idea 😉


  7. Good post Paul. As a supporter of MRT’s through an annual contribution, it annoys the hell out of me that people can be so stupid to call out because that are late for a dinner engagement and I have heard all sort of other tales like that as well. As a solo walker I always take a bothy shelter and a Spot messenger – you
    never when you are going to need them !


  8. stan bonnar says:

    hello paul and chris,

    loved the safety overview paul. well done! as usual, all my mountaineering these days, is strictly virtual – via you! nevertheless, you do bring to mind various times that i was an absolute idiot on the scottlish hills – (ben starav in golf shoes!).

    i remember once after a dodgy climb in fog and blizzard conditions somewhere in glen orchy, we came across a group of novices (15+!) on the top – with no clue about the way down. on the ascent, in panic, i had been sticking very close to my pal george (who went on to climb all the munros and most of the corbetts), and only through exacting and detailed navigation was he able to deliver us all from peril!

    what are you doing these days chris – apart from climbing hills and giving photographic scale to mountains!? love to see you both.



    • Stan (and Rosi)

      We’re long overdue for a visit!! We’ll have a consultation and work something out – it’s possible that we will be heading north to fair Alba this spring, but we are also engaged in selling the Shipley house to move to North Wales! More info to come 🙂

      Love and best wishes,
      Paul (& Chris, and t’dog)


  9. Yep – I moved to Carlisle in 1998, shortly after I met Chris. It was the first city I had ever lived in (if you can call Carlisle a city – it’s a big town really, where everyone knows everyone) After 14 years of city life, I can honestly say I’m ready for a return to country life.
    Chris (born in England) grew up in North Wales – she left when she went to Uni’, saying she would never go back!
    Well, today we visited the new house (We’ve bought it, but we are still in the process of selling the Shipley house) After measuring walls, taking photos, etc, we took t’dog for a walk up the hill just behind the house. We wandered round the remains of an Iron Age hillfort about 2000 or more years old, and looked down to Orme Head, then picked out Moel Siabod, Cnicht, the Snowdon hills and the Carneddau.

    It’s going to be a real wrench leaving Shipley- NOT!! 🙂


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