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 ….
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 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.
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.
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.”
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!)
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.
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!
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.