Have you ever had an experience where you felt too old and too stupid at the same time? I had mine this weekend when I was one of the instructors helping NEWSAR with a course they were running for the Wilderness Medicine Society students from Manchester School of Medicine. Being surrounded by a dozen people, all of whom are young, keen and have a combined IQ of nearly 2 million? It was interesting to say the least.
We started off by explaining that Mountain Rescue is entirely voluntary, funded by donations alone and respond to a huge variety of incidents, not just fallen climbers and hillwalkers. This was followed by demonstartions of some of the specialist equipment NEWSAR uses, such as vacuum mattresses for spinal immobilisation etc. After the obligatory coffee break we ventured out into the Clwydian hills and ran a few short exercises on the side of Moel Arthur, with the med students ‘treating’ and then evacuating the ‘exercise casualties’. This ran on into the darkness and demonstrated how difficult simple tasks can become after dark.
That night we devoured chilli and retired to the fantastic Colomendy Arms and it’s wide selection of real ales. Meanwhile, Llanberis MRT had a busy night rescuing a pair of climbers from Y Lliwedd.
Sunday morning saw us heading for Arenig Fawr, where I led the group on a walk to the summit, with several points of interest along the way. This was particuarly poignant as it was Rememberance Sunday and the summit of Arenig Fawr is the crash site of a B-17 Flying Fortress, which saw the loss of all six American crewmen on board. A freshly laid poppy wreath greeted us when we reached the summit cairn.
The students were there to learn more about pre-hospital care, particuarly in the mountain environment. People often forget that hypothermia is a year-round danger in the UK. You don’t have to be stood in a snowstorm for it to be a risk, just lying ona wet cold rock out of the sun on a July day will leach your body heat from you. Combine that with a relatively minor injury such as a badly sprained ankle and it is easy to see how things can become much more serious than they would be if they had occurred in a town centre etc. For example, I spent Friday lying in a bivvy bag on the side of Snowdon being a ‘casualty’ on a SARDA Wales search dog assessment. Even though I am fit and healthy, in a sleeping bag, on a rollmat and wearing several (hundred) layers, the cold wind was still sharp and i was glad to get moving again at the end of the day. (I’m also happy to say that all dogs passed their assessments that weekend, well done!)
Risk is part of everyday life, but how you prepare for it is the key. In the mountains I always carry a a headtorch at the very least, and often a First Aid kit and either some form of shelter or spare clothing. Being able to reduce temperature loss and to see where you are going after dark will help solve a lot of problems you might come across in the hills, and would prevent dozens of Mountain Rescue callouts a year.