Sunday, December 30, 2012

Confessions of an ex mountain rescue team member

The author is hauled up into a Sea King like a sack of spuds.

What seems like a lifetime ago, I was a member of a north Wales Mountain Rescue Team. Not one of the main Snowdonia teams-Ogwen or Llanberis-but a team on the National Park periphery which has an urban area within it's designated domain. Neverthess,the extensive area did include mountain ranges,moorland,extensive forests and popular crags. Despite this and despite the regular training exercises which naturally included crag rescue and recovery,most of the call outs involved searches for missing persons.More often than not in urban areas.

Naturally,as someone who had joined the team in the expectation that my skills as a climber might be employed from time to time in this area, I soon discovered to my growing dismay, that in effect I was only ever called on as a spare search dogsbody. Quite often in an urban area where I felt the use of a trained MR Team was being criminally misused.

The final straw came for me after two incidents in one weekend. In the first incident, a party of three French tourists became stuck in a local gorge and the other incident involved a climber who had fallen and been injured and who needed to be carefully recovered from the base of the cliff and taken to hospital.  Sadly,in both incidents the North Wales Police-who oversee MRT call outs-sent in the Fire Brigade! This was particularly galling and humiliating as the team had been practicing gorge rescue and recovery the previous weekend. It was clear the police appeared to have no confidence in the team.

After some acrimony between myself- who was fighting for a specialist crag rescue unit within the team-and what I saw was the lame and acquiescent leadership who were accepting this ridiculous situation, I packed it in with no regrets and walked away from mountain rescue never to return.

I was reading over Xmas that the new team which evolved from the team I was in, were involved in a 10 hour search during Xmas morning for a missing person. A man who turned up the next day. This set me thinking and took me back to my days with the team which covered this area. My main thought was, is it really the responsibility and duty of the police and MR teams to search for people who are depressed and who want to make a dramatic gesture or is this Nanny State-ism in over-drive? If someone leaves a suicide note and wants to take their own lives they will. If someone leaves a suicide note as a dramatic gesture then should we indulge them...that is the question?

In my experience, these people normally arrive home the next morning, colder, stiffer and sufficiently chastened not to want to repeat the experience. It's a interesting social question though. How far should the state interfere in an individual's life? Does the individual have the right to spend the night in a forest or in a ruined cottage on the mountain, without the agencies of the state kicking into action? I'm not talking about individuals and groups who get lost in an upland environment when the mist comes down and the weather breaks. Obviously,these people need the skills and experience of a MR team.And I'm not suggesting that a climber who falls and breaks his leg should have to crawl back to his car and drive himself to hospital. I'm talking about normal people who either want to disappear for a day or so for whatever reason and the lame brained who some might argue are worthy candidates for the annual 'Natural Selection Awards'.

Another incident which caught my eye was a couple-drawn from the latter category- who were rescued from a classic V Diff rock climb in Snowdonia. It took them six hours to climb 150' and they still had the same distance to go to complete the climb so they phoned 999 and asked to be rescued. You have to say FFS!!! It's obvious that these 'climbers' could be seen as falling into that overpopulated 'wazzock' category. If it takes you 6 hours to complete 150' of easy climbing on a popular crag then really, you should take up ten pin bowling or something similar Any climber worth his or her salt could complete this climb, even in bad conditions or rig up an abseil retreat. This is a V Diff in North Wales we are talking about, not Troll Wall!

Anyone reading the call out list for a busy team like Ogwen can see how pathetic many of the call outs are. People getting a bit disorientated on Tryfan in perfect conditions in the middle of summer and calling the police and asking to be rescued.

Unfortunately, society through its police and rescue agencies indulges it's lame brains. I'm sure that if- as in a lot of continental countries-people had to pay for mountain rescue, most of these individuals would think twice about making that call. Perhaps then they might engage their brains, use a bit of common sense,put one foot in front of the other and make that epic trip down Heather Terrace to the A5!

I could never again be involved in mountain rescue as I just haven't got the patience or the tolerance required to spend the evening searching a forest for someone who has had a row with his wife and wants to make a grand gesture, or, who has to set off one summer evening to bring someone down from the hill who is 'a bit tired'. I'm afraid the older I get the harder and more intolerant  I have become of wazzocks.

Certainly I have become pretty detached from what mountain rescue has evolved into in the UK over the decades. A worthy and valuable institution whose raison d'etre has become diluted and corrupted by social and political factors. Time was when climbers used to carry their injured comrades down from the crag on barn doors; these days,volunteer MR teams spring into action if someone twists their ankle on the Pyg Track or if a D of E party gets lost in Gwydyr Forest in August!!!...No thanks. Been there, done that and bought the T Shirt !

The author (left) in the dramatic rescue of a dummy from a towering inferno. Actually Rhyl Fire Station and I think the dummy was called Mick?

* I should add that my involvement in the MR Team was way back in the 1990's. I am aware that the new MR team which evolved from that team is a far different beast with regard to it's professionalism and healthy relationship with the emergency services.

1 comment:

  1. I for one am glad you are not part of MR anymore. These volunteers who choose to give up their time, often at expense to themselves, are what make this country great. I don't agree that the paid emergency services rely so much on the unpaid (yet often better trained and equipped) volunteer emergency services. If we start playing `God` and choosing who the teams search for then we are a disgrace to mankind. Perhaps the real reason you left is because you are not man enough to search a field for a missing, vulnerable person, for whatever their reason are there. Not all jobs are blue light, hanging off the side of a mountain, which from the around of things is what you wanted. I hope that you are never in a situation where you need the help of these unpaid heroes, and if you are, make sure you have your credit card close buy!