'Is your iPhone charged Jock?'
I was reading about a mountain rescue incident in north Wales over the weekend, where the local MR team located a lost walker through a GPS tracker on his mobile phone and led him down from the ferocious heights of Moel y Hydd; a deadly 2000’ peak in the Moelwyns which is about a quarter of a mile from a road leading up to the Cwm Stwlan Dam. Yes...I am being a tad ironic here! I tend to think when I read of these incidents, ‘what would Jock Nimlin think?' Nimlin was a tough working class Glaswegian who in common with tens of thousands of working class outdoor folk in the thirties, were working like demons in shipyards, factories and busy docks in the week, and who would then take off on a Friday night by train, bus, push bike or on foot,into the mountains.
There they would doss in howffs (a rudimentary shelter in a cave or under a boulder) under tarps, in tents or even just under the stars. And yes...even in the middle of winter.
In the mountains they would walk and climb in their rudimentary gear in all weathers, eating simple fare and come Sunday night they would head back to the conurbations for another week of poorly paid toil before repeating the cycle. If they or any of their party should suffer an accident then they would extricate themselves or their comrades- if at all possible-from the situation. Even recovering their own dead from the mountains.
I’m not saying this was the good old days by any stretch of the imagination but really, how far from those days of exploration and self reliance have we come. Look at the website of any busy MR team and you will gather just how pathetic a constituency the mountain activist has become. Phoning 999 when they get a little tired on Tryfan or they twist an ankle on the Pyg Track. As for requesting help when they get lost in somewhere like the Moelwyns; this is Wales for Christ sake not the Yukon or Alaska! You can reach a road from just about anywhere in a hour. OK, you might wander about in circles for a bit but so what. Have a read of Rebecca Solnit’s 'A field guide to getting lost, a treatise on both physical and spiritual dislocation from the cosy, boring little comfort zones we inhabit.
These days we have pretty sophisticated clothing, hi-tech outdoor gear, smart phones and GPS systems and are swarming all over the mountains like a flies. It’s hard not to bump into another individual or party in the honeypot areas where the majority of weekend walkers and climbers tend to congregate.
Politically I’m not somewhere who has any sympathies with privatization in any form but I often think that a continental commercial approach to mountain rescue where an individual pays for rescue either through insurance or out of their own pocket would reintroduce a degree of self reliance which is somewhat sadly lacking in so many outdoor activists these days. Can you imagine if Jock Nimlin was alive today, him calling out the MR team on his iPhone if he sprained his wrist doing a climb on the Cobbler or if the mist came down when he was making his way off the Buchaille EM.
And if anyone opines, 'Yes...that’s easy for you to say, sitting at home in front of a laptop but I bet if you had an accident in the mountains or got lost, you would be the first person to call the rescue services'. Well, actually, a couple of years ago I took a fall soloing a VS climb in the Arenigs which are relatively speaking remote and unfrequented. Knocked myself out and came to with a bloody swelling the size of a grapefruit the on the back of my head. And yes, despite being concussed to the point that I couldn’t remember how to use my mobile phone, I did manage to get off the mountain back to my car. Crazy I know. If only I could have remembered how to use my phone I could have relaxed for an hour or so and been carried down!