Friday, July 26, 2013

The Beacons:Death in the afternoon.


I was sad and angry when I heard about the young soldiers who died in the Brecon Beacons last week due to heat exhaustion. Two died at the time and another remains seriously ill in hospital.*( Sadly, the third victim has died this morning 31/7/2013). Angry, because it happens all too often and ironically,recent victims who have died in Wales have come from Wales. It may be a tenuous link comparing recent incidents to what happened in WW1 but then as now, gormless chinless wonders wearing the stripes appear to have sent young working class men to avoidable deaths through sheer stupidity.

I was heartened to read that the Powys coroner believes that the victims’ families have a case against the MOD. According to a statement in the Independent.... ‘Louise Hunt, the Powys coroner, said that article two of the Human Rights Act, which guarantees a “right to life,” would play “an important part” in the inquest.She said: “The state has a duty to protect an individual’s life.“The importance of looking into the wider circumstances of these deaths is that article two of the Human Rights Act will come into play.“Any verdict must incorporate failings if any are identified.”

A few years ago another young man from Wales died of heat exhaustion through an army ritual known as ‘Beasting’. In the latest incident it was an exercise known as ‘The Fan Dance’- appertaining to the Brecon mountain, Tal y Fan where the ill fated 'exercise' took place. It seems that the clowns in the armed forces believe that giving these life taking exercises some sort of rugger-bugger name somehow makes it a bit of a laugh.

The very real debilitating effects of carrying out a mountain activity in what are by UK standards are ‘extreme’ temperatures is not an experience I’m unfamiliar with. A couple of decades ago I was in a North Wales mountain rescue team. I was up bright and early on a hot July morning and packing my rucksack for a day’s climbing with my partner Scott. We were planning to do the classic VS climb, Mur y Niwl in the Carneddau. I took a call just before I left from my MRT leader. There was a body which needed to be recovered from a flooded quarry pit known as The Blue Pool just down the road from where I was living. Could I organize the stretcher recovery of the body which because of the nature of the terrain was quite difficult.

Scott and I were the first to arrive and as we scrambled over the brow of the quarry, there he was. A middle aged male who through either a bizarre accident or bizarre suicide, had driven his moped over the edge of the 300’ cliffs and was now floating on the surface. Nothing we could do until the police divers from Widnes arrived and the rest of the MRT. To cut a long story short, after spending until early afternoon setting up a rope system to get the victim back up and packed off to the mortuary, Scott and I finally headed to Ogwen where we planned to start our walk up to Mur y Niwl.  A pretty tiring hour and a half plod in any circumstances, especially carrying a heavy rucksack full of climbing gear. As we approached the lake, we still had to get over the saddle which links Pen Helgi Ddu with Carnedd Llewellyn and from there, scramble down the steep mountainside to reach the amphitheatre beneath Mur y Niwl. By the time we reached the lake we said to ourselves.’sod this...let’s go and do a climb in The Pass’.  So we turned around...plodded back to the car and by three we were looking up at another classic VS, Brant.

By now I’d long since drained the last dregs of my water and had been out in the uplands under a blazing sun, walking, climbing and hauling up a body for over 8 hours. By the time I climbed the last pitch of Brant I was climbing on auto pilot. I was quickly losing the plot and wandered way off line and finished on something which felt a lot thinner and harder than VS. I practically tumbled down the descent gully and drove home in a cosmic haze. Stopping off at Spar-where Cotswold Rock Bottom is now located-two bottles of lucozade were guzzled down without touching the sides and immediately brought back up. By the time I got home I was delirious and rambling-nothing new there. Unable to drive, my wife was fortunately able to take the wheel and drive Scott to meet his lift while I lay on the floor,shivering, hallucinating and mumbling.

As I write, it’s been mostly dry, sunny and hot in North Wales for the most of July. The outside thermometer in the sun trap yard outside the house has reached 109f although the mean temperature in the shade is more usually in the high 70’s-low 80’sf. That’s around 25/26 in Celsius. The soldiers who died were being forced to ‘yomp’ over Tal y Fan in uniform, carrying rucksacks weighing up to 65lb and in full sun at 80f. That’s not an exercise, that’s torture! I would imagine that the families have a cast iron case against the MOD and the clowns who sent them to their deaths. It would be some compensation for them to think it couldn’t happen again to other families but you just know it will.

The Blue Pool: Thankfully,not another MRT fatality recovery but it could have been! 

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