Sunday, January 21, 2018

Of Mice and Men: The death of self reliance on the hill.

Paul Finnegan and Meg
I was reading in the outdoor and national press this week about two mountain incidents which each in their own way, set me thinking about how we as individuals deal with a traumatic incident on the hill. The first incident involved a injured walker in Eskdale within the Lake District National Park. The incident was described in full detail in the Wasdale MRT logbook:

Upper Eskdale – Sun 14th Jan 2018 – Callout 2 in 2018

The team spent 3 days searching for a missing walker on Scafell Pike.
The walker was initially reported overdue from a walk on Scafell Pike on Sunday 14th January at 19:00. Team members who had already been to an injured walker near the summit searched in foul conditions but without success. Assistance was requested from Duddon and Furness Mountain Rescue Team and Keswick Mountain Rescue Team who did searches of Eskdale and the Seathwaite valleys. Due to extreme weather conditions all hill parties retreated around midnight.
The search resumed at first light on Monday with teams from Wasdale, Kendal, Coniston, Penrith, Cockermouth and Lake District Mountain Rescue Search Dogs.  Once the weather improved slightly a coastguard helicopter from Prestwick also joined the search but once again the missing walker was not found.
The search continued on Tuesday (17th January) with teams from Wasdale, Keswick, Kirkby Stephen, Duddon, Langdale Ambleside,  RAF Mountain Rescue and Bowland Pennine. There were dogs from the Lakes and as far away as Oldham from SARDA England.
Around 10:00 on Tuesday morning shouts for help were heard in the Silverybield Crag area in Upper Eskdale. The missing walker was found stuck in boggy ground. He’d been moving throughout much of the time and had injured both his wrists on the Sunday evening. He was airlifted to hospital by the coastguard helicopter from Caernarfon. A good outcome.
We’d like to thank all the teams, dog handlers, air crew, Police and others who supported the search, often in difficult conditions. 

The second and more controversial incident has found its way into the national press when in the words of one newspaper report.

Paul Finnegan, from Shotts in North Lanarkshire, was forced to make the heartbreaking decision to leave Meg the Border Collie behind in horrendous weather up a 3,074ft mountain on Sunday. The 12-year-old pet collapsed during the hike with her owner. Despite reportedly attempting to carry the animal back down the mountain, Paul’s family said he was forced to put his own survival first and leave the dog behind.

What I find interesting is in the different way the survival instinct kicks in in different people and how it produces wildly varying reactions and interpretations of danger.  For some, self reliance is key and some individuals will go through hell, carrying a serious injury to get themselves off the hill to safety. Others get lost on Tryfan on a summer’s evening and dial 999. I write this having been a member of a north Wales Mountain Rescue team but these days just would not have the tolerance or the willingness to put in the time and effort to ‘rescue’ numpties who are perfectly fit and able to get themselves off a hill. Especially in North Wales or say the Peak District/Lakes where you are never more than an hour’s walk from a road.

Using the first incident as an example. He’d been moving throughout much of the time and had injured both his wrists on the Sunday evening. So...he still had use of his legs then! When you think about Joe Simpson and his ‘Touching the Void experience. With a broken leg and stuck in a crevasse, Simpson spotted the sun peering through a hole high in its roof and, using ice axes, climbed up a steep snow slope towards the light. He finally pulled himself out, only to face a six-mile downhill crawl through terrain littered with more crevasses, and then through a field of boulders. He was dehydrated, in agony, and unsustained by food or the hope that Yates would still be at the base camp. He knew he was going to die. He just didn't want to die alone. The journey took him four days, and he was just in time: Yates was due to leave the camp in hours.

Then there was Doug Scott crawling down from The Ogre with two broken legs and in another incident, Ivor Richards took a fall from a climb on Lliwedd with Dorothy Pilley, broke his leg but insisted as a gentleman would in those days, in continuing to lead the pitch. He then walked down from the 3000‘ top, back to Pen y Pass. And yet someone, 100 years later, can’t walk out of Eskdale with two good legs!

As for the Paul Finnegan incident. Seriously, there are no words! Little wonder he has been getting flamed on the social media and in the comments sections of the press. Any decent individual would no more leave a dog to die on a mountain than a child! The most damning aspect is that there were TWO of them! How pathetic that two grown men could not carry a collie between them. There have been many suggesting that Finnegan’s account just doesn’t add up. A Sian Ludford offered... He did not spend FIVE DAYS looking for Meg,he left that morning and did not go back until FOUR DAYS LATER. He was also with his friend on that Mountain,apparently two men can’t carry a living dog but can carry a dead one. He then miraculously found Meg’s body within two hours after saying that he didn’t really know where he’d left her and giving the VOLUNTEER searchers the wrong directions and coordinates. Some of the searchers we’re searching from dawn to dusk for all of those days- not only did Paul not search until the Friday, he has not THANKED ANY OF THE SEARCHERS who were putting a lot of time and effort into it. One woman was searching every day with her baby strapped to her. I think he has lied to his family too and obviously they want to back him up.

My 10 year old Springer Spaniel, Fergus is still a regular companion on mountain jaunts and it is totally out of the realms of possibility that I would ever abandon him.No matter what the circumstances. He would be carried down off the hill draped around my neck like a fur stole even if I had to leave my rucksack behind. I guess this would be the case with 99% of dog owners. Finnegan’s dog was a border Collie for Christ’s sake, not an Irish Wolf Hound!

As Edward Abbey wrote ‘We live in the kind of world where courage is the most essential of virtues; without courage, all other virtues are useless.’ Sadly Abbey's message appears increasingly out of kilter with modern sensibilities. If in doubt look after number one and call for help at the first opportunity!

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Update-Tuesday 23rd Jan-2018 

I am indebted to Scott Finnie of Action4Meg for the following statement on behalf of the group.

“Important questions unanswered in the case of abandoned dog Meg

Action4Meg is a group set up by a number of people involved directly and indirectly in the voluntary rescue efforts on behalf of 12 year old border collie Meg abandoned by her owner Paul Finnegan on Beinn Sgulaird mountain on Sunday 14th January. The groups facebook page has garnered over a 1000 likes in a short period of time.

The group has three aims, firstly to seek to obtain answers to some as yet unanswered questions in the hope of providing closure both to those who spent time on the mountain searching for Meg and the thousands of people who have followed the events closely across the world, secondly to raise awareness of mountain safety for dog walkers and seek to lessen the risk of such an event happening again and lastly to investigate the possibility of a lasting memorial to Meg, on or close to the mountain.

The group does not condone, indeed we strongly condemn,  the attacks that have taken place against Mr Finnegan and his family on social media. We understand that Mr Finnegan is grieving the loss of his beloved dog, and no amount of name calling or speculation will bring her back or lessen the risks of other people losing their pets.

In respects of the night in question we do not seek to judge Mr Finnegans actions as none of us were there, but we do wish to raise awareness of how Mr Finnegans actions in setting out onto the mountain placed himself, his friend Mr Peter Ayre, the volunteers who undertook rescue attempts and of course Meg herself a risk, in order that people properly risk asses and prepare for a winter hill walk with their dogs

We would like Mr Finnegan to provide answers to the following questions which we believe will both provide closure and help prevent an occurrence.

A, Given that Mr Finnegan had previously had to retreat from a mountain environment with Meg during the summer of 2015 why did he feel it appropriate to take her on a far more risky winter mountain environment on Sunday 14th ?

B, What level of assessment had Mr Finnegan done of the risks the party faced on Beinn Sgulaird that day, and given what appears to be a lack of basic equipment such as maps, compasses, spare head torches and survival shelters why did they set off ?

C, Why was Mr Finnegan unable to locate Meg on the following Monday morning, especially as he was able to locate her almost immediately on his return to site 5 days later on Friday 19th January ?

D, Why did it take Mr Finnegan until Friday to return to the mountain where he abandoned Meg, given that his presence would undoubtedly have aided the volunteer rescuers who were on site looking for his dog ?

E, Why did Mr Finnergan and his family provide imprecise and confusing information to the on site rescue teams, when his actions on Friday 19th in locating the body very quickly after he arrived at the scene, indicate he had a very good idea of her location ?

“we’re asking for Paul to answer these questions, not so he can be blamed, but so that other walkers can see how mistakes can build upon each other with tragic consequences” said Scott Finnie a member of the Action4Meg group who was active in the search for Meg, and camped out on the mountain overnight during the search “we believe Paul’s heart wrenching decision to leave Meg will be causing him immense grief, but we hope he will understand this is about helping others avoid the same pain, and allow those who went out to search for her to obtain closure”

The group is hoping to pull together guidance for hill walkers with dogs and to establish a network of contacts who can provide, advice and possibly assistance to walkers with dogs who find themselves in a similar position. “It’s not always exactly clear in walking guides and magazines what additional precautions and equipment are helpful when you take your dogs into the hills, or which organisations exist to help” explained Scott “also in addition as technology changes and becomes more affordable, then there are new groups such as DroneSARforDogs, who can provide assistance in addition to the more established groups, we want to tray and collate and publish the information in one place” they added

Lastly the group is investigating whether a permanent memorial can be placed at the location. “we think that a monument to Meg would be a way of honouring her but also if it acts a reminder and prevents another tragedy then that would be a great way to remember her” concluded Scott“



  1. Could not have put it better myself xx

  2. A brilliant piece. As the owner of a Border Collie myself I know I would have emptied my rucksack and popped the dog inside it and carried her down the mountain, but leave her....NEVER! Is self-reliance a generational trait? I am clocking 71 years old and was taught by my parents to be self-reliant. Maybe the modern generation have too high an expectation of their entitlements. Whatever, I just hope that Finnergan is forever haunted by the thought that he abandoned his faithful friend in her hour of need and she died alone, cold, frightened and totally bewildered as to why this man she had loved all her life had just left her to die alone.

  3. I have found no reports of anyone except Finnegan & his friend actually seeing the dogs body. I am 5'3" tall 55 years old,not a mountain walker but even I know to dress properly for the weather conditions, to check the weather conditions & I would never leave my dog behind no matter how bad things for. I would carry my dog down even if it killed me. He is reported as being ex army & where he left the dog was very close to a wooded area but he didn't use that to build a shelter.

  4. Would you leave your best mate on the hill if he went lame. I hope that the answer would be definitely not. Would it make any difference if it was your dog. Again definitely not. In the pictures Finnegan looks well equipped but was he not carrying any survival gear? If he was then he apparently didn't use it. Personally speaking I could survive at least a night out in Winter with the lightweight gear that I carry and yes it would have done for me and my dog. Not impressed with Mr Finnegan.

  5. Brilliantly put!! There is too much in his story that doesn't tally. How could people search the area of the co-ordinates he gave them and not find her and yet he returned 4 days later and found her within 30 minutes "in the area of the co-ordinates that he gave them" according to the text he sent the rescuers? None of it adds up and I wonder if we will ever get the truth. However, I will question why 2 grown men couldn't carry a Border Collie bitch between them.

  6. Just plain idiotic! As a 5’5” woman I carried my rough collie for two miles (with rests) when he injured his leg. Wouldn’t have occurred to me to leave him. Also surely they had safety supplies? We used to carry moon sheets and orange bags when we went hill walking just in case. They must have had something they could have put dog in or on and stretchered it home between them. 2 men healthy enough to hike. When did people stop being able to improvise. Take a layer off and use that to support the poor dog.and if her poor legs were that poor why did they risk her with bad weather predicted? Just wrong! No respect for them at all

  7. Strangely my border collie was able to fit into my 40ltr ruck sack when it was was something I had checked as he got older but continued to walk the mountains with me. He was 16 when he passed away but his last summit was at the age of 15...He was my world and never would I have left him!!!

  8. This was not an earthquake or fire, but a situation you created yourself. You took the dog up there, you get it down! As simple as that, mate!