As a youngster, I would get home from School, get changed and go out to play with my pals.
Now I'm older, I get home from work, get changed and go out to play with my pals, but now I call it training.

Friday, January 11, 2013

If you gan up t'fells.....

I'm one of the luckiest people I know. Living in nearby Carlisle, I get to work, walk and run in the Lake District almost as often as I want to. I've sat down on warm rocks on Sharp Edge in the height of a summer heatwave, I've stood on Helvellyns summit in deep snow and blinding sun photographing what I saw, I have ran non stop for 7 hours in unceasing rain, and I've been blown off my feet on numerous tops at all times of year. I've scarcely scratched the surface yet in exploring my home county but consider myself competent enough to attempt any route you care to mention.

Currently there seems to be a lot of talk about the rescues, injuries and, unfortunately, deaths of Lake District venturers.  Mountain Rescue Teams (MRT) are reporting year on year increase in callouts. The number of such incidents is almost certainly due to the rise in the number of visitors, not an increase in their incompetence . TV programs based in or depicting the region, and well known public figures holidaying/visiting here help to swell visitor numbers, many of whom will take to  the high ground in search of a challenge, peak bagging, or just the view from.

But when a tragedy occurs there are calls for some type of regulation, for checks on competence, for insurance, or even for signage indicating danger (as when the youngster from Blackburn drowned in Ullwaters, deep cold water).

Such restrictions would of course  meet with huge opposition, as well as be unworkable and spoil the area and peoples enjoyment of it.

As with 99% of life - common sense is  the answer. And if common sense is ignored then personal responsibility comes into play.

If you become lost, ill or injured on a fell you should know what to do to get yourself out of trouble. The MRT will do their utmost to help you if (presuming you get a phone signal) you call them in.... But they are  not obliged to... they are all volunteers - the equipment all paid for and maintained by donation. They are not a government backed organisation like the ambulance service fire brigade or police, in fact, the chancellor helps himself to 20% of 'our' donations to MRT in the form of VAT.

Strolling up Catbells in a tee shirt at noon in July might seem an idyllic way to see a little more of the landscape. You might find it an easy stroll, so then you go on a little higher. Maybe then you stop for your sandwich and a lie down in the warm sun. But then, next thing you know it gets towards teatime and the clouds rollover in front of the sun. Spits of rain start, nothing much, but you're soon wet. The wind whips up to just 20mph but thats enough to make you feel very cold indeed. So you turn for home. Rushing a little you slip on a wet rock, twisting your ankle. It hurts  to walk so you figure you can halve the distance by going straight down off the fell toward the lake and the road that you know runs alongside it where you can hitch a lift from a passing stranger back to your car. but without a map you didnt know about the craggy near vertical drop and you end up cragfast, injured, cold, wet and quickly losing bodyheat. By dark you will be hypothermic. The road is only a few hundred metres down below you and cars are passing by every minute. But you dont have a torch or whistle to signal. You didnt tell anyone where you were going so by the time you are missed the rescue party will form without a clue where to start looking. Without help, by the morning....

Thats probably the worst possible outcome for worst prepared walker, but its only the second part that I conjured from my imagination. Tee shirted fellwalkers are to be seen daily in summer, and not just heading up tame Catbells.

So before you set off up a fell again have a look at the numerous books and websites that are out there dishing out helpful information on what to take along to ensure you stay safe, and know what to do if things go wrong. At the very least, ensure you have map, compass, whistle, waterproofs, hat & gloves, first aid kit, torch and food. It may seem a lot to carry with you, especially if you are certain you know where you are going and only intend a short outing. But what if you meet someone in difficulty? Better to help them by giving them all your spares while you set off back to civilisation for help than leave them shivering, wet and hungry.

Two final things -
1) if you see a MRT collection box on a shop counter - consider putting your change into it.
2) if you manage to carry a bottle of pop all the way up Scafell Pike... please try your hardest to carry it back down again. Even though you might be tired, it should be a much easier a task carrying the empty downhill. (and will save me having to do it for you a month later)

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