Talking with another friend on a local Mountain Rescue team recently, he mentioned he was going to a local outdoors centre to do a talk on MR, response times, and all the stuff that goes on in terms of getting people off the hill when they’re injured/ hypothermic etc.
One of the most interesting parts of his talk was when he gets everyone to stand up, wander outside, out into the wood that surrounds the centre, out for a bit (this is in the dark), and then… “ok everyone. Sit down. We’re going to be here for an hour”. After a few minutes, everyone is cold. It’s dark. The question is asked: “What do you wish you had with you?”. An interesting perspective changer for some.
Why am I writing about this now?
I was wondering about doing the same experiment with some running friends. We go out on the hill, mooch around for a bit in the cold- during which we are fine- and then… Stop. Ok, we’re here for an hour. What do you wish you had?
All of a sudden the windproof that you brought seems like it isn’t entirely up to the job. Those gloves made of polartec fleece- when damp, really aren’t warm… and your feet go cold really fast. What do you wish you had now? This is not a pointless task in wondering what you might take out with you on the hill as a runner/walker/whatever, I hope it is a thought process that might shed some light on how long someone might be out there if something goes wrong.
Consider this: You’re on Bleaklow and have a catastrophic issue- ankle break, something like that, unable to move. It’s taken you an hour of straight running to get to where you are. Happy days, you have a mobile AND there is signal. You can drop Mountain Rescue a line and give them your location.
If you’re lucky, the phonecall was routed from the police to MR.
If you’re lucky, the information of your Grid reference has been communicated correctly.
If you’re lucky, they’ll Sarloc you- which geolocates your phone. Great. This has taken 30 mins so far.
The call goes out to the team- it may take 20 mins for the first members to arrive at base. Give it another 10/15 mins for information to be gathered, kit sorted and get into the trucks and away. Depending on the closest access point, that might be 10/15/20mins drive- so only now is the MR team *maybe* getting onto the hill.
In the best case scenario, from your original call, you’ve been lying there for more than an hour in the cold, rain/hail/wind etc. How warm are you? (I'm not going to ask how comfortable are you, coz you've got a broken ankle).
Considering it took you an hour to get where you are in running gear with a small rucksack/bumbag, MR are heading out with rucksacks full of gear. If you’re lucky, there is a fast party who will try to get to you as fast as possible- it might take another hour, by which point you’ve been on the hill for 3 hours, 2 of which you have been stationary in the elements.
Got enough in your bag to deal with that?
That was all *assuming* you have mobile signal and all the information is passed on efficiently.
Now imagine you head out onto Bleaklow, your partner knows you’ve gone for a run, and knows your route… but you have no mobile signal. You now have to wait for your partner to realise that you aren’t back at the time you said. Call you a few times. Get no answer. Start worrying, and eventually call MR.
How long have you already been lying there now? A few hours? Only *then* does the whole thing grind into action- and now they aren’t coming directly for you, they have to search the route you were going to do AND a few deviations around it- which might take a while. A few hours, to be fair… so you might be there, what? 4-5 hours before someone gets to you?
Now- imagine you *haven’t* told anyone your vague plans- but someone knows you’ve probably headed to Bleaklow. Add on to the fact that you aren’t home by now, you have no mobile signal, no-one knows exactly where you are or where you were headed, so MR get the heads up after you’ve been on the hill for 6 hours. They then need to work out how the hell to search 250square km of moorland to find you. The guys around Bleaklow tend to know the trods, the routes and the general nature of runners in the area, so the search won’t be totally without precedent, but how long might it take them to find you?
My main thought process here was that I was on Bleaklow the other day and for one reason or another, had to sit down with a load of other people as a hailstorm blew in. We had EVERYTHING on and were only there for about 15 mins before we could get up and move again, but by the end of that 15 mins we were COLD, and the best option for warming up was moving.
What if you don’t have that option?
I don’t mean for this to be a scary kind of blog, but rather, a thought provoking one. Walking and running in the hills with kit is generally a compromise. What works for you, how fast do you want to go, and what are the consequences if the worst happens. Some kit is better than no kit (mostly)- and yes, some people rely on their ability to get out of situations- to “not be there” when it really hits the fan- which is all well and good, but what if you’re with someone else who goes down hard?
I don’t expect you to be able to carry enough kit for both of you, but it would be nice to think that *one* of you has some stuff to keep you guys alive and not hypothermic for a few hours….
Note- the response times to rescue callouts in this blog are semi-based on real life. It depends on phone signal, how accurate the information is, how far out you are and a whole load of stuff. It’s taken 2 hours+ to get to a casualty 1km away from a road on a Bridleway from the initial call because of muddle information. Equally, it’s taken just under an hour to get to someone in the middle of Bleaklow from an initial call because of the quality of information.
Right, now you've read it and you might think I'm anti-runner- that is nonsense. THINK about the kit you might want- have a read of THIS Blog.
Equally- If you're wondering when is the appropriate time to callout Mountain Rescue- have a read of THIS one.
And Yes, I have written a generic response to all the comments I have been getting in the comments section, and across facebook at large. It's HERE.