Friday, 28 February 2020

Go outside. Sit down. Wait.

I know there have been a few blogs/blogs that want to be articles/etc. out recently that have been talking about FRA kit and whether it is worthy of the name “compulsory kit”- and if it serves it’s purpose. Not really being much of a racer these days, I’m not actually going to weigh in on that argument- we have different fish to fry.

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.

So what?

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.
Now what?

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?

Ok, MR get to you, they have warm jackets, food etc, bad news is- the all the heli's are away dealing with heart attacks and strokes elsewhere. You now have to wait another hour+ for a stretcher to turn up, and then a 2 hour+ thrutch off the hill. Probably in the dark. But at least you’re a bit warmer….

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?

Now think about what you have in your bag. 

Ok- so this isn’t just for runners. Walkers can go pretty unprepared as well, and some runners can go very well prepared indeed.

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


  1. Not a scary type of blog at all. Really well thought out and ought to be compulsory reading for anyone heading out. Not just newbies either - I've been on the fells for 30 years and I don't know it all.

    PS: On Safari, blogger has messed up the formatting and lots of your paragraphs end with a long, long line whizzing off to the right faster than an unfolded OS map in a howling gale!

  2. Really good article Tim, you should submit it to the Fellrunner magazine. As many runners and walkers need to read this, especially the "is a hat a buff" brigade!

  3. Jayne- thanks for your comment... the formatting was screwed up because I wrote it somewhere else and then pasted it in.... should all be sorted out now.

    Mark- thanks for the suggestion. I'm not sure if they take submissions from non-FRA members! Personally if Im in a race and its a lovely day, I consider a Buff to be a hat. If I was out on the hill for a long day without anyone around, an actual hat would definitely be the better option!

  4. Which is a point... what *do* I take on the hill? I wrote about it previously- there is a link somewhere on the "popular posts" bit that is called "bloody irresponsible fellrunners"... have a butchers at that.

  5. Fra have already done the hypothermia in fellrunning and "what if" article.
    Always worth repeating though.
    I also teach hypothermia and a kit what if whilst sat around on my hill skill courses.

  6. So what kit should I have taken?

    1. Hi David - funnily enough I wrote something about that a while ago -

      Though to be honest, just carrying stuff isn't the be all and end all. It is having, and using - sound mountain judgement. This comes from experience, and you don't get experience by sitting at home and pontificating about it.
      I might have to write a piece about Mountain Judgement, though it is really a very subjective point.

  7. Great blog post! I’ll be taking bigger gloves from now on even if I never wear them out running.

  8. You should carry warm kit,food,water first aid and a means of cooking ,heating food and water as a minimum,small emergency sleeping bag bivvy costs next to nothing and packs down to pocket size and could save your life,headtorch is a must as well as map of the area you are in and knowing how to read it,give grid refs etc,a skill often neglected

    1. Ben, I agree with you to a point. However when I ran the Spine we *had* to take a stove, which I considered to be the most pointless waste of space, weight and energy of the whole thing. In 3 decades of walking, climbing, running and cycling, the only time Ive taken a stove on the hill was when I was planning to bivvy or camp.

      A sol bag and a headtorch are pretty damn important, but, as you say, knowledge of maps, mountain judgement etc. is essential. You can't just go out and buy that- it is built up over time.

  9. Great article Tim, thought provoking, especially with increasing numbers of walkers in the mountains. Will share. Thanks.

  10. Great article Tim, thought provoking, especially with increasing numbers of walkers in the mountains. Will share. Thanks.

  11. Hi there Tim, can I use this as an article for my Orienteering club magazine please?

  12. Very thought provoking. I recently went up to my knee in a bog in The Lake District. I unzipped my legs from my trousers and put on my waterproof trousers. But I spent the rest of the walk wishing I had a dry pair of socks with me! My foot got very cold very quickly. One more thing- two years ago, when I broke my leg rockclimbing and waited for mountain rescue (thank you MRT ��)the main thing I wished I had was painkillers!! Simple paracetamol. Now I always carry painkillers (and socks!)

  13. Survived many a wilder and scarier experience without needing to call out MR until we went on a family walk (with 4 kids) along Stannage Edge and a friend who was with us injured her ankle. So lesson 1 is it happens when you least expect it!
    Secondly that issue of bystanders getting cold and becoming casualties is critical. First thing we did was strip off anything wet and then put on all the clothes and protection. The wind chill was fierce. Was able to feel smug and well prepared but in the back of my mind was other weekend ambles where we'd not been so fortuitously well provisioned.

  14. So what should these folks take/wear? Ta

    1. Hi Dilydaydream - I wrote something a while ago about that -

  15. This is great, food for thought - thank you!

  16. Yeah, I relate to that. I carry enough to be able to help myself or 1 other serious non mobile casualty. Sleeping bag, gortex bivvi bag and R4 sleeping mat plus brew kit and emergency food as a minimum are always in my rucksack, plus decent first aid kit, trauma bandage and tourniquet. Yeah it's heavy and yeah it may be overkill but I know I'm safe and those with me are safe.

  17. Excellent article and very thought provoking, I own a company that builds paths in the mountains and as such spend most days in all weathers. We are fully kitted up, but when we stop for lunch breaks at this time of year after about 30mins the chill starts to set in and we need to start moving again to generate some heat. For me personally, self rescue has to be number one priority followed closely by the ability to see out the night in a static position. No matter how experienced you are, accidents, whether they are an injury or a nav error can and do happen as has just happened on the Glen Lyon hills.

  18. This is a really good article. I was in MR for twelve years and this is a good description of events around a rescue, certainly up on Bleaklow and how the kit one carries can save your life. Being cold is bad, being cold and injured is worse as your normal physiology doesn't react as well to the injury. For folks who are interested, read work by Griffith Pugh. He was the medical officer who led the enquiry into the Four Inns disaster on Bleaklow. Using lab-based environmental chambers, he recreated the conditions on the hill and assessed the thermal capacity of the kit the scouts had used. His data showed that kit to be ineffective when wet. This formed the beginning of investigations into how to improve hill kit leading to the gucci stuff we have today! Again, thanks for the article, it was really good.

  19. I grew up in the North Pennines, my father was an outdoor instructor and in the local MRT, days before mobile phones and GPS. Even now, I haven't forgotten his stories about ill-prepared people in jeans and trainers and the peril of exposure (exhaustion/hypothermia). Doesn't take much to be immobilised e.g. by a twisted ankle and help can be a long way off.

  20. This is an excellent blog post. What’s interesting is that most of this relates to everyday, not just out on the hill or on the mountain and it comes down to a valuable motto I was given be a well known organisation as a child. “BE PREPARED”.