Yesterday I fielded a fair few calls from the media after the accident in Torridon in the North West Of Scotland where an Avalanche took another life. My thoughts as always are with those involved and especially the family. This is a heavy winter for weather, high winds and heavy snowfall can make conditions hard to judge. Many climbers seek new areas to climb some in the remoter areas of Scotland places that I also love in far North West. Descents from climbs and summits in bad weather are tricky and there are few other climbers in the remoter corries ,communications can be and are poor, help can be far away. Yet these are incredible places to be and you only have to look at the media this weekend to see how many had a wonderful walking weekend climbing and skiing safely in this unique country.
I was alerted to a media page by a good friend one of the unsung heroes of Mountain Rescue a mother who has at times had 3 of her family on Rescues at one time over many years . She was horrified at the response of some of the comments page whose comments really upset her. Much was the usual but some was too hard to repeat on this website and this is to a family who have just lost a loved one is completely out-of-order. Who are we to comment but before we put a pen to paper we should think about what we say, especially if our knowledge is limited on the subject. Many have no clue that one-third of the Rescues involve non – mountaineering incidents. Many are vulnerable people who go missing and teams work unpaid in the wildest of weather. These could be your mother, father or relative! In these days of a society that often has little care Mountain Rescue is a wonderful service. Every weekend the Hospitals are full of drunk, drugged and partying people who have overdone it in the city’s and are using the Emergency Services, Medical, Police and social services at huge cost, little is said at this huge burden on the tax payer. Am I am wrong to compare this to how many die every weekend in our cities and this is a tragedy but accepted now by a passive minority. It does not make what happened this weekend in Torridon any easier for all concerned but surely they should be left to grieve in peace. The Rescue Teams respond to help do it because for most that could be them that has fallen and they have the skill and knowledge to help those in trouble on our mountains.
After a long difficult call out the Agencies, Team and all involved are exhausted and once the adrenalin of a rescue is over it is time to recover and recharge the batteries. We have an amazing Service especially in the remoter areas made up of local people who carry out a difficult task with great courage. It is not over after a Rescue, gear has to be sorted and ready for another incident and we go home to our families and try to act normal despite what we may have seen. Often relatives arrive and want to speak to the Team this is never easy and rarely is there any criticism of what occurred we are all mountaineer, many of the contacts made with a relative in a fatality are for life. These will be hard days for all concerned.
I have spent most my life dealing with such incidents and have a commitment to Mountain Safety and Education, It is an ongoing task but we have so many things to assist us nowadays and have moved on and despite the annual tragedies I feel we are improving our education and training. There are huge advances in training and avalanche awareness and the new Avalanche service in Torridon is a great addition and I hope it gets funding to continue. The Scottish Avalanche Service is a must for the daily forecasts in all the climbing areas. The Weather forecast again daily and free all, things have moved on but accidents happen and if we can learn from them we should. I ran two teams within the RAF Mountain Rescue and most weekends we were in new area all over Scotland. It was hard trying to train for the mountains and especially Call outs in wild weather. It was tricky also trying to ensure that the up and coming team member’s/leaders ambition did not run away with their ability and experience. These were hard too call at times because to operate in winter in the worst of weather you have to be at one with the mountain environment and even the experienced get caught out. The mountains teach you so many lessons all the time.
We must take great care when out in the mountains for those who wait at home for us. Yet for many thousands it was a wonderful weekend in the mountains despite the weather forecast to those who do not understand the winter weather.
999 Emergency Text Service – are you connected you owe it to your family and climbing partner.
Walkers who visit areas with bad mobile phone access can now register with a new service that allows 999 calls to be made via a text message.
Heather Morning, safety adviser with the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, is urging walkers and climbers to register for this service in advance and not to wait for an emergency. She says,
“If you cannot make voice calls, you can now contact the 999 emergency services by SMS text from your mobile phone.
“This is going to be particularly useful for those needing 999 assistance in the hills when mobile reception is poor and there is not enough signal to make a call.”
The emergency SMS service was established originally for deaf, hard-of-hearing and speech-impaired people. It allows users to contact the UK 999 services by sending an SMS text message.
Mountain Rescue Services in the UK are usually coordinated by the police.
Please be safe enjoy the winter I sit here impatient and missing the joy of winter but also aware that we must use all the tools available to make our journey as safe as possible.
Mountains will be always climbed, walked ,skied and used by those that love the wild places especially in winter – why do we love it? For me its is the wildness the weather the beauty and the remoteness and challenging the elements in our own feeble way. Even a short walk in wild weather reinvigorate us and I cannot wait to get out again as soon as I recover from my operation. I have spoken to many families who have lost a loved one and I am friends with many still and have lost over 10 friends over 40 years in the mountains. Yet like so many I still love the winter and always will.
Please take care and be as safe as possible we have a unique Mountain Rescue service in the UK made up the UK’s finest people, who work for others unselfishly. Very rare in this selfish modern society.
W.H. Murray sums it up
“It is in winter that the Scottish Mountains Excel
No one who has seen the skyward thrust of a snow peak, girdled by its early morning cloud and flushed with the low sun, will dispute with me.
Follow a long ridge of encrusted snow to its sunset tower and tread the summit at moonrise.
This is Scottish winter climbing! ”