Page last updated at 08:56 GMT, Saturday, 11 April 2009 09:56 UK

'You must prepare for the hills'

Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team
The Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team is made up of volunteers

In the second part of her look at the pleasures and perils of taking to the mountains, Wena Alun-Owen talks to Ian Henderson of the north Wales-based Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team about the challenges.

I've been involved with the team for over 15 years: it's got about 55 members, and a large contingent - 35 people - will regularly turn out.

It's entirely voluntary, that's why we sometimes work with other teams, especially midweek when lots of people are at work and can't get away.

We are also blessed in north Wales because we have the RAF Valley rescue team.

Ian Henderson
If the nature of our mountain rescue has changed it is we deal with a lot more calls brought on by people not as skilled as people once were
Ian Henderson

Bad weather rescues are always part of what we do. People get into difficulties for whatever reason, and if they are then not brought off, they will suffer as a result of the weather. They risk hypothermia, or if they're injured there may be difficulties involved in leaving them out on the hills because of that.

I guess if the nature of our mountain rescue has changed it is that we deal with a lot more calls brought on by people not as skilled as people once were.

For example, calls from people lost when the mist comes down or they can't find their way when it gets dark, whether or not they have a torch.

The use of the mountains has moved from a niche pastime for walkers, mountaineers or climbers to something available to everybody, and rightly so.

We have national parks to provide access to these kinds of areas, but that does mean that people will effectively go for a walk in the park without perhaps doing the preparation work, getting kitted up, learning the necessary skills.

Climbers (picture:- Peter Macmillen)
Most climbers are well kitted out, but some venture out ill-prepared

Out of the half a million people who go up Snowdon every year, Llanberis team will perhaps have to deal with 100 incidents, involving perhaps 200-300 people: it's a very small percentage.

The majority of people go out, have a good day, maybe have an 'epic', but they sort it out themselves, perhaps they learn from it, and they go home safe and well.

The rate of increase of incidents is fairly small, year-on-year, and right now mountain rescue seems to be able to cope with the level of activity.

It hard to see how a professional mountain rescue team could happen unless there was an enormous injection of funding from somewhere. If we took north Wales for example, it's a very large area. It's currently served by eight teams, with approx 350 volunteers.

On a busy weekend all of those teams will be operational, from Cader Idris to Moel Famau, including Snowdon and the Clyders.

'Original ethic'

Could I be as amusing or light-hearted if I'd broken my leg and was being carried off the mountain on a stretcher?
Ian Henderson

My gut feeling is that currently we have a system that has evolved over many years, has been refined over many years, and still broadly operates out of its original ethic of mountaineers rescuing mountaineers.

Rescuers are probably motivated by, 'I'll offer this service because one day I might need it myself' - never mind the loss of face that would be involved in being saved!

We separate out the operation side of it [the rescue] and dealing with the families as much as possible.

Hikers in the mountains (picture: Peter Macmillen)
Conditions in the mountains can change quickly

We're very clear about the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and we remind team members of the symptoms after traumatic incidents and that they do need to talk to people about it, and we will provision counselling for them if required.

Llanberis team has it written in our constitution that we try to get across the safety message. We will use media opportunities to put out safety messages - such as at Easter, for example.

If you are going out to the hills - check the weather forecast, make sure you are prepared. It's springtime - the weather is very changeable, there's a very high potential that there will still be snow and ice on the top.


We run the team with voluntary donations pretty much. We need £20-30,000 a year, so we fundraise.

It's effectively like administrating an emergency service without somebody picking up the tab.

Some [rescues] stand out because of the technical difficulty. So anything that involves rescuing people from big cliffs like Lliwedd and Clogwyn Du'r Arddu are unusual and adventurous and challenging.

Some jobs stand out because of the characters involved. There have been people injured and yet have been enormously brave or stoic or amusing when faced with injuries.

It makes you wonder: Could I be as amusing or light-hearted if I'd broken my leg and was being carried off the mountain on a stretcher?

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