Page last updated at 06:41 GMT, Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Festive season warning to mountain walkers and climbers


Tim Bird from Mountain Safe says small precautions can evade disaster when hiking over the holiday period

A teenager who nearly died after a mountain fall is supporting a campaign urging walkers to put safety first.

This year has seen a record number of call-outs in Snowdonia, and officials are targeting their message in particular at the festive season.

Ben Halley, 18, spent two days on life support with serious injuries after he fell some 80ft (24m) on Tryfan in the Ogwen Valley.

He backs mountain rescuers, who say even the experienced can be caught out.

Rescue numbers have doubled over the past year with Llanberis Mountain Rescue attending 170, Ogwen Valley 120 and Aberglaslyn 33.

The teenager, from Bromsgrove in Worcestershire, said he was supporting MountainSafe because he knew only too well that even experienced climbers can be caught out.

RAF rescue helicopter in Snowdonia (picture: Peter Macmillen)
I was frightened I would die
Ben Halley, rescued climber

He said of his experience last April: "I had been up Tryfan at least five times before, and I knew it well.

"I was with my uncle and two of his friends, and we were all quite experienced and had the right equipment."

He remembered leading on the scramble, and then he was falling.

"I don't know exactly what happened, but I think I may have been hit on the head by a falling rock, which then sent me falling," he said.

The group were about 2,750ft up (840m) at the time.

"The people I was with saw me flying past them. I think I fell about 30ft, landed on a ridge, then fell a further 40 to 50ft," he said.

When he landed he was just 6ft (1.83m) from a 1,000ft (300m)drop.

Fractured skull

Rescuers, who battled high winds for six hours to get him down to a point a helicopter could reach him, did not think he would survive.

An rescue helicopter from RAF Valley flew him to Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor where he spent two days on a life support machine.

His injuries included a fractured skull, bruised kidneys, a lacerated liver, ruptured spleen, four broken ribs and a punctured lung.

"I wish to say a personal thank you to the people who rescue me, as I have no doubt that they saved my life," he said.

"I will be on medication for the rest of my life, but I'm alive... although there was a point at the hospital, just before I went into theatre, where I felt I should say goodbye to my family as I was frightened I would die," he added.

Incidents double

MountainSafe is a joint campaign between a number of organisations, including North Wales Police and Snowdonia National Park Authority.

Tim Bird, of North Wales Police, who is also a member of the Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue Team, was part of the group which brought the young climber safely off the mountain.

"This was a serious incident and it was so windy the helicopter couldn't lift him off until the team could get Ben much further down the mountain," he said.

Tryfan in the snow (picture Peter Macmillen)
I can't emphasise enough how important it is to be fully prepared for all weather conditions in the mountains, especially during the winter
Heritage Minister Alun Ffred Jones

"Ben and his family are very aware that he is only alive because of the efforts of the Mountain Rescue Team, the RAF and staff at Ysbyty Gwynedd, Bangor," Mr Bird added.

This year has seen the number of incidents attended by the rescue teams double.

Mr Bird said the main problem appears to be ill-equipped people, incidents of slips and falls and people setting out too late.

"We want people to continue to come and enjoy the beautiful mountains of north Wales," he said.

"But before they set out they need to ask themselves are they properly clothed and equipped; do they know the weather forecast; have they got the mountain skills needed for the terrain they're about to tackle?"

Heritage Minister Alun Ffred Jones said: "We are blessed in Wales with areas of outstanding natural beauty and using our natural outdoors as a green gym is a really good way of keeping fit.

"But, I can't emphasise enough how important it is to be fully prepared for all weather conditions in the mountains, especially during the winter."

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