Winter training – then the real thing!
Practicing the skills necessary for winter mountaineering can be difficult in the Peak District with real winter weather being so unpredictable. However, it is important that every member of the rescue team has the ability and training to be able to move competently in winter conditions so every year a party from the team goes North in search of snow.
This weekend they found it in abundance on the eastern slopes and gullies of Helvellyn in the Lake District. Thirteen members of mixed ability, from novice to experienced, made Helvellyn YHA their base camp for the weekend. Recent snow falls had just about consolidated sufficiently to provide reasonable conditions in which to learn and enhance basic skills under the watchful eye of team member and mountaineering instructor, Sara Turner. Correct use of crampons and ice axe is essential to prevent personal injury, apart from protecting the individual whilst moving on compact snow or ice.
Understanding various snow conditions and realising what makes some slopes more prone to avalanche than others is a science that everyone venturing onto British hills in winter should be competent in. Like most safety issues it is having the awareness to identify potential hazards before they become problems that is the key. Prevention always being better than the cure. The practical weekend training session followed on from classroom events over the past month.
The training for four of the team members was to be tested on the Sunday when at about 13.00 hrs a 43 year old from Birkenhead took a 50 metre tumble from Striding Edge dislocating his shoulder. The man, who was appropriately dressed for the conditions, including crampons, was assisted down the fell for some distance by other mountaineers who had witnessed the fall. He was quickly met by members of Patterdale MRT who were also training locally and advised to wait for further rescue assistance. The Buxton members assisted Patterdale MRT to carry equipment to the site and then met a Sea King Helicopter at Red Tarn. The helicopter struggled in the windy conditions but was finally able to load and convey the casualty to Carlisle hospital. The casualty’s friends were then accompanied back to Helvellyn hostel.
Whilst the Peak rarely gets the winter conditions of areas such as the Lakes and North Wales it can and does have short sharp spells of severe weather when the rescue team needs to be able to rely on its training and skills. Working with a local team used to the conditions was an added bonus for the Buxton members, if unfortunate for the casualty who should make a full recovery.
The team extends its thanks to the wardens of Helvellyn YHA for a comfortable weekend (but a shame about the bacon), to the members of Patterdale MRT for their comradeship and sends best wishes to the casualty for a speedy recovery.
Photos: Top, Sara Turner, group instructor. Top middle, Head wall of Brown Cove. Middle, Team don crampons ready for the frozen upper reaches. Lower middle, Ant like figures ascending Striding Edge in droves. Helicopter: RAF Sea King lifts the casualty in atrocious conditions. Bottom, team disappears into the clouds of Swirral Edge.