A Quiet Sunday with Wasdale Mountain Rescue  Team          

For those readers who have no knowledge of mountain rescue, it’s purpose or indeed the location of where this true story took place, I have included a little background information to help. 

The Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team is one of 13 voluntary rescue teams covering the mountain ranges located in the north west of England.  This very popular tourist area is called the Lake District and attracts walkers and climbers from across the world.  As with all outdoor activities, danger lurks around every corner and it is therefore wise to be well prepared before venturing out onto the mountains.  Even so, accidents can happen to anyone of us as explained in the following story.    

                                               Richard Warren - Team Secretary, 20 March 2000            

This is a true account of one of our probationary team member’s first call-outs with the team on what proved to be a very busy day during late spring in 1999……………….  The day started calmly enough, a Sunday team practice in May (it was also my first Sunday practice).  The main aim was to rehearse a horizontal stretcher lower down steep ground.  This is a controlled way of lowering a badly injured casualty down a crag but it does take some time to set up and is equipment intensive.  The stretcher is held by a static rope at each end and helped down by two ‘barrow boys’ who are also lowered on their own independent ropes.  Each lowering rope is secured at the top of the crag by 5 equalised anchor points, so with ~20 gear points at the top of the crag and a number of safety lines in addition you can image how much rope was criss-crossing the top of the crag (all the gear had to be carried up the fell from the road as well).


Once everything is in position the tricky part is co-ordinating the lowering between the 4 ropes keeping everything horizontal, especially when those controlling the lowering devices can’t see the stretcher.  This proves to be a good test of communication and teamwork.  It also helps if the barrow boys connect themselves to the stretcher to avoid the possibility of a large pendulum, as one team member found out!


The practice finished with a much simpler crag rescue technique known as the marsupial.  One rescuer is lowered and attaches the casualty to both the lowering rope and his own climbing harness.  The rescuer then walks down the crag, abseil style with the casualty safely and comfortably held just below him/her.


The preceding months had proved to be quite quiet for the team in terms of call-outs and during the practice some team members speculated that one was imminent, possibly two in quick succession, perhaps they could start predicting snow and ice conditions in the Lakes as well?  We packed up around 3.00 p.m. and drove slowly back to Mill Forge.  Just as we turned the corner leading into Gosforth, the lead Landrover came charging towards us with the blue lights flashing.  A report had been passed to the Police of a man having an epileptic fit near the water falls in the Stanley Gill area of Eskdale.  Practice was now rapidly turned into reality, we dropped the trailer at Mill Forge then sped off down Eskdale.  Normally probationary members don’t attend callouts but if you’re sat in the vehicle when one is happening it makes little sense not to be part of the action.


Somehow I’d managed to sit in the front seat, which on the one hand lets you know exactly how fast you’re being driven down the narrow roads and also places you next to the radio, with the driver busy I had to fill in as radio operator.  We quickly arrived at the small car park at the end of the lane and fanned out in small groups with the idea being to converge at the base of the falls after searching the immediate vicinity.


The small personal radios prove to be very useful allowing communication between all the different groups.  After about 45 minutes of searching the teams converged on the waterfalls having searched all the undergrowth and thickets in the local area and it was established the casualty had gone elsewhere.  The call-out was effectively over at this stage, however three of us carried on up the lane to check whether he’d walked towards the Ulpha road.  It turned out later that the ‘casualty’ had made his own way home.


We were picked up on the Ulpha road and drove back slowly again to Mill Forge, some Eskdale residents were confused to see us driving past for the fourth time that day.  Just after passing Eskdale Green the radio piped up with a report of an injured climber on Buckbarrow.  Straight away the blue lights were back on and we were dashing towards Wasdale.  We were the last vehicle on the scene due to our earlier detours.  We dashed up the scree leading to the crags carrying various bits of gear between us and by the time we arrived next to the casualty the team doctors were already hard at work.  The injured climber had slipped on loose boulders on the descent path from the climbs and tumbled down the fell side.  The casualty was carefully packed into a Vacuum Mattress that helped to protect his back and also makes handling easier.  The stretcher was quickly assembled and the Vacuum Mattress slid on top, then the casualty was secured into the stretcher.  With eight people carrying it wasn’t too difficult to move it down to the roadside and wait for the Ambulance to arrive.


A few minutes later the Ambulance turned up (the same one which had attended the previous call-out in Eskdale a few minutes earlier), took the casualty off to West Cumberland Hospital and that was it, the end of an eventful day.  All that remained was to get home then drive off to Manchester airport, ready for an early flight the next morning.

Written by one of our team members, Paul Cook for the next edition of our yearbook due out in March 2001.


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Page updated 3 May 2000