This is a first-hand Lake District Mountain Rescue story. I think it’s wise to share it so that other’s might learn from it. I might not have done exactly the right thing but I certainly did my best and the rescue had a good outcome, which is of course the main thing.
In August 2020 I had to make the call that I’d always feared. After walking thousands of miles and ascending hundreds of thousands of metres up the UK’s mountains, it was a much smaller obstacle that caused me to have to ring Langdale/Ambleside Mountain Rescue.
Let’s start at the beginning. I met my friend Andy in the small car park by Millerground on the morning of 7 August 2020. It was a Friday and it was the day after my 36th birthday. Andy had just arrived in the Lake District and had taken a swim in Windermere before I’d arrived. He was excited for his week long Lake District adventure.
At the time, I was hiking the 116 Outlying Fells of Lakeland. These are a wonderful collection of fells on a list put together by Alfred Wainwright, the legendary guidebook writer. Alfred Wainwright also created the list of Wainwrights, the more popular hills of the Lake District National Park. Generally, taller and gnarlier, the Outlying fells are considered more suitable for, in Wainwright’s own words, ‘old age pensioners’. So today’s outing was more than within the abilities of two fit mid-thirties ramblers!
The fells on our radar were – Orrest Head, School Knott (3 tops) and Brant Fell. This was a circular hike of around 14km.
We set off heading east from the car park before weaving our way up Orrest Head through the woodland. Our pace was high despite the heat of the morning. It was a warm but cloudy summer day. I was relieved to reach the summit and have a short rest on the cool stone seat.
After a good chat on the bench overlooking Windermere, we left the summit to the east following the woodland trail. At the end of the trail was a stone stile through the dry stone wall. Andy went first and I waited while he descended on the other side.
All of a sudden Andy disappeared from view. He’d slipped off the bottom step (red arrow), only inches from the floor and his ankle hit a rock that was jutting up from the ground (blue arrow). He didn’t cry out or yelp, but he winced and immediately told me he’d heard a crack.
We waited a moment, hoping that maybe he’d been mistaken. But it became apparent very quickly that Andy wasn’t going to be able to stand up. So I checked my phone to see if I had signal to call for help.
Calling for Help
I didn’t have any signal so I made Andrew as comfortable as possible. Thankfully, he assured me he hadn’t hit his head. I offered him painkillers and water. I checked he was warm enough and and headed back up Orrest Head to make the call. There was no visible bleeding so I didn’t touch Andrew’s leg. To investigate further would feel like I would be causing him unnecessary pain.
As soon as I had signal, I rang 999. If you’ve never called 999 in England before, the first person you speak to is the BT operator. They ask what service you require. As the BT operator doesn’t have the ability to put you straight through to Mountain Rescue, it’s actually the Police that you ask for first. You might be tempted to say Ambulance but they’re only equipped for urban areas and it’s the Police who are best placed to dispatch Mountain Rescue.
I gave details to the Police call handler, including Andy’s name, how he’d sustained the injury and what the extent of the injury was. At this point I didn’t know his home address or date of birth but that didn’t matter. The emergency services wouldn’t have wanted me to delay the rescue by writing all that down in advance of my call.
The Police asked me for a What 3 Words reference but I don’t have that app so I gave them a grid reference. If you go out regularly in the hills and don’t know how to take a grid reference from a map you should definitely learn how to. There are many outdoor education providers who offer basic and advanced courses (and everything in between). My last course was with Team Walking.
I received a text message from Ambleside/Langdale Mountain Rescue with a link on it. Clicking the link validates my GPS position and reassured me that help was on its way.
I then returned to Andy, kept him chatting and distracted as much as possible while help arrived. Standing up helped Mountain Rescue to see me over the wall.
When they first arrived they asked Andy what his pain was on a scale of 1-10 and Andy said it was a 1 or 2. At this point I worried that I was going to be the person who called Mountain Rescue out to a twisted ankle! But Andy was putting a brave face on it.
They snapped into action and it was all go. Mountain Rescue volunteers got all the details from Andy and myself and set to work isolating his foot, carefully removing his shoe and sock, checking he had a pulse in the top of his foot and preparing the stretcher. They offered him gas and air plus other pain killers but Andy was keen to have as little pain relief as possible.
Half of the team studied the map to ascertain the easiest way to get him down and access the ambulance. They were also in touch with base on the radio giving status updates.
They managed to get Andy’s leg in a fixed splint and load him onto the stretcher.
I found the whole thing to be hugely slick and reassuring. There was great camaraderie amongst the volunteers.
You can read their summary of the incident here.
What would I have done differently if circumstances were different?
If Andy had been bleeding or had a head injury, I wouldn’t have left him. I would have used my whistle – six blasts per minute – and shouted to get attention from other nearby walkers. It wasn’t a hugely busy path but we saw a couple of groups of hikers pass while we were waiting for Mountain Rescue. Having one person to give first aid while the other went to raise the alarm would have been useful if it was more serious.
If I was in a more remote place, I would have used my Garmin InReach Mini. This has an SOS button which, when pressed, would have automated the process of calling for help and would have automatically sent my grid reference to Mountain Rescue. I didn’t press it on this occasion because –
a) We were under tree cover and the satellite might not have been able to pick up the alert quickly
b) I was able to relay more over the phone and the Garmin wouldn’t have given me good quality two-way conversation
c) Andy was stable and happy to be left while I went away to raise the alarm by phone.
Had the weather been bad, Andy would have found it difficult to stay warm, so I would have put us in my 4-person emergency shelter that I carry with me when on long exposed routes, and I would have covered Andy with as much spare clothing as possible.
Here are some of the key learning points that I’d pass on to those new to mountain hiking and hill walking (it might even serve as a reminder to those who are more experienced) –
a) Make sure you have simple but potentially lifesaving items in your rucksack when you go hiking, including a first aid kit, emergency shelter, extra clothing, a reasonable amount of water and food.
b) If you hike a lot, particularly in remote areas where you don’t come across others for many hours/days at time, consider investing in a personal locator beacon (PLB) or similar, with an SOS button.
c) Refresh your knowledge on how to flag down help through use of a whistle, bright clothing, arm signals (for helicopter) etc.
d) Always make sure you have enough phone battery (I carry a power pack and charging wire so that I can top up my battery if required).
e) Make sure you know (off by heart) the procedure for calling for help.
f) If you’re hiking alone, tell someone where you’re going and when they should expect you back.
g) Walk within your abilities. Accidents happen and sometimes there’s nothing you could have done to prevent it. But other times, incidents occur which were entirely preventable had the person not done too much too soon and became crag-fast or lost.
h) Take a navigation course and ensure you know how to use a map and compass.
i) Donate to Mountain Rescue. I donated to Ambleside/Langdale Mountain Rescue as soon as I got home. Over 10 volunteers were involved in Andy’s rescue and they’d all given up their spare time to come to his aid when he needed them. They rely on donations to provide the much needed service.
j) Check the weather! Many accidents are preventable because people shouldn’t have been out in the conditions in the first place. Don’t forget to check the wind speed. It’s not just rain that makes it difficult to navigate in poor weather, wind speeds can exceed 60mph in the mountains and most people would struggle to stay upright if hit by strong gusts.
k) In the event that you no longer require the services of Mountain Rescue after making a call out, make sure you make contact back with the Police to let them know. They can alert the Mountain Rescue that they can stand down.
So What Happened Next for Andy?
Andy is on the long road to recovery now. He was taken by ambulance to hospital and after an x ray revealed that he’d broken his lower leg/ankle in two places, he had to undergo an operation to pin his bones back to their rightful place.
He started off by resting at home with his leg above his hips for the majority of the day and it’s taken a number of months for him to get out of the cast. Andrew is now working towards weight bearing and rebuilding strength with the aim to reach full fitness again.
About the Author
Adventurer Nic is a Munroist, Wainwright ‘Compleator’ and is hiking her local Outlying Fells of Lakeland in the wake of the corona virus pandemic. Let her know what you thought of this post by dropping her a comment.