Thursday 16 June 2011

what it’s all about

Helping people. That really is what it’s all about.

No-one has a ‘right to rescue’, and yet that’s what we do. It’s what we train for, week in, week out. It’s what we groan about when the texts come through, but once we’re out we just work. We go, we fight our own bodies heading onwards, moving upwards, moving, carrying, fighting the temperature and the terrain, finding ourselves exactly where we should be, where we’ve trained to be.

We laugh at each other, poking fun at one another over fitness, pack size, loads carried, complaints made, clothing worn, food eaten. We are a team. This is what we do.

Last night’s callout was the typical type of long-winded tough search that we as a team are so used to – acres of woodland, marsh, thick foliage and fallen trees. Hours of searching, focussing and hoping we’ll find something before dark. Of course darkness still comes, and out come the torches – each team member lit by headlamp and powerful hand held search torches, illuminating the same terrain, still tramping through the sort of woodland you only ever hear about in fantasy stories – woods and wasteground full of thick flesh ripping brambles, deep, stinking, boot sucking marsh, branches impaling us from the big knurled trees towering overhead – trees that are home to the night birds that startle and scream as we move beneath them, in turn startling us, granting us a new audible clarity of the pace of our own hearts.

Long hours spent in the field, constantly observing, shouting out for those for whom we are looking. Sounds occasionally fill the air – shouts for the missing person, radio chatter between callsigns I can never remember, banter and insults being thrown between comrades and the all important voices of concern calling out to make sure we’re all still together and won’t end up also hunting for one of our own.

Tonight’s callout was in stark contrast to that of the night before – a climber had fallen and was in need of rescue. A known quantity, someone needing to be helped. We are a team, this is what we do.

Hauling ourselves up the hillsides, helmets on as we traverse beneath loose crags and terraced scree slopes, carrying everything we need to care for and evacuate our casualty. You never hear a complaint when people are working – the banter stops, everyone does exactly what needs to be done. When it really matters we are seamless, we come together like clockwork. The casualty is laughing as we work around her, making sure everything is done right and that everyone is safe.

Smoke flares are lit and the helicopter circles then comes in. We all cower beneath the crags, a few members shielding the casualty as the downdraft sweeps over us, all of the equipment neatly piled out of the way. Eyes glance occasionally upwards through the hurricane as the big yellow beast hovers over us, the winchman heading down to begin the evacuation.

After a while they’re gone and everything is suddenly quiet. There is no helicopter, there is no casualty, it is just us. Still focussed we gather the equipment, each item silently taken up, and together we walk back to our normal lives.

Last night’s search:

Pictures from tonight’s rescue:


We are volunteers. We receive no funding – everything it costs to keep our Rescue Team out on the hill, in the towns and on the moors, comes to us through our own efforts at fundraising. It isn’t easy. Our hardest days are often those days we spend out manning stalls, shaking buckets, talking to people and just trying to raise the awareness of the public that so often need us.

I spend my time with the team out on the hill on the ‘frontline’, working and battling to do what we do, the work that we train for, but I also work behind the scenes along with a good many of our members, simply helping to keep the team running every day. My role is minimal, I’m not going to pretend otherwise – I spend my time coordinating and working with, designing, testing, repairing and maintaining all things radio and communication related, because it’s what I’m paid to know and to do in my professional life. Our radios are critical to allowing us to work and communicate efficiently, safely and securely. My role just helps keep the lines of communication working for us as a live Rescue unit, and yet it involves many hours of work in the ‘downtime’ – and my hours are far, far less than those of the Team Leaders’, the Secretary, the Training and the Equipment Officer to name but a few. None of this is paid and yet it still costs.

I hate fundraising. I’d far rather be out on the hill for 12 hours than to spend 2 hours on the street with a bucket begging people for loose change – so I’m taking a slightly different approach. This year I’m hurting myself!

In October I will be running the Snowdonia Marathon in aid of NEWSAR, but in the meantime my major efforts are focussed on the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon, which is taking place on the first weekend of July. I will be running this with a very good friend of mine, Matt Knight, despite neither of us being fell runners.

We are both training hard, spending hours sweating, swearing and occasionally bleeding as we try to become fit enough to run our race. We’re also both spending wads of our own money on entry fees and equipment to allow us to compete (although our soul aim is simply not to finish last!).

This race for me is a personal challenge, but also a means to raise awareness and funds for the team with which I serve – please help us out and give a couple of quid via the link below and on the side of the page here – it really does all help.


  1. Nice post, I think that sums up the world of SaR all very nicely.

  2. Good bit of writing there Matilda.