We all love exploring the fells around Little Langdale and, most of the time, the peak of the excitement during our forays into the mountains will come via the exhilaration of physical exercise or the stunning outlook from a lofty summit. However, accidents can happen to any of us and when they do, the Lake District’s mountain rescue teams are on hand to help.
In our little corner of the national park, it is the volunteers of Langdale Ambleside Mountain Rescue Team who are tasked with helping those in peril on the fells. We caught up with team leader Nick Owen, who has been involved with the group for nearly 20 years, to find out more about the vital service they provide.
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Mountain Rescue in England and Wales is paid for entirely by public donations.
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The early days
"The Langdale Ambleside team formed in 1970 and it was a merger of the Ambleside Fell Rescue Team and the Langdale Mountain Rescue Team,” says Nick.
“They were two separate entities and the Langdale team was largely based around Sid Cross, who was the publican and licensee at the Old Dungeon Ghyll hotel for many years.
"In those days it was an informal thing really; it was Sid, plus a few of the local guys, plus whoever they could round up from the bar at any given time. The Ambleside Fell Rescue Team was more based around the St John's ambulance and focused on the first aid side of it and the Langdale team was big on the technical rescue.
"When the two organisations merged it brought the best of both worlds into one organisation and we flourished from there really. We've gone from doing perhaps 15 or 20 rescues a year to now, in normal circumstances, somewhere in the region of 100-plus. That probably reflects the growth in the number of visitors to the area over that 50-year period. We went from a fairly informal bunch of people with not much kit, not much by way of a base, to a highly organised group of about 35 volunteers with a base in Ambleside and five vehicles.
"When I first joined the Langdale team we had a very early pager, which didn't communicate anything other than a beep. The police would set the pager off and the first person into the base would phone the police and get the information from them via a phone call, then they would transmit that to all the other members via a radio. These days the police post a log onto a service called Sarcall and we can also activate our own team members via that and broadcast their message so you know the nature of the incident, the rendezvous point and a lot of other information.
"Back in the old days if an accident happened someone had to hotfoot it down to the nearest farmhouse or phone box. Nowadays in most of the mountains and hills in our area there is a phone signal and location is passed through on almost every occasion. Everyone has a GPS on their phone now. In the early days the first GPS we ever had was about the size of a brick and about as accurate as a brick as well.
"Very roughly, our incidents break down into about a third lower leg injuries, about a third every other kind of injury or illness and about a third where there's no actual injury but people just can't get down for some reason.
"Maybe they've been reliant on a phone and the battery's gone flat, they haven't got a map or their navigation skills aren't good enough or it's gone dark and they haven't got a torch; some kind of human error or some over reliance on technology that's then failed them. Far too many people seem to rely on the torch on their phone, which might be fine for looking for your glasses under the sofa but not a lot else.
"We've embraced a campaign that started in Wales called AdventureSmart, in which we ask people to ask themselves three questions before they set off: Have you got the gear? Have you got the skills? Do you know what the weather is going to do? If you can't answer those questions then you perhaps need to rethink what you're doing. It's all based around changing people's habits and trying to make them think differently.
"We notice that different demographics and new people are getting out onto the hills. There’s people who haven't traditionally come to the Lake District and they've come here during lockdown. It’s great to see people enjoying the area and hopefully they’ll appreciate and care for it just as much as the rest of us, but we want to use campaigns like AdventureSmart to help them stay safe at the same time.”
You can keep up to date with the work Langdale Ambleside Mountain Rescue do on their website at www.lamrt.org.uk or via their Facebook page.