- Written by Clive
After 10 years of providing DofE expeditions we had our first mountain rescue call out in July this year. Obviously after such an event we conducted a review of the incident to see if any changes to our procedures or advice to staff should be made. We had 2 Mountain Leader (ML) qualified staff and 2 groups out on the expedition that ran into trouble and to their credit they performed well. Lupine always have a minimum of one suitably qualified member of staff per DofE group on practice expeditions and on all expeditions in 'wild country'. When things are going well it sometimes seems like an overkill (especially with the advent of affordable tracking) but the fact is that when things go wrong you need people on the ground. Additionally, while not the case with this incident, when things go wrong they tend to go wrong for a reason that may affect other groups (poor weather, poor training, poor kit, limited hours of day light etc.). So if things are going to go wrong with one group there is an increased risk of things going wrong with multiple groups at the same time. We generated a more detailed, procedure specific report for all our freelancers but I thought I would write something here as it may be of use to others.
As stated above we had 2 groups out (one group of boys and one groups of girls) and two instructors on a practice expedition in the Lakes. We had conducted a day of acclimatisation with the groups and the two groups were to start their practice expedition being remotely supervised as our staff assessed that they were sufficiently competent and thus were ready for remote supervision. The groups were starting from Coniston and due to go north over Furness Fells before dropping down into Tilberthwaite and taking a fairly low level route round to Great Langdale (via Little Langdale and Elterwater). The boys had a late start and the ML with that group checked them up the copper mines valley and onto the fell before heading back to his vehicle and going round to Tilberthwaite. From there his intention was to climb the hill and shadow them across the top and down the Tilberthwaite valley.
At about noon we received a call in the office from some accompanying school staff to let us know that one of the boys had sustained a lower leg injury (a sprain or strain rather than a break) and that they were still on the tops. As the girls group were already over the top and on a low level route by now, both members of staff worked together to try and find the boys. After an hour or so they had re-traced the complete route and had not found them. The group were obviously both injured and lost. The ML's then reported in to the office to update us on this turn of events. We took the decision at this point to notify mountain rescue even though it was still only 2 pm in early July. Calling Mountain Rescue can take a lot of time so getting all that information over early can help and they can then make the decision as to whether to wait a bit or to start a search. They took the decision to start assembling a team.
The ML's who were already on the top decided on the next areas that they should search and started putting their plan into action. The boys at this point managed to send their location via WhatsApp to some of the support staff from the school (AKA teachers). The teachers then sent that link to us in the office and we converted it from latitude and longitude location into a UK grid reference and updated our staff and the mountain rescue team control. At this point our ML's were about 500m away and heading in their direction so found them in about 15 minutes. They then gave the mountain rescue team a slightly more accurate grid reference and waited for help. Upon arrival the Mountain Rescue team decided that it was a stretcher off job so all the kit was left on the tops and the casualty was taken down to the base before going off to hospital for a check-up.
In the meantime we in the office contacted other staff that we had out in the Lakes whose duties had finished for the day and asked them to help by locating the girls group and ensuring that they were OK. The other group were located, a well-being check was performed and they continued on their way to their campsite where they met with their supervisor and some school staff.
As stated above our ML's did very well, our procedures were followed and were found to be robust.
1) Calling the office early. Office support can offer clear detached thinking that isn't so easy when out searching for a group yourself. We were also able to arrange extra support for the girl's group. As well as this we were able to be a point of contact for the accompanying teachers. Calling mountain rescue can feel like a bit step. Having the support of a director in the office instructing staff on the ground that that is what they should do probably reduced some of the stress in doing so.
2) Calling Mountain Rescue early. Mountain rescue teams can take time to assembly and deploy in non-life threatening situations. By calling them early they were able to assess the situation and decide whether they could deploy early. No one wants to be searching for a group in the dark and a call out just 3 hours later if the group were still not found could have resulted in this.
3) Our staff contact information. The first our staff heard that the group were lost was when we were called by the school staff. We have changed our procedures to ensure that groups know to call us first. We are also instructing our staff to write their number on the groups map as well as route card rather than our previous procedure which was on the route card and a credit card sized piece of card. We feel that the map is more readily available than a small piece of card.
4) Phone battery power. This incident resulted in a lot of mobile phone use. One leader phone died during the event. Modern smart phones do not hold a charge for a long time but they are also very useful to have for access to some of the apps. We now recommend that all staff carry a fully charged phone (like the Nokia 100) as an emergency phone to save their smart phone charge.
5) Trackers. We have a number of trackers that we deploy on some (but not all expeditions). They are becoming cheaper all the time and we expect they will become a standard piece of kit in time. There are issues with giving groups trackers and so we don't routinely do so but if they had one it would have reduced the time taken to find them. At Lupine we have put lot of thought into tracking groups and how to do so without negatively impacting on the expedition experience and reducing safety (as mentioned above we would not reduce our staffing ratio just because we can track a group). Another blog post maybe.
6) Familiarisation with mobile phone apps. Do you have an app that can translate Latitude and Longitude into a grid reference on your phone? they are free to download. Most groups will have smartphones on them. We could advise that participants download OS locate but would they then use that to navigate? We’d prefer not to but would advise that staff familiarise themselves with getting info from smart phone in other ways.
a) Whatsapp. – quick , easy , simple, not much data needed, most participants have Whatsapp installed
Send a message to group asking them to carry out the following
i) Tap the paperclip (android) or + (on iPhone) where you normally type a message. ii) Tap ‘location’ iii) Tap ‘send current location.’
b) iPhones - no data needed, information is sent by text message
iPhones have a compass app built in that shows latitude and longitude.
c) Android – this is not a very good way and is quite data intensive
i) Go to google maps ii) Tap on the 3 lines for menu iii) Tap ‘share location’ iv) Tap the add person logo + and little person. v) Choose time frame. vi) Choose to send by SMS. vii) Put number in
d) Website – medium amount of data needed
There are a number of websites such as www.whereamirightnow.com with easy instructions on how to share your current location.
We have updated our guide to remote supervision and searches booket to reflect some of these points.
We are of course indebted to the Coniston Mountain Rescue team and have made a donation to their funds, if you would like to donate to them as well you can do so here.
During the summer I ran two, four day, ‘Introduction To Rock’ climbing courses for Lupine Outdoor Adventure, four days in July and four days in August. ‘Katy’, who was the client and organizer, would be bringing a group of young people and adults, from the South-East of England to the Peak District to sample outdoor climbing for the first time having previously climbed only at indoor walls.
I began each course with a brief introduction of myself and of my climbing experience (mainly how I done most things much less than efficiently and therefore was in a position to help them avoid making the same mistakes!), before asking the group members to introduce themselves and what they expected during their stay, before I moved on to tell them what I would try to cover over the following days. This was then followed by a safety briefing. I find making everyone ‘safety aware’ by explaining any potential dangers and setting a few clear and definite rules before approaching the climbing venue is most effective as people can be easily distracted when first arriving at the crag. When the “do we have to wear a helmet?” question arose I confirmed a definite “YES” and explained that I always wear a helmet when climbing outdoors mainly due to the possibility of others knocking something from the top of the crag on to me, which was understood and accepted by all.
Then onto the actual climbing!
It was fortunate during both courses that the groups and I could be flexible with our timings, in fact it was a blessing due to the ‘changeable’ Peak District summer weather we experienced. Both course started the first day mid morning to lunchtime due to wet overnight conditions, but we managed to climb until the evening so we had a full day. If flexibility allows I don’t feel it benefits anyone having a normal 9am to 5pm day if it means spending periods of time with both myself and the clients getting wet and cold or sheltering from the elements! I chose ‘Birchen Edge’ and ‘Yarncliffe Quarry’ respectively for each of the courses first day. This allowed us to make the best of their quick drying or sheltered properties and also meant the clients were introduced to the outdoor rock in venues that were fairly ‘friendly’ for a first day. ‘Yarncliffe’ also offers an easily set up abseil next to number of possible climbing lines, which we used, on both courses.
Over the following days on both courses we dodged the weather through either starting late or early and including an extended day followed by a shorter day, we managed to only get the waterproofs out once - result!
Each course consisted of a first day of me watching everyone belay to check safe practice before I would allow them to belay unsupervised. We made a rule of doing a ‘buddy check’ before every climb to check harnesses were fitted correctly, karabiners were fastened and climbers knot was tied correctly. The group members were all well trained and showed excellent belay practice, younger more ‘slight’ individuals being tailed if belaying. After gaining an insight to general ability and group crag behavior (which was excellent) I could then explore ideas for suitable inclusive crag venues. Venues we visited were Birchen Edge, Yarncliffe Quarry, Lawrencefield and Stanage Popular during the July course, and Yarncliffe Quarry, Birchen Edge, Horseshoe Quarry and Burbage North during the August course.
Early in the courses it was apparent that a number of the climbers were attempting to ‘sprint’ up the routes as they may be able to do at an indoor wall facility, the artificial holds at in indoor wall mark the route of a climb and dictate the necessary placement so a large amount of decision making is taken away from the climber.
As the courses progressed I encouraged some of the climbers to slow their movement and also to make a conscious effort of including their eyes (for more than just a glance) in a ‘movement process’.
One ‘drill/exercise’ involved having the climber look for their next ‘hold’ then keep their eyes focused on it for a couple of seconds before making a hand/foot placement. This promotes the idea of making the best use of a selection of possible ‘holds’, making precise accurate placements whilst also resulting in controlled efficient climbing.
It was very satisfying to have the climbers listen to (what were to them) new and different climbing techniques, be willing to spend some of their trip practicing ‘drills’ and then (hopefully!) go away having added something to their climbing ‘toolbox’.
During the second course we visited Horseshoe Quarry which is a bolted sport climbing venue, making use of the bolted ‘top rings’ allowed me to set up ‘bottom ropes’ and get the group climbing quickly. We were also able set up a ‘ghost rope’ where the climbers would climb and practice clipping a ‘ghost’ lead rope whist being belayed with the safety of a top rope.
Whilst at ‘Burbage’ I was able to set up a top rope belay on a route which enabled me to belay each climber up the full climb before being able to ‘top out’ and walk off safely, this was the first time the majority had ‘topped out’ on a route and was well worth the effort of belaying a dozen climbers!
With varying ages from 8 years to adult there was a range of ability throughout both groups but everyone showed a great enthusiasm to climb and a willingness to listen to any advice that would help them improve.
Overall I was extremely impressed by both groups passion for their climbing, and also their impeccable behavior whilst at the crag.
Mark is one of our Regular Freelancers and is an International Mountain Leader (as well as a single pitch climbing instructor). You can follow his adventures via his instagram account www.instagram.com/yourmountainhq
Saturday 9th September 2017
Autumn 2017 seems to have arrived in Snowdonia National Park as I lead a small charity group up to the Summit of Snowdon on a rather wet and windy day. The group of 4 young people (aged 15/16 years) and accompanying 2 adults who are all part of YMCA meet me at Llanberis Youth Hostel on a very blustery Friday evening as they have travelled all the way from Cardiff. There was little time for a chat on the evening of arrival as everyone shuffles off for some well needed sleep arriving after 10pm.
I am informed that the 4 young people are excited about their summit up Snowdon the next day as they are all young carers many who are not only busy with school /college studies but balancing this with caring for family with varying different medical needs/disabilities. Their lives for sure are busy and demanding but through the YMCA is good to know they can take part in a range of other activities different to their everyday lives. The 4 young people had the idea themselves planned to challenge themselves to climb Snowdon and raise money for Children in Need at the same time after having previously climbed Pen y Fan in the Beacons the year before and wanting something more challenging.
After a hearty breakfast at the Youth Hostel we head up to Pen-y-pass in their minibus and Julie one of the staff members on minibus duties waves us all bye for the next few hours. I give them all a short briefing about the length of the day, route plans and how the walk will differ from their previous experiences. The cloud cover with drizzle is low and the wind is moderate so I make sure they all are in full waterproofs and inform them how changeable the weather will be throughout the day. We set of in high spirits with a few pictures being taken and it is not long after we ascend the PYG track we are greeted by a magnificent full rainbow.
We continue to climb the PYG track and all are coping well but very quiet and I can tell they are unsure of what lies ahead. As we cross into the next valley the mist lifts for a little but is clear summer has gone in Snowdonia and autumnal weather is arrived but is certainly a wet /changeable day. At this point I also wonder how the Snowdonia ultra-runners who were running 58 miles around the mountains the same day are getting on in these wet / blustery conditions.
The group are in group spirits as we continue with few breaks giving the windy and wet condition I keep people moving with occasional breaks for food /water. One of the group pipes up that they are enjoying the walk which was pleasing to hear given the conditions. The mountain is fairly busy for a typical Saturday summit but everyone is looking rather wet. As we approach the summit the usual question of ‘how far yet’ are raised but I push them on and we arrive at the summit in good time although the last ridge from Bwlch Glas was pretty blustery. The usual group photo is taken along with a reminder who that they are raising money for Children in Need. We have a short lunch in the warmth of the summit café before descending via the Llanberis path.
As we descend I can tell they are pleased to have made it and completed their challenge, they mention they were surprised by the rocky terrain and found some of this tricky but in general they were a determined bunch of young people on a mission. We descend fairly quick and chatter amongst the group emerges and they seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed their day out. There is also brief mention that they would like to do other mountains even Ben Nevis so despite the poor conditions their spirits hopefully I have gone someway to inspire some more young people to get out and enjoy the mountains.
A great effort and an enjoyable day out had by all, good to see lots of aims met on this summit. Well done all.
Claire Goodman-Jones (Mountain Leader)
10th September 2017
Laura has written this blog post about a recent gold DofE Training and practice expedition.
I have worked with Edward VI School from Birmingham for the past few years for Lupine Adventure. We train the all girl groups for two and a half days at Sconse Lane scout camp preparing them for a subsequent three day practice expedition through the Yorkshire Dales. The girls from the school are typically friendly, enthusiastic and intelligent and this time was no different. We had two groups at the camp working hard to prepare for their expeditions. Although the group I was working with weren’t very experienced, mostly direct entrants, what they lacked in experience they made up for with enthusiasm and a willingness to work hard.
We collected the girls from the train station at Shipley on Thursday lunch and ferried them to the scout camp.
Using the bunk house facilities for the next two and a half days we run through everything from navigation, using Ilkley Moor to practice, to packing, emergency procedures, looking at appropriate food to take and buying it from the local store for their expedition.
The girls also plan their practice and assessed expedition routes at the scout camp, so there is a lot to fit in over the two days.
On Sunday morning they were ready to set off over Ilkley Moor, their destination camping at Addingham Moorside. After a cloudy start the day brightened up and I met the group at the summit point on Ilkley Moor, just about to have a well earned lunch break. They were performing well and growing in confidence with their navigation. After another meeting point 4km from camp the group were in high spirits looking forward to arriving early. The last section of the route proved more challenging than anticipated, a long and testing ending, when you think you have arrived but there is field boundary after field boundary to cross. The group were just a little behind their planned arrival and feeling tired and slightly disheartened by the last part of the route. After putting the tents up stoves were quickly fired up and it wasn’t long until the team were tucking into pasta and sauce followed by Jamaica cake for dessert, feeling better about the day ahead.
The second day was beautiful and sunny with a slight, refreshing breeze, the group followed the river up through Bolton Abbey, enjoying the scenery and talking to some of the tourists who were asking them about their expedition. The second part of the day was more challenging, with a long, steady climb up onto Barden Fell and a fair distance round the moor before dropping down to Howarth Farm campsite.
The group were feeling relieved to be at camp and exhausted by the day, but after a quick collapse on the ground were soon back on their feet putting up their tents and cooking dinner.
A lovely evening with the sun lighting up the valley, allowing the farmers to work late, tractors busy in the fields, it wasn’t long until the group were tucked up in their tents ready for a 5am start. They wanted to get ahead of their route card to ensure they finished on time as they had a 4pm train to catch.
The team were ready to depart by 6:45am, motivation high to catch the train, but spirits a little low due to tiredness. They made good time on the first leg of the route walking along the river to Barden bridge, going at 4km an hour, before heading up to the Barden reservoirs.
After a slight detour the group made it to the top of Embsay moor where we had our final debrief for the expedition, the group noting their highlights, things they would do differently next time and reflecting on the past few days. It was mostly downhill then to the finish at Morrisons at Skipton to buy a well earned ice cream, before catching the train back to Birmingham.
A lovely group of girls who showed that despite lacking in experience by working together to keep morale high and persevering they could push themselves to complete the journey successfully and with good humour.
Last week I went to The New Forest for the first time since I was about 5 years old. I wasn't alone but with 52 young people from a London school and 7 other Mountain Leaders. We were there to undertake a practice expedition for the Silver Duke of Edinburgh's award. While it was my first time working in the New Forest quite a few of the other ML's had worked there on a number of occasions so we had a fair bit of experience in the area. The plan was to set up tents and go over stove safety as soon as the participants arrived and then go for a navigational refresher walk.
We had decided that on this walk we would really focus on taking bearings and measuring distance as we identified these as the most important hard skills when navigating in the forest. My group lapped it up. I don't know if they were just a very good group or if there was something else involved. Maybe the forest environment with its lack of visible features (visual distractions) helps with the teaching of navigation, maybe it forces the learner to concentrate on what is close by which is much more useful than looking at things in the distance? This is something I am going to investigate further with groups in the future. After a few hours of navigation refresher we did a kit check, ate and then there was free time before bed.
The next day we all set off on the practice expedition. My heart sank as all 8 groups seemed to be ready at pretty much the same time, I thought that we'd have groups following each other all day, however the number of different paths available meant that after the first 200m we were all on our own differing routes. The forest was great, with deer, ponies, squirrels, woodpeckers, baby foxes all seen by groups during the day. My group's route went past a reptile centre so I took the opportunity to take a look at some lizards (and a Goshawk nest cam!). I had been warned about lots of muddy paths and bog trotting in the New Forest but it had been dry for a few weeks so the mud that I was expecting didn't materialise. My group continued to perform well so by mid-morning I was hanging back and just letting them get on with it. By mid-afternoon I had decided to leave them completely and arranged to meet them further along their route by the end.
We had arranged with the forestry commission that we would have all 8 groups wild camping (on 4 different sites) so we filled up with water at a pub close to the end of our route and headed off to the campsite. It was wonderful. I absolutely loved the wild camp. It has been a couple of years since I wild camped with a DofE group and I have never done so outside of a mountain environment. It was so quiet, relaxed and serene. It made the experience so different to being on a commercial camp site. Obviously the participants weren't too impressed with the toilet arrangements but I would like to think they will look back fondly on it. We were treated to a cloudless night and a BIG red full moon.
The next day we got up and continued with the expedition with the group being remotely supervised the whole way. Yes, they got a bit lost on a few occasions but the navigation was hard. We have this group back in July in the White Peak and I expect they will find their assessment a doddle.
We do quite a bit of work for the Red Rope on Navigation training and Mountain Skills courses. Recently they asked us to provide a day of winter skills training for some of them during a February club meet in the Cairngorms. They were particularly interested to receive some instruction on security of steep ground (how to safely utilise the crampons and ice axe). We met up at 8 am at their accommodation and after a briefing and discussion on efficient ways of moving as a group we headed off to the ski area on Cairngorm Mountain. The winds were high and as we walked into Coire an t-Sneachda I was concerned that the conditions weren't exactly conducive to learning; our plan was to go to the west flank of the Coire to practice movement skills on the steep ground there. However, due to the wind I decided to switch flank as there is a little knoll that I thought would offer some shelter, it turned out to be a good decision as while we were battered by the wind on the walk in we were completely sheltered for the training element of the day.
We spent the next hour or so going up and down the knoll utilising the crampons in different ways. It was the perfect location, there were a variety of gradients and depths of snow. We covered different stepping techniques and safe ways to walk in a group up a slope as well as ways to stop a slip turning into a slide by using the ice axe correctly. After we had completely churned up the snow on the slope with our repeated ascents we put it all into practice by climbing the slope that makes up the eastern edge of the coire slope to the 1141 spot height. On the way we had a brief stop to take a look at the snow pack and talk a little about the snow layers and avalanche risk. We even found a bit of an icy patch that those who wanted to could have a little climb on.
Once at the spot height we had a chat and rather than just go down they thought their lifts wouldn't mind them being a bit late so we continued up to the top of Cairn Gorm and then back down to the Ski Station.
If you would like to hire us for some winter skills training for you and / or your friends or your Mountaineering club then take a look at our winter skills training pages.