THE first week in January is all about making resolutions and the notion of getting fit is one that features on many people’s lists.
There is no better way to achieve that resolution than walking on a regular basis and for many people in the region that means heading for the hills to tackle the likes of the Clwydian Range or the Berwyn Mountains.
Attempting to cope with the increase in more people exploring the outdoors at this time of year are the brave mountain rescue teams who in 2017 have recorded a record year for callouts across Wales.
In North Wales, Llanberis Mountain Rescue saw a record year with more than 220 incidents, while Aberglaslyn Mountain Rescue Team, which covers parts of Snowdonia and North West Wales, has dealt with 70 incidents since January, up from about 50 in 2016.
North East Wales Search and Rescue (NEWSAR) attended 82 incidents compared with 55 last year, while Aberdyfi Search and Rescue Team, which covers Snowdonia and mid Wales, attended 43 incidents, compared with 40 in 2016.
“We are up to 82 jobs this year which is a record,” confirmed NEWSAR team leader Chris Griffiths. “Everything has moved up a little bit and most of the increase was in the first six months of the year.
“We were very busy up to July – it was crazy. We saw a number of days when we were getting multiple jobs which is very unusual.”
As a result of these figures walkers are being urged to be better prepared before heading to the hills with Chris, one of many involved in the service, making the point that it is mountain rescue teams feeling the pressure of increased rescues.
“We are more than happy to see people outdoors enjoying themselves and by the law of statistics if more people are out and about you’re going to see a few more people come unstuck,” said Chris.
“The main message is how much of strain this puts on our resources. We have to fundraise more, put more fuel in our vehicles, buy more medical supplies, etc.
“As a result of every rescue, it costs us a lot more to keep the team going and so we’re always having to be on the look out for new fundraising ideas.”
Rescuers were called out more than 1,800 times in England and Wales in 2016 - the fourth year figures have increased, according to Mountain Rescue England and Wales (MREW) and 2017’s results are expected to follow a similar pattern.
“More than 80,000 hours were given in service by mountain rescue volunteers throughout 2016,” said Rob Shepherd, statistics officer for MREW.
“80,000 hours is roughly equivalent to a company of 40 people all working full-time for the whole year. Moreover, this recorded effort doesn’t consider the attendance of training sessions, plus the administration and organisation that ensure the teams, their equipment and vehicles are always ready for the call.”
Nearly 500 incidents in 2016 were of the type that Rob says lend themselves to being “more easily avoided than the more serious medical issues or accidents”.
“Reasons such as getting lost, benighted or ‘crag-fast’, succumbing to minor slips and trips, or for some reason being “unable to continue” all contribute to this figure,” confirmed Rob.
A campaign has been launched to promote greater safety awareness and a checklist compiled by Ordnance Survey and Mountain Rescue England and Wales helps walkers to prepare for their trek.
“I don’t think the rise in numbers is to do with misadventure,” said Chris after I remind him of the recent example of a student climbing Snowdon in just his pants
“It has more to do with the law of averages – we’re seeing more people in the hills and that is affecting the number of people we have to rescue.
“It’s very rare that an emergency is down to being knowingly unprepared and I think the issue of people who do go without proper equipment is sometimes part of a greater educational thing.”
Chris puts the emphasis on the need to plan ahead, check weather conditions, wear the right kit and carry paper maps as well as GPS devices.
“Make sure you plan what you’re doing and that people know where you are going so in the event of you not returning someone has the knowledge of where you’ve gone,” he said.
“Go properly equipped – there are so many websites which can suggest what to take but the minimum is some appropriate footwear, something warm and waterproof and make sure you have food an water. It’s also worth thinking about your ability to navigate.”
NEWSAR is funded almost entirely through charitable donations such as street collections, sponsored events and legacies, together with donations and grants from businesses and trusts. Since 2011, the UK government has provided a small annual grant, about 10 per cent of the operational budget to help with the purchase of equipment.
Team members spend many hours of their time training and participating in the deployment of search and rescue activities. They prepare, clean and manage equipment including specialist gear for cliff and water rescues. In addition to the practical operational needs, the burden of fundraising falls almost entirely on the shoulders of team members.
“We are very happy at our team base in Loggerheads but what we’d like to do is replace the temporary building we are in which is pretty old and showing its age and replace it with something more permanent,” added Chris
“It is like a mobile classroom and we need something more solid. The aim is to raise enough to do that in 2018 but we need planning permission and all sorts of things.”
This year looks like being another busy one for NEWSAR in more ways than one but despite the note of caution Chris and his fellow volunteers are still more than happy to see people exploring the hills and mountains of our region.
“If we can get more people out in the hills and getting exercise that more than makes up for the very few occasions when someone will get injured,” he added.
“Our message is always to get out there and enjoy it and if the worst does happen call 999 and we will be here for you.”