Sunday, 9 October 2011

SOLO SELF RESCUE. (Sometimes smoking saves lives!)

About three years ago i dropped into Bryn Poeth,the home of OVRMO (Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue Organisation) in Snowdonia,Wales.Most of the team were out scouring the eastern slopes of Mt,Tryfan for a missing solo-climber,and i felt a bit guilty about hanging around while they were seriously busy.But in their usual quiet and pleasant  way i was plied with hot tea and biscuits and made to feel at home.My company (farsight mountain ventures)has been a "333-Supporter" for many years and i was keen to see the new vehicle garage we had contributed a couple of roofing tiles to.

Bryn Poeth.OVMRO-Base.
Twenty minutes after i arrived,a puff of red smoke at the base of Tryfan told us the missing climber had been found,and i made a discreet exit as the team had to bring in the Heddlu(police)to investigate a fatality.
I didnt enquire any further as i know the strict rescue protocols that forbid releasing information of a mountain fatality,and i allso knew that none of the team would ever contradict this rule.

OVMRO. 333-Page,on website.

As with all secrets however,a few years later the details leaked through another source,and a sad and cautionary tale it was that all mountaineers(particularly soloists)can learn from.
The climber had been staying alone at a nearby campsite,he was well equipped,expierienced,and had enjoyed several good climbing days already in the area.And he was last seen heading up to Heather Terrace on Mt,Tryfan alone! He had left no route-plan,neither had he informed anybody at home or in Ogwen Valley of his intentions,or when he would be back.It was getting late in the year and the weather was becoming increasingly cold and wet.
The site owner allerted police after not seeing the guy for three days, and OVRMO went straight into full alert and search mode with all team members.He was found dead about three days later.He had fallen several hundred feet and came to a stop in waist high Gorse folliage,his injuries were severe but he had been conscious enough to empty his pockets and sack, and place his gear within reach around where he lay.

Unable to stand and make himself visible he was only 20metres from a well used track,and may even have heard the many walkers and climbers passing on their way down the hill that week,and perhaps he even tried to call to them.
Nobody knows if he was conscious for long enough to attempt to signal for help.But there was not much he could have done in that concealed position,in the cold,rain,and poor light,and where calls and shouts were commonplace.The irony was that the red-smoke popped by OVMRO to mark his body,may have helped him to save his own life.

Mt,Tryfan.(West flank)

Two years prior to this sad accident ,i was doing a Mountain Leader course at the National Mountain Centre not far from Ogwen valley.I love PYB for the good food,great courses,accomodation,and high level of instruction,and could be lured back from the "dark-side"of soloing more often if i could afford it!We were doing the personal kit demonstration,and i pulled out my home-made "thermite"smoke signal kit,which was met with a mixture of interest and horror.Its about the size of a matchbox,and i carry it in place of "Emergency Smoke sticks" for daylight emergencies.It allso doubles as a secondary fire-source for cooking and warmth.You can do the same thing with a single"Hexamine"block and a cheap gas lighter.

Marine Smoke Stick.
Now PYB teach everything about mountaineering including signaling in emergencies,but Snowdonia is a National Park where fires of any kind are "verbotten",so anything to do with smoke or flames is understandably off their menu! But if your phone fails,your heliograph is redundant through abscence of sunshine,nobody hears your whistle or your shouts,and your badly injured,isolated,and alone in daylight."What the hell do you do"?
Women who have done a realy good "Self Defence Course" will know.That when you are attacked by a rapeist,you dont yell "rape",you yell "FIRE"!!
People will come running for miles around,and fall over each other to call the Police or Fire Brigade at the merest mention,sight,or sniff of a puff of smoke.Old ladies will run up mountains and club you to the ground with their walking sticks,if they even "think"that your going to light a fire in a British National Park! So if you are in real trouble and there is no other possible alternative to getting out alive,"start a small controlled fire".

Hexamine camping stove fuel blocks.
The object of the fire is to produce a thin,constant,pungent,and visible stream of smoke that would-be rescuers can see and smell.It does not need to be big,just clear a small area on the ground a few feet square,gather any "green" plants or folliage close to you making sure that it is damp or wet to touch which will produce the maximum of steam and smoke.Keep your water bottle handy to wet the folliage and control the fire if it gets out of hand.Make a small depression in the earth,or a ring of small stones a few inches wide,and start the fire with a Hexamine-Block and some dry kindling(if available).Once its burning feed small amounts of greenery onto the flames,the results are visible and imediate.Bits of kit that contain plastic or rubber allso produce noxious,black smoke that will attact attention.You can allso buy the genuine Red Signal Smoke Sticks from marine chandleries,but they can be bulky,expensive,and though highly visible dont last for more than a few seconds.
I have known lots of incidents where tragedies could have been avoided.The poor guy on Mt,Tryfan did everything wrong and it led to his very lonely death.Leave a "Route Plan"with somebody (Anybody!)before you climb,and make sure you have a simple series of good reliable visible signals for all emergencies.

Good climbing,