The Whitsun weekend of 2023 saw the Llanberis Mountain Rescue Tream called out 12 times, and also saw them clocking up their 100th call-out of the season (not all of them on Yr Wyddfa/Snowdon, of course); as ever it prompted a fair bit of discusssion on social media, where it had been reported.
However, such a milestone raises some interesting points.
It’s very easy to think that many of those rescued in a call-out are wearing unsuitable clothes or footwear, which has led to their situation, but this simply isn’t the case. Whilst some keyboard warriors are very keen to jump to conclusions about inadequate footwear, quick to make comments about the ‘flip-flop brigade’, there is actually no definitive evidence that links this with rescues. In fact, very few rescues can be linked to footwear issues.
Rather, we need to think about people’s familiarity with the terrain on Yr Wyddfa. As we know, the mountain atrracts many people who are not only new to mountain walking, but who have never before even gone hill walking. Its appeal is such that many who walk up it are total novices.
The commonest type of injuries which require evacuation from the mountain are those relating to twisted ankles or fractures of the ankle or lower leg; and as we know, most injuries happen on the way down, when slips are more likely to happen anyway, and when a walker is likely to be more relaxed and concentrating less.
But given that many walkers are not hill or mountain walkers per se, many accidents are caused simply by the unfamiliarity with the terrain. The Pyg Track, for instance, whilst engineered along its whole length and well maintained, is nevertheless largely rugged and uneven for much of its length. The same could be said of most of the other paths too, and it’s not unusual to hear descending walkers yearning to get back onto tarmac, and this epitomises the whole issue. If a walker isn’t familiar with walking on rugged, uneven ground, then injuries such as those mentioned above are a distinct possibility.
In fact, given that annually some 660,000 walkers use Yr Wyddfa, and that these people will walk an average of 8 miles up and down the mountain – totalling over 5 million miles annually and taking a total of something approaching 15 billion steps (!), all on mountain terrain – it’s remarkable that there aren’t more injuries.
The rescue teams are always willing to help those in genuine need, and are never critical of those they go to assist; sadly, though, others often are. When a rescue is reported in detail on social media, whilst the vast majority of commenters are full of praise for the rescue teams, as ever, there are always one or two who feel the need to criticise the rescued person, even though the full facts are invariably not given.
In my experience, however, the people I see wearing flip-flops on Yr Wyddfa wear them everywhere. The same too with bare-footed walkers; they go bare-foot everywhere, and this is just another day to them. They’re no more of a risk than other walkers.
The rescue teams want people in difficulty to contact them for assistance; that is their raison d’être, and yet it’s becoming apparent that some people are reluctant to ask for help for fear of being criticised by others on social media. I recently encountered a woman who had twisted her ankle (she thought), but who preferred to walk down most of the mountain rather than create a fuss and be subsequently criticised for calling for help. Whilst clearly in some discomfort, both she and I considered that it was merely a twisted ankle otherwise she wouldn’t be walking on it, would she?
I subsequently heard that it wasn’t a sprain, but a double fracture, which shocked me, but how sad that one of the reasons for not asking for help was that – despite the pain she must have been in – she was concerned about the backlash that there might be. Not from the rescue service, but from others who were not connected with the incident at all.
As an observer recently commented, maybe it’s time to change the message; telling people to buy ‘proper’ boots, etc. clearly isn’t enough on its own. Perhaps spreading the message that the terrain is tough and uneven, and that it requires a certain amount of practice and training may go some way to counteract some of the problems that the rescue teams encounter.