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Dublin: 12°C Tuesday 24 November 2020

'People go to the hills to clear their heads': Mountain rescue volunteers ready for calls over Christmas

It can be a lovely time to get out into nature, rescue volunteers just ask that people are sensible when they do.

Image: Glen of Imaal Mountain Rescue

OVER THE LAST year, the Glen of Imaal mountain rescue organisation in Co Wicklow has dealt with 100 incidents and on Christmas Day its volunteers will be ready to leave their homes to help again if they are needed.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, training officer with the voluntary rescue organisation Christiaan Clotworthy, said they have dealt with incidents on Christmas Day in previous years.

“The way it works, we are all on call. There’ll be a duty team leader to take the call from gardaí and provide administrative support but then it’s just about who is available,” he explained.

“Some people just don’t want to do Christmas and they want to get out to the hills instead. For various reasons, people may have had a bad time at Christmas and just want to get out to clear their head and then find themselves in a situation where they need help.

Even on Christmas Day, we prefer that they do call for help, sometimes people are embarrassed so they’ll leave it for a while but it’s always better to do it earlier. If you leave it until it’s dark, that makes it harder, if you leave it until the battery on your phone is almost gone, that also can be an issue.

Source: Glen of Imaal Mountain Rescue

The 40-member team spent 1,700 man hours on incidents this year, with the majority (66) involving leg injuries.

“The incidents we tend to deal with are mainly relatively minor injuries that occur when people are hiking or, increasingly, mountain biking. So it could be serious walkers who have an accident or people who are out for walks in a place where an ambulance can’t get to them,” Clotworthy said. 

“We do deal with some serious multi-trauma injuries, from head injuries to spinal injuries as well. We’ve dealt with six head injuries this year and three spinal injuries.”

He said these incidents can be dealt with quickly in many cases, it is the lost or missing person incidents that take more time.

The team uses a system called Sarloch which allows them to sent a link to the person’s phone and if they click a link to accept and they have a 3G connection, their location will show up on a mapping system.

“This has sped up tasks that would have taken hours or all night. Now we’re getting to people much quicker if they have a smartphone.”

People who are going into the mountains for a hike should not rely only on their smartphones, however, Clotworthy warned.

“We get callouts from people who make the call at the end of the day with the last of their battery life and then they’re gone. Sometimes a person’s phone gets wet or the cold can affect it and then we are back to the old days of search operations,” he said. 

If you are setting out for a drive or a walk in the hills over the festive period, follow these tips:

“If you’re driving, make a plan, check the forecast before you head out, make note of any AA Roadwatch or garda notices. They’ll give advisories on whether the Sally Gap is open or not and when it’s not open and there’s snow, it is not a place to drive,” Clotworthy said. “Have a torch and batteries in the car as well as spare clothes and some snacks.”

“In terms of walking, we encourage people to use the hills but work within your ability. The old map and compass and an ability to use them is one of the most useful things. If people are relying on Google maps, there may be an issue if their phone battery dies or the phone gets wet,” he added.

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“If there are two people out, have two fully charged phone and just use one for the map, keep the other one-off so you have full batter on that in case of an emergency. Bring torches and batteries as the days are short and it can get dark quickly. You don’t want to be relying on your phone for a torch as well. Wear the right clothing and just be sensible.”

If you find yourself in trouble, call 999 or 112 and ask for mountain rescue.

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