Sunday 26 October 2008

Baby it's cold outside

And yesterday, in the north of Britain, it was absolutely peeing it down and raging a gale. So not the best weather to embark on a 24-hour adventure fell race methinks. So when the news broke yesterday afternoon that hundreds of fell runners were stranded on Honister Pass and elsewhere on the Borrowdale Fells, my reaction wasn't very sympathetic.

Many summers of my childhood were spent at High House in at Seathwaite so I have more than a passing acquaintance with the area. And when it's blowing a gale and veritable curtains of rain are rolling down the valley, even the hardy FellFarers only don their Berghaus jackets and boots if the planned walk ends in the pub. No sane person would want to embark on an endurance race. (There is some debate as to whether endurance race competitors can be classed as sane in any case, of course ;) )

Some reports are making it sound as if the 700 or so still out in the hills are definitively stranded and rescue teams are being scrambled as I type. This may not be the case. Probably most of them will get back down by themselves because we're dealing with experienced adventure race participants here. But a few may well need rescue assistance. And this touches on a subject I have my own particular views on: should practitioners of extreme sports take out insurance to cover the costs of any rescue they may require in the course of their sport?

Already in France, authorities can demand payment towards search & rescue costs. There is no distinction made between pure dumb luck leading to an accident, and reckless or rash behaviour meaning one ends up in a fankle. Everyone is liable.

Disclaimer: I'm not dissing endurance racing or adventure racing. Most people who organise and take part in such events are fully appraised of what races involve and they know what they're doing. Being fully aware myself of my own abilities, I would never have even considered so much as a stroll in yesterday's conditions in Cumbria. Nae chance. But I just feel that if you go out in crap weather, knowing that it will be difficult, tiring and dangerous then you should pay for any rescue you might require if you get cold and wet and stuck. Because you knew the risk and took it anyway.

And let's make another thing clear: anyone who requires medical assistance because they have tripped/slipped/fallen/taken ill should be evacuated as soon as is safely possible. I've fallen in the hills, I still have the scar to remind me. It hurt. I managed down by myself with no damage done, so lucky me. My dear Mum tripped and fell face first onto a rock. She was lucky she also made her own way down off the mountain and only required one stitch to her forehead. Phew.

So what do you think? Search & rescue is costly, and can be very dangerous in mountainous regions where the weather can change fast. Should the "customers" of these services participate in the cost? And under which terms? Anyone rescued, no matter what the circumstances? Or limited to those who are considered to have behaved rashly? If you're struck down by acute appendicitis when up a mountain, should you pay for medical evacuation at the same rate and under the same terms as someone who left their tent at home to keep their kit light, and finds themselves without shelter on a shitty, wet and windy night? Or should rescue remain fully free for everyone, no matter what the circumstances?

The 12 mountain rescue teams in the Lake District National Park cost around £500,000 a year to keep them going. That's just their kit, and doesn't include the additional cost of helicopters (which are actually rarely scrambled). MR teams are charities, manned by volunteers (my Dad was once of their number!) and are funded almost entirely through public donations (not unlike the RNLI).

Is it time to adopt the approach used in France, Switzerland and elsewhere? Should hikers and paragliders and windsurfers and dinghy sailors take out insurance to cover potential rescue costs if they end up in a spot of bother?

Please note that the event taking place this weekend is not to be confused with the Borrowdale Fell Race, a half-marathon that takes place on the first Saturday in August at which a jolly good time is had by all. Especially the checkpoint crews.


Anonymous said...

I think sometimes people are plain stupid. Growing up in Brittany, I hard many stories of unexperienced sailors/ racers/ swimmers/ hikers etc getting lost in bad weather, at sea or on the cliffs.

I used to surf and windsurf and trust me, I did check the weather carefully beforehand. People should be a bit more responsible.

Anonymous said...

ha ha i tried not to leave the house any more than possible this weekend... but then I don't have the personality that would let me take a pastime that seriously... maybe if you are serious enough to get to that level you don't look at dangers or obstacles the same way...

Lis of the North said...

Salut Zhu. I agree, some people are just a bit ... foolhardy? But I guess also if you've been really looking forward to a sailing/hiking/[insert sport here] trip it's hard to turn back if the weather looks a bit dodgy.
Whereabouts did you go surfing? I thought the sea around Brittany might be a bit cold for surfing!
Ah Willie a fella I can identify with. Saturday in the north of Britain was a day for catching up on one's "to read" book pile! Speaking of which, I have a couple for you. x