The Langdale Pikes – Harrison Stickle, Pike o’ Stickle and Loft Crag – will be lit over the mountain summits by hundreds of torches to mark 50 years of the Langdale Ambleside Mountain Rescue Team.
The illumination, on the evening of Friday April 3, will be part of a series of events throughout the year to mark the efforts of the volunteers who have saved hundreds of lives on the hills, and rescued injured walkers and climbers. Last year they were called out 101 times.
“It promises to be an exceptional sight,” said LAMRT leader Nick Owen. “The Langdale Pikes can be seen from many miles away on the approaches to the Lakes. It’s an outline which is familiar to everyone who has been to the Lake District, but they will never have seen anything like this before.”
Nick, who by day is the manager of the Elterwater Independent Hostel, leads a team of around 40 volunteers from all walks of life, including doctors, paramedics , an insurance expert… and an architectural and sculptural metal worker.
The event is being co-ordinated by deputy team leader Sarah Anderson – one of six women in the team – who said that anyone could take part if they were competent in the hill environment after dark. “The route will be marshalled but we do expect people to be able to look after themselves,” she said.
Hundreds of torches
So far nearly 200 people have indicated that they will take part, with more than 1000 expressing interest on the team’s Facebook page.
The LAMRT was formed in 1970 from the amalgamation of two separate teams, who would use the now familiar base on Lake Road in Ambleside.
The team has some notable ‘firsts’ to its credit, including the invention of the now universally used Bell stretcher by team member Peter Bell, an engineer who also developed the Reviva, an early device to give first aid treatment to hypothermia victims. Due to its location in the centre of the Lake District, the team has also become one of the busiest in the UK.
Previously, rescue from the fells was done on an ad hoc basis by local climbers, notably Sid Cross of the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel in Langdale. The 1950s had seen a huge increase in the numbers of people who took up rock-climbing as a sport. And with post-war increase in affluence and personal mobility, many youngsters from the northern cities began to make weekend tracks to the Lakes, camping rough or in farmers’ barns, especially in Langdale, many of them later to become climbing legends.
“Inevitably this led to an increase in the number of people getting lost, or having mishaps and accidents,” says Nick Owen. “Volunteers came from among the local climbing fraternity but this relied on enough climbers being in the right place when an incident occurred.”
Lost on the hills
Call-outs were not as frequent then, but often were very lengthy affairs and the heavy and cumbersome equipment available, such as old Thomas stretchers, took its toll on rescuers and victims alike.
In the 1960s as more and more people wanted to experience ‘the great outdoors’, the Lake District saw the beginning of a huge boom in tourism. For mountain rescue, it meant that the client changed dramatically. Instead of climbers, it was the new breed of fellwalkers who were coming to grief on the hills, getting lost, breaking limbs and falling victim to hypothermia and heart attacks.
Rescue teams in Langdale and Ambleside were merged, and the LAMRT has
proudly defended its position as a self-funding organisation, with a dedicated membership of unpaid volunteers.
Thanks to its good relationships with local people and to many small contributors and fund-raising helpers, together with larger individual donations, the LAMRT has managed to bring itself to the present day with huge experience and expertise in its field, a formidable range of rescue and para-medical equipment, a high degree of communications technology and a training programme second to none. It has won the respect of and developed excellent working relationships with the Police, the County Ambulance Service and the coastguard whose Search and Rescue Helicopter Service often assists local teams with emergency evacuations.
Today their role includes education, putting across the message that those heading onto the hills should be well equipped and well prepared, and able to use a map and compass, not just rely on a mobile phone.
The team has been at the forefront of the Be Adventure Smart campaign. Says Nick Owen: “The mountains of the Lake District are not high by international standards, and severe snow and ice conditions are rare, but they should not be underestimated as they can be unforgiving for even the most experienced and well-prepared walkers.
“Severe weather conditions can set in within minutes and navigation can be difficult at the best of times due to a scarcity of obvious paths and tracks. We encourage hill goers to be adventure smart, asking, do I have the right gear, do I know what the weather will be like, am I confident I have the knowledge and skills for the day?”