While you might hold the understandable view that hikers who go out in all weathers are a bit unhinged, you will appreciate that there is one exception: members of the intrepid Mountain Rescue services. These include the RAF which will airlift you off a mountain should you break a leg, twist an ankle, or become trapped by bad weather; plus the brave, unpaid volunteers of the Mountain Rescue teams on the ground. Both are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year – for emergencies.
An emergency is something that is life-threatening. Unfortunately, needing help to get back to level ground in time to catch your train doesn’t qualify. Hinting that you might once have been a member of the Mountain Rescue services is a good bluff, but never overplay it. In fact resolutely refuse to discuss it further, saying something like: ‘If you’ve seen Touching the Void, you’ll understand why I don’t want to talk about it.’ Striking a noble pose, firm-jawed, with a faraway look in the eye is recommended in these circumstances.
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FELL TOP ASSESSORS
You are strongly advised to grasp the hand of a fell top assessor warmly should you come face to face with one while hiking in the Lake District. A fell top assessor is not someone who scores every mountain summit out of ten for the scenic quality of its views, as some might think, although should you stop to chat to one, he or she will no doubt share with you a most memorable vista. Assessors actually perform a vital role in ensuring a safe hiking environment. Every time you ring the Lake District’s Weatherline (0844 846 2444), not only will you receive Met Office weather forecasting for climbing Lakeland’s mountains, but the information will also be augmented by the findings of a fell top assessor.
These are some of the most dedicated hikers in the country (although most less dedicated hikers might think they need sectioning). Between December and March, a fell top assessor climbs to the summit of Helvellyn, England’s third-highest mountain (950m or 3,117ft), every day.
Correct: they climb to the summit of the same mountain every day for four months.
Once up there, they take a few photos, lick their finger and stick it in the air to assess wind direction, record what the weather conditions are like, and then make their way back down again.
You’ll need to know why they are climbing only the third-highest mountain in England, and not the highest, Scafell Pike (978m or 3,209ft). The reason is that Helvellyn’s large, wall-like east face means that it maintains snow on its summit for longer than its taller Lakeland sister, making it the more dangerous summit for wintry weather conditions.
And hikers always need to know the degree of risk before they set out (if they’ve got any sense.)