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Simply Hike Q&A with Llanberis Mountain Rescue

On our recent trip to Wales we caught up with mountaineering expert Rob Johnson, a member of the Llanberis Mountain Rescue team. See what we found out about what it's like to be part of a mountain rescue team in our Q&A video above, or read the full transcript below.
How many responses do you get on a yearly basis?
We get called out about 185 times a year. Last couple of years it's averaged at 185 times a year. Some of those are jobs where we'll give advice over the phone, rather than actually making a physical presence on the hill but that's how many times we get called for assistance.
What is the most common rescue that you have to undertake?
We are based on Snowdon which is kind of unique, I guess, in the mountain rescue environment. In as much as it's the busiest mountain in the world, so it gets three-quarters of a million people go up it every year. And a large percentage of those are probably people that have never been up a mountain before. And there is a tendency for Snowdon to be viewed almost as a tourist attraction rather than a mountain. So we get more than our fair share of people that haven't necessarily gone out equipped to deal with the mountain environment that they'll find, when the weather is anything less than perfect. So most commonly we are going out because people have been caught out by the weather. And that's either they've got cold and wet or they've got lost or they've had a slip and a trip which has caused them to be injured.
How many team members does it take to rescue someone?
We've got just over 50 people on the team, but it would be unrealistic to think that every single one of those is going to be able to attend to every one of 185 rescues. So we normally end up with about 10 or 12 people per rescue. And invariably, we end up needing more than that. So if somebody is immobilized and we've got to carry them down on a stretcher, that's the most labour-intensive position that we might find ourselves in. If we've got a stretcher carry, we're going to have eight people on a stretcher at any one time carrying it. But you can probably only carry for 10 to 15 minutes at a stretch and then you want another eight people to replace them really. So people can have a rest. So in an ideal world, you'd have 24 stretcher carriers able to go through a rotation of three and then a couple of people to do radios, and route finding and all that sort of thing. So say 26 people to carry somebody off would be optimal but we frequently have to manage with less.
What is the average response time?
We are looking for people to live within 15 minutes of base. So if you were on the hill and had to dial 999, we try to give a response to that initial 999 call within 10 minutes. So that will be a verbal response. And then we've got a further 15 minutes to get people here at our base. So you looking about 25 minutes to get people to base from you making the phone call, on average. If it's a fallen rock climber in the Llanberis Pass, things will happen an awful lot quicker because people recognize that time is of the essence, they will drop what they're doing and they will get there as quickly as they can. But for your average hill walking incident, it's probably going to be half an hour to get to base and then probably another two hours to get to you on the hill. So it could be two and a half to three hours from you making the call to somebody arriving on scene at your location. And the key learning point from that is that you need to have equipment with you on the hill to keep you warm for that length of time. So some spare clothing, a group shelter and maybe some spare food and some spare drink. Just to allow you to survive that initial time in what can be some pretty grim weather in the mountains at certain times of the year.
When do you have to use the rescue helicopter?
So we have got the option to use the Coast Guard helicopter where there's a situation where it's life or death and where the weather conditions allow for the helicopter to fly. So we will always put a ground response in, no matter what the situation. If there's a threat to life, an imminent threat to life, where time is of the essence, we'll ask for a helicopter to respond. They're based in Caernarfon, which is only five minutes flying time from here, but they can only fly when they got visibility. So if the weather is poor and there's no vis, the helicopter isn't an option to us. But where they've got visibility, they can get in really, really quickly and we end up using a helicopter probably, once a week through our busy season. So it's not unusual for us to be out daily in August as volunteers, responding to calls for help in the mountains. And if we can use the helicopter to speed up the response time that we give a casualty, then we will do so.
What to do before calling mountain rescue?
The biggest reason people end up ringing us is because they've got lost. So if we get a call from somebody who's in a situation where there's no threat to their life and they are not injured, we'll give them verbal assistance but we won't necessarily respond to them out on the hill. So the biggest thing that people can do to preempt having to ring us is to have a map and a compass with them and then have the skills to be able to use them. And I would say a vast majority of our jobs could be avoided if people had a map and compass and knew how to use them. Even the ones where we've had a slip, trip or a fall, if you trace it back to the cause of that, a large percentage of the root cause of that is people getting misplaced, getting lost and then hitting sort of a downward spiral where things just get worse and worse and worse. So, yeah, my number one tip, buy yourself a map, buy yourself a compass and learn how to use them before you head out into the mountains in poor weather.
How do you contact Mountain Rescue?
Probably by mobile phone is the way most people reach us. So you need to dial 999 or 112, and it doesn't matter which you use. If you've got no service on your phone, it's still worth trying either number because if there is a signal available on any network, your phone will patch you through. You'll be then put through to a control room and you'll be asked whether you want police, fire or ambulance. And you ask for police and once you're through to the police control room, you tell them that you need mountain rescue. And it's important to get as much information as you can through on that initial phone call. So we need to know where you are, what the nature of the injuries are, and how many people are in your party. And that way we can formulate a response because if you've patched through to us, it's quite possible that we won't be able to get back in touch with you. So the more information you can get through in that initial phone call, the better. It's also worth, for people that head out to the mountain a lot, registering their phone with a 999 text service so that you can send a text to request help in the mountains. And you can do that online. You pre-register your phone and then you're able to text in if you require assistance, which in the mountains it's often really useful because you're often in poor weather, where it's hard for a call-taker to hear the information that you're giving and you're often in areas of poor signal. And a text requires less data available to it than a phone call does.   We hope this video has been helpful in case you are ever in need of help whilst out in the mountains. Have you ever needed help from mountain rescue?