The BBC has a news story about a man who slipped and fell on ice while walking the Pyg Track in Snowdonia.

I guess this hilights two things for me. First of all, even if there’s no leader to a group, you stick together. This unfortunate chap fell and, according to the coroner, died on impact, so no matter how quick the help, they wouldn’t have been able to save him. However, if he hadn’t hit his head, noticing sooner rather than later could very well have saved his life.

Secondly, if you’re walking in snow and ice – or to be honest, even if you’re just walking in the mountains – Shit Happens. This chap was an experienced Alpine mountaineer and had the right equipment – and he still fell to his death. You can’t stop it happening, so prepare for it. For goodness sake, don’t invite it upon yourself by not taking basic preparations.

This also reminds me of a particularly cold day in the Beacons last year, in 40-60mph winds, freezing rain and temperatures of around -4 degrees C, I was walking up Corn Du in full winter gear – crampons, ice axe, snow goggles, full winter clothing and a rucksack full of essential gear. I aborted my walk because the weather was too poor – strong winds and icy conditions was making the path extremely treacherous. I took the path down to the Storey Arms from Corn Du as I had been walking up from the Obelisk, and I met a couple on their way up. They had light waterproof jackets, hats and gloves. I stopped as I approached them – by now, a little off the edge of the north face, we were in the lee of the mountain and conditions were much more cofortable.

“How far to the top?” asked the guy, after greeting me.

I looked them up and down, glanced over my shoulder, and again looked down at their crampon-less boots, light-duty clothing, and tiny funsack with half-frozen water bottles tucked into the side pouches. “I wouldn’t. The path is extremely icy, and to be honest the wind is so strong, I gave up on reaching the summit myself.” I said.

They looked at me, looked up at the summit, and looked at each other. I thought ‘If they’re heading up, I’m going to stop here until they come back down.’ Fortunately, as I was taking my rucksack off to get a cup of hot Ribena, the ice on my arm fell off and revealed the Mountain Rescue team badge. I noticed her nudging him and nodding at it, and they looked at the summit again.

“Thanks,” he said, “I guess we’ll head back then.”

I breathed a sigh of relief as I watched them make their way down. I don’t often offer advice like that, figuring that a bad experience can teach you a lot about respecting the environment, but the north face of Corn Du and Pen Y Fan in any conditions are extremely dangerous. I also dislike “pulling rank” – Mountain Rescue is here to help everybody, and I have no delusions that there are far more experienced people than me out there. On that day, however, I was very glad of my team badge.
We’re there to help, when people need it. I’m just glad I was there to offer those two help on that day before, perhaps, they came to the same tragic end.

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