“Bear in mind that this can happen mid-dinner, mid-argument or even mid-stepping-into-the-shower (true story),” Emily explains.
At only 23 years old Emily Woodhouse is a pretty cool lady. Based down in Dartmoor she’s part of Mountain Rescue – which is no small feat. The Mountain Rescue (MR) are teams around the country, often based in hilly, mountainous areas, who volunteer their time, skills and energy to come out and find you in the hills if you get lost, stuck or injured. They’re an incredible bunch of people who sacrifice their own time for the good of others and to be involved with them at such a young age is nothing short of admirable.
When asked whether she’d always walked – I’d assume so for someone so passionate about being outside – she admits that she doesn’t really know. Having been born in America there is photo evidence of being in the mountains of Yosemite as a two year old – “…although how far I actually walked, age two, is another question!” It was only as she went into her teens that she remembers getting really serious about walking, joining a group and getting out camping nearly every weekend.
Not everybody is aware of the MR and the work that they do – and even fewer know how to call them when needed. She rightly points out “the longer you spend in the hills, the more likely you are to know about them.” The problems arise when non-walkers come to the mountains for the first time for a bit of a jolly and they don’t properly research where they’re going, trying to wander up mountains with no map, compass or extra layers. This often occurs in places like Snowdonia, where Snowdon has become something of a tourist attraction and therefore it’s assumed that it’s a safe area.
“They’re a mystery. You don’t know who they are, or where they come from. But you do know that, no matter how bad it gets, they’ll come and save you.”
Knowing about MR is one thing, but taking the step to join is something else entirely. Confessing that she thinks her reason slightly silly, she admits, “as a young person who spent a lot of time outside, MR seem[ed] like superheroes. They’re a mystery. You don’t know who they are, or where they come from. But you do know that, no matter how bad it gets, they’ll come and save you.”
That all sounds pretty cool, right – but you really have to earn that hero accolade. She explains that, before she signed up, she “didn’t realise how rigorous the selection process [was]. There’s a selection day, then you might be invited for a six week trial period – or rather, six training exercises. If everything’s going okay at the end of that, you become an official trainee and are given a log book.” So, it’s no stroll in the park to even become a trainee. Before you can go any further you need to complete your logbook, which takes most people about a year. Once that’s done, you’ll be put through your paces in a navigation assessment, where you’ll be micro-navigating your way through a winter night with “as awful weather as can be arranged”. Needless to say, Emily must know her stuff as she passed and is now what’s known as a Hill Party Member (and recently appointed Treasurer of her team).
Not only do you have to have exceptional navigational skills to be in a MR team, you have got to have compassion and commitment to the job and the people you come across. You need to be willing and able to go out whatever the weather and do your best to find somebody, knowing you may come across them terribly injured – or worse. “Luckily, I haven’t seen anything too horrific just yet. There are some pretty gory pictures in our first aid training, but that’s good – so you don’t react like it’s the first time in real life.” Sometimes it’s not only knowing you have to manage the situation when you do find them but also keeping yourself calm in the search. She continues to explain that, “sometimes [it’s] the things you don’t see that can get to you… if you’re searching for someone in thick woodland in the dark, you can’t let the creepiness get to you.”
Being a part of a MR team can take up a lot of your time and in a world where we’re always busy, time can be a precious commodity – especially when you’re volunteering it. It could be argued that a high proportion of people don’t appreciate that just how time consuming being part of a MR team is because they “really don’t understand the scope of what we do It’s not just about winching people off crags with a helicopter. In fact, we spend a lot of time doing rural and urban searches, looking for people with dementia etc who have gone missing.” That’s not including the weekly training that they have to undertake and not even touching on the fundraising efforts* they have to put in to keep this vital organisation running.
*If you want to donate to MR click here.