Paul Cook & Jon Lynch
This note presents a review of Wasdale MRT callouts starting in November 2002 and working through to the end of 2011. In particular it reviews the types of incidents responded to, the time of day and the time of year to investigate whether any patterns emerge. It builds on a previous review of Wasdale callouts from 2009 to Oct 2011 previously published on the team website.
All the incidents listed on the Wasdale MR website back to Nov 2002 have been analysed, both callouts and alerts (using the data on the website). The incidents have been categorised as follows.
- Injury / Medical
- A callout to someone who is either injured or otherwise requires medical attention. This includes a wide spectrum from a simple ‘bang on the knee’ to significant tumble falls.
- Someone on the mountains contacts us, usually by mobile phone to report that they are lost / cannot make further progress as they are uncertain where to go next. This is due to navigational challenge rather than being physically unable to make progress, which is covered below under cragfast. It includes people who were talked off as well as those where a response was mounted on the fell.
- Someone who is not on the mountain contacts us about someone else they know who went for a walk / climb and has yet to return or contact them to say they are safe and off the hills. This category includes all incidents of this type including those who do later turn up safe and well or where a response was mounted.
- An incident where someone cannot make further progress due to the steep or uneven nature of the ground they are on, for example, stuck on a crag. In this category the person who is stuck generally knows where they are but feels they cannot make further progress and is distinct from some of those categorised as lost where the person was uncertain which direction to head in. Note it includes people stuck on the Wasdale Screes in the boulder field.
- This covers other miscellaneous incidents, often not connected with the mountains, such as responses to road traffic incidents (often in snow / ice), resilience type work, eg : Cockermouth floods, searches in an urban environment and assistance to the ambulance service away from the mountains.
Note that false alarms, eg : reports of flashing lights, shouts for help that later turn out to be well intentioned but not indicative of a mountain incident have been ignored. This accounts for a further 6 incidents. For each incident class the date and time is recorded.
The period from Nov 2002 through to end 2011 includes a total of 799 incidents. Of these there are a small number of well intentioned false alarms that are not considered further and another population of incidents where there was insufficient detail to assign a category, therefore most analysis below in on a total of 775 incidents.
Figure 1 shows that 1/3 of Wasdale incidents require medical input. Over 50 % are related to lost and overdue. Cragfast and Other are a relatively small proportion.
Figure 2 shows a breakdown by month. This shows that the winter months, November through to March are relatively quiet. There is an upturn in incidents in April that persists through to the middle of the autumn, September / October. Injuries / Medical are spread relatively evenly over this period. The previous review of incidents from 2009 – 11 highlighted peaks in injuries / medical in May and September. In this analysis the peaks are less obvious. July has the greatest percentage of injuries / medical but overall these incidents are evenly spread through the spring into early autumn. There is an increase in reports of overdue in the summer months, particularly June and August. This may be indicative of a ‘3 peaks effect’ ? Lost also increases in the summer months then peaks in October, possibly due to effects of reduced daylight (and / or half term)? Relatively few people are reported as lost or overdue in the winter.
Figure 3 shows the monthly distribution of the ‘Other’ category. It is relatively evenly spread across the year but clearly peaks in December reflecting poor weather and an increase in responding to stranded motorists.
Figure 4 shows a breakdown of incidents by time of day. Note that the x-axis refers to the end of each data ‘bin’ therefore 06:00 refers to the time period from 05:01 – 06:00 and so on. Fortunately the time between 02:00 – 06:00 in the morning is quiet. Arguably there are 3 distinct time periods shown. Most injuries / medical occur in the afternoons with 73 % of these incidents between 13:00 – 18:00. Lost tends to peak later on with 55 % of these incidents occurring between 16:00 – 20:00. Overdue then peaks later on still with 52 % reported between 18:00 – 23:00.
Figure 5 shows how callout numbers have changed over the period from 2003 to the present. Overall Wasdale is a much busier team now than 8 years ago. Arguably there is a rising trend in total 999 calls throughout but in particular 2007 saw an increase to current levels and 2009 was particularly busy. The figure also breaks the types of callout down.
- Where the full team are requested to turn out, usually for an injury / medical evacuation or large search.
- Limited callout
- Where the full team are paged but the message makes it clear that only a small number of ‘volunteers’ are needed to resource the incident. Typically this would be to escort lost and uninjured people from a known location.
- Where the duty team leader receives a call but does not mobilize the team. Typically people reported overdue subsequently turn up (often just after the report of being overdue !) or lost people are talked off the mountain by phone. One or two team members might be involved checking car parks etc.
Figure 5 shows that both callouts and alerts increased substantially during the period. In particular, the number of alerts has grown to the point where it is now around 1/3 of total 999 calls. The upturn in limited callouts in 2011 partly reflects a change in reporting where an incident was logged as ‘Limited Call’ when car parks / pubs were checked even though no team members went on the fells. It is also possible that some historic calls were actually limited but not recorded as such on the website.
Figure 6 shows that injuries / medical have remained fairly constant over the past 8 years as a % of total calls. On the other hand, both Lost and Cragfast have increased as a % of total calls during the same period. Given that total calls have increased as well there must be a lot more people getting lost or stuck on the mountains around Wasdale & Eskdale. Arguably the ‘Overdues’ have slightly decreased as a % of total calls.
Does this tell us anything useful?
Firstly it needs to be pointed out that rescue teams only deal with a small fraction of the total mountain visitors in any year, therefore some caution should be exercised in applying this data to identify wider trends.
Navigational issues clearly represent the majority of the workload. All those categorised as lost can clearly be attributed to navigational problems. Most of the overdues are also the result of a navigational error and also some of the cragfasts. The distribution with time of day suggest it is navigation in descent or the onset of darkness that cause the greatest difficulties. By definition the Lost category involves a mobile phone call. The year on year increase in these types of calls shows more people are using phones to seek assistance. What is less clear / cannot be determined is whether this represents greater willingness to call for help early in an incident that would later become an overdue or more people are using phones in place of map and compass. In some ways it is better to speak with someone on the phone who confirms they need rescuing and can give some indication of location / route to date than be faced with the challenge of mounting a widespread search. On the other hand, the increase in alerts / limited callouts suggests many incidents are minor and can be resolved without team deployment.
Sticking with descent, the timing of the injuries / medical also shows it is generally the coming off the mountain that causes the accidents. Whether this is the result of tiredness, the greater speed of descent or other factors cannot be determined from the information.
Perhaps ironically the greatest number of overdues are reported in the summer, particularly June and August with the longest days and (sometimes) better weather. Clearly Wasdale is a busy place during June with Scafell Pike in particular experiencing 24 hour a day activity due to 3 peaks challenge events. There are very few reports of overdue in the winter, despite the short days and potential for poor weather.
Often what is interesting is the trend with time and it will be useful to review this again periodically to determine whether there is any drift in the types of incident responded to or their distribution around the day / year ?