Comment: Dales volunteers to the rescue in the bleakest of conditions

BASED in Clapham in the Yorkshire Dales, a team of skilled volunteers known as the Cave Rescue Organisation act as an emergency service for walkers, climbers and cavers. Here, team member Peter Maxwell provides an insight into a busy few months.

Trainee search dog Angus with Bill Batson.

Winter reluctantly released its grip on the Dales and the mix of sodden and icy conditions of the past few months have kept team members busy with rescues from caves and mountain tops.

The report of an injured caver took the team to Pool Sink, part of the vast Three Counties system on Leck Fell one wild, black night.

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The caver, with a dislocated shoulder, was marooned at the bottom of the vertical pitch leading out of the cave. The mile or so from the nearest road to the cave entrance is a quagmire of grassy tussocks and peat bog, cut by steep-sided stream beds. Progress to the cave mouth with rescue equipment saw us plunge knee-deep into the mud.

Heavy rain had filled streams above and below ground but a brief break in the weather allowed us to descend to the casualty and bring her to the surface for a stretcher evacuation before the next band of rain swept in.

Rescues like this can involve life or death decisions about where and when to enter caves which can flood to the roof.

A highlight of the CRO calendar is January’s ‘Casualty Care’ course. Every three years the team undergoes an intense period of training for this qualification in advanced first aid and life support skills. We practice the latest techniques and realistic mock-ups. Nervous anticipation surrounds the final exams, a written paper and practical scenarios, the latter taking place amid rocks and mud in the White Scar cave system.

A few weeks after our visit to Pool Sink, the team responded to a call for help from a walker with a suspected ankle fracture near the summit of Ingleborough. Daylight was fading as we reached her and a temporary shelter was erected while she was readied for a stretcher carry down to the waiting CRO Land Rovers.

Whilst she was being treated, two Three Peaks walkers passed, heading for the summit with light snow falling. Weather conditions quickly deteriorated and by the time we reached the vehicles we were battling a full blizzard. We quickly learned that a distress call had been received from the two walkers who were now lost in poor visibility.

A small team set off back up Ingleborough, reaching the top to find gale force winds and white-out conditions. A search with whistles and shouts quickly located the missing pair. Bitterly cold and shivering violently, they were given extra clothing and food before being guided down the steep, rocky path towards Crina Bottom where we were met by a team vehicle.

An unusual call-out towards winter’s end was to the aid of a walker trapped waist deep in a bog on Blea Moor, near Whernside. Ten minutes of heaving out handfuls of sphagnum moss released her from her three-hour ordeal. Very cold, she was taken by helicopter to hospital.

Angus, team member Bill Batson’s collie, is making fine progress. At just 11-months-old he’s on his way to becoming a fully trained mountain rescue search dog. He now searches for volunteer ‘missing people’ using his sense of smell. Having made a find, Glen runs back to Bill, barks and leads him to the missing person.

Angus’ reward is to play with a special toy which only comes out after a successful search.