Eighty years of rescues in the Yorkshire Dales

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BASED in Clapham in the Yorkshire Dales, a team of skilled volunteers act as an emergency service for walkers, climbers and cavers. Known as the Cave Rescue Organisation, it is a charity which is celebrating its 80th year. Here, team member, Peter Maxwell, gives an insight into life with the rescue service.

On call 365 days a year, we never know when the next call-out text will arrive. Summer though sees more people enjoying the hills and is our busiest time of the year for mountain rescue incidents.

The Yorkshire Three Peaks offer a popular circular walk with many people taking on the challenge of completing the 25 mile route in under 12 hours but the trek does not always pass without incident.

Earlier in the summer we were sent to aid a walker tackling the circuit in the less common clockwise direction. Without precise information about her location, we took two Land Rovers up the rocky track towards Hull Pot on the flanks of Pen-y-ghent where we spotted her some way above. One vehicle continued up the steep, narrow switch-backs to find her unable to carry on. Suffering from hypothermia, she was driven down to Horton-in-Ribblesdale.

Not long afterwards, a runner near the summit of Whernside fell 12 metres down the steep east face, suffering head injuries. An air ambulance was called but low cloud prevented a landing. Our team climbed quickly to the scene and treated the injured runner before beginning the long descent. Using webbing straps, we guided and dragged the stretcher on its skis to the waiting ambulance.

Giving advice to the public about ways to avoid meeting us “professionally” and raising funds to keep CRO going keeps us busy when we’re not attending call-outs.

The day after a visit to Malham Show with our display trailer we were at our Clapham base preparing for our annual fundraising duck race when we received a call-out back to Malham. We found the casualty on the limestone pavement at the top of Malham Cove in pain with a lower leg injury. Working with ambulance crews, we transferred the casualty to a stretcher for a tricky carry over clints and grikes - limestone separated by deep channels - to the helicopter before returning to release the ducks in Clapham Beck.

Another day, another river and the team was called to rescue a sheep stuck in a ravine at Catrigg Force. Seeing its rescuers abseiling into the gorge, it lept off its narrow ledge, plunging into icy waters below. After a swim the sheep was caught and hauled to the surface to be reunited with its owner unharmed.

As well as rescuing animals, we can call on them for help as we’re fortunate to have two team members with fully trained search dogs. Bill Batson and Andy Colau expertly work their dogs, Glen and Belle, over large areas of difficult terrain in all conditions. It was Glen who found a crashed light aircraft on Ingleborough in 2011 in darkness and low cloud, allowing us to free the two pilots from the wreckage and attend to their injuries before stretchering them off the hill.

Recently, Bill travelled to Fort William to collect Angus, a Border Collie puppy. Bill hopes that one day Angus too will don the jacket of a search dog and accompany CRO into the hills to find injured and lost people. Before that can happen, though, Angus must complete a long training programme. We’ll keep readers posted on his progress.