Probationers trip to Croagh Patrick

04 Aug 2018

‘Flight FR6673 Liverpool to Knock is now boarding at Gate 32’.

This was the start of the CVSRT trainees’ journey to Ireland to assist fellow mountain rescue teams at the annual Reek Sunday Pilgrimage on Croagh Patrick, Co Mayo.

The next 48hrs were to be an opportunity to put into practice many of the skills we have developed during our first 6-months of training with CVSRT, and also an assessment before being added to the call-out list.

With thousands, an estimated 6,000 this year, of people scaling Croagh Patrick in a single day accidents and injuries were inevitable. Pilgrims, some barefoot, began the three-mile trip over a 764-metre climb up rugged slopes throughout the last Sunday in July.

With Mayo Mountain Rescue co-ordinating rescue efforts from its base at the back of the mountain we joined forces with a contingent from Dublin-Wicklow MRT, with whom CVSRT are twinned, to support other rescue personnel from across Ireland.

On Saturday morning in preparation for our shift on the mountain we familiarised ourselves with the equipment we would use and practised how to move safely as a team on steep ground with a stretcher.

Come Saturday afternoon we set off on our own pilgrimage to the summit (known locally as ‘The Reek)’ to stretch our legs, take in the beautiful views across Clew Bay and gain a better understanding of the terrain. The conclusion was that the climb was arduous and the constantly moving boulders and scree would make any rescue tricky.

In the early hours of Sunday, after a lowly three hours in bed, we were up and headed for a briefing at Mayo MR’s base. We then ascended to the medical tent some 300m above us. Our 20 strong party made light work of pushing the stretcher loaded with rescue kit up the steep grassy slopes in the moonlit darkness. From there we were tasked to take up a position another 400m up the summit cone of Croagh Patrick for the start of our 4am shift. Reaching this position up the even steeper and rugged slopes (some sections were 44 degrees) of the cone took a great deal more effort.

Once there we threw on an extra layers of clothing, enjoyed the spectacle of the sun rising and waited for an accident to happen. Some pilgrims were already walking to the top in the traditional night ascent.

As dawn broke the number of pilgrims passing (the vast majority of whom you wouldn’t class as hill walkers) increased as the first of several hourly masses (8am) to be performed at the summit church approached, to what could be described as swarms. Nothing compared to the long gone heydays of Reek Sunday where over 50,000 people could be expected on the mountain.

Our shift finished at 9am and once our replacement team were in position we roped up the stretcher to make the tricky descent back to the base. After a quick reviving cuppa and hearty serving of Irish stew we headed back to Knock for our flight home.

The good weather conditions kept casualties to a minimum (a total of 17 individuals were treated during the day) and we didn’t get involved in a rescue during our 5 hour shift. However, we gained valuable practical experience and an appreciation of what it means to be part of the wider Mountain Rescue family. Locals and pilgrims alike were super friendly and appreciative of the work we did. We were all proud to wear the MREW colours and represent CVSRT.

Happily we were all successful in taking the next step towards being full team members, which culminates in a final assessment in January. Until then we will be attending call outs with the rest of the team. This will be a fantastic opportunity to apply everything we have learnt over the last 6-months.

CVSRT would like to thank Dublin-Wicklow MRT for hosting us over the weekend and Mayo Mountain Rescue for allowing us to take part in the event.

CVSRT Probationary Members (2018-19); Emily Ledder, James Freeman, Matt Baughan, Nicola Bartlett, Steve Smith and Trisha Merrington.

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