CVSRT Trainees’ Weekend and Croagh Patrick Reek Sunday 2016
Words by CVSRT Trainees 2016: Ben, Dan, Jess, Jonothan and Keith
Friday 29th July 2016
We were three minutes into a ‘gentle stroll’ from our accommodation heading up to the summit of Croagh Patrick, County Mayo when CVSRT Paramedic and Recruits Training Officer Al Day asks the passing Mayo Mountain Rescue Team driver, on her way to an incident near the foot of the hill, “Calder Valley Search and Rescue – can we be of assistance?”
So much for a gentle warm up to our training weekend, and mountain rescue support for Reek Sunday - the annual pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick. We were straight into our first real incident of the weekend, flexibility was to be one of the key themes of our training trip to Ireland.
Suitably we were laden with team kit, we soon found ourselves a short way up the track supporting the Mayo Mountain Rescue Team attending to a casualty. With no time to take in the stunning views across Clew Bay (or obtain helmets from another Irish team yet to arrive), the casualty was safely loaded onto the stretcher and on her way back down the hill.
Job done, we managed to find a local hostelry for a full team de-brief could be carried out.
Saturday 30th July 2016
The next morning, fully charged up after an ‘Al Day Breakfast Special’, we joined members of the Dublin and Wicklow Mountain Rescue Team for a stretcher exercise on the foothills of Mweelrea, highest mountain in Connacht. This was a good opportunity to become fully acquainted with the Irish Bog – although little did we know that later that day we were to experience Advanced Level Irish Bog training (with laden stretcher). More importantly, we were able to familiarise ourselves with the Team’s stretcher and other equipment. After a good session practising casualty loading with the vacuum mattress, manoeuvring the stretcher over rough ground and the “walking V” and snake belay for steep ground, we were about to head back to the vehicles and on to our hostel, for a quiet afternoon in preparation for the main event starting with a 2am alarm call for the annual pilgrimage on Reek Sunday.
Just then, a call came in for assistance with a fallen walker somewhere on the other side of the mountain. After a short drive up the valley we parked up at an outdoor activity centre. From there we were given a lift in an old mini-bus held together with gaffer tape up a track to the edge of the moor... and then it was back on foot with the stretcher, equipment and a host of midgies, with about 2km of Irish bog, streams and some of the deepest tussocks we had ever come across!
Some time later and on arriving at the casualty site, we quickly scrambled up the slope to assist Mayo Mountain Rescue Team who had just begun lowering the casualty on a stretcher using a snake belay – having practised it just a few hours previously, we knew what to do straight away, and jumped in to help. Once onto the flatter ground, there was just a short stretcher carry to load the casualty onto the waiting Irish Coast Guard helicopter.
And then there was just the small matter of retracing our steps back across the bog! Fortunately, we had the prospect of a fantastic 3 course meal arranged for the evening to spur us on.
Later that night and after the hostel had completed its midnight fire alarm test (!), the alarm clock went off. Passing a few pub late-returnees in the hostel reception, we headed out to the event HQ for breakfast, briefing... and more stretcher carrying!
Sunday 31st July 2016
By 4am we had made it to the medical station at about the halfway point up the side of Croagh Patrick to await further instructions. By this time, there was already a steady trickle of pilgrims heading up to the church at the summit – and some already on their way back down.
Flexibility and determination – two of the weekend’s themes as we were soon tasked to set up further up the mountain. This required a concerted effort from all, including extra team members pulling on ropes and slings attached to the stretcher to get everything to the location, approximately 100m below the summit via a very loose and steep scree path.
When in position a few carried on to the summit. The experience of having a large number of people gathering on a summit at 7am, some of whom were dressed either in their Sunday best or had walked up bare-foot, with mist hanging in the air was a unique and unforgettable one. An occasional waft of methylated spirits from the "pop up" cafe could be smelt with a constant stream of pilgrims coming up the mountain for Mass.
With no incidents apart from the occasional request for a group photo, after an hour or so we descended back to the main fell party to await further instruction. Flexibility, determination and patience...three essential mountain rescue skills.
Fortunately for us (and unlike last years recruits) we finally had time to enjoy the views over Clew Bay and its 365 islands. We were also able to appreciate the massive effort and dedication demonstrated by the thousands of walkers, using a variety of techniques and walking poles, most of whom looked unlikely to venture on to a hill (let alone a mountain) at any other time of year!
Eventually, when our shift was over, there was just the small matter of wheeling the stretcher and equipment back down the scree to Mayo MRT’s base. We made sure to uncover the kit loaded on the stretcher, as many passing pilgrims hurriedly crossed themselves, thinking that we were retrieving a body!
The whole weekend was a great experience, from which we learnt a huge amount about how fellow mountain rescue teams operate and which will benefit us immensely as we move into the next phase of our training, as Calder Valley Search and Rescue Team Probationary members.
For further information on joining the team check out the Joining The Team page on our website.