This week we are joined by some real life heroes, the volunteers of Arran Mountain Rescue, who go to the aid of people injured and lost on the mountains, moors and in the forests of the Isle of Arran. The team also promote a better understanding of the skills and techniques required for safe hill walking and climbing amongst the community of Arran and the general public at large. They are almost totally supported by fundraising achieved by the team members, and donations from the general public.
On an evening in the middle of June 2015, members of the Arran Mountain Rescue team were tasked by the local police to aid in search for a 73-year-old man missing in the northern hills of Arran. This was the start of a very long call-out for the team which turned into numerous days of searching alongside other search and rescue organisations, including the police MRT, Royal Navy helicopter, Rescue 177 from HMS Gannet at Prestwick and mountain rescue dog teams from both SARDA Southern Scotland and SARDA Scotland. Approximately three days later, a body was sadly recovered from a gully on Cìr Mhòr. The result was not what any of the team members hope for when they are called out.
Fast forward four years - it’s the early hours of the morning at the start of April 2019. Team members are tasked by the local police to help locate three climbers cragfast on Cìr Mhòr. The climbers had been well-prepared for their route but got into some difficulty with their ropes which took some time to sort out. By the time they topped out, the weather had completely clagged in and darkness had fallen. Thankfully, they made the wise decision to stay put. Some of their friends who were staying in Glen Rosa had gone out to look for them and after hearing them shouting, they alerted the police. The team located the climbers on a rocky outcrop near the summit and after making sure it was safe for them to descend, the three climbers managed to abseil to safety, guided by the members of the AMR. Although very cold and damp, all three climbers were unharmed.
Two contrasting stories from the same mountain, but a reality that every volunteer mountain rescue team member faces. In mountain rescue, you have to accept that the mountains can sometimes be forgiving, but other times they’re not. Teams see many different scenarios from the ill-prepared getting caught out in the weather to the most experienced of mountaineers getting into difficulty. No matter who the casualties are, the AMR team members respond to a call-out, in the same way, every time: with the aim of rescuing those in need. Every team member has a love for the hills and the outdoors and they show compassion to those who need help. When the phone rings, the AMR team members prepare themselves for every eventuality, but they always hope that they can bring someone back home safely.
Arran is hugely popular for its rugged northern mountains - it’s an outdoor lover’s paradise. On average, the Arran Mountain Rescue team is called out approximately 30 times a year and tend to be busiest during the holiday periods. Call-outs for the team vary greatly and with Arran being an island community, not all of these are mountain-related. Call-outs can also include assisting the local ambulance service or other emergency services. One of the most memorable call-outs helping out the local community was back in March 2013 when the whole of Arran was completely cut off by heavy snow.
On an evening in March 2013, the team was called out to search for a delivery van driver who hadn’t turned up back at his base on the mainland. It had been snowing heavily for a number of hours and roads were turning treacherous. The team set off north and south to search the roads and after reaching the start of the climb up the Boguillie, a high road heading north towards the village of Lochranza, it was clear that the search was going to be more challenging than first anticipated. Strong easterly winds had caused huge snow drifts and the team was faced with trying to pinpoint the actual location of the road.
After some digging, the team’s all-terrain vehicle, the Argo Cat, was deployed to check the road as far ahead as it could. After it reached the other side of the hill, it became apparent that the initial call-out for a missing van driver had turned into a huge rescue operation as there were multiple cars buried in the snow with people inside them that needed to be rescued. The southern roads were just as bad and the AMR had to dig their way through. Thankfully, the team managed to rescue everyone that night. However, it was just the start of a week-long community emergency where everyone worked together to help reach and get supplies to those in need.
Turn back the clock to 1964 when the Arran Mountain Rescue team had only just been established. There was no team base, none of the vehicles nor the equipment that the team has now. Back then, 15 team members worked out of Brodick Fire Station. They were part of a unit of Royal Air Force Kinloss who maintained all the ropes and equipment and provided the necessary training. Prior to the formation of the Arran Mountain Rescue team, rescue parties were made up of volunteer groups including Arran estate workers who knew the hills very well. Yearly call-out numbers were relatively low compared to what they are today, but the AMR team members were still doing what they do nowadays and, hopefully, what they will continue to do in the future.
At present, the team has 30 volunteer members made up of men and women from all over the island and two fully qualified mountain rescue search dogs, both trained through Search and Rescue Dog Association in Southern Scotland. With a variety of skills and experience among them, the team provides search and rescue assistance to walkers and climbers on the Isle of Arran which is located in the Firth of Clyde, off the West Coast of Scotland. Initially, an incident is raised via Strathclyde Police and, if necessary, a call-out is then initiated. Team members are contacted and as soon as they assemble at the team base, they are briefed on the nature of the incident and then head out to the appropriate location.
All team members are experienced hillwalkers or mountaineers with a vast amount of local knowledge between them. They are unpaid volunteers giving up their time to help people in need and they are on-call 365 days a year. All team members receive regular training in skills such as first aid, navigation, rope work and helicopter familiarisation which is achieved via a combination of formal courses, workshops and planned exercises out on the hills and mountains. The running of the team is overseen by an elected committee who share the responsibility of managing the team. They are responsible for areas such as training, purchasing, evaluation and replacement of equipment, administration and fundraising. New team members initially serve a twelve-month probationary period after which they are assessed in order to become full team members.
The team is funded by a combination of grant-aid, public donations and fundraising. This support has enabled the team to purchase two all-terrain vehicles called Argo Cats which cut down on the time it takes team members to reach a casualty’s location on the hill, which can sometimes make the difference between life and death. The team base is located at Cladach at the foot of Goatfell and was kindly funded by St John Scotland along with two Land Rover Defenders. St John Scotland is a charity organisation that gives incredible support to mountain rescue teams across the country.
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