'Any Hour, Any Day, Any Weather' - Outdoors Magic

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‘Any Hour, Any Day, Any Weather’

We sent our writer to spend a day with one of the UK's hardest working mountain rescue teams

It’s the final week of April. Spring exhales across the UK. An exuberant wind rushes up the island, rousing the dazed plants and scattering a thick sheet of cloud into discreet, puffy little unfair portions. The rising sun casts their striking sharp-edged silhouettes across the ground. Between them: blazing stretches of grass and heather sway, silent; lochs and lochans writhe and spark like TV static; hills rise from the treeless plains and glow fiercely along the northwestern coast of Scotland. They are huge and tiny. A speckled green carpet stretches to the south, to the east. A flash of white borders the endless blue to the west, to the north. The Earth runs off for miles in all directions. That’s my view, anyway.

Photo: Ed Smith

Back at HQ, Helly Hansen are launching their new page: Trail Finder. Developed in collaboration with mountain rescue teams around the world, Trail Finder is a one-stop-shop to discover hiking routes, learn all about the mountain code, and pick up tips from the pros on what to pack and how to leave no trace. To run through its ins and outs, and to raise awareness of the incredible work Mountain Rescue Teams do across the UK, HH summoned a rag-tag group of outdoor journalists, including myself, to the coastal town of Achiltibuie, Scotland.

We arrived yesterday evening and met Tim, the fearless leader of one of Hansen’s partnered rescue teams – Assynt MRT. After a night’s sleep, we reconvened refreshed and ready. Tim outlined the day’s itinerary: reach the summit of Stac Pollaidh, execute some mountain rescue training exercises, and learn first-hand just how difficult it is to carry a stretcher a couple thousand feet up. We try to avoid clichés here at Outdoors Magic, but this one is inevitable, so I’ll just say it out of the gate: Wow! This experience opened my eyes to the near endless levels of mental fortitude and physical strength required to be a mountain rescue volunteer. You need to be brave, steadfast, patient. You must remain calm, yet determined, and press on however dire a situation may appear. Plus, the stretcher is seriously heavy. Have I made that clear?

Charlie (left) and Tim (right) taking roughly 80% of the weight | Photo: Ed Smith
Oh, look, that's me there! | Photo: Ed Smith
And here's Ben looking stoic as ever | Photo: Ed Smith

This team of three, Tim, Ben, and Charlie often scale mountains far taller than this one with the weight of their stretcher plus extra gear shared between just two of them. We, four interlopers, each took a corner. We huffed, we puffed, and we took several breaks. I am not especially unfit, and I stand about a foot taller than Tim, yet I have no doubts that he would destroy me if we ever had a fight. He’d pick me up, dangle me by my belt with one hand, and nonchalantly toss me off the mountain as if he’d found a mouldy apple in his packed lunch.

Eventually, the soft green hill gave way to ancient Torridonian sandstone; we’d ascended to the col, a flat haven flanked by the towering grey walls which ran off east and west, composing the rest of Stac Pollaidh’s ridge.

Photo: Ed Smith

Here, things got serious. Someone got in the stretcher. I mean, they volunteered, but still. We learned how the rescue team transport a casualty up steep and rocky terrain – we remain still on either side and pass the stretcher forward, hand-over-hand. As it moves along, those passing from the back eventually can’t reach it, so they head around to the front to keep caterpillaring the casualty along. It’s a gradual but safe method, very safe – I eventually became jealous of the volunteer and wished that I could be held in Tim and co.’s strong arms instead.

The casualty was so secure, she didn't even break a nail | Photo: Ed Smith
The 'Team Caterpillar' Move | Photo: Ed Smith

This rescue training, along with the scrambling that followed, was where I really got to put my gear to the test. Helly Hansen kitted us out, which was vital for the training – that team caterpillar move requires secure footing, and the HellyGrip outsole on my Switchback Trail Airflow hiking boots stuck to the sandstone like glue. The boots also breathed exceptionally well, which was another blessing on the high-temp climb.

Similarly, my jacket – the Odin 1 World Infinity – is ideal for the strenuous work. It’s super lightweight, the seams allowed me a huge range of movement, and the LIFA INFINITY membrane managed to keep me cool during the hot sections while still protecting me from the whipping winds as we ascended higher. I even popped the chest vent open! A great shell for layering over thick thermals or wearing solo for lightweight weather protection.

The MRT boys are wearing custom HH rescue gear; I’m told they’re in the Squad Jacket and Action Pant, two impressive garments despite their names sounding like a superhero/sidekick duo from the early 90s. The construction is based on the Odin Mountain collection but then tailored to the specific needs of mountain rescue teams, including a lot of smart storage space, a nifty hi-vis colour scheme, and purpose-built insulation which was tested and tweaked with the help of MRT volunteers around the world.

Led on by the brave mountain rescue trio, our rag-tag group of outdoor journalists scrambled across Stach Poly’s narrow but forgiving ridge – we even traversed the Bad Step thanks to some efficient ropework from the Assynt team. Just a hundred feet further and we arrived here, this view, the summit. I feel weightless.

My very first mountain, and I got up here easily and safely thanks to Tim, Charlie, and Ben. My arms and legs unbruised, unburnt, unbitten by the midges, and my toes unstubbed thanks to all the HH kit. Now we just need to carry that damn stretcher down to the loch, where I believe a canoe is waiting…

Photo: Ed Smith
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