Should I Join Mountain Rescue?

Emily Woodhouse Adventure Careers, Practical Advice

It’s been over 3 years since I joined Mountain Rescue as a trainee. On a dark and wet night, a small 22 year old – feeling very young and very female – reported to the Control Vehicle for the first time.

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a lady applying to join a Mountain Rescue team. It made me realise how unknown the process is – we are a mysterious bunch from the outside. So, if you’re wondering whether you should join Mountain Rescue, here are some things to consider – including some of the biggest reasons that people drop out of the training process. Ask yourself these questions now and you’ll work out if Mountain Rescue is for you.

Note: this is all my personal view and not endorsed by MR or my team.

Do You Have Time?

Mountain Rescue is, ironically, much more than just rescuing people on mountains. Sure, the call outs form a big part of it and they are fundamentally why we exist. I’d check out your local team’s call out stats to see how busy you’ll be. At the time of writing, my team gets about 3 call outs a month – averaged over a year. Of course these can come 3 in a row and then none for ages, but it’s a good ball park figure.

Not everyone is required to come on all the call outs, but if you can barely make any you might ask yourself what the point is? It’s also worth checking when most of the incidents tend to be. If your employer won’t let you out during work hours and most of the team’s call outs fall between 9-5 on weekdays, you won’t be doing much.

You might like: How to Find Time to Adventure for tips on fitting jobs around life.

On top of this, there are training and fundraising commitments. We have training weekly and extra training for specific disciplines (e.g. water team). There is a minimum attendance required to be operational.

Joining Mountain Rescue is often described as like having a second full time job. It takes over your life and, no matter how much we say this pre-selection, many trainees drop out when they realise the full commitment.

Why are you joining?

Question your motives. There are some funny assumptions about Mountain Rescue that aren’t really true. For example, in many areas it’s not all about helicopters and crag rescue. Would you stay motivated if the majority of your call outs are to people lost in the fog? Or for despondents in rural areas near your patch? The Police increasingly use Mountain Rescue teams to assist in off-mountain rural areas.

Most people join Mountain Rescue because they like being outdoors and want to help people. It takes a certain sort of person to willingly head out in the worst of weather, not knowing how many hours they’ll be searching.

Some common reasons we get for people joining is to “learn to navigate”, “make friends” or “get out on Dartmoor more”. Although these might be valid extra reasons (although, see about nav in the section below) that shouldn’t be your main motivation. On the flip side, you can spot a CV builder from a mile off.

Also, there are no heroes in Mountain Rescue. Let me clarify what I mean by that. If you come with a big ego, wanting to be the hero, then you will be disappointed. You can’t always be the one to find the casualty, or in charge, or first aiding. Some days you have to trudge through the rain for hours and find nothing. Some days you’ll just be part of the stretcher team.

Are you a Mountain Person?

Mountain Rescue isn’t really a place to start getting into the outdoors. You need to be competent on the mountains in your local area already before you join a team. Okay, so no one expects the finished article right from the off. But if your mountain experience is dog walking around Burrator Reservoir then this probably isn’t your calling. It might be one day, but just not yet…

Resources: Want to upskill? Check out How to Learn to Navigate and Mountain Training.

So, are you self sufficient on the hill? Can you rely on your own skills to keep you safe in the sorts of situations you’ll be going in to? Again, you might not be a Mountain Jedi, but you should have some basic but sound navigational skills and personal walking experience. There will be teaching and training before you become a full member.

I found a forum comment that declared: “Only people from relevant professions (Doctors, Fire services, Police, ex military etc) might stand a reasonable chance “. I completely disagree with this. Sure, your extra skills might be very useful. But our team is made up of these professions… and teachers, outdoor instructors, builders, engineers, lawyers, marketers, photographers, retired anythings!

Am I Fit Enough?

I received an email recently from a lady who was part way through the trainee application process for Mountain Rescue. She said it had been mentioned that: “they try and ‘beast’ you on the hill day and make you carry a heavy pack”.

As you guys know, I don’t consider myself particularly fit. I might go on adventures, but I spend about zero time training for them. I am able to do the things I do, but no better. Certainly not an athlete (see these pictures of me running…!)

And I guess that’s the key: fit enough for the task at hand. On a call out, or during training, you have to do some walking. You might have to climb steep hills and carry up heavy kit like ropes, stretchers or medical gases. This doesn’t mean that you have to be able to run up the hill or carry the stretcher on your little finger. But if you’re having a heart attack on the way up Catbells…

Hopefully that makes sense? You should be able to cope with the demands of a call out without becoming a passenger or even an additional casualty.

Are You Patient?

The most overlooked skill. Once you’re accepted as a trainee, becoming a full member of your Mountain Rescue team is a long process. As an impatient 22 year old straight out of uni, I was chomping at the bit to get out in some action. But there was a 6 session probation period before I got my log book. Then almost a year of completing that before I got on an actual call out. Then further months before taking and passing my final navigation assessment.

Luckily, I worked out that I was in it for the long haul. What’s a year of preparation if you’re going to be doing something for the rest of your life?

Please feel free to ask me any questions here or on social media about the process of joining Mountain Rescue. I’m happy to help 🙂