Why I Always Take a Survival Shelter
Ellis Brigham sponsored mountaineer and Covent Garden staff member Calum Mallory has chalked up his fair share of vertical feet on some of the biggest mountains in the world, but it was an experience closer to home that reminded him why he never climbs without a survival shelter...
I have always carried a Lifesystems survival shelter in my bag when out in the mountains, even if it's just on a small walk in summer conditions. I most definitely will never be without one in winter conditions. For me a particular weekend in the Scottish hills confirmed why it is so important to carry survival gear and to be fully prepared for the worst whenever you are in the hills.
My girlfriend and I were climbing on Ben Nevis in the height of the winter season. The day started well with bright, even sunny conditions - a rarity for winter climbing in Scotland. That morning whilst packing my bag for the day I ensured I had my survival shelter along with a thermal blanket even though my bag was bursting at the seams.
We headed for the hills and started climbing, but within a few hours the weather had changed dramatically. The winds had picked up and we were now in a white-out from low cloud cover and the daylight hours were ebbing quickly. We knew from the start of the day that we would be climbing into the night, and this didn't bother us, but it was from this point where things started to go awry and we started to encounter some problems. We were being hit hard by the weather and as a result I had lost an important part of a climber's kit - my ice axe. We still had a fair way to go to finish the route and without an ice axe this would be very hard and incredibly dangerous.
We decided that the safest option for us now was to get off the mountain fast. We abseiled off our route down a gully that proved to be longer than we thought. It all went wrong at our second abseil point. We prepared to pull the ropes through, but they wouldn't budge. What we would later learn was that the knot had jammed into a rock crack, but for the time being they were going nowhere.
Without an axe it would be near impossible to re-climb back up the abseil route to fix the jammed ropes. Due to the severity and steepness of the climb on the unconsolidated snow gully, we couldn't climb up nor could we climb down without rope.
This was the point when it hit home. We were rim-rocked; there was no way up and no way down - a very tough situation to be in, and one which I had never experienced before. We were being hit hard by strong and bitterly cold winds, snow drift, and the hours of light had expired many hours before. It was time to click into survival mode.
We kicked ourself a good but small ledge out of the steep angled snow slopes to give ourselves a stable and comfortable platform to figure out our next plan. I remembered that my LifeSystems survival shelter was in my bag and quickly got to work with getting it unwrapped and getting us inside. It instantly made a huge difference as we were now protected from the wind and the elements. Having the shelter meant that we could now change out of wet clothes for dry ones, add additional layers and also give us time to think away from the distraction of the bitter strong winds.
After thinking through many plans we had no option but to call for help in the form of Lochaber Mountain Rescue. We now had a long wait of many hours before any help would arrive so we pulled out the thermal blankets to keep nice and warm and sat on our bags to insulate us from the snow. After a nine hour ordeal, rescue had arrived and we were able to safely make it off of the mountain.
Without the amazing kit from LifeSystems our unplanned overnight bivvy in the harsh Scottish mountains would have definitely had a serious or even fatal outcome.
We would like to say a massive thank you to the Lochaber Mountain Rescue team for the incredible work that they do, and for giving up their free time in order to help out fellow climbers in need. Their inspiring work and help does not go unnoticed and is greatly appreciated.
The mountains are unpredictable and accidents can easily happen. It is because of this that I am never without my survival shelter and other essentials such as my first aid kit, thermal blankets, glow sticks and whistle.
If you are planning a trip out no matter if it's in the summer months or just a short route that you know very well, never be without a survival set up. They weigh next to nothing and only use up a small amount of space in your bag, but they are life savers and your best friend when you get caught out in the hills.
Top image source: www.lifesystems.co.uk