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You and Yours – Here’s Me and Mine…


The 2012/2013 Scottish winter season has caught the eyes of the press on many occasions, due to the high number of avalanche victims.  There have been 13 deaths so far, with Journalist (and ex MSP) Dorothy Grace-Elder attracting much attention with her views.  Today, she appeared on the Radio 4 programme You and Yours, with the opinion that all Mountaineers should hold rescue insurance.  Here’s what I think…

Insurance might be an ideal, but lets enter the world of reality here.  There is no way that such insurance could be policed.  You cannot put marshals on every hillside wanting to inspect your paperwork.  In the interview it was debated that many insurers do charge extra if people state that they climb and this is true.  I’ve had many a run in with companies that say they do insure mountaineers, only to go back on the statement later.  They have lost all my business and I have found insurers who will help.  One actually told me that mountaineers could have health problems later in life because of their poor health.  I informed them that we are probably the fittest people around, but this did not sway them, yet they will happily insure smokers, drinkers and the like.

On the matter of insurance, I would happily see laws to insist cyclists wear helmets, lights and reflectors, particularly after the number of close shaves I see, particularly with teenagers whizzing through housing estates in the dark.  Knock one over in your car and where is the finger pointed..?  On that, I had a drunk walk out into the road only yards in front of me last year.  He flew over my bonnet, fell, got up and moaned that I had broken his mobile telephone.  Thankfully he could walk, but refused hospital treatment and wobbled home. I was vindicated by passers by, other motorists and the police, yet I am the one who could face prosecution..!  I might be a bit old fashioned, but I do believe in responsibility for your own actions…

I know well enough what it’s like to be rescued and I owe my life to the Alaskan Mountain Rescue Services.  They set a high altitude record in rescuing me and two friends off Mt. McKinley in Alaska in 1999.  We were well insured through the BMC and offered to pay for everything as we were covered, but they refused.  Funny how there was a debate going on at the time in the USA over the subject of rescuing foreign nationals…

I have always been a great advocate of having applicable travel insurance when you go abroad, but little is made of this.  A case, local to myself highlights the problem.  I think insurance documents should be mandatory at passport control.

In the interview Mrs Grace-Elder points the finger at English and Welsh climbers as (apparently) we cannot read conditions.  I was in the Cairngorms earlier this year and didn’t climb all week because of the high avalanche risk.  Education is the deciding factor here.  I would recommend that anyone who wants to climb in winter serve their apprenticeship in courses (there are plenty out there), listens to others on the hill and use websites like the SAIS as they give vital information about avalanche risk.  Their twitter feed is excellent.  Social networking is a great tool to use before you set off.

Even experienced mountaineers can get caught out though, as a friend of mine literally walked off a ridge in poor visibility recently.  Thankfully he’s fine, but it was a lesson to us both.  We happily bear the responsibility for it though, and no-one should think themselves too experienced or better than the weather.

I would like to thank the BMC’s Jon Garside for his balanced replies to Mrs Grace Elder.  I would also like to say a big thanks to all of our rescue services, from whatever discipline as their freely given time is what sets these shores apart from much of the rest of the world.  I have great friends in Mountain Rescue Teams, many who have spent the last week digging out motorists and farmers in the Peak District.  Mrs Grace-Elder, are you going to point the finger at them..?

Thats enough from me, but let me leave you with this.  As I write an avalanche has been reported on the Winnats Pass in Derbyshire.  Don’t tell me were going to charge tolls on the road..!

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