Saturday 30 April 2022

An Unusual Press Trip: Taking A Stretcher Up Stac Pollaidh


On the way up Stac Pollaidh, Suilven in the background

Outdoor company press trips can vary from exciting to mundane, depending on how much time is spent in the hills and how much on indoor product promotions and factory visits. Recently I went on one for Helly Hansen that definitely fell into the exciting category. It was also interesting and informative, not to say unusual, as it wasn’t just about gear or, indeed, even mainly about gear. Instead “the aim was to raise awareness of the incredible work the Mountain Rescue Teams do across the UK to keep everyone else safe in the mountains and enjoying the outdoors.” To that end myself and other outdoor writers were invited to spend a day on Stac Pollaidh in the NW Highlands with members of Assynt Mountain Rescue, one of five mountain rescue teams sponsored by Helly Hansen, and learn a bit about their work.

Stac Pollaidh

After a night at the excellent Summer Isles Hotel we met the mountain rescuers at the foot of Stac Pollaidh, which is only a little hill (it’s just 612 metres high) but one that bristles with dramatic rock pinnacles and crags along its long narrow ridge. Here we discovered we were to carry a stretcher up the mountain and we soon learnt just how tiring this is as we all – writers, mountain rescuers, members of Helly Hansen’s PR team – took turns. 

Getting steeper

The weather was just about perfect, with high clouds, bursts of sunshine, and an occasional cool breeze. The latter meant the Helly Hansen jackets provided were needed at times. It wasn’t tee-shirt weather. The air was clear and the views spectacular with Suilven, Cul Mor, and Cul Beag standing out above the lochan-spattered lower ground. This landscape never fails to impress.

Cul Beag

Once on the ridge the mountain rescuers decided we should practise taking the stretcher up steep rocky terrain with someone in it. Firstly, a volunteer was strapped in and the casualty bag inflated around them so they were really secure then we learnt how to move the stretcher up a rocky gully hand over hand, a slow but efficient method that meant you were only holding the stretcher when your feet were secure and stationary. Each time the stretcher had moved up along the four pairs of us holding it the rear pair would move to the front and the exercise was repeated. Once we reached the top of the gully we then reversed the process and took the stretcher back down. It was hard work. There was a top rope so the stretcher couldn’t go anywhere if we proved incompetent. 

Ed Smith at work, Cul Mor in the background

As I was moving the stretcher I have no photos of taking the stretcher up and down the gully. However, there will be some as we had a professional photographer along with us, Ed Smith, whose website is well worth a look. I’m looking forward to seeing his pictures of this episode. 

Steeper still

Leaving the stretcher behind we then clambered along the narrower, rockier ridge towards the summit. I opted out of the more difficult scrambling to the actual summit as my hands were aching after the stretcher carrying and the easier scrambling as they haven’t fully recovered from the operations of last year. And I hadn’t done so much with them since before those operations. Once I’d grasped a few holds and my hand had instinctively recoiled due to soreness I lost any confidence I had and preferred to sit and watch the hills and the view. It was a great day for just sitting and contemplating.

The drone inspecting gullies

Once the others returned from the top and we were back at the stretcher the mountain rescuers deployed their drone and showed us how it could be used. Tim Hamlet, the team leader and a mountain guide (Hamlet Mountaineering) , disappeared round a corner to hide in a gully. The drone was then used to scan the hillside in infra-red mode and quickly picked up the heat from Tim’s body. Using the drone rescuers could scan a hillside riven with gullies quickly and without risk to themselves. Without the drone they would have to rope down each gully, which would take time and involve risk. There was also a Virtual Reality headset, which gave a much bigger and clearer image of the view the drone had than the small screen on the control panel. It was also somewhat unnerving to use! When the drone raced away from the ridge so the people on it shrank into the distance I really felt as though I was being projected out into the air beyond the mountain. 

Drone control

The drone exercise over there was just carrying the stretcher back down the mountain and the day was over. For me anyway. The others were going on a paddle in canoes on a nearby loch. I don’t do water stuff!

View from Stac Pollaidh    


This was a very enjoyable day, and my knowledge of mountain rescue increased greatly. This is how to organise a press trip! The weather helped too. The Helly Hansen clothing didn’t get much of a test but I will be trying items for review for The Great Outdoors in the weeks to come. I’m particularly interested in finding out how the good-looking Odin 1 World Infinity waterproof jacket performs.

Helly Hansen is also working with mountain rescue teams to “build a connection between the end-user and Helly Hansen’s professionals” by way of a website called Trail Finder which will have recommended trails from Mountain Rescuers both in the UK and around the world.

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