BSARU members help runners during the final stages of the event. Photo: BSARU

BSARU members help runners during the final stages of the event. Photo: BSARU

National park bosses have revealed how emergency shelters built by rangers proved to be lifesavers during a recent extreme ultramarathon.

Runners in The Spine took shelter in refuges on the Border Ridge as blizzards engulfed competitors in the final stages of the event.

The runners were nearing the end of the race, which follows the complete 431km (268-mile) length of the Pennine Way.

Eight of the runners had a lucky escape according to the Northumberland National Park Authority.

A spokesperson for the authority said: “Last Friday evening, the Northumberland National Park and North of Tyne Mountain Rescue Teams got the call from police control that the three contestants had been caught in the heavy snow and blizzard conditions and would need assistance.

“Luckily they had found shelter at the national park mountain refuge hut south west of Lamb Hill in the Cheviot Hills, known as Yearning Saddle refuge hut.

“Because of the extreme winter weather conditions, they were advised by mountain rescue to remain in the refuge overnight, to maintain telephone contact with the police control room and to let them know in the morning if they planned to carry on with their event or if they needed assistance off the hill.

“The runners had phoned 999 for assistance and due to their position had been put through to Lothian and Borders police who then informed Northumbria [Police] that they were all OK and were in contact with the police control room.

One of the emergency shelters. Photo: Geoff Holland

One of the emergency shelters. Photo: Geoff Holland

“Four mountain rescue personnel remained on standby overnight in case the condition of the runners deteriorated and they needed assistance. The plan was to walk up to the refuge and escort the group off the hill and back to Blindburn Farm in Upper Coquetdale.

“Lothian and Border Police contacted Northumbria Police on Saturday morning to inform them that there had been another group of ultramarathon runners benighted in the extreme weather.”

The spokesperson said the group of three and another group of five who had been holed up at Auchope Rig mountain refuge hut. The Border Search and Rescue Unit had been deployed to meet up with the two parties from the northern side of the Border ridge.

“The Lamb Hill group were escorted down to Buchtrig in the Scottish Borders by Border SAR, and the Northumberland teams were asked to meet up with the five runners who had left the safety of Auchope Rig refuge,” the spokesperson said. “The last contact had been as they made their way to The Schil and then the phone signal had been lost.

“The BSARU was liaising with the organisers of the event who were based at Yetholm in the Scottish Borders. The unit made their way to Halterburn in the hope of making contact with the group and that was successfully achieved before midday.”

Andrew Miller from Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue Team said: “Both parties of runners were well prepared. T

“They did the right thing in alerting the police and mountain rescue teams of their position and agreeing to use the refuge huts overnight. This is exactly what these emergency shelters were designed for and they have proven once again to be a lifesaver.”

The emergency shelters at Lamb Hill and Auchope Rigg on the Border Ridge were built by the Northumberland national park rangers with help from the national park voluntary rangers, Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue Team and with materials flown out to the remote site by RAF Boulmer.

The shelters are heavily insulated and, although they are not equipped, they will ensure someone can keep safe overnight in bad weather.

They are used on a daily basis by walkers who sign in to the visitors’ book and are maintained by national park voluntary rangers.

The national park authority said it will continue to ensure that the lifelines are kept in good order for all who enjoy the hills.

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