Team members place a stretcher in the new box. Photo: Keswick MRT

Team members place a stretcher in the new box. Photo: Keswick MRT

Rescuers have installed a new stretcher box on the Lakeland fells.

A helicopter airlifted the box to its position at Sty Head, where members of the Keswick Mountain Rescue Team completed the operation.

The aluminium stretcher box, similar to one at Mickledore between Scafell Pike and Sca Fell, replaces a wooden one, which had come to the end of its life.

It houses a stretcher and other rescue equipment and stands at a strategic col at the meeting of routes leading to Great Gable and Scafell Pike.

The Keswick team said it hopes the new aluminium structure will resist the elements at the site, 480m (1,575ft) up in the central fells, providing many years of service.

The placing of stretcher boxes on the Lake District mountains – there is also one at the base of Dow Crag in the Coniston Fells – harks back to the time when mountaineers and hillwalkers had to practise self-rescue, before the days of organised mountain rescue teams.

A helicopter lifts the stretcher box into position. Photo: Keswick MRT

A helicopter lifts the stretcher box into position. Photo: Keswick MRT

There has been a stretcher box at Sty Head for more than 80 years.

The Keswick team cares for the Sty Head box, with Wasdale colleagues responsible for the Mickledore one and Coniston MRT the Dow Crag stretcher box.

A team spokesperson said: “There used to be six of these mountain rescue ‘kits’ placed strategically round the Lake District mountains, but most have now gone. Not many people are aware of their origin.”

The team said Des Oliver, a former national park ranger and Keswick MRT member, had previously written a history of the boxes and based its account on his article.

“All mountain rescue kits and mountain rescue posts used to be marked on OS maps. A kit identified a location where a quantity of rescue equipment had been placed at a suitable place on the fells and a post identified the location of the HQ of the local rescue team.

“There have been rescue kits in one form or another since the late 1930s when people involved in climbing or hillwalking agreed to provide stretchers and first aid equipment stored in rucksacks.

“These were placed were at suitable locations, hotels or farms at valley heads.

“The pre-war St John Ambulance Brigade of Borrowdale did answer calls when people were injured in their locality, but in the main it was ‘climber helping climber’. In 1938 this facility moved forward when a mountain rescue kit was established on Sty Head Pass.

“The kit comprised a St John’s stretcher in a wooden box container, painted black and white for easy spotting in bad weather. Also, a ‘suitcase’ containing bandages, etc was placed in a wooden box on a pole alongside. The thinking behind this provision was to allow climbers to rescue themselves rather than having to call others.

The wooden stretcher box at Sty Head has been replaced. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

The wooden stretcher box at Sty Head has been replaced. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

“This kit lasted until the late 1940s by which time Mother Nature had done her worst and the whole lot had disintegrated and been spread over the hillside, plus quite a bit into Styhead Tarn.

“It must be remembered that there were no organised mountain rescue teams at this time so when someone was injured on the fells, people were totally reliant on these rescue kits. With the establishment of mountain rescue teams in the late 1940s and into the 1950s, it was agreed to replace the kit on Sty Head.”

The team said a more substantial box was constructed and paid for by the national Mountain Rescue Committee and it was carried up by Keswick MRT.

The box had a Thomas stretcher, blankets and rucksack containing first aid kit, stored inside.

“Access was gained through a lid which had a chain bolt type fastening,” the team said. “This lid proved to be the box’s downfall, for two reasons. People opened the lid and used the box to shelter in, of course, also allowing the elements to pour inside. Also, strong wind affected the lid, eventually preventing it from closing properly.

“At this stage, it was agreed to provide rescue kits at various locations in the Lake District fells and six in all were set up and maintained by the rescue teams in the respective areas.
Weather naturally took its toll on the boxes.

The mountain rescue stretcher box at Mickledore, with Sca Fell in the distance. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

The mountain rescue stretcher box at Mickledore, with Sca Fell in the distance. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

“As a result, Keswick MRT was asked by the MRC to replace the box on Sty Head. A local joiner was contracted to design and construct the box – bearing in mind the fate of the two previous boxes. The end product proved to be a much more robust container. This box would hold similar kit as before, but access was gained through a lift-up door at one end.

“A helicopter, with the box slung underneath, took to new box to the site. Four angle-iron legs were concreted into the ground and the box was bolted into place. The whole job was done on a pleasant, sunny Sunday in the mid-1960s.

“Some 30 years later, showing signs of wear and tear, the box was again airlifted back to Keswick MRT’s HQ, where it was repaired before being returned to Sty Head – the idea being that it would hopefully remain for at least another 30 years.

“The repairs were carried out by a team member, the son of the joiner who made the box in the 1960s.

“And approximately 30 years later the latest version is in place.”

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