Snowdon Hypothermia & Rescue

Snowdon Hypothermia & Rescue

A story of an experienced walker succumbing to hypothermia and being rescued from the slopes of Snowdon

Snowdon Hypothermia & Rescue 

Hypothermia & Rescue from Snowdon

A story of a couple of well equipped walkers, only for one to be airlifted to hospital suffering from hypothermia.

By Nigel Laughton

I'd been looking forward to a long weekend in Snowdonia as I’d had to cancel a trip at Easter due to the bad weather at that time. So, come the 23rd of May, myself and my 15yr old son Sean double checked and packed our gear making sure we had everything necessary - just in case. Believe me I'm really anal about safety.

The day started out well with us both travelling up from London and arriving at our start point, being the Watkins Path. With Yr Aran in our sights, the wind was blowing a good 45mph with a hail shower or two thrown in for good luck. 


We diverted off the Watkins Path and made it up to the wall and then followed the wind-swept path to the summit by around 11.30am. Feeling proud of ourselves at finally bagging this little chocolate box of a hill we then set off for part 2 of our day; Snowdon via the south Ridge - as we had done many times before.

It started out great, we were still getting pounded by the wind and hail, but what the heck we've been out in worse. Well, about 2hr into the ascent I started feeling ill, dizzy and losing my breath. I said to Sean that I think it would be a good idea to head down. After a short break we set off and made it a fair way, but I came over dizzy again and just collapsed in a heap.

I felt awful. Absolutely spent and identical to how I felt when I finished the London Marathon a couple of years ago. I physically could not move and was breathing really heavily and was so cold I could not stop shaking. Scary as hell 2000ft up a mountain.

Another thing which troubled me and started the alarm bells ringing, was that once I put on an extra layer I couldn't do the simple job of doing up my jacket zipper. Sean had to do it for me.

The Rescue

At this point my star of a son, who I have drilled about emergencies that could happen while we are out, sprang into action and stuck me in a storm shelter, grabbed my phone and luckily we had signal. He made the call.

Mountain rescue called him back; he gave them our grid ref and all the info they asked for. The MRT tried to SARLOC our phone but due to weak signal they could not get it to load, but the grid reference given by my son was accurate so they knew where we were. It was freezing but Sean waited outside of the shelter ready to signal the helicopter.


First on scene were the guys from RAF Valley but it was far to windy for them to winch down to us, so they landed further down the valley by the old mines, and dropped 2 crew off who hiked in to me. 

The Helicopter then flew off to pick up Llanberis MRT and drop them off in the same spot so they could also hike in too. The aircrew had me in a stretcher and when MRT arrived they sledged me down the side of the mountain to the awaiting helicopter.

The MRT put an extra layer on me – a Blizzard jacket - to help re-warm me on the mountain side and for the journey in the helicopter. Being sledged down the side of Snowdon to the helicopter is something I hope not to repeat in a hurry. What a bumpy ride! 

To Hospital

Once aboard the helicopter, the aircrew put chemically activated ‘bearhugs’ inside my clothing to warm me up.

I was flown in the sea king to Bangor hospital for assessment. In hospital I was wired up to various machines; pulse, blood pressure and blood sugar all checked. One of my symptoms was that I had very cold feet. When one of the medics removed my boots he found that my socks were so wet they could wring them out, even though it had not rained that day nor had I stepped into any water. The only reason they could give, was I sweated into my boots.

The conclusion of the medical staff was that I’d had hypothermia. A contributing factor they said was my possible exhaustion caused by a long drive from London early in the morning.

After approximately 5 hours in hospital being checked over and treated, I was released into the night with a nice £60 taxi ride back to my car, which was waiting for me in Nant-Gwynant.



I am experienced in the mountains and have passed my knowledge to Sean, and he did a great job getting me to safety. I'm so proud of him; he's my little hero. We’re both aware of the symptoms of hypothermia and were both fully kitted, wearing a good base layer, fleece and outer, waterproof jacket. We ate plenty of food and had more than was needed, together with more than enough water. When out in the hills, we each carry Vango storm shelters, survival bags and foil blankets, as I'd rather be prepared than not.

The wind chill may have paid a big factor, as looking at the charts it would have felt like -17°C, so pretty cold.

I've always said I would rather crawl down on my backside before ever calling out Mountain Rescue, as these guys as they have better things to do, but as an experienced climber, I was glad they were there when I needed them. He knew what to do, and did it without issue. The guys from RAF Valley were brilliant, so professional, although having them stuffing ‘bearhug’ heat packs down my trousers is also not the best experience when I was busting for a pee!

I now carry a jetboil stove and a couple of packets of Complan, so a warm drink and emergency meal is always at hand. A warm drink is always better than a cold one, when it’s cold, as it warms from the inside.

Comment from MountainSafety

First of all; a big than you to Nigel and Sean for sharing this real life story of hypothermia, emergency procedures and rescue.

Both were well equipped, carrying emergency kit, food and water. The weather turned nasty and hypothermia had crept upon Nigel, who experienced the following symptoms:

  • Shivering
  • Dizzy spells
  • Rapid breathing
  • Increased urination
  • Lack of co-ordination (he collapsed)
  • Difficulty with simple movement of hands

 …which is a sufficient list to suspect hypothermia - five from mild symptoms and one from moderate. (Link to symptoms)

It’s difficult to say what they could have done differently. Maybe they could have turned around sooner, but they’d already done that when Nigel collapsed, so they probably did the right thing at the right time.

The situation could have been worse if they did not have a storm shelter. Take note. Sean spent a long time outside of the storm shelter, so care has to be taken not to put oneself at risk. Getting inside the shelter would have kept him warm and added heat for Nigel too. Another consideration was the poor weather, but as Nigel says, they'd been out in worse.

This story just goes to prove that even well equipped people can get into difficulty, and it’s not always the flip-flop wearing, carrier-bag-for-rucksack types climbing Snowdon who come unstuck!


On the 27th July 2013 Sean, Becky & good friend Joe Sawyer & I will be taking on our own Snowdon Challenge raising funds on behalf of the Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team.

The Challenge is set out over 24hrs and the route follows the 6 main tracks up and down Mt Snowdon.

The Route

Up the Watkins Path - Down the Rhyd Dhu Path
Up the Ranger Path - Down the Miners Path
Up the PYG Track - Down the Llanberis Path

In total approx 25 Miles and 3,100m ascent

Please help by sponsoring us.

Please help me raise as much as possible so they can carry on being there for others who need it.
So please dig deep and donate now.

Nigel & Sean

Fundraising for Llanberis MRT