Castlebar International Four Day Walking Festival

The Castlebar International 4 Day Walking Festival has been running since 1967. Members of the Galway VHF Group have been involved in providing Public Service communications since 1992. Walkers from over 21 countries participate in this event and the numbers are often greater than 1,700. There are several walks run on each day which range from 10k, 20k, 40k road walks and 30k cross country rambles. This year the event took place from the 1st to the 4th of July.

The road walks do not require radio communication as there are regular check points and refreshment stops around the route with regular “patrol” vehicles keeping an eye on the participants who walk at their own pace and also replenishing the refreshment areas.

The cross country rambles are lead by a guide and take the walkers through rough boggy terrain in the hills surrounding the Castlebar area. The AREN team assist with the communications throughout the ramble. There can be anything up to 450 ramblers on the guided walk at any one time. The guide plus a team of marshals and medical personnel are all linked to each other by PMR 446 transceivers. Two members of the AREN team are linked in to the PMR network and if an emergency should arise it is their responsibility to communicate with the back-up vehicle following the ramble at ground level. Tom, EI2GP, doubled as medical officer and AREN operator. Joe, EI3IX, an experienced Castlebar hillwalker, was the second AREN operator walking with the group. Steve, EI5DD, was driving the support vehicle and was in contact with Tom and Joe via the 145Mhz/2 metre link. If a situation should arise it would be Tom or Joe who would call the support vehicle.

The support vehicle contained equipment such as the defibrillator, medical supplies, additional splints, and medications. If called, the support vehicle could drive to a pre-arranged pick up-point and collect anyone who was unable to continue the walk or deploy equipment required to assist with treatment of a casualty.

There were six marshals situated within the walk, on PMR radios, one of which was situated at the rear of the group and responsible for sweeping and ensuring that nobody was left behind. At all times, the operation of the PMR radio link was well disciplined and seldom used unless there was cause for concern. Initial communication was established with each member of the team and from there onwards the links remained silent unless necessary information was passed

If an emergency situation was called, either Tom EI2GP or Joe EI3IX linked with Steve EI5DD to organise a pick up point or for the necessary equipment to be made available at short notice. Other duties involved the organisation of refreshment stops as the walkers descend from their hill walk. Once the walkers were on the public highway 3 vehicles were responsible for the safety of the walkers.

At times there could be a build up of traffic behind the walkers. After clearing with the lead vehicle, via the radio system, it was possible to bring the build up of cars along the outside of the file of walkers to prevent a long tail of slow moving vehicles at the rear of the walking group. This was something that could only be done safely via the communication system. The lead car would drive ahead and halt oncoming traffic to make it possible to bring cars up from the back of walking group preventing a large tailback of traffic.

The system has been well tried and tested over the years and the marshals have become accustomed to radio operation which makes the operation quite efficient. As there are no checkpoints on a guided ramble it is easy to run the communications with a smaller number of AREN operators.

In conclusion there were no emergency calls during the course of the cross country rambles over the four days. Road safety was covered by 3 vehicles when the walkers had to walk along the public highway. At all times, great effort was made to minimise the inconvenience to other road users. Perhaps APRS will be used in future events but it was easy enough to identify where the walk was at all times as a result of the communication between the operators during the walk. The marshals on the ramble have been well tutored over the years and work well with the Galway VHF Group operators. Communications were good and readable at all times during the walk.

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