OBW ... Karen Greene

Posted by Jeremy Windsor on May 15, 2019

Welcome to "On Belay With..."! This is a series of short interviews with all sorts of folks involved in mountain medicine. Joining us at the belay for this posting is Dr Karen Greene.

If you'd like to take part please get in touch!

Dr Karen Greene spent over 20 years as an anaesthetist before moving into emergency medicine.  She has been an active mountain rescue doctor for 25 years and has worked in Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and Nepal. Karen has climbed in the UK, Alps and Namibia, trekked in Nepal, New Zealand, Peru and extensively across Southern Africa including the Kalahari and Namib deserts and paddled in Scotland, Greenland, Namibia and New Zealand. She is currently a faculty member of the Royal College of Surgeon's (Edinburgh) Diploma in Mountain Rescue (DiMM).

What was the last mountain you climbed?

Striding Edge on Helvellyn

Helvellyn. I helped take 30 year 6 (age 11) children to the summit as their final challenge before moving on to secondary school.  It was a really hot day, but their faces on the summit made the day: the smiles, laughter and sense of achievement was wonderful.

What does the perfect mountain day consist of?

Coming home tired having been challenged in a physical and emotional way, preferably with sunshine, snow, really cold temperatures.

What’s been your worst mountain mishap?

When I was 18 I went on a youth expedition to the Alps for a month. We were planning to climb the Grande Dent de Veisivi from Arolla in Switzerland. We left the campsite to bivvi high up so we could get an early start, but on arrival at the bivvi site, no-one had remembered the food bag.  We cooked up a stew of “Opal Fruits” and blueberries and that sustained us with the sugar buzz until we got back to camp the following evening having completed a great route. I have never forgotten food since then.

At the end of the expedition I got frostbite on the tops my ears and although they healed well over the next few months, it has left me with ears that are very sensitive to the cold.

What’s been your best mountain day?

There have been so many good days. For me it's not about getting to the summit or doing the most difficult route, it’s all about being there in the moment and sharing that with others.  My best days have been when I have seen the look of wonder and awe on the faces of my two sons as they have explored and challenged themselves in the mountains. 

What mountain changed your life?


Tryfan in Snowdonia, because that is where Mike proposed to me! Since then, we have spent over 30 years playing in the mountains together. However, I’m not sure if I'll drink a bottle of champagne on the summit of a mountain again!

What’s been your best bit of mountain kit?

My buffs (I have a lot of them). They're so versatile and have so many different uses - keeping my ears warm, hat, bandage, sling.

What makes a great climbing partner? Has anyone come close?

Great climbing partners need to understand us. They need to know why we climb, run, scramble, ski and what we get out of the mountains. Then they can share that experience. They also need to understand what risk is acceptable and when to draw the line.  Having been married for 30 years, Mike and I know each other so well that we know when each other can be pushed to achieve more and when to back off and change the objective or turn back. 

In mountain rescue, when the terrain can be serious, the weather inclement and the risks high, we know how to support one another in order to get the best out of each other.

What’s been your biggest mountain disappointment?

I don’t think I have any disappointments.  I am philosophical about goals and so provided I have had an exhilarating, fun day with no disaster, goals don’t matter. 

What is your “dream” mountain objective?

To keep climbing / walking / running until I’m in my 90s and to instil the wonder and awe of the mountains into as many other people as possible.

Give us a mountain “tip”!

Just do it! Get out there!

If an opportunity arises, don’t let it slip through your fingers. You might never get that opportunity again. 

An interview focusing upon Karen's MRT experience can be found here.

Thanks Karen for taking part!

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