Charity fundraising groups heading for the summits of Britain’s peaks increase the workload for mountain rescue teams in those honeypot areas.
The eager would-be summiteers are often oblivious to how serious conditions on the UK’s relatively low-altitude mountains can be.
And the irony is: the men and women who come to their aid are themselves charity members who, when not rescuing hapless hillgoers can often be found rattling tins to fund their own volunteer teams.
Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team is one of the busiest teams. Its patch covers Snowdon, the magnet for many a ‘fun’ ascent to raise cash for good causes.
Here, chairman John Grisdale gives his view of the crowds who pound the paths up the 1,085m (3,560ft) mountain each year.
Excitement, supporting a worthwhile cause, undertaking a physical challenge, having fun with friends, providing a sense of camaraderie are often quoted as reason why people take part in mountain challenges and sponsored events.
In fact they are the some of the reasons why I, over the years, have taken part in fundraising events by walking over the summits.
This summer thousands will echo my comments about why they take part and probably will also reflect on elements of blood, sweat and tears in equal parts.
The organisers of the larger charity events have usually prepared well; they provide their fundraisers with preparatory information, marshals en route, radio communication and safety support on the mountain together with strict guidelines about mountain safety, clothing and food.
They reflect what is accepted as best practice for charity and sponsored events on Snowdon. Visit the Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team’s website for further details.
When planning my own sponsored mountaineering events I always anticipated that the weather on the day would be calm, sunny with a few wispy clouds and most definitely warm, not hot temperatures.
Seldom did that dream come true. I’m sure this expectation is so true of many of the participants who travel to Snowdonia, so check out the Met Office mountain weather report for Snowdonia.
Over recent years the annual numbers of walkers on Snowdon has increased year on year.
From May throughout the summer weeks buses and minibuses unload their excited, enthusiastic members of our urban communities.
They are usually eager, high spirited young people, chomping at the bit to reach the summit of the highest mountain in Wales and England.
Their excited tones and laughter give voice to their anticipation of an event which to most will be their first walk on a mountain of any height. These groups are often quite distinctive because they wear uniforms of bright t-shirts, coloured wigs, fluorescent sashes or grass skirts – usually worn by the male of the species.
They are really up for it: with cameras clicking and mobiles recording, they Facebook their way towards the summit.
Snowdon as a summit is recognised to be a honeypot. After all in summer there is a railway to the summit and a cafe to provide shelter if, weather permitting, the train is able to reach the summit station. Therefore, it might be considered to be a ‘safe’ summit and this might be perfectly true if one considers that about 500,000 people will reach the summit annually.
It puts into perspective the relatively small numbers of incidents that the Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team, often supported by the RAF helicopter from Valley attends to annually. Last year the total number of incidents was 183 and to date this year the total has reached 90.
Thankfully the vast majority achieve their goal with a sense of satisfaction with huge smiles on their faces and a few blisters on their feet.
My apprehension about these ‘fun’ groups of walkers is based on their lack of understanding about the mountain environment.
The potential for mishap, if conditions are less than perfect, increase greatly and during this year’s ‘fun’ season. The team has been called to several cases of novice mountaineers who have met with less than perfect conditions.
On Snowdon less than perfect conditions usually equate to poor weather conditions: heavy rain, strong winds and thick mist combined with the group’s unwillingness to amend its plans.
All of these can lead to mishaps. Their experience would be so much better and more satisfying if greater attention was given to their preparation; checking the weather forecast for the summits, wearing more appropriate footwear and clothing and carrying basic group safety equipment.
Sometimes their ignorance of mountain weather conditions together with their arrogance towards their own and their group’s safety beggar belief.
These ‘fun’ groups might well have raised considerable and valuable funds for their chosen charities but they should also consider the cost and implications of all mountain rescue incidents if only in the personnel hours spent in recovering casualties.
Adopting safe hillwalking practice would help reduce the number of incidents the Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team attends to every year on Snowdon. Unfortunately as the number of ‘fun’ groups increase year on year so do the number of callouts for the team.
The team is a charity made up of volunteer mountaineers who are willing to turn out in all weather conditions day or night to assist those who become lost or who are injured on Snowdon and its surrounding peaks.
Members appreciate that, as mountaineers they have responsibility for their own safety. They prepare for poor weather and have the utmost respect for the potential dangers presented on the mountain.
However, responding to incidents involving mishaps to members of ‘fun’ groups who are badly prepared and who show total disrespect and arrogance towards the mountain can, in itself, be quite challenging for team members.
If your ‘fun group’ falls into this category, may I in advance kindly ask that you excuse our members’ lack of small talk and political correctness when recovering you from the mountain.
With 90 callouts to date this year, sometimes attending to three or four incidents in one day, the experience is wearing thin, in particular when the call out is to another poorly prepared and badly planned group event.
I heartily applaud every ‘fun’ group’s motives and commitment to their cause; I congratulate them on their achievements and wish them fun on their mountain adventure.
However, please plan; prepare; be responsible and in particular respect the mountains so that everyone in the group can enjoy the experience in safety.
Groups might consider the following top tips:
- Plan and prepare well in advance
- Check the mountain weather forecast
- Have appropriate footwear and clothing
- Be prepared to change your goals according to conditions
- Have a person who can navigate with a map and compass
- In mist, keep the group together
- Mobile phones do not always work in the mountains
- The descent is often more difficult than the ascent
- Consider the support of professional mountain instructors.