Inexperienced charity walkers are putting lives at risk by venturing on to the Cumbrian mountains without the skill and knowledge they need.
Mountain rescue teams are being called out to help parties taking part in the Thee Peaks Challenge who ring them when they encounter difficulties. The Wasdale rescue team says this is diverting its volunteers into being unpaid guides when there could be more serious life-threatening incidents.
Scafell Pike and Scafell, from Bowfell. Even in benign conditions, walkers should be well-equipped for England's highest mountains
The Wasdale mountain rescue team (MRT) was called out four times in 48 hours last week to help charity participants who had called police on their mobile phones. Their website reports: “There appears to be an increasing and worrying trend for Three Peakers getting themselves into difficulty and calling for mountain rescue to come and get them with little consideration for the trouble it causes team members.
“The concern [is] that these very frequent searches are draining the team’s resources and compromising [its] ability to fully respond to serious injury incidents.”
The national Three Peaks Challenge involves tackling Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon in succession within 24 hours. This often means participants hitting Wasdale and Scafell Pike at night.
The first rescue of a challenge walker was on Thursday, 31 August in the late evening when a lone man was escorted off the fell uninjured. Ten team members took part and the rescue lasted nearly seven hours. An hour and three-quarters after being stood down, the team was again called out to rescue three women and a man taking part in the Three Peaks who had become disoriented. They were escorted back to their car.
Four hours after the end of that mission, the MRT was again mobilised to rescue two walkers stranded at the Mickledore stretcher box unable to find their way off the fell. A full team call-out involving 15 of the volunteers followed when it was realised one of the men had a knee injury and would need carrying off the hillside.
The last of the four incidents involving Three Peakers was at 4.20am on Sunday morning when the Wasdale team was paged by police to aid three men stuck on high ground but who didn’t know where they were – only that they were near a waterfall and a stream in spate. The walkers were eventually located and accompanied off the fell.
The Wasdale website says: “A number of groups was met while the team was searching, all doing Three Peaks events and many ill-prepared and ill-equipped for the severe weather conditions that had been forecast for the weekend.
“Conditions were severe, with high winds and torrential rain and the becks were in full spate. Even so, there were still many groups setting off to climb Scafell Pike, some even in shorts and at least one couple with no rucksacks.”
Wasdale MRT president Bill Pattison is quoted on the BBC website as having concerns for 20 years.
He says that while many of the bigger charities ran properly organised events, there were smaller groups which were not properly prepared.
"What [the MRT is] being asked to do is go up and sort problems which could have been avoided if they could navigate.
"A particular worry is that they will be so tied up with this, if someone had a bad mountain accident, they wouldn't be in a position to respond."
He says that, rather than having navigation skills, the participants were relying on their mobile phones to get them out of trouble.
Mountain rescue teams have long argued that the Three Peaks Challenge simply switches the charity burden from the organisations that benefit from the fundraising events to their own organisations, which are all staffed by volunteers and financed by donations.
For a full list of Wasdale MRT call-outs, visit the team’s website.