Mountain rescue experts say a growing number of charity walkers are causing problems because of their lack of knowledge of the ethics of fellwalking.
Rescuers are now issuing a desperate appeal for challenge participants to think before ringing for help on a whim. The plea comes as the peak period for national Three Peaks Challenges approaches with the summer solstice.
Scafell Pike: challenge walkers are causing rescue teams problems
Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team (MRT), whose patch covers Scafell Pike, was called by police last weekend in response to a 999 call from a member of an 11-strong team tackling England’s highest mountain as part of a challenge.
The call was received from a call box which did not receive incoming calls and the person who made the emergency call could not get a mobile phone signal. He had reported his concerns to police that his team members were late arriving back at the Great Langdale campsite.
However, the MRT was unable to find out if the team members were on the fell or not. It was a warm night and it had been reported that they were well equipped. At the time of the call, the group was not overdue by long. Team leader Julian Carradice took the decision not to mobilise the team since there was no real danger to the walkers.
However, there were no further messages from the caller and the team was left in the dark as to whether the 11 fellwalkers had got safely off the mountain. It was only at midday the following day that the MRT decided to call a halt to the emergency. The team never received a call to say the walkers were safe.
Mr Carradice said the rescuers had no way of knowing whether the party was still out there or on its way to either Ben Nevis or Snowdon. He said: “I have a growing concern that a group doing a mountain challenge seems to know little or nothing about mountaineering ethics.
“If they are off and gone I see it in a similar light to leaving life boat crews to search the seas when people that are known to be safe already.”
Wasdale MRT chairman Richard Warren said: “This sort of behaviour is not acceptable and somehow we need to get the messages across that teams need to be well prepared and fit enough to complete the challenge and if they do get into difficulties they cannot just call the police on a whim and then carry on and finish the challenge without informing anyone that you are safely down.”
He adds that when the team was alerted to a couple who had got into difficulties practising for their own Three Peaks Challenge, there were 57 minibuses belonging to challengers parked at Wasdale Head. The couple managed to get themselves off the fell before the MRT started its search.
The Three Peaks Challenge has been criticised by many involved in the outdoors as putting a massive strain on routes and communities when large numbers arrive to climb the mountains on summer weekends. Many critics say the events simply switch the charity burden to groups such as Wasdale MRT and other rescue organisations who are called upon to help inexperienced walkers who get into difficulty.
Thousands undertake the challenge each year, in which participants must summit Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon within 24 hours.