Acending Scafell Pike, left, in the dark is not easy in the dark. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Ascending Scafell Pike, left, is not easy in the dark. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

A Mountain Leader said he felt like the Pied Piper as lost walkers tagged on to his guided group in the dark on England’s highest mountain.

Three qualified leaders described how they separately had to help lost walkers on Scafell Pike as mist enveloped the fell at the weekend.

One of the leaders, Dave Ascough, said walkers who set out up the mountain in the darkness without the skills to navigate were putting others at risk. Newton-le-Willows based Mr Ascough, who holds both summer and winter Mountain Leader Awards, was with a group who had hired him to guide them on the 978m (3,209ft) peak on Saturday night.

He said: “The issue for me is inexperienced walkers intentionally going into the mountains at night without the knowledge, equipment and experience to remain safe.

“In doing so they put others at risk.

“As MLs we are often called upon for assistance from walkers who have got into difficulties, which we do willingly. However, when leading groups of our own this puts us in a difficult position as we work to strict ratios but have a duty to help those on the hill who need it.

“Notwithstanding this, it is unfair that those paying for a service, because they see the value in professional guiding and know their limits, should have their guide used for free by those less well prepared.”

The qualifed leader said about midnight on Saturday, he was leading a group from the summit in poor visibility – it was dark and misty – when they came across a group asking for help.

“They had ascended by Mickledore and summited but had become disorientated and couldn’t find their way off to Lingmell Col. They had totally underestimated the terrain at Mickledore.

“They sensibly decided that they did not want to descend the scree in the dark but had no way of navigating in poor visibility to find the safer path down. They tagged on to my team until they felt happy to go it alone.”

The summit of Scafell Pike was in mist. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

The summit of Scafell Pike was in mist. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Another leader, Andy Dawson, who holds both winter and summer awards as well as the International Mountain Leader qualification, said: “The forecast from the Met Office was for fog on Scafell Pike from around dusk and that is what we duly got.

“We set off up at about 9.15pm and the fog came in as we turned the crag high on the mountain. By the time we were on summit plateau it was pretty dense.

“A number of groups were up there seeming poorly equipped. They had less than one headtorch each and not much evidence of map and compass.

“As I navved off the summit one group approached and asked if they should descend using the glow-sticks which I hadn’t seen at that point, so I said ‘no idea’.

“As we descended on a bearing I did spot a couple glowing weakly in the fairly thick fog only visible when standing right on them. We descended with one group kind of criss-crossing in front of us as they tried to get from cairn to cairn – their words – without a map or compass.

“One group attached behind us after Lingmell Col and I saw lights and shouts from at least one other, possibly more, well to the left of the route across Hollow Stones.

“They made a beeline for our torches and told me they would follow as we seemed to know our way – again, they had no maps or compasses.

“By this stage I felt like the Pied Piper, until I stopped for a slower member of my group.”

One group had underestimated the terrain in Mickledore, between Scafell and Scafell Pike. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

One group had underestimated the terrain in Mickledore, between Scafell and Scafell Pike. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

He said Mr Ascough and his party passed his group and at least one group attached itself to them.

“We got to the top of Brown Tongue, paused and the remainder then came past and on down the path. I heard other groups shouting each other’s names off to the left somewhere.”

He said the problem was that he has an obligation to help a lost group, but his first duty of care is to his own group. “This becomes much more difficult when I end up with a long train of people some intermingling with mine.

“My group had sensibly employed the services of a leader but the followers had a free ride. I don’t think any lessons were learnt and a totally avoidable mountain rescue callout was triggered.”

Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team was called out about 11.30pm on Saturday to help a woman who was lost close to the head of Piers Gill, a notorious blackspot for rescues.

Three of its volunteers spent more than five hours bringing the walker to safety in the dark.

Mountain Leader Rob Swindells, who is also a member of a mountain rescue team, was on the hill when the rescue callout was made.

He said: “Working with my group I came across a young lone male who was in radio contact with the rest of his team, who were lower down or at the bottom. I asked if he was OK, to which he replied they had lost a lone female.

“On further questioning she was somewhere higher up on the fell. I told him to gather as much details as possible ready for mountain rescue. He asked what the number was!”

Mr Swindells said the walker radioed details back down below. “We established contact with the girl who had no torch, no whistle or emergency kit. I got him to make sure that she rang 999 too so if possible they could get a pinpoint on her.”

Rescuers found the lost walker near the head of Piers Gill. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Rescuers found the lost walker near the head of Piers Gill. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Many mountain rescue teams in the UK use the Sarloc system which involves sending a link to a smartphone which, when clicked, enables rescuers to gain an accurate fix on the person called.

“I passed on that she was to stay put and give as many details as possible of what was around her, what she could see and weather conditions. She was in phone contact by now and the lone male passed on to her my instructions.

“I followed up with getting him to radio his group further down to also put the 999 call in case she could not. They were totally unprepared for the hill in my opinion and lacking in kit and experience.

“I assured him I was mountain rescue too from another area and that if he followed my instructions she would be OK. They were not the only group out in the dark that night that was struggling unguided.”

Mr Ascough said: “Hopefully we can get the message out once more that Scafell Pike in the dark is not an easy mountain and you need to have the right kit, and know how to use it.

“This includes being able to navigate. If in doubt hire a guide. To be fair, most clients have a better experience all round with an organised group.”

The midsummer weekends are the peak period for groups attempting the national Three Peaks Challenge, which entails ascending Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon in 24 hours.

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