Sir Chris Bonington: 'remarks were tongue-in-cheek'. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Sir Chris Bonington: 'remarks were tongue-in-cheek'. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Climbing luminary Sir Chris Bonington has issued a statement following the controversy around remarks he made about mountain rescue at the recent Cheltenham Literature Festival.

The comments drew criticism from some mountain rescue team volunteers and sparked debate among outdoors enthusiasts.

In response, Sir Chris, who has had a long mountaineering career and summited Everest, said: “Anyone who knows me will be in no doubt that I hold those involved in mountain rescue in the highest regard.

“The wonderful volunteers and the organisation behind them epitomise much that is to be admired and cherished in our wide and diverse outdoor community.

“I have stated this many times over the years and have done all that I can to help and support our local mountain rescue teams with their fundraising.

“Recently, I was taking part in an on-stage interview about my new autobiography Ascent at the Cheltenham Literary Festival and when the session was opened up to questions from the floor, among many queries on many topics, I was asked my opinion of people who went into the hills ill prepared and who call for help unnecessarily.

“I stated that mountain rescue was entirely voluntary and what a good job the teams do but I also made a light-hearted comment that rescue had almost become a sport in itself and that teams from different valleys had competed to reach a casualty first. This has undoubtedly happened occasionally in the past, but most certainly hasn’t been the case in recent years when co-ordination between teams is very close.

“There are some serious issues that I think we need to consider in an era in which more people are clearly heading into the mountains with a lack of basic skills and, sometimes, inadequate clothing and equipment.

“That is putting greater pressure than ever on emergency services and I do believe that institutions such as mountain rescue are having to seriously consider aspects of their role, and how it is sustained, in this changing world.

“While it is heartening that so many people are being inspired to explore the outdoors, we have a job to do to ensure that the less experienced are properly prepared for their time in our upland areas.

“The idea of the outdoors as sport is something that the wider public can relate to, even more so now that climbing will soon make its debut in the Olympic Games

“That is the context in which I made my somewhat tongue-in-cheek remarks in Cheltenham, right off the cuff, which were reported without their full context and which I do indeed regret.

“As I have always done, I will continue to voice my strong admiration for and offer my support to those involved in mountain rescue.”

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