Lake District rescue team members during a night-time callout

Lake District rescue team members during a night-time callout. Photo: Wasdale MRT

Volunteer rescuers in the Lake District say they are facing ‘a tidal wave’ of avoidable callouts as inexperienced walkers take to the fells.

The trend towards ‘staycations’ during the coronavirus crisis has led to many ill prepared hillgoers calling for help when they get into difficulties.

Richard Warren of the umbrella body for teams in the area, said the situation is putting a real strain on the volunteer members and is unsustainable. Since Friday evening, teams have been called out 19 times, with Mr Warren’s own team, Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team, involved in nine of those.

He said: “Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team covers Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England and a magnet for walkers and climbers. Many of our walkers and climbers are very experienced and know exactly what they are doing.

“However, 11 of the callouts were truly avoidable with inexperienced and ill prepared walkers finding themselves in serious, life-threatening trouble being either missing or lost.”

Mr Warren, who is chairman of the Lake District Search and Mountain Rescue Association, said: “The Cumbria weather which was accurately forecast this weekend has caught out many but Cumbria police have also commented that many are dialling in 999 calls with as little as 1 per cent battery remaining on their mobile phones.

Rescuers have to wear full protective gear during callouts because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: Wasdale MRT

Rescuers have to wear full protective gear during callouts because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: Wasdale MRT

“This means that after the initial call their battery dies and the mountain rescue team cannot get back to them which makes finding them a bigger challenge requiring more numbers of the volunteers.

“Many are relying on smartphone mapping apps which drain batteries, and no back-up. The rescue on Scafell Pike late on Saturday night in forecast atrocious conditions for a family group of three lasted 12 hours and involved five rescue teams.

“Staycation holidays are introducing a new type of visitor to the national parks and the current quarantine rules have the potential to make the matter worse. North Wales is experiencing a similar problem and we are sure that the same is being felt across many of the UK’s outdoor holiday destinations – great for the economy but a real issue for the volunteer rescue teams.”

He offered advice to hillgoers:

  • Exercise within your limits and avoid taking risks
  • Know your level of skill, competence and experience and those of your group
  • Make sure you have the right equipment for your trip to the hills and valleys noting that many of our callouts are low down in the valley bottoms
  • Learn how to navigate; take a waterproof map and a compass; don’t rely on smartphone technology as it can let you down
  • Take a torch; even on the longest days, you never know when your activity will catch you out or you go to the help of a fallen, cragfast or lost walker
  • Take a powerbank battery charger; it will save you a lot of grief and it will allow you to take even more of the memory photos
  • Be kind to our volunteers and respectful to our emergency service, our rural communities and to our farmers.

More information is available on the Adventure Smart website.

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