Upper Eskdale and Great Moss, scene of the searchMountain experts have criticised a school after a group of its students was rescued from a Lake District fellside this morning after a search involving 35 volunteers.

Upper Eskdale and Great Moss, scene of the search

The walkers were described as ‘clueless’ by a mountain rescue leader, who said the school they attend are ‘regular customers’ of the rescue teams.  The stricken walkers, from a religious establishment in the North-East, called for help at 5.30am today. They had set off across the Cumbrian fells at 11am the previous morning.

The five boys, aged 16, and an 18-year-old man were found near Scafell.

The party was ill-equipped for the conditions, according to Julian Carradice of the Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team.  He told grough: “They were not wearing mountain clothes. They were wearing the cheapest trousers, with no overtrousers and had no means of shelter.

“Considering the weather last night, they were lucky. It was thundering and lightning and there was a cloudburst.

“Higher up, the snow was freezing on my face; I had two pairs of gloves on.”

Students from the school have got into difficulties on the fells before. Mr Carradice said: “They just haven’t got the first idea of what it is proper to have on the hills and how to navigate.

“They think that mountain rescue is on standby for them. The Cairngorm team has had problems with them too.”

The Wasdale MRT was joined in the major search by colleagues from the Langdale-Ambleside and Kendal teams and dog handlers from the Search and Rescue Dogs Association. The operation lasted six hours and centred on the south side of Esk Pike, after the walkers had indicated they had turned left at the bottom of the Cam Spout waterfall. In fact, they were eventually located at 10.15am on Slight Side, nearly 2km south of the Scafell summit.

Mr Carradice said: “They were found on the fellside, with no shelter. They had good reception on the mobile, so I don’t know why they didn’t ring us earlier.”

A helicopter from RAF Valley on Anglesey was able to land at the site and take them to Furness General Hospital, where they were treated for hypothermia.

Mountain rescue teams have faced increased calls on their services by ill prepared fellwalkers who get lost or benighted and are unable to navigate off the fells. This has put a strain on some teams whose members are unable to devote the time to call-outs because of family and work commitments.

Richard Warren, chairman of the Wasdale MRT, said: “This is yet another incident where fellwalkers were unprepared for their walk and were unable to cope when things started to go wrong.  

“The Lake District Mountain Rescue Association and Cumbria Tourism are mounting a campaign to alert people to the necessity of being properly prepared for their day out in the mountains.”

Team leader Julian Carradice was scathing about the conduct of the school. He said: “The responsible adult was an 18 year-old. This is such a common story for us. They are clueless as far as mountains go. Sooner or later there will be a catastrophe with this lot.”

Mountain rescuers in England and Wales are preparing to celebrate the movement’s 75th anniversary this year.