Poorly prepared charity walkers stretching resources of Cumbrian mountain rescue teams
Last updated at 14:35, Tuesday, 06 September 2011
On a good day, about 200 pairs of feet will trek the 3,208 feet up and down Scafell Pike.
The Three Peakers, as they have become known, climb the highest three peaks in the UK within 24 hours, usually raising money for charities across the UK.
And while no one would argue with that, mountain rescue teams would rather the walkers, like the Scouts, ‘be prepared’.
The teams, which rely entirely on fundraising to operate, have been called to Three Peakers on the wrong mountain, poorly equipped, lost and injured.
Their minibuses have blocked Wasdale team’s own vehicle in when it was needed on a rescue, they’ve littered the fell with rubbish and sewage and had to climb up and down twice because they came down the wrong side to meet their transport.
Richard Warren, chairman of Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team, said they would never encourage or discourage the walkers, but they would like them to research their route and respect the mountain.
The team spent Saturday raising £1,500 – each rescue costs £1,000 – and was called out after going home when a Three Peaker fell 30 feet shortly before midnight.
They are happy to help people like him, but have more mixed feelings towards the ones who have done no research, have no idea where they are going, and go out in torrential rain, poorly dressed and poorly equipped.
“I was surprised to see so many of them out on Saturday, when the weather was absolutely appalling,” Richard says.
“I had to squeeze my car through the road end because there were about 12 buses. And a lot of people would be climbing Scafell Pike from the Keswick side as well, so that was just half the picture.
“When I drove up the valley I was amazed at the number of people. It was torrential rain and the becks were raging torrents. If people were going to get across them on the way up, they would be completely stranded on the way back down.”
The Three Peaks phenomenon is becoming ever more popular.
Whereas it used to take place mainly in the summer months due to better conditions and more daylight, it’s now from January 1 to December 31.
“I don’t know why,” Richard adds.
“They might have thought we were in for an Indian summer, waiting until the schools go back so it’s less busy or trying to avoid the crowds by coming at different times of the year.
“In the summer you can get about 50 buses at 6am on a Saturday, packed with Three Peakers.
“Minibuses tend to be a sign of Three Peakers. More than one or two hundred of them will go up at the busiest time, around the longest day.”
“I always remember one rescue when the Three Peakers had been out all night and it was 4am. Walking next to me was just a continuous stream of people. We were in winter gear because it was so cold and cloudy at the top and they were in T-shirts and trainers. The team leader was counting them – 84, 85, 86 – it was a big, big group.”
The team is called out between 70 and 100 times a year, and about 20 of those will be for Three Peakers, Richard estimates.
“It’s a fair proportion. Not a lot of them get injured, it’s more often that they’re lost.
“They’re not local. We had one man who did the Three Peaks alone and got abysmally lost. He was totally out of his depth.
“Another [rescue] was a group who got stuck on the wrong mountain. We get people who set off from Keswick and turn left, not right, and go up Great Gable.”
Another time the team, which has 40 volunteers, met three groups of Three Peakers coming down Scafell – all of them had come down the wrong valley. The transport which was taking them on to Snowdon in Wales was in Seathwaite. They were in Wasdale.
“The only options were to go back up and down the other side, or take a £95 taxi,” Richard said.
“One group went back up, and the others got taxis, which can hardly have helped with the fundraising!”
The ones who do it right, research their route and plan properly. “I met a couple of leaders of a group of Scouts from Brighton who were doing a recce on Sunday for an event next year,” Richard explains.
“They’d done Ben Nevis and driven down but, given the bad weather, decided to do their climb on Sunday, rather than Saturday. They were asking advice about the best route and, in the end, decided they would take three days rather than 24 hours and do a trial walk with 14 to 16-year-olds.”
It’s not just Three Peakers who are calling on mountain rescue teams now more than ever.
Cumbria’s 12 teams were called out 600 times last year – more than double the 406 incidents in 2006.
Thirty people died on the fells in 2010, including nine people who had heart attacks, eight suffered trauma, two drowned and two had committed suicide.
When it comes to injuries, fractures were by far the most frequent, with 128 broken bones in 12 months.
Team leaders point to ‘mobile phone culture’ as one of the main reasons for the increase in call-outs, with walkers relying less on maps and proper planning, and more on calling for help and directions en route.
Some of the more strange examples included a group calling 999 in July because clouds were coming down on Scafell Pike.
The walking group called emergency services but the call-out was aborted just six minutes later when the clouds lifted.
Volunteers from Wasdale were preparing to go out to help the group from Oldham.
Richard said there had been an increase in incidents being reported, only to be cancelled minutes later.
“Before you jump on your mobile phone and dial 999 and cry for help think it through,” he appeals.
“On a busy mountain like Scafell Pike, you can virtually guarantee that you’ll bump in to somebody else who will know how to get off the mountain and they will give you advice.
“Do that rather than just think ‘the cloud has come down, I don’t know where I am, I’ll pick up my phone and dial 999’.”
For more information on mountain rescue teams or to make a donation, see www.ldsamra.org.uk for links to each team.
First published at 11:23, Tuesday, 06 September 2011
Published by http://www.newsandstar.co.uk
Have your say
"Cumbriaâs 12 teams were called out 600 times last year â more than double the 406 incidents in 2006." Is anyone else confused by this sum?
Absolutely ridiculous. I agree with "Shock and Awe". These idiots should be charged for their rescues - charity climb or otherwise. If you decide to fell walk in trainers and without a map then you are asking for trouble, so should pay for it.
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