Mountain Rescue teams around the country have warned about the dangers of too many eager hikers flooding back to the mountains.
With lockdown measures relaxing around the country, outdoor-lovers are salivating at the prospect of getting back to the wild places. The country’s most popular landmarks are preparing for a surge in visitors.
However, as much as we ALL want to get back out there, now is the time to be sensible and to remember that both the mountains and the pandemic still pose risks. And, when combined, the two could create especially dangerous situations.
What are the rules about getting to the mountains at the moment?
Since May rules have been relaxed for travel within England. This means that you can, in principle, drive as far as you like for exercise (which would include hiking/mountaineering etc). However, you are still not allowed to stay overnight in a second location.
The rules are different for Scotland and Wales, where people are encouraged to stay as locally as possible when getting outdoors. People from England are not allowed to travel to either Scotland or Wales for a daytrip.
This is all looking likely to change from early July. In line with the new lockdown relaxations, travel to Wales and Scotland will be allowed from the 5th of July – with accommodation opening in Scotland from the 15th of July. As yet there is no confirmation of a date for hotels and campsites in Wales.
This all means that it’s becoming increasingly possible to reclaim some normality in our outdoor pursuits. Snowdon, Ben Nevis, The Lake District and the Brecon Beacons are all opening up and expecting huge amounts of visitors. Of course, this poses some concerns and complications.
What have Mountain Rescue said?
Mountain Rescue services have always strongly encouraged people to be sensible when visiting the mountains. Take the right gear, dress appropriately, let someone know where you’re going, and know your limits. That hasn’t changed.
What has is the pressure of a sudden increase in visitors. With millions of people being confined to their homes and local areas, chances are mountain hotspots will be overwhelmed by hikers desperate for their beloved peaks.
However, there is likely to be a lot of people who are not seasoned hikers who are equally keen to get to the countryside. This group, combined with experienced hikers who are rusty or less fit than usual, make for a perfect storm for Mountain Rescue.
In the pandemic many Mountain Rescue volunteers are unable to offer their help, due to shielding or illness.
To make things even more challenging, Covid-19 measures require Mountain Rescue to wear full protective clothing, even in our incredibly hot weather. This means they will be slower to reach people in need, and find it more difficult to handle injuries or extraction.
So what can I do?
In short, be sensible and considerate!
This means really thinking about whether you need to head for the hills straight away. Sure, we’ve probably all got a little sick of our local area. And if you live in a city the opportunity to get out into the countryside may be irresistible.
But that doesn’t mean we ALL have to head for Snowdon, Scarfell or Crib Goch.
In Scotland and Wales there has been a five-mile limit on local travel in place for months. After so long it should be possible to make an adventure of travelling just a little bit further afield. Get out your maps or guidebooks, pick a place you’ve never been, make your experience a unique one and avoid the crowds.
After all, there is little joy in replacing the claustrophobia of lockdown with crowds on top of Ben Nevis. The UK is full of hidden nooks and secret corners ready to make your own.
If you are heading somewhere remote or challenging then take no unecessary risks. You'll be harder to help and you'll be putting an already stretched Rescue resource under more pressure.
And what about the virus?
Well that’s the other thing. In recent weeks it’s been surprisingly easy to treat the lockdown as the problem and forget the nasty virus that’s causing it all.
Whilst evidence strongly suggests that transmission decreases in the outdoors, this still isn’t a time to be crammed together around a cairn.
We have previously written some advice for hiking during social isolation and those guidelines still stand. Though there is much talk of reducing the 2-metre social distance to 1-metre, this is primarily to help businesses cope. If you are outdoor then there is no reason to be any closer than necessary.
Hikers know that heading outdoors always means assessing and managing risk. All of that experience should come in very handy as the lockdown eases and we are increasingly asked to use our own commons sense.
It is crucial to approach the outdoors with that common sense attitude. Don’t overstretch yourself, be aware of your new and temporary fitness levels, respect other hikers and Mountain Rescue, and don’t be too eager to travel further than you need. The outdoors is amazing; you don’t always need to be at the top of a mountain.
If you are planning on getting out and doing some hiking in the coming weeks, make sure your gear is in good condition. If not, then you know where to come. . .