Sunday, February 08, 2009

Mountain Rescue

The news has been littered recently with stories of British hikers and climbers who have succumbed to the elements while tackling normally well-signed trails in dangerous conditions. Now the authorities are asking that only the experienced and well-equipped should even contemplate being out on a mountain.

Quite right.

But there are some unanswered questions here. As we have pointed out in several of our hiking trail travelogues (particularly Big Bend, Texas and Cader Idris, Wales), it is imperative that hikers set out with the right equipment and knowledge, that they do not underestimate the conditions that may exist hours from starting out, and that they turn round and head for home before it is too late.

We personally know far more about survival in a desert environment (Big Bend) than on a cold British mountainside but the basic rules are not very different. We noticed several people hiking up Cader Idris with minimal equipment, the idea being that with less to carry it is possible to get up and back in next to no time. The problem with this is that an unexpected sprained ankle or a sudden change in the weather leaves the hiker fatally exposed to dangerous conditions.

But there is another side to this debate. Unfortunately there is a complete lack of education on dealing with these situations nowadays. The primary reason I can think of is that H&S dictates that such activities should not be encouraged because by explaining the risks we may be encouraging the taking of those risks. I am not sure what the answer is here, but one story I recently heard in Cornwall is that schoolchildren were only allowed to go on a field trip to a well known and safe summer holiday beach if they kept their shoes on. This sort of protective mentality is not only sending the wrong message, it is also limiting the experience and education of how to cope with risk.

Great Britain, the nation that sent explorers to the poles and the highest mountains, is losing its ability to explore.