Riding Responsibly

Last week the Lake District Search and Mountain Rescue Association put out a plea to those visiting the area to act responsibly when venturing into the fells, by only doing so with the proper equipment and expertise. It came following a spate of recent call-outs that could’ve been easily avoided, putting unnecessary pressure on a service that’s already struggling to cope with an influx of new visitors, and the introduction of Covid-19 safety and social distancing measures, which greatly reduce the service’s efficiency.

In the five days prior to the statement being released, the Lake District Mountain Rescue teams had been called out 19 times, and of those incidents, 11 were deemed to be: “truly avoidable, with inexperienced and ill prepared walkers finding themselves in serious and life threatening trouble, being either missing or lost”.

One of the call-outs required over 50 volunteers from 5 mountain rescue teams, and took 12 hours to rescue a party of 3, who were lost in atrocious weather conditions.

We’d like to think that mountain bikers are a bit more sensible, but this evening Keswick Mountain Rescue Team reported an incident whereby a group of mountain bikers got lost in the fells overnight after embarking on an unbelievably unrealistic route from Windermere to Wasdale Head.

Photo: Keswick Mountain Rescue Team

There’s no doubt that, if you’re unfamiliar with the area, it’s easy to get caught out by the unpredictable and rapidly changing weather conditions, and the vast network of paths, which can be difficult to follow. Routes that are shown on the map as bridleways or footpaths, are not always well defined, and it’s incredibly easy to veer off track. At best this can mean you’ll miss a great descent, but at worst you could end up very lost, and a long way from help. It’s also very difficult for the uninitiated to comprehend the inhospitableness of the terrain that they can be venturing into, and that you just can’t cover the same kind of distances that you might in other parts of the country.

The LDSAMRA’s plea also urged people not to rely too heavily on technology for navigation and communication, as it can also be unreliable. It’s all very well to follow a route on your phone or GPS, until, that is, it runs out of battery or malfunctions half way round, which is all too common, especially in the cold.

Mountain bike guides train for months, if not years, to gain the skills and expertise to lead groups safely into the fells, so by hiring one, you can take the stress out of planning a route and venturing into the unknown. It’s not to say that incidents never happen, but it’ll greatly reduce the risk of anything going wrong, which, in turn, will help to minimise the potential burden on our, already stretched, emergency services.

After all, mountain biking is meant to be fun, and getting lost in the fells is anything but!

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