Hill walkers in UK urged not to rely on smartphones | Walking

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Walkers in the UK have been warned not to rely on smartphones to find their way on hills and mountains, and instead learn to use a map and compass, amid an increase in calls to rescue services.

On Christmas Day a walker became unwell and later died after getting into difficulty at Buckstones Jump, near Rydal, in the Lake District.

Up until Boxing Day morning, rescue teams in the Lake District had attended 606 callouts in 2022, a figure they expected to rise to 620 by the end of the year. Numbers have risen significantly in the last 10 years, up from 432 incidents in 2012. Last year was their busiest, with 681 callouts.

As more people explore the outdoors – many for the first time – experts urged people to understand how to use a map and compass as well as carry a torch and mobile battery backup on outings.

The Lake District Search and Mountain Rescue Association said one in four callouts were “avoidable rescues” due to people getting lost or delayed through not having the necessary navigational skills.

Richard Warren, the chair of LDSAMRA, said smartphones were a great resource for walkers and climbers but that variable phone signal and battery power, which drained rapidly in cold weather, could present problems if people relied on the entirely. “What we’re trying to avoid is people just relying on their mobile phones, and getting them to learn to use a map and compass.”

He said mountain rescue teams were made up of volunteers, unpaid and on call throughout the year, including over Christmas.

Paul Donovan, co-project lead of the safety campaign AdventureSmart UK, said while it was “fantastic” that more people were walking and engaging with nature, there was a national rise in incidents. “If they are reliant on their smartphone without any backup there’s a chance of something happening as a result.”

There was nothing wrong with using Google Maps or OS maps, he added, but walkers and climbers were advised to carry a battery backup and learn to use a map and compass.

“It’s something that’s been more obvious to us over the last 12 to 18 months as more are venturing into hills and Covid has changed the demographic of people venturing into hills and outdoors,” Donovan said.

Before heading out, he urged people to ask themselves three questions: Do I have the right gear? Do I know what the weather will be like? Am I confident I have the knowledge and skills for the day?

This month Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue Organisation, in Wales, reported 11 rescues, and Edale Mountain Rescue Team, in the Peak District, reported several incidents.

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