In the News: How mountain rescue services are managing alarming rise in callouts

People are underestimating fitness and equipment needed to climb Carrauntoohil

The Kerry rescue team has responded to 51 callouts in the county so far this year. Photograph: iStock

The Kerry rescue team has responded to 51 callouts in the county so far this year. Photograph: iStock

 

Earlier this month, Kerry Mountain Rescue Team issued a clear warning to people considering heading into the mountains. They called on walkers to “please get serious” and remember that climbing up a mountain was not “a walk in the park”.

People are underestimating the amount of fitness and equipment needed to climb Ireland’s highest mountain, Carrauntoohil, said the group, adding that some walkers were ending up with “serious, potentially life-changing injuries”.

The team’s frustration is completely understandable – they had to deal with an extraordinary 19 callouts in the first 19 days of August. The Kerry rescue team has responded to 51 callouts in the county so far this year, more than for all of 2020.

Meanwhile, the Dublin and Wicklow mountain rescue team dealt with 120 callouts last year, their busiest year on record. So far in 2021, the group has already responded to 78 callouts, putting them on track to exceed last year’s record.

Every member of the team is an unpaid volunteer and each callout means dropping work and family to spend between six and 12 hours on the mountain.

While things can go wrong for the best prepared mountaineers, the ill-prepared afternoon walkers are far more likely to end up calling for help, say rescue teams.

So why have more people started hiking around Ireland and why are so many embarking on these adventures with zero preparation?

And who are the rescue workers giving up their free time, and risking their own safety, to save people lost or injured in the mountains?

Irish Times political correspondent Harry McGee, who is also an experienced hill-walker and mountaineer, described on the podcast one of the rescues he recently witnessed on Carrauntoohil to presenter Sorcha Pollak. A full rescue mission was carried out to recover the walker who had stumbled and suffered fractures making it impossible to continue the climb down.

McGee, who has written about the rising pressures on mountain rescue groups, says the situation is become unsustainable as more people head into the hills without preparation.

Gerry Condon, health and safety officer with Dublin and Wicklow Mountain Rescue, agreed that the number of callouts has soared during pandemic.

“We didn’t think there were going to be that many people out but it was actually the total opposite.

“There were people heading up the mountains that had probably never been up there before and that’s probably where an awful lot of the callouts were unfortunately.”

Condon told the podcast his volunteer rescue work has become “a way of life” for him but admitted that members of the team do risk burn out when they “keep going at it and going at it”.

In the News is presented by reporters Sorcha Pollak and Conor Pope.

You can listen to the podcast here:

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