Covid-19: Do you need to change the way that you climb and walk?

Posted by Rob Dyer on 15/05/2020
Photo: Rob Dyer

As access to the outdoors has changed, climbing and hill walking is now possible in England, and in Wales where travel on foot from home is possible (subject to some mountain areas being closed). But do you need to change the way that you climb and walk with Covid-19? We take a look.

If you're thinking of going climbing or hill walking this weekend, in addition to our general advice and maintaining a strong sense of social responsibility, we have been considering practical measures to minimise the likelihood of transmitting the virus.

A set of guiding principles is useful to remember and apply across all your outdoor activities:

  • Keep 2m apart from anyone outside of your household.
     
  • Hand hygiene is crucial, but washing hands properly is impractical in the outdoors. Carry and use hand sanitiser after any contact with surfaces or shared equipment.
     
  • Current World Health Organisation advice on which hand sanitisers kill the Covid-19 virus is that they should contain 80% alcohol to be effective.
     
  • Avoid popular venues, pinch points and routes which force you close to others.
     
  • Whatever you are doing, scale back your ambitions and be fully confident of your physical and technical ability for any objective you embark upon.
     
  • Mountain Rescue capability is hugely reduced/diminished and any response is likely to take longer and with reduced resources compared to normal, not to mention increasing risk of transmission between casualties and team members.
     
  • Carry a separate plastic bag to hold used disposable gloves.

Hill walking:

Go into the hills understanding you are on your own - operate completely independently if going out with someone outside your household.

Carefully plan your route: try to anticipate and avoid pinch points where possible. These are likely to be at low levels before entering access land, but will also be focussed around summits, popular viewpoints etc.

Avoid pinch points where you can: but where this isn’t possible, work with other users to navigate them whilst keeping 2m apart.

Avoid touching access furniture if possible: many gates can be operated using the crook of your elbow, avoiding hand contact entirely. Where this isn’t possible, carry glove to operate gate mechanisms or climb stiles.

Think about weather: especially recognising the consequence of bad weather and the problems that will arise in needing to get closer to others to communicate.

Don’t be goal oriented: key summits will be busy but does it really matter that you stand on the summit? If a summit is busy when you arrive, perhaps avoid it and enjoy just being out in the uplands instead.

Use independent equipment: from others outside your household – don’t share.

Map and compass: more than ever, everyone needs their own rather than sharing between a group.

Emergency shelters: whilst normally group shelters are excellent and highly recommended, during the Covid-19 pandemic they are not a good idea. Instead, revert to each individual carrying their own emergency shelter unless walking in a household group.

Climbing:

Adaption is key for anyone climbing during the Covid-19 pandemic – a lot of the time we simply can’t do things as we did before and there will be challenges to overcome in ensuring we maintain social distancing and hygiene whilst staying safe at the crag.

For those climbing within a household, many ‘normal’ climbing practices can continue as transmission of the virus is not a concern, however:

Don’t push yourself: drop your grade, avoid dangerous routes, take advantage of protection even if you feel you don’t need it.

Treat rock/holds as potentially infected surfaces: we don’t currently have a good understanding of how long the virus survives on rock, so assume it is resilient, avoid touching your face whilst climbing and use hand sanitiser between routes or problems.

For those climbing outside of your household group, the previous advice, plus the following applies:

Limit group size to a maximum of two: there will be numerous challenges in staying 2m apart from others and these need to be planned for in advance.

Avoid needing spotters: whilst bouldering, pick problems which don’t require spotting and carry extra mats if needed.

Avoid using your mouth: when clipping ropes or placing gear

Bottom roping: should be possible to manage very effectively whilst keeping 2m apart from your partner.

Belaying from above: stance management is more challenging as the second climber will need to pass the leader on topping out. As you should both be climbing well within your limits and communication is less of a concern, consider belaying back from the edge, increasing social distance when topping out.

Multi-pitch routes: will be difficult to manage whilst maintaining 2m apart from your partner. Whilst not impossible, climbing them will require advance planning, good local knowledge of routes so you can pick those with large stances and/or developing more complicated new techniques.

Think about equipment: do everything you can to minimise sharing. For sport climbing, each climber taking their own quickdraws and rope and stripping the route after each ascent, will enable both partners to avoid sharing equipment. For trad climbing, consider taking as much kit as possible and using it in batches.

Follow manufacturers advice on equipment cleaning and quarantine: wash clothes on the highest possible temperature recommended by manufacturers. Quarantine shared equipment in a dedicated area for as long as possible. 


DOWNLOAD: the shiny new BMC RAD app

Get all the info on crags with the newly updated RAD (Regional Access Database) app from the BMC! Available now for Android and iOS, it's free and comes with a host of new features like navigation and parking, weather and tidal updates, and of course information on restrictions or notes on access advice. Get it here now!

DOWNLOAD: The RAD app for Android

DOWNLOAD: The RAD app for iOS

RAD is community led and your comments help keep it up to date so don’t be afraid to add any relevant information after a crag visit which might be useful for other visitors – anything from conditions on the crag, favourite routes or reports of rockfall/other recent changes to the crag are all useful for other climbers visiting.


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