Should you go climbing outdoors and hill walking?

Posted by Alex Messenger on 18/03/2020

As overseas travel is restricted and indoor walls start to close, should you be heading out climbing and hill walking?

Things change fast, and the answer is no. 

Read our latest article to find out more. 

Even writing the title of this article feels rather surreal. Who would have imagined just a few weeks ago that we’d seriously be considering whether hill walking and climbing outdoors was a good thing? 

Now, with many climbing walls shut, a nation transitioning to the new reality of working from home and the onset of spring, we’re starting to get a lot of questions about whether people should still be heading into the outdoors to climb and hill walk. 

We can all weigh up the positives: continued cash to rural economies, supporting the outdoor sector, our mental health, social distancing whilst maintaining fitness.

However, the potential negatives are starting to rack up too: the risk of having an accident and using up valuable NHS resources, the risks (of accidents and transmission) whilst travelling, the risk of bringing infection into a rural community with limited medical resources, the complications of mountain rescue. 

Are the mountains open? 

In Chamonix, France, the PGHM (the mountain police), people are banned from the mountains. In Spain, the crags are closed for climbing. In Italy and Spain, recreational cycling is banned.

However, the UK isn’t at that stage (yet) and the National Trust have just put out a statement stating that their land is open and is now free for everyone to access:

“The National Trust will, where possible, open as many of its gardens and parks for free, but close its houses, cafes and shops to help the nation fight the spread of the coronavirus. We recognise that people are likely to need access to open space and to nature, beauty and history."

Many nature reserves are also open, such as those run by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, who state that: "Our nature reserves are open and remain excellent places to unwind with wildlife, get fresh air, headspace and exercise, away from any crowd"

Stick to familiar areas

Scottish Mountain Rescue has put out a statement urging people to stick to “familiar and safe areas”:

“Being in the outdoors has many benefits and we are usually very happy to encourage individuals to get outdoors and enjoy the beauty of Scotland . However, during this ongoing situation we ask you not to take any unnecessary risk when enjoying the outdoors. Perhaps go on adventures you are familiar and safe with and while doing so, keep social distancing in mind."

This is backed up by Elfyn Jones of the Llanberis Mountain Rescue team who says:

“We all need access to the countryside for our health, but there is a real possibility of reduced or even no cover for mountain rescue in some areas as this develops.”

Are huts open?

If you are heading out then be aware that most club huts are now closed, or about to close, including the Glen Brittle hut, Don Whillans HutClimbers' Club huts and FRCC huts. We produced an article on using club huts and COVID-19, but not all the information now remains relevant, so please read it together with our latest update.

What does the BMC recommend? 

This is uncharted territory for all of us, and the advice we give to climbers, walkers and mountaineers will no doubt change over the coming days, weeks and even months. But if you’re wondering whether to head outside, this is what we currently think:

  • People need access to countryside for their health – both mental and physical.
     
  • Follow the most current NHS advice regarding health and distancing. Currently Public Health England’s advice is: "you can go for a walk outdoors if you stay more than 2 metres from others."
     
  • Consider your means of travel and distance – close to home is best and, despite the environmental impact, it’s better to be in personal cars than public transport at the moment. 
     
  • Stick to familiar areas and low-risk activities.
     
  • Reduce your risk. Be very aware that medical and rescue services and facilities are going to be extremely stretched and overwhelmed. It would be socially irresponsible to be taking risks at this time that could place an additional burden on medical and emergency services.
     
  • Do not assume that Mountain Rescue will be available. There is a real possibility of reduced or even no cover for rescue in some areas as this develops - including along the coast that depends on lifeboat and volunteer coastguards.

More FAQs about the BMC and Covid-19

🌳 Can I start climbing / hillwalking? Yes, but be cautious in your actions, respectful of local communities and vigilant in avoiding transmitting the virus. Read our latest advice for July here and for the general return to climbing here

🌳 What's the situation in Wales? Read the full July update here

😷 When and how will the walls reopen?  In England it's July 25th Read the ABC's advice for walls and watch their live update here

✈️ Can I now travel abroad again? Get the latest answers to going abroad with travel restrictions now easing

🛒 Is the BMC shop open? Yes - we officially reopened at the start of July!

🏡 Do you have any advice for clubs and huts? The latest club huts update and all you need to know

📜 Will the BMC keep running smoothly? Read more or watch our weekly live updates from our CEO

🚗 What have the BMC access team been doing during this time? Read on

We hope you stay safe during this unwanted adventure and let's come together as a community to help and support each other.


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Anonymous User
17/03/2020
The mountain will be there when this is over.
Now is the time to not go to the Emergencies, and to not spread the virus.
In normal times the NHS is already saturated.
This advice, while going along with the government is bad.
Spain, France and Italy should be an example to follow earlier rather than later.
The mountains will still be there when this is over.....
Anonymous User
18/03/2020
We all stayed off the fells when foot and mouth swept the country and that was to protect livestock!! Surely we can get by for a few months while this life threatening virus runs its course the last thing the Rescue services and NHS need is to be streched even further by people needing assitance on the fells.
Anonymous User
19/03/2020
Can an over 70 go walking if he uses his own car and not be in touch with anyone
19/03/2020
Minor dilemma.
I have chronic bronchitis. All my life really. But I started running years ago and found that as long as I keep my heart rate below 60, I generally don't have any problems.

I can coast pretty long on that, but will come a point. Being over 60 years old and having chronic bronchitis puts me at risk.

I wonder what the NHS would say, being I can't really bother them about this?



Anonymous User
19/03/2020
This Article is profoundly wrong. It completely goes against the Government advice of no non essential travel.
Climbing and Hill walking is not essential, especially in times like these. As much as we like to think it is.
Anonymous User
19/03/2020
Please correct an inaccuracy in this article. “In Chamonix, France, the PGHM (the mountain police) have advised people to stay away from the mountains. “ No. It is illegal to go into the mountains here. You can only go within 500m of your house.
Anonymous User
19/03/2020
Use your common sense! Emergency services will be diverted to the current coronavirus outbreak. Really selfish and irresponsible to plan a trip where there is a possibility you will need emergency help! Just plan your trips locally for the near future
Anonymous User
20/03/2020
The situation is changing rapidly and we all need to make informed choices based on our circumstances, available information and government advice at the time. I am glad that the BMC has provided a raft of information and advice for mountaineers.

On 16 March, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care advised people against all unnecessary social contact with others and all unnecessary travel. However, Hansard records that he also said: “People in household isolation should go out, but they should try to avoid other people. It is very important that we look out for others in our communities and that people get the exercise they need.”

When emotions are running high, we must strive to maintain respect for one another's views, in line with the BMC's values, and take care not to stigmatise.
Anonymous User
20/03/2020
Yes the NT is being utterly irresponsible - it is encouraging people to treat this like a glorified bank holiday - free access, go explore, travel...…..social media has been full of people thinking they fancy a day out at a beauty spot or place they would never have otherwise visited, putting pressure and adding risk to rural areas.

I live adjacent to a NT estate - it has been packed since this announcement - social distances is a joke, kids on playground, car park crowded, litter piling up as staff not on duty …..
Anonymous User
20/03/2020
Many thanks for this; I've been a hillwalker for decades & was wondering how to cope with walking in this crisis re walking
I was treated for cancer in 2018 & walking helps enormously following that, & has always been good for physical & mental health.. Exercise incl walking is encouraged for cancer sufferers and survivors; we also have to take a lot of care over Covid 19 susceptibility though.
I'm reliant on public transport when I don't do circular walks from the house, but decided to avoid it if at all possible during this crisis, reinforced by govn guidance.. The trains I use are also v crowded with walkers at peak times eg w/es. Also, sadly, I'd realised I should avoid the pub stop(s).!
I'm happy walking alone & have done so for decades; I've researched & trained re navigation so know what I'm doing pretty well, take all necessary precautions incl carrying 1st aid, spare warm clothing, food & drink, mobile & am registered to text MR if signal fails. HOWEVER it's v useful to be aware that ME c/b depleted or even non-existent; I hadn't thought of that but it's obvious of course, as is the point about the risk of putting more pressure on an NHS already stretched with Covid 19 crisis.
Thank you!
Take care

Anonymous User
21/03/2020
With much gratitude, 'thank you' to the BMC and NHS for advice, so we can each make informed decisions. Whilst Mother Earth has sent us to our rooms for poor behaviour, we can perhaps forgive those who rely on her for her healing powers. I am worried about those with mental health issues who need, as part of their daily medication, to be out there in the fresh air. If they can do this safely they may just be saving an already over-stretched NHS from further bother. Like they say in Scotland, stick to 'familiar and safe areas' .

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