BILLIONThe lights were fading in the Peak District and, somewhere between the heather and the hills, an urgent cry for help was heard. Emergency responders scrambled for action, reeling from grid references to radios as they searched for their victims: “Hello? Save the mountain!”

They found their hiker at the top of a valley, his ankle badly sprained and hypothermia descending. 18 volunteers – teachers, doctors, participants – put the man on a stretcher and carried him more than a mile to safety.

This may be a training exercise but it has all the hallmarks of an everyday emergency in Britain’s national parks.

Mountain rescue teams around the country say they are bracing for an extremely busy summer as the cost-of-living crisis drives many towards cheaper outdoor activities.

“We fully anticipate this will be a very, very busy, busy summer like we’ve been,” said Mike Margeson, operations director for Mountain Rescue England and Wales. “Certainly last year we wouldn’t want it to be busier in terms of coping capacity.”

Emergency teams responded with a record 3,629 captions in England and Wales last year, up 15% from 2020. There are almost 1,000 more captions in 2021 than in 2019 as the crowd directed. to the hills during Covid-19.

There is little sign that the prevalence of the pandemic is waning. Mountain rescue teams processed 1,489 callouts in the first six months of this year, generally a quieter half-calendar, according to interim figures for England and Wales. More than half of them are in the three most popular regions – the Lake District, Peak District and north Wales.

“It’s been built and built, and the last five or six weeks have been really busy and very tragic,” Margeson said. He counted at least 12 deaths in the past two months, most recently a hiker who fell from Snowdon, Wales’ highest mountain, last Tuesday.

The majority of incidents are caused by human error, mostly by humans not equipped for the terrain. Rescue teams say they’ve seen a significant increase in people joining coaches, not wearing spare clothing, and trying to rely on Google Maps in mobile black spots.

Rescue team
Edale Mountain Rescuers in the Peak District – one of the country’s top hiking destinations. Photo: Christopher Thomond / The Guardian

“We’re very enthusiastic that people have realized the importance of being outdoors, it’s just too much,” said Margeson, who has worked in mountain rescue for more than 40 years.

“And the demographics: people who are usually on the beach in Benidorm crammed into two-hour queues to get to the top of Snowdon, or crammed themselves into the Lake District.”

There could be another reason for the increase in emergency incidents, said Richard Warren, president of the Lake District mountain rescue team: “A lot of people are having knee and hip surgery after the pandemic. , and I think there’s a lot of people falling from above, hobbling down, tripping, falling. “

Mountain rescue teams are staffed entirely by volunteers and most depend entirely on donations because they receive no money from the central government. They are called 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

In addition to responding to accidents in hills and valleys, they are increasingly called upon by police and ambulance crews, either because of their technical expertise or as green light services are extended.

Colin Price, team leader on the Mount Edale rescue mission in the Peak District, said his team has responded to 82 comments this year and is on track to match last year’s record of 155 comments.

While the return of most overseas travel is unrestricted, he said the area is getting “busier and busier” even before the end of the semester. Campgrounds have also been booked in the Lake District.

Margeson, a member of the rescue team that covered part of Cumbria’s Scafell Pike, Britain’s highest mountain, said: “A lot of people have returned overseas but many can’t afford to look for it. to the Peak, or north Wales or the Lake District is a more financially viable holiday – and who can blame them?”