Rescue services

How mountain rescue services are dealing with the alarming increase in calls

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

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

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

Meanwhile, the Dublin and Wicklow Mountain Rescue Team handled 120 calls last year, their busiest year on record. So far in 2021, the group has already answered 78 calls, putting them on track to surpass last year’s record.

Each member of the team is an unpaid volunteer and each intervention means giving up work and family to spend between six and 12 hours on the mountain.

While things can turn out badly for the best prepared climbers, poorly prepared afternoon walkers are much more likely to end up calling for help, according to rescue teams.

So why have more people started hiking in Ireland and why are so many people going on these adventures without any preparation?

And who are the rescuers who sacrifice their free time, and risk their own safety, to save those lost or injured in the mountains?

Irish Times political correspondent Harry McGee, who is also an experienced hiker and mountaineer, described in 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 tripped and suffered from fractures making it impossible to continue the descent.

McGee, who wrote about the increasing pressures on mountain rescue groups, says the situation has become unbearable as more and more people head for the hills unprepared.

Gerry Condon, head of health and safety in Dublin and Wicklow Mountain Rescue, agreed that the number of calls had skyrocketed during the pandemic.

“We didn’t think there would be that many people but it was actually quite the opposite.

“There were people going up the mountains who had probably never been up there before and that’s probably where a lot of the calls were unfortunately.”

Condon told the podcast that his volunteer rescue work had become “a way of life” for him, but admitted that team members risked exhaustion when they “kept going and going. go”.

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

You can listen to the podcast here: