For some, they are the source of incomparable frustration, wasting emergency services’ time by attempting to climb mountains unprepared.
But the amateur climber who finds himself in need of rescue on British peaks should not feel too guilty, Sir Chris Bonington has suggested, because volunteers enjoy the thrill.
Sir Chris, the British mountaineer who became the oldest man to climb Everest in 1985, said mountain rescue had become almost a sport in its own right, with volunteers vying to be the most spectacular saviours.
Saying he was not worried about unprepared climbers needing to be rescued, he argued that, on the contrary, people should be encouraged to get out of doors and into the wild.
Asked at Cheltenham Literature Festival about unprepared climbers and an alleged over-reliance on technology to get them rescued, Sir Chris said he would not seek to discourage anyone from getting into the great outdoors.
“As far as this business of people relying on being rescued, and we see this in Britain a bit and you see it in the Alps,” he said.
“But in actual fact, there’s quite an industry actually for rescuing people. In Britain what is amazing is the mountain rescue teams are totally voluntary so they’re volunteers and they love doing it.
“Mountain rescue has almost become a sport in itself.
“They do enjoy what they’re doing, it’s completely voluntary, they don’t have to do it.
“And I believe there has even been cases where there’s been a mountain rescue team from one valley and a mountain rescue team from another valley racing to get the person first. They’ve never quite got to fisticuffs but it’s got quite heated.
“In the Alps, mountain rescue is all by helicopter but once again there’s an industry there: people are being paid to do it. So I don’t think you need worry about that.
“If you get yourself into a difficult situation and you can’t cope with it so you call in the mountain rescue, firstly you’re going to have to pay for it and people don’t seek that.”
Of the overall situation, he added: “It doesn’t worry me.
“In the Himalayas it’s slightly different and you can’t be rescued, you have to get yourself out.”
On the willingness of amateurs to give climbing a go, he said: “It’s wonderful and also incredibly important to encourage people to get into the outdoors, to get out of a city environment and into a wild environment.”
Andy Simpson, from Mountain Rescue England and Wales, thanked Sir Chris for his complimentary words about volunteers, agreeing they all enjoy what they do.
But, he added: “I would certainly never encourage anyone to deliberately put themselves at risk, or to go out ill-equipped believing it doesn’t matter because they’ll be rescued.
“We are always keen to help, but it’s a serious business and we would always encourage people to be properly prepared.”
In 2016, Mountain Rescue England and Wales received 2074 callouts, with rescue teams being deployed 1,812 times.
They assisted 1,785 people over 81,778 hours of active volunteering, with only 14 days in the year when they were not called out to help someone.
As well as saving the lives of climbers struggling with injury or unexpected bad weather, calls also included a group of walkers left “incapable” up Scafell Pike, Cumbria, and a teenager attempting to climb Snowdon in his underwear.
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