A call from the fog brings help on the line

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The Independent Online
"It's a bit misty up here; can you tell us how to get down to the valley?" Of all the advances in technology, nothing has undermined the spirit of self-reliance in hillwalking and mountaineering as much as the mobile phone, writes Stephen Goodwin.

In the Alps it means a helicopter pick-up is only 20 minutes away, and in the British hills there have even been instances of guide book authors telephoned at home for more detailed explanations of routes.

Mountain rescue teams are most at the mercy of a tap on the mobile.

The "lost in the mist" example quoted by Roger Payne, general secretary of the British Mountaineering Council, is typical. From the last report of the Wasdale rescue team in the Lake District: "A party of three lost their way in thick cloud [on Scafell Pike]. 'Nigel' used his cell-phone to dial 999 and asked for directions from the team. He switched off the phone to save his batteries and our telepathy wasn't working well.

''Eventually they found their way back to Wasdale Head and complained because nobody had called them back."

In a celebrated case in Scotland, climber and guide book author Alan Kimber was 'phoned at home by a party climbing Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis. After talking them through one tricky section, Mr Kimber was somewhat taken aback to get a second call when the party, having reached the top of the route in the dark, asked for compass bearing for a safe descent.

Mr Payne said the BMC would not want to stop people carrying phones - there are many instances where they have speeded a rescue - but climbers and walkers should not depend upon them.

"There is also the more fundamental point that you are never alone if you have a phone," Mr Payne said. "One of the reasons for going into the mountains is to experience the wilderness and be self-reliant," he said.