Coronavirus and hill walking: your questions answered

Posted by Alex Messenger on 07/08/2020
What to do on narrow ridges? Photo: Alex Messenger

Heading for the hills? Get the lowdown on masks, sharing transport, what to do if you meet someone on a narrow path – and much more. We’re back with expert Professor Ian Hall to answer your essential Coronavirus hill-walking questions.

Can I go hill walking?

Yes, the hills are open. However, we’re not back to normal and how you travel, where you stay and who you walk could all still be affected. Here's an overview of current restrictions

Are there any particular risks of getting COVID19 to be aware of whilst hill walking?

The risks of acquiring COVID19 are thought to be greatest following close contact (less than 2m) with an infected person for periods of greater than 15 minutes.  SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID19, is spread mainly through droplets and aerosols generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Transmission is therefore much more likely to occur in poorly ventilated busy indoor spaces than in well ventilated outdoor areas.

Hill walking, in general, is a very low risk activity as far as acquiring COVID19 is concerned. But, as well as hillwalking itself, risks associated with travel to and from wherever your walk starts are also important to consider, as well as where you are staying if you plan to be away from your usual home – read on for more info. 

Do I need to wear a mask whilst out walking?

Whilst there is growing evidence that wearing a face mask may be beneficial in shared indoor spaces such as supermarkets, there is little evidence wearing a mask is of much benefit in most outdoor situations.  The regulations on the need to wear a face mask vary between countries: in England, for example, face masks are compulsory in shops and on public transport from 8 August.

My personal view is that there is likely to be no benefit from wearing a face mask whilst hill walking unless by chance you visit an enclosed area where the risk of close contact with others is greater (for example perhaps whilst resting in a wall shelter or outbuilding). It is, though, probably worth carrying one with you in case you want to go in a shop or café when back in the valley.

There are some people who are exempt from the requirement to wear masks because of underlying conditions, for example those with more severe chest diseases. Read full guidance on face masks, how the guidance varies in each country in the UK, and links giving advice on how to make a face mask.

How can I socially distance on a narrow route like Striding Edge?

Narrow paths on busy days may create some local challenges. It may be impossible to safely pass 2m away from other people all of the time. There are some common sense approaches you can adopt.  For example, if you are on a narrow ridge such as Striding Edge, and a group of walkers is coming the other way, choose a place to wait for them to pass which allows maximum distancing. Similarly, if you are approaching a slower party who are in front of you, be prepared to wait until you find a sensible place to overtake.

Inevitably, there may be the odd occasion where you cannot avoid passing someone when less than 2m apart. In that case I would suggest stepping off the path if it safe to do so, and if not try and face away from the other person and avoid coughing or sneezing when they are close to you in case you are by chance an asymptomatic carrier. 

However, common sense is key here: you are probably at greater risk of harm from an accident caused by slipping and falling by leaving the path in an unsafe place than from catching COVID19. Of course, if you have any symptoms suggestive of COVID19 you should not be out hill walking, and you should stay at home and follow the NHS guidance on getting tested. 

WATCH: Britain's Mountain Challenges - Striding Edge Scrambling on BMC TV

Can I go walking in a group?

As of the time of writing (6 August) in England you can walk with people (up to 30) from your own household or social bubble. For people outside of your household or social bubble, walking in a group of up to 6 (in England) is OK as long as you are sensible and stick to social distancing principles. It makes sense to arrive by separate transport, to minimise non-essential contacts. Guidance varies in each country in the UK. Some team sports and organised events can however take place under controlled conditions with up to 30 people from different households attending.

What about using public transport?

The guidance on using public transport changed recently. Previous advice was to avoid public transport if at all possible, but now guidance states that it is OK to use public transport as long as you wear a face mask and socially distance.  The potential risk of using public transport is that you will have closer contact with more people if the vehicle or train is busy, but whilst the number of people with COVID19 in the general community remains low the actual risk is low.

The Sherpa bus runs every 15 minutes between Llanberis and Pen Y Pass this summer

Where will I be able to park?

One of the challenges of not being able to lift share and the reduction in public transport use has been the increased numbers of cars attempting to park, giving local problems. This can reduce access for emergency vehicles and has led to fines and towing. Not all toilets and other facilities at car parks have re-opened which is also worth bearing in mind. It could well be a good time to go to one of those less popular places for that walk that you have never quite got round to doing.

Check National Park car park status updates:

Can I take part in a course?

Different guidance applies to formal training courses. Yes you can, though different rules apply in the different countries. In England all Mountain Training courses are running and many other providers will be running outdoor courses also. Many climbing walls however are not running courses for novices just yet. In Wales and Scotland outdoor courses are running but climbing walls are currently closed. See the Mountain Training site for more details

TUNE IN: Mountain Training answer your questions Wednesday 12th August | 12.30pm

Does SARS-CoV2 survive long on gates and stiles?

If someone who is infected coughs on a surface such as a gate or a stile, there is a potential risk that by touching that surface shortly afterwards and then touching your mouth you could transmit the virus to yourself.  The virus survives for short times (a few hours) on most surfaces, but survives less well in general outside than indoors.  As long as you avoid touching your face after contact with a contaminated surface, and follow good hand hygiene advice (wash your hands well or use an effective hand sanitiser) I think the risk of transmission from outside surfaces such as gates or stiles is very low.

Is it OK to go walking if I’ve had COVID19?

Many people who have had COVID19 make a rapid recovery and get back to normal very quickly.  This is especially the case for younger people.  However, some people, in particular those who required hospital admission because of COVID19, have been left with significant symptoms which have often persisted for over 2 months.  Typical symptoms include fatigue and ongoing breathlessness but a wide range have been reported.  Anecdotally, I am aware of patients who previously were able to run half marathons with ease who are now struggling to manage much shorter runs.  We don’t yet know how long it will take for this group to make a full recovery.

If you have recently tested positive for COVID19, and have had minimal or no symptoms, you should be able to stop self-isolating after 10 days as long as you have been free of fever for 2 days. I would recommend steadily getting back to your normal level of activity over at least a couple of weeks, depending on how you feel. If someone else in your household (or a close contact) has had COVID19 you need to self- isolate for 14 days. 

If you have ongoing symptoms, or had more severe disease, and particularly if you were admitted to hospital because of COVID19, I would recommend being careful about trying to do too much too quickly.  The general experience is that it takes some time to build back to the level of fitness patients had before, and whilst this will of course vary from person to person, I would suggest being cautious about over-exercising. 

COVID19 affects other organs than just the lungs, including in some people the heart, so it may take some time for every organ system to recover properly.  If you are having on-going symptoms it would be worth talking to your GP; in addition many hospitals have follow up clinics for COVID19 patients who required admission during the acute phase of their illness.

From a hill-walking perspective, many people will rapidly get back to managing the same level of activity as before having had COVID19, but some (particularly I think people over 50 and those who had more severe disease) may take longer.  So for that first munro after you’ve had COVID19 make it a shorter, easier walk rather than heading off for the south Glen Shiel ridge.

Do midges/mosquitoes carry COVID19?

COVID19 is mainly spread by droplets and aerosols.  There is no evidence I am aware of to suggest biting insects are an important vector for spread.

Is it OK to share a tent for overnight camping?

There is no specific guidance about this of which I am aware, but I think the same principles would apply as with lift sharing. You could reasonably share a tent with members of your household or social bubble, with whom you will already have had close contact, but not with others.  If you are camping overnight, be aware that many campsites are very busy so book in advance. There have been issues in some places with poor behaviour from people camping away from campsites, including problems with litter and toileting: if you are considering wild camping please behave responsibly and follow good practice

Will the pub be open?

Possibly, yes! Not all pubs have re-opened but many have, in particular where they have outside facilities.  You may be asked to leave contact details.


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

As the climbing walls, crags and mountains start to open, we wanted to say thanks to every BMC member who supported us through the Coronavirus crisis.

From weekly Facebook Lives and GB Climbing home training videos, to our access team working to re-open the crags and fight for your mountain access, we couldn’t have made it without you.

If you liked what we did, then tell your friends about us: www.thebmc.co.uk/join


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