Experts urge caution after hiking app route suggestion results in mountain rescue mission

Three walkers and a dog get stuck on steep ridge in Cumbria after taking an off-piste route suggested by popular hiking app AllTrails

Keswick Mountain Rescue
The volunteer-staffed Keswick Mountain Rescue Team leapt into action after the emergency call went out
(Image credit: Keswick Mountain Rescue)

Three walkers and a dog had to be rescued after becoming stranded on a fellside in the Lake District this week, after following a route recommended made by the international hiking app AllTrails (opens in new tab) that led them to attempt a dangerous descent. 

The trio of women and their dog had been walking a circular route to Lord's Seat when they became stuck on the precipitous flanks of Barf Fell near Bassenthwaite Lake, having opted to take a return route suggested by the popular app AllTrails, which sent them down a steep scree slope with no path. In rapidly diminishing light they very sensibly called for help by dialling 999, and were rescued by the Keswick Mountain Rescue Team (opens in new tab)

Just a few days into the new year it was the team’s (opens in new tab) fourth call-out in 2023. "There is no path via this route - only a scramble of loose scree which also requires the walker to negotiate the rocky outcrop of Slape Crag,” the team leader told the BBC (opens in new tab). "It's the scene of previous call-outs.” 

AllTrails

One of the circular routes to Lords Seat suggested on AllTrails (the route the women were following has now been amended)

(Image credit: AllTrails)

AllTrails, a hiking app based in the United States, say they have made changes to their route recommendations in the area, and have sought advice from the Mountain Rescue Team to make their suggestions safer. A spokeswomen told the BBC that the company had reviewed the trail and updated the map, and insisted that: "Trail safety is of the utmost importance to AllTrails and we work directly with parks and land managers to ensure the public receives the best possible information.”

However, the incident underlines how important it is for walkers to plan ahead and use proper navigation techniques and equipment, and not rely entirely on information supplied by individual apps. This is especially important in the extra challenging conditions of winter, and in technical terrain and highland environments, where getting lost or making a mistake can have serious, or even fatal consequences. 

map and compass

(Image credit: Getty)

Walkers in Britain enjoy arguably the best mapping available to civilians in the world, with Ordnance Survey (opens in new tab) cartography covering the entire country in incredible detail. Carrying a sheet map for the area you are exploring is always recommended, along with a good compass, but there are also myriad digital devices and apps available that utalise OS maps, which can show you exactly where you are, as well as providing valuable details about the terrain around you, including the route of footpaths and bridleways, and contour lines that will reveal how steep the terrain is. 

The OS mapping app (opens in new tab) can be used on all good smartphones, and this will give you the most up-to-date cartography, as well as revealing your current location. A good handheld GPS unit (opens in new tab), kept updated, will also display this important information on a relatively large screen, and the best best outdoor watches (opens in new tab) and smartwatches (opens in new tab) also boast GPS capabilities and mapping functions these days. 

At any time, but particularly in the most challenging situations, it’s best to use a sheet map in conjunction with a digital device to double check you’re heading in the direction you want to be walking in, or that you’re on the path you think you’re on.

GPS emergency beacon

(Image credit: Getty)

There are some really good hiking apps out there, but many are designed and updated by people based far from the location you’re exploring who don’t have an intimate knowledge of the local terrain, and they can feature unchecked and unmoderated information and routes uploaded by users who might be more confident (or blasé) about venturing off-piste than you are - or who might have done the walk described in perfect summer conditions, as opposed to in the wet, dark midst of winter.

When walking in winter conditions, especially in technical terrain or remote locations, it’s also well worth carrying a device such as the Garmin inReach Mini (opens in new tab), which easily fits in the pocket of your walking trousers or backpack, and not only offers extra navigation capability, but can also be used to call for emergency assistance when it’s really needed, even when your phone doesn’t work.

Lastly, be sure to support the mountain rescue teams in the wild areas you visit – they're all volunteers, rely entirely on donations, and one day they might save your life, or the life of a loved one. 

Pat Kinsella
Editor T3 Outdoors

Pat Kinsella has been chasing adventures and writing about the outdoors for two decades. In pursuit of stories he’s canoed Canada’s Yukon River, climbed Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro, skied and mountain biked across the Norwegian Alps, run ultras across the roof of Mauritius and through the hills of the Himalayas, and set short-lived speed records for trail-running Australia’s highest peaks and New Zealand’s nine Great Walks. A former editor of several Australian magazines he’s a longtime contributor to publications including Sidetracked, Outdoor, National Geographic Traveller, Trail Running, The Great Outdoors, Outdoor Fitness and Adventure Travel, and a regular writer for Lonely Planet (for whom he compiled, edited and co-wrote the Atlas of Adventure, a guide to outdoor pursuits around the globe). He’s authored guides to exploring the coastline and countryside of Devon and Dorset, and recently wrote a book about pub walks (opens in new tab). Follow Pat's adventures on Strava (opens in new tab).