Friday 29 May 2020 is the first day of a cautious loosening of lockdown measures in Scotland.
If the staged plan works as well as hoped there may be scope for mountain guiding to begin again around the start of August 2020, in line with phase three declared by the Scottish government.
In preparation for this Skye Guides are tentatively opening their diary to take bookings. With so many unknown factors there are provisos that need to be in place for this to happen. The list below is not exhaustive but will help all of us see what is possible and where more work needs to be applied.
The guidelines below may appear overly cautious, but we feel it is the only responsible way in which we can justify our part in opening up tourism. Social distancing must be maintained to protect you, the guide and the communities of Skye and Scotland. You will be asked to complete a form disclosing your pandemic social distancing history.
Incoming visitors are the danger to the local population. Please do not lower your guard just because you are away from home.
We have a responsibility to treat this access to the mountains as a privilege for both play and work. There is likely to be a need for all of us to be flexible and accept a greater degree of improvisation for this to work.
Bookings for remainder of 2020.
Client and guide social distancing
– this will be the primary safety factor against Covid 19. Our clients will be expected to be free of symptoms of Covid 19 and not to have been asked to isolate as part of the Trace and Protect Scheme. If there is any doubt, right up to the day of the booking we will err on the cautious side and cancel the outing with a full refund. We hope that you understand this. The danger of spreading the virus is very real and Skye Guides does not want to encourage and facilitate this at such a crucial stage of the pandemic.
Initially we are only accepting private bookings for individuals or members of the same household.
Unfortunately this will exclude many who are used to walking and climbing with regular partners from outside their own household. This is to follow the latest Scottish Government Guidance and we will review as this updates.
A maximum guiding ratio of 1:2 will be used for all but the simplest of Cuillin routes.
Full refunds will be given to any client that has to cancel their course in order to self-isolate.
Travel to Skye should be in privately-owned vehicles only. All advised precautions must be adhered to on the journey in terms of shopping and other communal venues. This will exclude use of public transport were prolonged exposure to the virus via strangers is a real threat.
Accommodation on Skye
Accommodation should be arranged before travelling to Skye. There is likely to be great pressure on accommodation providers so please be grateful for any solution you are offered. Our own climbers’ hostel will not be open because of the complications of social distancing. Wild camping may well see a resurgence in popularity.
Clients and guides should stay in accommodation that avoids close contact with others, taking advised precautions such as wearing of face masks and frequent washing of hands in line with any government advice.
Client and guide will travel in separate vehicles to the venue.
Practicalities on the activity-
If client and guide have adhered to social distancing since the start of the pandemic these extra measures will add another layer of safety against catching Covid 19. This does not lower their importance.
A face mask should be worn for any close interaction between client and guide. Hand sanitiser should be carried and used whenever a piece of kit is to be transferred between guide and client. All our equipment will be decontaminated between uses as recommended by equipment manufacturers.
Kit- you will be issued with a comprehensive kit list that should be packed and ready to set off. Any questions regarding kit should be discussed with the guide the evening beforehand.
Safety equipment supplied by Skye Guides- Your ruck sack should have sufficient space for a helmet and harness to be packed inside so that the guide can demonstrate how to do this from a safe distance at the rendezvous. Our kit will be collected, disinfected and cleaned at the end of each booking.
Fitting helmets, harnesses and tying onto the rope can all be demonstrated at a safe distance by the guide and done by clients themselves. A visual check can also be done at a safe distance. Guides should consider tying the knots themselves and clipping clients rather than teaching knot tying.
If you are planning to use your own harness or helmet, Skye Guides will not be able to inspect these items for defects without risk of contamination. You must do so at entirely your own risk and we would recommend you only use safety equipment provided by Skye Guides.
More precarious situations-
Guides should anticipate these and advise wearing of facemasks well in advance. Use of cows-tails (safety lanyards) will allow a safe degree of distancing in most situations. All clients should be instructed and happy to clip and unclip these without the guide’s assistance. Arranging abseils and loading client belay plates may involve closer proximity. Minimising time in these situations and awareness of the precautions should be priority.
Cuillin Ridge Traverses
A number of factors will make a successful Traverse even more difficult but we will try to overcome these if at all possible. This is likely to include the guide biviing away from you and you having to carry and handle all your own bivi equipment – especially food and drink. E.g. you will not be able to share any stoves.
Emergency situations and mountain rescue.
“The Scottish mountain environment is always potentially dangerous”. Signing our booking form means that clients acknowledge this and are willing to accept some responsibility. However, we have a duty to minimise our reliance on external help from other climbers and mountain rescue teams even more than usual during this pandemic.
It is strongly recommended that those who know they lack confidence, strength or balance think twice before booking a guide at this time. Vetting of clients and advising about their suitability for an outing is normal procedure. Please do not be offended if we advise you against booking.
Poor weather- our guides will be encouraged to add extra caution to plans in bad weather. We normally cancel very few bookings but, in these unique circumstances, there will be a refund system clearly stated in our conditions should the guide decide that an outing is just not possible on a safety basis. Our clause to offer “a suitable alternative activity” will still apply if we feel that the alternative activity is considerably safer.
Guides will carry some additional PPE against Covid transmission in first aid kits and any emergency will be dealt with as professionally as ever. Self-sufficiency and extricating ourselves from emergency situations without calling for help is normal. Clients should be aware that calling for the services of the local MRT will not be an automatic response unless really needed. You will be expected to carry your own small first aid kit to deal with any blisters or ongoing medical issues as the guides will not be able to help with these without breaking social distancing.
I have posted this to keep our clients, guides and other mountaineers updated with our current thinking. It is far from complete so your suggestions are welcome. Please get in touch by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to make a booking or discuss any particular aspects.
Please remember that the main priority, as ever, is safety. Climbing in the Cuillin is a privilege, not a right. Thank you!