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Covid infection risk ‘low during mountain sports’

Written by Fiona

November 10 2020

As Covid-19 restrictions tighten again, a new report has been released that claims the risk of infection from the virus during mountains sports is low.

Several members of Mountaineering Scotland worked with an international team of researchers and mountaineers from Europe and North America to produce the scientific paper on the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on mountain sports.

The paper is awaiting peer review and publication, but it has been made available in draft form because of the immediacy of the current situation. The aim is to help mountaineers and, hopefully, politicians to develop an understanding and to receive input from stakeholders.

The key conclusion in the paper is that there is no evidence of anyone becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2 during outdoor mountain sports, suggesting that the SARS- CoV-2 infection risk is low while pursuing these activities. 

The paper summarises measures that can be adopted to reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection during mountain sports and associated activities, and makes a recommendation on how to return to mountain sport after a SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Mountaineering Scotland is also urging First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to consider the importance of mountaineering activities for the public’s health and wellbeing. The organisation would like to see people being able to continue to travel to enjoy accessing the hills and mountains.

Stuart Younie, CEO of Mountaineering Scotland, said: “The draft paper is the first comprehensive study into Covid-19 as it impacts on mountain sports and it is a significant step forward in understanding how we can manage and reduce the risks of transmission. 

“It is encouraging that it confirms many of the risk areas we have already identified in our guidance documents and, importantly, the relatively low risk overall of transmission when participating in mountain sports.”

A summary of the draft paper can be read here.

Download the full draft paper here.

The authors are keen to receive feedback on the paper, which can be submitted via Mountaineering Scotland to [email protected]

Tips for reducing risk of Covid-19 during mountain sports

Keep your distance from other people to reduce the risk of the virus being transmitted via respiratory droplets and aerosol production. 

Wear a face mask where social distancing is not so easily possible, such as while climbing.

Wear a proper face mask and not an improvised covering, such as those made from a bandana or buff. These are not as effective. 

Don’t touch the part of the face mask that covers the nose and mouth when taking it off and putting it on.

Limit car travel to solo drivers or, if you have to travel with another person, you should both sit in the front wearing masks. Also put on the fan and open the rear windows a little so the airflow goes past your face to exit at the rear.

Avoid face-to-face orientation while talking and avoid shouting when standing close together as this has been shown to greatly increase droplet and aerosol production.

Keep your distance.

Take care with shared equipment, such as climbing gear. Infection via contaminated surfaces presents a potential problem when equipment is shared. A simple but important mitigation is to avoid putting climbing gear, or the rope, in your mouth. Use a bandolier to make it easier to do this.

Use alcohol-based liquid chalk where possible. In principle, rock holds could be contaminated with virus and alcohol-based liquid chalk is an effective method of inactivating the virus on your hands. Also use hand sanitiser.

Avoid touching your face, particularly your nose and mouth, if you’ve handled a potentially contaminated piece of gear.

After use, it is a good idea to routinely wash ropes and other items with plenty of water to dilute the virus beyond the point of danger. Drying items thoroughly (for example in a hut drying room with a dehumidifier) will also work, or leaving it out in the sun until thoroughly dry. These active methods are preferable to simply bagging it and leaving it for 72 hours because the virus likes cool, damp and dark environments. 

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