Authorities warn of chasing social media photos into the wild

National parks authorities fear visitors are venturing dangerously unprepared into the bush inspired by social media images and taking serious risks after emerging from months of lockdown in the city.

Mount Buller is one of the locations where the Victorian State Emergency Service has had to carry out the most treacherous rescues. Credit:Jacquilyne Smith

The rising concerns about the summer holidays come as new figures showed Mount Buller, Mount Buffalo, Taggerty and Arapiles made up the locations where emergency services are conducting the most treacherous and complex rescues at great heights.

Figures supplied by the Victoria State Emergency Service showed it conducted 365 “high-angle rescues” in the five years to 2020 across Victoria. These are complex rescue operations carried out at major heights with an angle of at least 60 degrees.

Over that time its members were also called out to 87 rescues of paragliders or people involving parachutes, mostly in forested and coastal areas.

Last week a woman fell 80 metres to her death at the Boroka Lookout in the Grampians after climbing a safety barrier to take a photo.

In the past five years the SES has conducted 32 high-angle rescues at Mount Buffalo, Mount Buller, Taggerty and the Arapiles, amounting to more than one a year at each location.

Mount Arapiles is a popular rock climbing spot known for having some highly challenging climbs.

At Bright, Kinglake, Flinders, Lorne and Warrnambool there were six rescues each over the five years.

By comparison, the emergency service conducted five high-angle rescues at Zumsteins and four at Halls Gap, both in the Grampians, over the same period.

Mount Buffalo is another location where rescuers have conducted the greatest number of high-angle rescues. Credit:Scott McNaughton

High-angle rescues usually involve rescuing hikers, rock climbers and bikers but can also include responding over cars that have rolled down ravines.

Parks Victoria Grampians chief ranger Rhonda McNeil said social media may be encouraging people to take unnecessary risks in search of striking images, particularly after Melbourne’s extended lockdown.

“So many people spent a lot of time scrolling and looking for that picture and those places and wanting to go there and dreaming about getting there,” she said. “You can see lots of these photos, and you think 'that's the image I want, but you need to understand is that a long walk in? Is it a tough walk in? Have I done anything like that before?'”

Earlier this month Lifesaving Victoria raised the alarm about a “perfect storm” for drowning conditions after Victorians lost swimming fitness during months in lockdown but were desperate to plunge into the water once they emerged.

Ms McNeil voiced similar concerns about fitness and preparation for venturing out on long bushwalks and hikes.

“Something that you might have done last summer might not be what you should start tackling this summer.”

She urged visitors to national parks to prepare for the heat and the potential harshness of the bush as they explore nature over summer.

The SES responded to 2240 requests for assistance in total over 2019/20.

VICSES midwest regional duty officer Jarrod McLean also feared people are hurrying out into places like the Grampians without taking food, water and a first aid kit in case something goes wrong.

"There's potentially a bit of complacency with people who have been locked down," he said. "They want to get out. They want to experience the countryside and live life."

Bushwalking Victoria president Colin Macdonald knows well how quickly weather conditions can become dangerous in the bush.

During a hike in the Bogong High Plains in the 1980s, Mr Macdonald and a small group of friends almost became overwhelmed by the fast-changing weather and struggled to make it back to their camp.

He said the weather turned from pleasant and sunny to rain and then sleet over just a couple of hours.

"The scary bit is when you're with a group of people and some of them are getting very exhausted and weak," he said. "If you're in the Bogong High Plains you have to be prepared for the weather to turn."

Mr Macdonald said he had seen people woefully unprepared on bush walks, and in a few cases even wearing high heels out on a track.

He agreed that social media was encouraging people to push further into the bush to get pictures they could post online.

"That's an international phenomenon of people wanting to go for walks not for the walk but for the selfie shot."

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