The Mountaineering Council of Scotland is urging caution to the thousands of hillwalkers planning to climb Ben Nevis this Bank Holiday weekend and in coming weeks. Winter conditions and snows in excess of two metres deep are making navigation in poor visibility particularly challenging above the 900 metre contour line on Scotland’s highest peak. Some of the navigation cairns, relied on by many walkers traversing the summit plateau, are completely buried under snow, heightening the risk of accidents on The Ben’s renowned cliffs.
Heather Morning, Mountain Safety Adviser for the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, said: “For most of Britain, spring and early summer is definitely upon us; but on the high plateau of Ben Nevis it is a very different story. The conditions up there are very difficult to imagine when you set off from Fort William, which can easily lead walkers to underestimate what dangers they will encounter. Appropriate clothing, footwear and navigation skills are essential to make a safe ascent of the mountain.”
The MCofS, which represents Scotland’s hillwalkers, climbers and mountain lovers is targeting its warning on the growing proportion of walkers who do not have basic map reading skills.
Heather explains “I often meet walkers on snow covered hills whose only method of navigation is to follow the footprints in the snow ahead. Footprints can get covered with new snow or wind-blown snow drifts within minutes on Ben Nevis. They can also lead you off into dangerous and steep terrain.”
Ben Nevis’ iconic status brings with it additional mountain safety challenges due to the high proportion of first time walkers and ‘Three Peaks’ charity challenge walkers who attempt it. With its northerly latitude and standing nearly 1000 feet taller than Snowdon or Scafell Pike, conditions on Scotland’s highest mountain can be very different.
The MCofS is calling on hillwalkers to respect Ben Nevis’ unseasonable winter conditions and call into the Glen Nevis Ranger Base to obtain a map, weather information and advice regarding underfoot conditions before starting their ascent, alongside using web-based weather resources in advance of setting out.
Heather adds “People have often invested a good deal of time, effort and money to attempt their climb on Ben Nevis and it is a difficult decision to turn around, particularly if other people are carrying on. But, the mountain will always be there, the trick is to make sure that you are too”.