They can be some of nature’s most beautiful winter creations and they can also be killers. With snow now firmly established in Scotland’s mountains, those who venture among them are being warned about the dangers of cornices.
Cornices are ledges of snow which form on the edges of cliffs and steep ground furthest from the wind. From the side or below they can be beautiful curls of snow and ice and might extend for several metres over thin air. But for people walking on the top of the mountain there can be little or no sign that they are there, making it all too easy to walk out on a fragile shelf of snow which collapses under your weight.
Recent strong winds and heavy snowfall mean cornices will have formed on many of our mountains and will remain a hazard for the rest of the winter.
Heather Morning, Mountain Safety Advisor for the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, said: “It’s a very real hazard. Last winter there were 18 recorded incidents of people falling through cornices.
“They can be especially hard to detect if visibility is poor, in cloud or in falling snow.
“So if you are at all unsure of your ability to navigate, then turn around if the visibility becomes poor. The mountain will always be there another day. If the forecast is for poor visibility, then plan ahead and choose a lower mountain or a walk in the glen.
“If you are confident in your navigation skills then plan ahead. It is easy to anticipate where cornices will have formed by studying the prevailing few days’ weather pattern. Always err on the side of caution and navigate away from corniced edges.”
Learning proper winter skills and navigation is essential and this year Walkhighlands is running a series of Winter Skills Courses. In addition the MCofS and most mountain guides also run day or multi-day courses. You could also check out the Winter Safety Talks run by the MCofS and at the Clachaig Inn in Glencoe.