Police Warning and Mountaineering Scotland advice following rescue callouts

Police Scotland has issued a warning to hillwalkers and people pursuing outdoor activities in the mountains of the dangers that inclement weather and the terrain can present.

In the last week Mountain Rescue teams have been called out over 13 times and police are reminding people to bear in mind that the weather can change very quickly.

Chief Inspector Neil Anderson, Operational Support Division and Land based Search and Rescue lead for Police Scotland, said: “Unless you are an experienced hillwalker or mountaineer I would advise against venturing into the hills if there is any likelihood of the conditions becoming adverse. Stay up to date with weather and Avalanche forecasts and be prepared to change your plans if the weather is expected to change. If you are not experienced it is a good idea to stick to the lower or less challenging areas.

“If you are enjoying outdoor pursuits please ensure you are properly dressed for the conditions. Tell someone where you are going and when you will be back.

“A fully charged mobile phone is highly recommended, but remember that sub-zero conditions will take their toll on your battery life. Remember also that the mapping app on your phone is no substitute for a proper map, and that when your battery dies, your map is gone. Make sure you have a map and compass and you know how to use it.

“Take some emergency rations with you, just in case and make sure you know what time the sun sets and allow yourself plenty of time to get off the hill before darkness falls.”

Neil Reid from Mountaineering Scotland says experience shows one issue which can lead to problems on the mountains is folk relying too much on other people’s opinion on the internet rather than checking out conditions and routes from reliable sources of advice.

Neil writes, “Every winter the same questions are asked. Will I need crampons for X? How long will it take to go up Y? What length of ice-axe should I buy? What’s the weather going to be like on the 12th of next month?

And that’s great. Because it means people are keen. It means people who haven’t climbed hills in winter before want to experience all the joys and delights (and frustrations) that winter in Scotland’s mountains offers. There’s no shortage of advice on offer either, with lots of folk eager to give advice. But that’s not always as good as it sounds.

Fair enough if that advice comes from an authoritative source, but the downside of the internet is the massive reach it gives to the voice of the self-proclaimed expert. Forums and social media groups are full of them and, while some speak good sense, some offer advice that can be downright dangerous, even if it does come with the best of intentions.

Information from sources such as Mountaineering Scotland, Walkhighlands, mountain rescue teams and others tends to be a bit on the cautious side, while amateur experts can sound so much more encouraging. “It’ll be alright.” “Just go for it.” “You probably won’t need crampons anyway.”

And that sounds so tempting. You’re keen as mustard to get out there and climb snow-white mountains under crystal blue skies with views that go on forever. Someone telling you that you need to spend lots of money on gear you don’t have, then have to learn how to use it, then build up your skills and experience gradually, just isn’t going to sound nearly so good: you want to get there NOW.

The danger of the gung-ho approach, however, is that it often works. Someone wondering if it’s safe to go up Ben Lomond in winter conditions might be encouraged to hear a breezy assurance that: “I was up there last winter and it was great. I didn’t have an ice axe or crampons.” Thus encouraged, they go up Ben Lomond in trainers. It starts snowing heavily on the way up, the cloud comes down and they have trouble seeing, there’s a short icy stretch where they just about fall over… but they come down safe and sound. So when they see a post on Facebook asking what Ben Lomond’s like in winter, they pass on the advice they received: “Yeah, it’s great. Crampons might have been handy for a wee bit, but really, it’s fine. What an adventure we had!”

And it is fine, and it is an adventure. Until the day it’s not fine and it’s not an adventure it’s a tragedy. And Ben Lomond has seen a few.

Because what they’re doing is not ‘mountaineering’, it’s ‘getting away with it’. And accident statistics are full of people who ‘got away with it’ once, twice, maybe many times, before the day came when they didn’t.

Against that there are those who took that cautious approach. They read up on what was required, got the gear, learned how to use it, and built up gradually, gaining experience through a course, or going out with more skilled friends or fellow club members.

The difference is seen when things start going wrong. The person who just winged it becomes a liability and – perhaps – a statistic, while the person who has served their ‘apprenticeship’ has either used their skill and experience to avoid things going wrong in the first place, or has the resource to cope with a crisis. In short, they’ve become a properly skilled and experienced mountaineer – and a safer person for themselves and those around them.

Getting the right advice
Much of the advice you get on Facebook and other sites/forums may well be good, but if you’re a novice you’re not really in a position to judge, so the best way to get advice is from an authoritative source that has been fed into by experts and has stood the test of time.

As well as being a great source of information on routes, this walkhighlands website has good safety and navigation advice. Mountaineering Scotland has extensive information on hillwalking and winter mountaineering and there are many mountain guides and organisations that provide skills courses including navigation.”

Scottish Avalanche Information Service
Mountain Weather Information Service
Met Office Mountain Weather

Walkhighlands and Mountaineering Scotland will again be running special one-day summer Navigation Courses for Walkhighlands users this summer – book here.

Further Reading – David Lintern recently shared his experience of a Winter/Night Navigation Course and the article contains a lot of interesting facts that might just save your life.

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Walking can be dangerous and is done entirely at your own risk. Information is provided free of charge; it is each walker's responsibility to check it and navigate using a map and compass.