winter climbing at Glencoe

Climbing in winter can be dangerous

Like much of Britain, Scotland has been battered by heavy snow and strong winds in the past few days and yet people still choose to brave the forces of nature and get on with their daily lives, sometimes with calamitous results.

4 climbers were killed on Saturday when an avalanche catapulted over their group of 6, sweeping 5 down the mountain in a maelstrom of rock, ice and snow. The 6th managed to escape unharmed and alert the emergency rescue teams. One climber survived but is in a critical condition.

The group were climbing at Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands. Glencoe is one of Scotland’s best known glens and very popular with hikers and climbers. The group, three men and three women, were climbing on Bidean nam Bian, a 1,150m peak by the west coast when the avalanche happened. It is thought they were descending when the slope they were on broke away.

The deceased climbers were located with the use of a metal “probe”, suggesting they were more than a metre under the snow. “This is the worst accident to happen here for many years,” said Reverend Moira Herkes. “It is very distressing, because people come here for pleasure and when something like this happens it hurts everyone involved. This is a very beautiful place, but at times it can be very dangerous.”

Which brings us back to the topic in hand: climbing in winter can be dangerous. So for heaven’s sake be careful and make sure you know what you are doing. I am not insinuating at all that the group of 6 did not know what they were doing. What I am saying to anyone thinking about going winter climbing is to expect the unexpected… and make sure you are prepared as much as possible.  That’s the least you can do… the rest is up to the gods.

For those of you who are tempted to take this up as a sport, it would be worth doing an awareness course and there is the popular five day Winter Mountaineering course which teaches all the basics of safe winter walking with ice axes and crampons, weather, avalanche awareness and snow holing. Uniquely it is also an introductory winter climbing course and you are taught basic rope work, belays, abseiling and climbing skills on Grade 1/2 snow gullys and winter ridges.

Our sympathies go out to the families of the climbers.

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