/ "English Visitors Must Follow Safety Warnings"
David Gibson, chief officer of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, yesterday urged English visitors to follow safety warnings after a recent spate of hillwalking accidents.
'Looking at some of the recent incidents they seem to involve people from outside of Scotland,' said Mr Gibson. 'We are looking - together with the British Mountaineering Council and the Scottish Mountain Safety Forum - at getting some of the safety information to south of the border prior to people coming up.
'Today the risk in the area of the avalanche was 'considerable', which means that walking in an area could trigger an avalanche or it could happen spontaneously.
'At the end of the day people must make their own decisions after assessing the risks and being prepared - but use the information provided.
'The sport does carry risks - it would not be adventurous if there were not risks.
'But the situation has to be viewed in context.
The above is a quote from a warning published by Daily Mail* issued by The Mountaineering Council of Scotland
David Gibson's warning to the English visitors in the aftermath of the tragedy yesterday in the Cairngorms suggests that English mountaineers are mre prone to weather related accidents than Scotttish mountaineers.
I don't know what this warning is based on but I suspect one of the reasons may be that for the English and Welsh to visit the Highlands involves making holiday commitments away from work followed by a long journey to reach them often accompanied by having booked and paid for accommodation.
All of this increases the pressure to "get something done" during a tight window. This window is often frustrated by by poor/dangerous snow and weather conditions. Scottish mountaineers are less likely to be under such pressure and can often "take it or leave it" depending on conditions and leave any descision to the last moment. That's not an option available to someone who has booked leave, travelled up and paid for accommodation, and because of this pressure to do some routes they may succumb to tempation when they shouldn't.
* I don't normally read this rag but was referred to it and incenced by comments made by some of it's readers about yesterday's tragedy
I've often wondered the same thing. If you're only in Aviemore for a few days per winter then you're perhaps more likely to venture out whatever the conditions, as opposed to someone who lives an hour or two away who can afford to be a bit more selective.
However - at the risk of possibly stating the obvious, this is about where climbers are based, not their nationality.
To improve safety, some ideas are:
- SAIS is excellent but not everyone reads it. Maybe if there is a danger then SAIS warnings could be posted on UKC and other websites. Making more people aware of this reliable source of information should be the aim.
- Promote the use of a GPS in addition to map & compass. I have a Garmin with a 1:50,000 map OS survey map of Scotland and it helps me to navigate safely when the visibility is poor and when we are tired (e.g. night on the Cairngorm plateau in a gale).
- For winter climbers a UKC article on 'strategies to get something done when the avalanche risk is high' might be a good idea. People will go into the hills even if there is a high avalanche risk and so knowing what can be done relatively safely might help.
I feel that it's odd that there seems to be a bit of a 'blame the visitors' mentality here. Also what about the Welsh and the Irish? (says the Englishman, living in Wales) And for that matter folks from the rest of the world who travel to Scotland for winter climbing.
The BMC already do quite a lot of stuff for Winter and Alpine safety, although I wouldn't mind if they did more. I've been to the Winter safety lectures before now and thought they were very good.
Interesting thread, especially as I'm off to Fort William (from London) tomorrow. I can't decide whether David Gibson is giving sound advice or being a bit patronising - maybe it would have been better if he hadn't singled out the English. Like a lot of people from down south who go on winter trips to Scotland I've been watching the conditions for several weeks and whilst it's frustrating to get there and maybe find they're against you, I think we have to regard backing off things as part of the game. If it's not safe to go out, you just don't go. In the end, the mountains are always there tomorrow (or next year).
There's also always the sensitive issue of when is the right time to start analysing what went wrong and I can't help but think that some kind of discussion in due course, perhaps through MRT but publicised more widely, might be helpful. But, as I've said on other threads, now's not the time for that, and our thoughts are with the families of those who so sadly died yesterday.
is it not the paper rather than david Gibson who specifically mentioned the English? I can't see a direct quote there.
I agree. I really strongly think that they should be pushing the safety aspect for all. And not just singling out 'the English'. If it were the other way round I'm sure there would be a lot more outrage. He may well be right that visitors are more at risk and if that's the case surely he could phrase it like that eg 'Visitors to Scotland aiming to Mountaineer should take more care'.
You may be right. His quotes uses the expressions "from outside of Scotland" and "south of the border"
Typical anti-English rhetoric from the Scots government. This is the kind of language that the SNP love pushing. A good junk of Northumbrians live closer to the Highlands than some in southern Scotland, but they don't care, they just want a reason to single out the English
I hope/expect he has been either quoited out of context, or the quotes have been invented.
Smells like a Daily Mail set up. Journalist asks a few leading questions designed to get him to say something about English visitors, selectively quotes his responses and there's another classic Daily Mail/ Telegraph troll designed to provoke righteous indignation in the home counties.
> ... the fact that 84% of us live in England may have more to do with it.
100% of me lives in England.
Are you trolling or just deeply ignorant? Firstly it is shit stirring rhetoric from a tabloid paper that mentions the english, not the gentleman quoted.
The MCofS may be government funded but I suggest you take 2 minutes to browse their FB and Twitter and come back and tell me if you think they are in the pocket of the Scottish Government. They never miss a chance , rightly or wrongly, to have a dig at the Government and their energy policy for one thing.
Lastly to suggest the SNP is anti-English is the most stupid thing you have said - I bet you cant find one single piece of anti -english rhetoric from a single SNP or Scottish Government source.
UKC is often the pace where people look for condition advice often asking if stuff is in as opposed to is it safe. What might work is if UKC had a plug in on the site that ran from Dec to April that showed the map snippet from the SAIS . Pretty sure this would raise awareness and they have much more traffic than SAIS.
There are many commercial aspects to this but I am 100% sure it would change perception .
> Typical anti-English rhetoric from the Scots government.
No it's not. For a start, it's not anti-English - nowhere in the statement from the MCofS is the word English used. And I think you'll find that the MCofS is a fairly independent-minded boy and does not act as a mouthpiece for the Scottish government.
I think there's a bit of pointless quibbling going on there. There may be a small number of Northumbrians who do live nearer to the Highlands than a small number of Scots living in the Borders and Dumfries and Galloway, but the numbers are small, and for all they may be closer, they're still over 100 miles away. It is also the case that most of those living south of the border live further away from the Highlands than those living north of the border.
Much as I'd love to agree with you, the MCofS is an independent body and has nothing to do with (and frequent disagreement over windfarms with) the Scottish Government and the SNP.
I suspect though, that the SNP (not me) would like the collective noun for Northumbrians, junk, that you seem to have coined.
> Typical anti-English rhetoric from the Scots government. This is the kind of language that the SNP love pushing. A good junk of Northumbrians live closer to the Highlands than some in southern Scotland, but they don't care, they just want a reason to single out the English
Oh, get a grip. You well get a job for the Mail with nonsense like that!
I'm not so sure. Most people who head into the hills in winter are reasonably sure of their ability (or their leader's ability) to spot and avoid danger. Sometimes they are wrong about how much they know. Sometimes they are right, but just unlucky; there have been many incidents involving experienced mountaineers, sometimes guides, sometimes Scottish.
> I suspect though, that the SNP (not me) would like the collective noun for Northumbrians, junk, that you seem to have coined.
I dunno, we have territorial ambitions in that direction. Reclaiming Berwick is first on the agenda in the quest for Lebensraum
Some excellent suggestions there.
I do think that most visitors from "south of the border" do lack Scottish winter experience compared to our Scottish (and Nothumberland!) counterparts who have access to the mountains, if only at weekends, right through the winter. I live in the south of England and I've been making winter mountaineering trips to Scotland off and on for the best part of 40 years, but as these are only for a week per year and more often than not have coincided with rain and slush rather than snow - I doubt if I've experienced more than a dozen trips where conditions have been outstanding for winter climbing, so I hesitate to claim I'm really "experienced" when it comes to Scottish winter conditions! I suspect the same comment applies to a lot of us who live in the south.
Yes, I can navigate, have learnt winter skills and do access the SAIS but I admit that I lack the experience which can only be gained by living amongst or close to the Highlands and going out regularly throughout every season.
1) The reference to "English visitors" seems to have been manufactured by the Daily Hate out of what David Gibson actually did say. Their direct quote from David Gibson's statement uses the term "people from outside of Scotland", not "English". If I were David I'd be complaining to the DM about them twisting his words.
2) The "Scots government" and the SNP have no influence over what the MCofS chooses to say about mountain safety.
3) Given David Gibson didn't say it but the DM seem to have chosen to interpret his words that way, the resulting implication that it's the DM that has an anti-English agenda is really quite bizarre...
I have to say that I struggle to understand the statement: "We are looking...at getting some of the safety information to south of the border prior to people coming up." SAIS, MWIS, the MCofS site etc are openly accessible outside of Scotland. Do they expect people only to look at their home weather forecast (wherever that is) when they're up here? Odd.
It's easy to use anecdotes to invent some spurious trend. There are no Scots having accidents because there are no Scots on the hill, they're all getting hammered in the pub, right?
They might be openly accessible, but are they known about? Avalanches are rare south of the border, and it's perfectly conceivable that many people don't know of the existence of the SAIS. Even if you look at the local weather forecast, you may not know what that means in terms of avalanche risk.
I've never been climbing in the Alps but the impression I get from reading other people's accounts is that folk head out to Cham or wherever and check the local conditions reports and forecasts before choosing an objective - and they seem more prepared to sack it in and spend the day in the bar/cafe if that's the wisest option. It's quite possible that this is a false impression, but if not then why the difference in attitude? Is it because people generally aim to spend longer abroad, so they feel that there's more chance of getting something done even if the weather's pants when you first get there? Is there some kind of 'perception trap' created by having the Scottish Highlands almost-but-not-quite "on the doorstep", so people generally plan shorter stays and then feel obliged to 'get something done'?
In reply to hwackerhage:
Actually that might not be a bad idea. (Not so sure about your suggestion of promoting the use of GPS as an adjunct to map and compass, though. It wouldn't have helped in the latest tragic incident. And the party earlier in the week that ended up 10km away from where they wanted to be didn't even have a map - it had, sadly, gone down Jacob's Ladder with their unfortunate companion.)
Hmm, in this age I find it odd that people do not know how to access SAIS or anything linking to it such as winterhighland.
In the mid 90's it was pretty easy to download a suitable weather / avalanche report. OK, so it was 9k dial up, but in the time it took to have a poo and a brew a forecast was there to read, ready for the Friday nigth thrash up to Aviemore or wherever.
If written last week, might not such an article have suggested heading towards Lurchers Crag via the Chalamain Gap?
It is a very difficult time for those who are speaking on our behalf to the Press and David Gibson who I know well like us all does his best. It is easy to be tricked into a comment by the media but if we do not speak up and defend our sport then our sport is condemned by the Media.
I feel there is a need for more assistance to mountaineers from down South - in Scotland we are well looked after by joined up approach by the MCofS and the SAIS and other bodies. We have fought for funding to improve the education of mountaineers, none of it came easy. I am sure more could be done to help down South if more funding became available. Funding from government can come at a cost but it is worth it if it helps save lives.
In the end we must try to ensure as much knowledge is available for all.
I would advise all your readers to read Chance in a Million By Bob Barton and the late Blyth Wright. Read the chapter on 1994 -95 The Black Winter whatever nationality you are. It may help you understand the ongoing problems of winter mountaineering. You never stop learning.
> If written last week, might not such an article have suggested heading towards Lurchers Crag via the Chalamain Gap?
There are big north facing slopes there which is where the highest risk was so not a definitive safe option. I get the impression it is more a chosen option for when the ski centre road is closed.
There's an RSS feed available from the SAIS site: http://www.sais.gov.uk/sms_rss.asp that many blogs and sites, including this one could easily include.
This gives the precis for each area. However each is in slightly different format: "LO 15.2." is Lochaber 15th Feb but Glencoe's for the same day is "15/2/13 Coe"; "Hazard considerable" vs "The avalanche hazard will be Considerable".
A standard format could be parsed by machine and icons used (I note that the SAIS now have a set of icons for the forecast). So rather than:
"LO 15.2. Avalanches likely in new unstable windslab mainly on N to E to SE aspects above 900m. Unstable cornices. Considerable hazrd"
"15/2/2013 LO | Altitude: >900m | Aspect: N to E to SE | Risk: New unstable windslab. Unstable cornices | Hazard: Considerable."
Sorry, gone a bit geeky there! :-)
To clarify: in 2012 MCofS received just under 43% of its total income from SportScotland. SportScotland is funded by the Scottish Government and by the National Lottery Fund, in a proportion of roughly 2:1. So the Scottish Government contributes around 29% of MCofS' income. In comparison, MCofS gets just under 50% of its income from subs and fees.
(Information gleaned from the MCofS and SportScotland web sites.)
"Most of the reports on recent incidents do not progress too far south of Carlisle."
Seems a strange statement to make.
Personally, I agree with the argument that, when you are travelling a long way with just a few days to try and get in as much as you can in the time, there is pressure to get something done at all costs.
The problem I/we will have over the next week or so is that we will be in a poor reception area and unable to gather as much information as possible re conditions and the SAIS site as we're staying in the CIC hut for 5 days. Hopefully we'll get to a position from where we can gather this info but, failing that then, as in all cases, it is a personal judgement call, based on the prevailing conditions at the time.
Accidents can, and do, happen. This is part of the risk we all take when venturing out.
Thoughts and condolences to all friends and family for the loved ones involved in the recent tragedies.
Thanks for the figures I didn't mean to imply it was a Government bodyor whooly funded by ScotGov, thats what happens when you type in a stooshie !!
The SAIS forecasts this year appear to be accurate, as we would hope given the vast level of experience and knowledge that SAIS now has. However, there must be a question to ask about why, even with all the excellent work done by SAIS, people are still dying.
Calling for more people to read the SAIS warnings and act on them is eminently sensible, if simplistic advice.
It is also perhaps worth considering whether the SAIS forecast system should give more prominence to forecasts with 'Considerable' risk. Currently having the rating as the 3rd most dangerous out of 5 levels may not the full convey gravity of the situation.
The only other measure I can think of is trialing color-coded warning maps for 'honey pot' areas in addition to the SAIS colour-coded circular icons. However, I am not completely convinced that would be a positive measure as it might encourage sloppy route planning and decision making which might be counter-productive in changing snow or weather conditions.
Not sure of the way forward, but the one consolation we have is that SAIS are doing superb work and that accurate forecasts are available to assist all who visit the Scottish mountains, wherever they currently reside.
Would be interested in what Mr.Gibson actually said, the words "Daily" and "Mail" should be enormous red flags.
Regarding their comments section you really should know better.
I think it is probably a good time for the whole climbing and walking community to take a step back and reflect, getting embroiled in this sort of Daily Mail concocted pish does nobody any favours.
> Hmm, in this age I find it odd that people do not know how to access SAIS or anything linking to it such as winterhighland.
I'm sure they'd know how to access it. My point is that they may not know it exists. Just because there's a hardcore here of people who inspect every possible weather and avalanche and conditions website before going to the shops doesn't mean everyone does the same.
I wonder what the figures are for the SAIS reports positively influencing decision making with regards to route choice in the mountains? It's not something you are likely to be able to quantify easily. We only hear when it goes wrong.
Just my opinion: Lurchers Crag would certainly be a good choice as it faces SW, however I think there may have been a warning over the Chalamain Gap as the slopes on the southern side of the gap have more northerly aspects and are convex.
Possibly any advice given would have been to follow the ridge up before the Gap and contour much higher up to avoid the steep sides of the Gap, or alternatively to head to the summit of Lurchers and drop down South Gully??
The Chalamain Gap possibly looks like quite an insignificant part of the walk in on a map and could be overlooked when planning the day.
I have only been through that way a few times and am happy to be corrected by someone with better local knowledge.
Doesn't the UK scale only go to 4? I.e 5 is for very big avalanches such as those in the alps that wipe out whole areas of villages and towns. This would mean that 3 is actually higher than first thought. I don't think I've seen a level 5 on the SAIS forecast - even a couple of years ago when the highlands basically shut 4 was the highest level.
Quite often the SAIS risk maps have a low general risk with spots of higher risk - look at today's Glencoe forecast as an example - http://www.sais.gov.uk/page_glencoe.asp How do you know which are the higher risk areas? Knowing topography helps (convex vs concave) but there are a lot of factors to take in to account.
When I skim over avalanche forecasts I don't get concerned unless I see red "high" risks. However, if when doing a more detailed plan if I see considerable/orange, I will really avoid these areas (being inexperienced). Perhaps if the "considerable" (which IIRC was the status when this most recent fatal avalanche, the one in Glencoe and the one in Coire an t-Sneachda a couple of weeks back) was red, it would be a more visual "be careful" warning. Black "very high" statuses are very rare, aren't they. Then again it is an international code, and changing it might confuse some people?
We have the shipping forecast, how about a mountaineering forecast on the radio for those in more remote huts and bothies?
The answer is not to skim the forecasts. They are brief and concise as it is.
Pretty sure there were black areas in the Lochaber forecast over new year 2011-12, i remember it purely because it was remarkable.
As for the localised spots i would take that to mean any gullies, concave slopes etc
I also think I'm right in saying the 1-5 levels on SAIS (they are not 1-5 but colour coded) do not refer to the severity of the avalnache but the risk but happy to be corrected
In the old numbering system, this equated to 3, which most people thought of as Average (and hence, fairly safe). Wasn't one of the reasons for moving to colour coding and descriptions to try to get over this attitude? I'm not sure that it's succeeded if so.
If nobody went out when there was Orange in the forecast then the hills would be pretty quiet for most of the season.
I was also told by a Glencoe guide many years ago that they (SAIS) never issue a 5 (was never really sure if this was the case) but it did mean I always sub-conciously thought that 3 was only one below the maximum danger level, and not just a middle/moderate risk indocator.
You're right that SAIS don't use 1-5, they either use the keywords (Low, Moderate, Considerable, High and Very High) or the corresponding colour code.
The key which which appears on every full SAIS avalanche forecast (rather than the snippet you get by clicking on a region on the front page map) states quite clearly that the colour coding represents the hazard level as defined by the probability of an avalanche occurring. It's not related to the likely severity of an avalanche should one occur.
As Scomuir says, the forecast should be read properly, not skimmed.
I agree they could be clearer. 3 should be red rated or something similar.
I'd like an auto-facility to link to SAIS on UKC winter threads relating to areas under discussion if that could be done easily. Other issues with SAIS are access to the forecasts: not all places have posting points; not all posting points re-post them every day; sometimes the forecast can change in a day (I was near an accident where the forecast had changed after the climbers left for their climb); avalanche risks happen outside forecast periods. Internet access isn't always easy as an alternative.
Winter walkers often don't understand SAIS applies to them (I'd say anyone approaching or crossing potential avalanche slopes isn't a walker they should be thinking of winter mountaineering training).
Avalanche conditions are far from uncommon in England and Wales, they just don't have a reporting system and the range of hazzards are slightly different. People forget a windslab fracture on a climb (or approach or exit) is an avalanche risk (falling and hitting something rather than burial being the main issue). This happened to me in the Peak once (on Kinder North) and I've seen similar conditions a few times since and been more cautious as a result. Some UKC posters found the idea of avalanche risk in the Peak a hilarious idea, which shows ignorance amongst folk you might expect would know better. Read various notes in Over the Moors, including Tony Howard's short article on p.597.
> When I skim over avalanche forecasts I don't get concerned unless I see red "high" risks. However, if when doing a more detailed plan if I see considerable/orange, I will really avoid these areas (being inexperienced).
So are you saying that:
When you can't bothered to read the forecast properly, you only take notice of, and avoid an area if there is a red "high" risk?
But, when you can be bothered to read the forecast properly, you take notice of, and avoid areas of orange "considerable" risk?
Does that not strike you as a strange / risky approach?
We have to take responsibility for ourselves, and that means if you wish to go into the mountains in winter, then reading and understanding the avalanche forecast is as much your responsibility as being properly equipped is. Personally I don't think people should be spoon fed anymore than they are already.
Christ we are already provided with:
1.) SAIS avalanche forecasts with nice simple pictures to help make them easier to understand.
2.) SAIS blogs which detail the snow pack historically - with pictures.
3.) MWIS forecasts.
We don't need any more information that we already have, the problem is that people don't read it or don't heed the warnings - not that we need more information.
Links from UKC won't make any difference if people don't read the information and take responsibility for themselves.
> Typical anti-English rhetoric from the Scots government. This is the kind of language that the SNP love pushing. A good junk of Northumbrians live closer to the Highlands than some in southern Scotland, but they don't care, they just want a reason to single out the English
Given recent events I find it pretty sad that you have chosen to talk such drivel which is based on zero evidence. You may not be an idiot all the time, but you certainly were when you typed that post out.
I couldn't stop myself - I had to look at the Daily Mail article and comments. Apart from the odd exception they are a vile bunch indeed.
For example, a platform, maybe using a forum type set-up, could include the greater climbing public (UKC), SAIS, MWIS, MCofS, BMC, Mountain Rescue Council of Scotland, Ski Scotland, Glenmore Lodge & as well as other guides for example.
This way positive ideas can be channelled and hopefully then used to improve the situation at present - even if it was to save just one life through better education then in my eyes it is more than worthwhile.
It is not something that would be hard to organise with the likes of UKC & UKH, Facebook, Twitter etc etc, and equally it wouldn't be difficult to publicise in order to get as many view points and ideas as possible.
There have already been a few good ideas mentioned in this thread which run in same vein, the likes of incorporating SAIS forecasts into UKC. Other ideas could include getting the BBC Scotland News & Weather to publicise SAIS forecasts on the radio and TV, as they already provide mountain weather forecasts and ski conditions so it is surely something that is possible.
I live in Scotland and as such don't personally have ideas as to how to improve the situation south of the border as I don't have an understanding of the 'infrastructure of the climbing community' down there. But using such a forum as described above, this could surely be achieved.
I also feel that retailers (Cotswold, Tiso, Nevisport, Ellis Bringham etc)have a moral right to provide education to those whom their businesses depend upon. I know that some, if not all retailers, do provide education through free lecture evenings etc, but I am sure much more could be done by them, whither it be more lectures, pushing books like "A Chance in a Million" down customers throats at a reduced cost as well as many other things could be done. But as I said, until we can create such a forum for a real discussion on the issue, then it will be difficult to get meaningful and useful points forward to be looked at and acted upon.
good to see the commentms made by myself, alex and several otehrs especially the guy from the MRT are getting plenty of green arrows, and the haters the red.
What you're imagining is down to your own paranoia, fuelled by antagonistic journalists and their petty minded readers. Most English accents in Scotland belong to people who aren't weekenders or holiday makers but those of us who are living our lives here.
> You may be right. His quotes uses the expressions "from outside of Scotland" and "south of the border"
If that is what he said then it may be time for MCofS to provide some media training to it's spokespersons. He left the door wide open for the journalists to twist his words :-(
Ignore Adsheff the Monkey boy - he climbs with corks on the end of his axes.
It's dispiriting to see a quote given in good faith, with a lot of common sense behind it hijacked by some Daily Maul fud, who next week will be doorstepping widows and calling for return of the birch.
As someone who has climbed in Scotland for over 25 years, I have never once encountered any anti- English sentiment. I find people don't like me simply because I'm a tw*t :)
Perhaps they should also publish the percentage of total deaths for each of the 5 levels. Data from switzerland shows 3 is the highest with over 50% followed by 2 at over 30%. Obviously this is caused by less people heading into the hills when the level is higher but I think levels 2 and 3 are very difficult catagories to deal with because the prone slopes are often more localised and harder to predict than 4 or 5.
I think it needs to be made clearer that fatal avalanches can occur at any of the levels if you don't choose your route wisely and have experience of assesing the danger.
And even then they may occur if you're just very unlucky ...
> David Gibson, chief officer of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, yesterday urged English visitors to follow safety warnings after a recent spate of hillwalking accidents.
> The recent Chalamain Gap avalanche with the regrettable deaths was reported as being triggered by a group of climbers with some RAF personnel. It would appear some of that group may have been 'English' but it was reported they had very experienced people amongst the casualties. What about the Glenmore Lodge course who were in the same location? Maybe all their instructors are English! And if Scots, should they have known better?
Unfortunately our press does not wish to inform, they can easily get thier readers to equate people that go out on 'considerable' risk forecasts to 'idiots'....and everyone gets to feel so 'clever'. The real danger is that the press are trying to 'condition' readers to these thoughts.
Thanks to Heavy and others for trying to 'inform' the general public as well as hill-goers.....
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