It will soon be Easter, but it's still full-on winter in Scotland's mountains. That's the message behind a joint statement released today by the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS) and the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) which encourages walkers and climbers to take sensible precautions. The warning comes following a recent spate of accidents on the hills, and the wall-to-wall media coverage that has accompanied them.
How is your navigation? Brian in a whiteout walking towards the Shelterstone.
© hwackerhage, Jan 2008
The MCofS and BMC advise that climbers and hill walkers need to be realistic about the seriousness of the Scottish mountains, and of the need to match knowledge and experience to mountaineering objectives.
This Easter warning is being issued, they say, because:
Many of this winter's accidents have been related to avalanches, so avalanche awareness should be a key component of planning a trip to the mountains over the Easter holiday period say the MCofS and BMC.
MCofS President Brian Linington said:
'There are always more visitors to Scottish mountains at Easter and Whitsun and we urge them to act upon this advice. Many are keen to get to grips with the mountains, but the pattern when I was part of the Skye Mountain Rescue Team was for a high number of incidents at Easter. This was due to a number of factors, including loose holds after winter ice had loosened everything up, together with very icy old snow patches in critical shaded spots. Both factors caused fatalities in the Cuillin at Easter.'
BMC Deputy CEO Nick Colton added:
'The mountains of Scotland are glorious places to walk and climb. Go prepared, plan and heed the advice that is available. Remember conditions can change quickly and you may need to adjust those plans and expectations accordingly. Enjoy the challenges and spectacular scenery that Scottish hills have to offer but, most importantly, get back down safely.'
Anyone heading to the Scottish mountains at Easter is being encouraged to give serious consideration to the following ten-point checklist:
1. Check the mountain weather and avalanche forecasts [where applicable - Ed.].
2. Follow the MCofS on Twitter and Facebook, and check their "Something for the weekend" safety tips on Fridays and Saturdays. These messages warn of likely hazards over the coming weekend.
3. Be realistic about your ability to interpret and act upon weather and avalanche forecasts.
4. Be prepared to lower your expectations if weather, visibility and pace dictate.
5. Allow for the remoteness of many Scottish mountains.
6. Plan routes carefully and consider likely hazards like avalanche-prone slopes, river crossings and steep cliff faces.
7. Read the Winter Safety pages on the MCofS website and watch the Ice Axe Self Arrest video on the MCofS YouTube channel.
8. Day length increases at this time of year, but it is still easy to be caught out after dark. Everyone in a group should carry a head torch and spare set of batteries or a spare head torch with new batteries.
9. Be aware of everyone else in your group and don't allow your group to get separated in poor visibility.
10. Never be afraid to turn back. The most important objective of a day in the mountains is for there to be more days in the mountains in the future.
The BMC runs training events and publishes good practice information to enable climbers, hill walkers and mountaineers to develop their skills. Read their 'Essential winter know-how' here.