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Avalanche fatality a reminder of need to prepare

Posted 21 January 2013
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Avalanche fatality a reminder of need to prepare
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The snowy winter weather has brought plenty of opportunities for exciting winter expeditions, but anyone heading to the hills with their crampons and thermals will do so knowing there is some risk attached to what they do.

Tragically, this can occasionally lead to serious accidents, as happened at the weekend when four climbers in Glencoe were killed by an avalanche.

In all, six people set off on the adventure on Saturday (January 19th) on Bidean nam Bian, the highest of Glencoe's mountains at 3,772 ft. They were descending from the mountain via the Church Door Buttress when the snow swept down on them.

Of the two survivors, one woman remains in hospital in a critical condition, while one man escaped using his ice axe.

He issued a statement via the Northern Constabulary noting: "All in the group loved the mountains and are experienced winter walkers."

That fact means the group will not have been unaware of the risks posed and indeed even the best mountaineers can get caught in such conditions. For example, Alan Hinkes, the only Briton to have climbed all 14 mountains in the world over 8,000 m in height, was almost swept away by an avalanche in the Lake District in March 2010.

However, there are some steps walkers and climbers can take to help themsleves. The Sportscotland Avalanche Information Service issues regular forecasts from the five areas of the Highlands where the risk is highest.

Its forecast for Glencoe on the day after the Bidean nam Bian tragedy indicated that the risk was low below 800 metres, although moderate between that height and 1,150 m (the summit of the mountain). A moderate rating means natural avalanches are unlikely, while human activity can unwittingly trigger one, but there were spots where a natural avalanche was a possibility.

Elsewhere, the risk has been classed as high, with this applying to both the northern and southern Cairngorms. In both areas, it was stated north and north-west slopes of mountains would definitely see avalanches occurring, both through human action and naturally. Walkers, climbers and skiers may be well advised to avoid these areas.