Whiteout conditions on Ben Nevis summit make for difficult navigation. Photo: MCofS

Whiteout conditions on Ben Nevis summit make for difficult navigation. Photo: MCofS

Mountain experts are warning bank holiday walkers that conditions on Britain’s highest peak are still challenging.

The Mountaineering Council of Scotland said Ben Nevis’s summit could be dangerous to those without the skills to navigate safely.

Urging those contemplating an ascent of the 1,344m (4,409ft) mountain to exercise caution, the council said winter conditions and snow more than two metres deep are making navigation in poor visibility particularly challenging above the 900m contour line on the Ben. Some of the navigation cairns, relied on by many walkers traversing the summit plateau, are completely buried under snow, heightening the risk of accidents on the mountain’s high cliffs.

Heather Morning, the MCofS mountain safety adviser, said: “For most of Britain, spring and early summer is definitely upon us.

“But on the high plateau of Ben Nevis it is a very different story. The conditions up there are very difficult to imagine when you set off from Fort William, which can easily lead walkers to underestimate what dangers they will encounter.

“Appropriate clothing, footwear and navigation skills are essential to make a safe ascent of the mountain.”

The summit trig pillar on on the left is showing, but the 1.5m cairn beneath it is not. Walls from the old observatory are also buried. Photo: MCofS

The summit trig pillar on on the left is showing, but the 1.5m cairn beneath it is not. Walls from the old observatory are also buried. Photo: MCofS

The MCofS, which represents Scotland’s hillwalkers, climbers and mountaineers, said it was targeting its warning on the growing proportion of walkers who do not have basic map reading skills.

Ms Morning said: “I often meet walkers on snow-covered hills whose only method of navigation is to follow the footprints in the snow ahead.

“Footprints can get covered with new snow or wind-blown snowdrifts within minutes on Ben Nevis. They can also lead you off into dangerous and steep terrain.”

Ben Nevis’s status as the highest peak in the British Isles means a high proportion of first-time walkers and Three Peaks charity challenge walkers attempt it. With its northerly latitude and standing nearly 1,000ft taller than Snowdon or Scafell Pike, conditions on Scotland’s highest mountain can be very different, the MCofS said.

The 2mhigh navigation cairns, such as this one at the top of Gardyloo Gully, are not very obvious. Photo: MCofS

The 2mhigh navigation cairns, such as this one at the top of Gardyloo Gully, are not very obvious. Photo: MCofS

It called on hillwalkers to respect Ben Nevis’s unseasonable winter conditions and call into the Glen Nevis ranger base to get a map, weather information and advice about underfoot conditions before starting their ascent, alongside using web-based weather resources in advance of setting out.

Ms Morning said: “People have often invested a good deal of time, effort and money to attempt their climb on Ben Nevis and it is a difficult decision to turn around, particularly if other people are carrying on.

“But, the mountain will always be there; the trick is to make sure that you are too.”

Details of mountain weather forecasts can be found on grough’s links page.

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