Winter conditions have returned to the Highlands. Photo: Wallace Gilbraith

Winter conditions have returned to the Highlands. Photo: Wallace Gilbraith

Mountain experts have added their voice to pleas for outdoor enthusiasts in the Highlands to obtain weather information before heading out.

Mountaineering Scotland said hillgoers need to plan carefully and not be fixated on completing a particular route.

The message follows the deaths of three climbers on the North Face of Ben Nevis earlier this week in an avalanche which also left one man in hospital.

The organisation, which represents mountaineers, climbers, hillwalkers and ski-mountaineers north of the border, said outdoor fans should temper their enthusiasm with close attention to avalanche and weather forecasts.

A Mountaineering Scotland spokesperson said: “Winter has now come back with a vengeance, but the sudden and heavy snowfall, combined with lower temperatures and high winds has produced snow conditions that can fluctuate rapidly, as well as rapid changes between hostile and benign weather.

“The Scottish Avalanche Information Service has recorded five avalanches in the west Highlands in the last 48 hours, highlighting the unstable nature of the snowpack.”

The organisation’s mountain safety adviser Heather Morning said: “Mountain conditions in February were unusually mild, resulting in the majority of the mountains being snow-free.

“However, over the past few days winter has very much returned.

“When you’re heading up into the hills, whether it’s for walking, climbing or skiing, it’s absolutely essential not only that you check the avalanche forecast but also that you understand what it’s saying. Different slopes on the same hill may have completely different snow conditions.

“A careful study of the mountain weather forecast is also an essential part of your planning, and your planned route should be finalised with that forecast in mind.

“Something else to be mindful of is being flexible. Don’t become fixated on achieving your original goal. As conditions on the hill change, then so should your decision making. Often I end up on Plan B, C or D as my journey on the hill progresses.”

Kev Mitchell, vice-chair of Scottish Mountain Rescue, said: “We encourage people to make use of all available information, including weather and avalanche forecasts.

“It is important to plan your day taking into account the conditions, ensure you are prepared to make safe decisions based on the weather and environment you are in and the group you are with.”

Police Scotland Inspector Isla Campbell earlier said: “We do not want to put anyone off enjoying the great outdoors activities we have here in Scotland but we would ask that people plan their routes, take sensible precautions and consider whether it is safe to climb a particular route.
“The environment of the Scottish mountains is by its very nature an unpredictable one and it is important that people take as many precautions and plan ahead as much as possible if they are going to go climbing, especially at this time of year.

“Detailed information about weather conditions and avalanche risk are available from agencies including the Scottish Avalanche Information Service and we would encourage climbers to look at this information before heading out on the mountains. Be prepared to alter your routes or plans if there are indications that inclement weather or avalanches could affect your climb.”

Police revealed that the men who died in the Number Five Gully avalanche on Tuesday were two French nationals, aged 32 and 41 and a 43-year-old Swiss climber. A fourth climber, a 30-year-old Swiss national, remains in Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.

Mountain weather and avalanche information can be obtained via grough’s links page.

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