A winter climber who died of hypothermia in the Scottish Highlands was less than a mile from safety, an inquest heard.
Richard Hardy’s body temperature was only 14°C when he was found by rescuers; normal temperature is 37°C. The 18-year-old Aberdeen University student died along with his climbing partner Graeme Cooper after being caught in appalling weather in Coire an t-Sneachda on Cairn Gorm in November last year.
The two men had battled through waist-high snow, with temperatures down to -20°C and 120mph winds. They were found 400 yards apart, about a mile from the Cairngorm ski area car park. They had covered about three miles from the point they had been climbing.
North Hampshire coroner Andrew Bradley heard that Mr Hardy, of Alton, Hampshire, had set off with other members of Aberdeen University’s Lairig mountaineering club. He and Mr Cooper were the last members to start climbing. A report by the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team (MRT) said: “He [Mr Hardy] had little climbing experience but was a keen hill runner and fell walker.
“He was less well equipped for winter climbing than his colleagues.
“They commenced their climb as the last pair in the group. The others who had completed their climb made their way back to the car park.
“They were advised by their friends to make their way back as well. Mr Cooper waved as if to say it was all right.”
They were reported missing by fellow club members at 10.30pm on the night of 20 November after they failed to make contact with them. 35 MRT members and a helicopter from RAF Lossiemouth joined in a search and Mr Hardy was found at 10.52 the following morning. He was frozen and unresponsive.
He was taken by helicopter to Raigmore Hospital, Inverness, but pronounced dead at 12.25pm. A post-mortem examination determined he died of hypothermia. He had no injuries.
In normal circumstances, the walk to the car park from the place Mr Hardy was discovered would have taken about 20 minutes. However, the severe snow storm meant the two men were wading through snow up to their waists. It also appeared there had been an avalanche in the area they were climbing in, but the men had escaped this.
Mr Hardy’s mother Julie told the inquest her son loved the Highlands. She said: “He said after moving to Aberdeen that he felt at home up there, and he was having a wonderful time.
“It’s just a shame it wasn’t for longer. He just loved the outdoors and the mountains.”
Mr Hardy was a geography undergraduate at the university. His 23-year-old companion was a graduate from the same department.
The coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death on Mr Hardy.
Three other men died in mountaineering accidents in the same corrie within two months of Mr Hardy’s and Mr Cooper’s deaths.