Big Search on Ben Nevis and welcome to Rescue 951 – Easter winter warnings on the Mountains

Ben Nevis has an ongoing massive Search for a missing 23-year-old hill walker from London, my thoughts are with the family who must be going through hell just now. Yesterdays search saw the last flight of RAF Rescue 137 and the handover of the new SAR Helicopter Contract by Bristows Rescue 951 based in Inverness. I wish the crews of whom many are old  friends safe flying and many successful Rescues.

Lochaber MRT facebook photo and the first day of R951 Safe Flying.

Photo Lochaber MRT facebook  and the first day of R951 Safe Flying.

The incident is now in day 3 and the weather has been wild as it to be expected  for winter in Scotland. The local Police ,Lochaber MRT plus Glencoe, SARDA and RAF Lossiemouth MRT will brave wild conditions with the heavy snow and have to be very careful. My thoughts are with them all  may they be looked after as they search  for this young man. We never give up and in the past we had found casualties alive after long searches.  There is always hope and a lot of people praying and doing what they can to find this lost soul.  We must never forget as I know only to well that this is someones son, family and friend and be careful of comments in social media and the press by the ill – informed. This was not another lost person; it was now somebody’s son.  Are we not all are capable of well intended mountain enthusiasm?

Rescue on Ben Nevis Day 3 casualty located alive !

Rescue on Ben Nevis Day 3 casualty located alive !

As someone who loves the mountains and wild places how do we get the message through that these are not hill walks in the winter? This is full on winter mountaineering this Easter and not a place for the ill-equipped or inexperienced.     I love going out alone on the mountains and illness has not allowed this for 4 months. I understand how frustrated you can get by not getting out for your planned mountain day. You plan your break on your holiday and despite the weather many still try to achieve things that in the conditions and the weather may be way out of your comfort zone.

How do we educate Joe public of the dangers, they seem not to be getting the safety message ?  I republish my piece on safety I wrote a few days ago, please take care and all those out on the mountains be safe and enjoy these wonderful places.

Wild Weather in winter photo Cairngorm MRT - ARE YOU PREPARED?

Wild Weather in winter photo George MacEwan – ARE YOU PREPARED?

Easter is statistically a busy time for mountain accidents,  you may ask why ?

So many come to Scotland during this holiday period when the mountains are at their best. There is still snow about and the hills look so inviting with what looks a smattering of snow on the summits. There will be many the come up from the towns and cities and are so unaware that the Mountains are still hold their full winter mantle. Like me you may have been off the mountains for months you are unaware of what is happening high up and out of tune with the conditions. This may be your only chance of a few days on the mountains, you have a tick list and no matter what this is what you aim to do despite the conditions, weather or avalanche forecasts!


Hard to see in bad weather


It is easy to fall into this trap there may look like little snow to the untrained eye and many agree that “light is right” and carry as little as possible is the modern ethos.  At sea level it is warm and the birds are out flowers are springing up but please, please be aware these mountains can still surprise you. The North Faces are hidden from the sun are full of rock hard snow as are the descents that hardly catch the sun. The old hymn “snow as hard as iron, water like a stone ” is so true just now and a slip without out an ice axe will be unstoppable and in no doubt carry you over  boulders and scree ! From that scenario I will let your imagination wander and have a deep think!  Also a really tricky condition is frozen grass a slide on this can cause problems! There have been 3 fatalities in the last few weeks where this was the problem a simple slip on rock hard snow /neve is unstoppable without an ice axe and crampons and the knowledge of their use.

What is the answer? To carry full winter gear ice axe and crampons the temperature last night in the Cairngorm was – 6 so the snow left will be bullet hard it will soften during the day but still on the dark side of the mountain it will remain solid! Descent is usually harder and it is still time to be sensible the weight of an ice axe and crampons and knowledge of how to use them compared with consequences is a “no brainer” the worst thing you see is a companion falling /bouncing down the hill on a steep rock hard snow field! Even worse is you cannot get down to help them or you may become another statistic?

There also seem another problem this year on Ben Nevis Coire Eoghain seem to be a major issue.

From Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team

“We have had a few rescues this winter where people have been going up Ben Nevis ill equipped for the environment and conditions. With Easter almost upon us, and being early this year, we would like to just put out a wee warning that the Ben and the other mountains of Lochaber are still in full winter garb. If you are thinking of heading for the mountains over the holiday period please make sure you are equipped for the conditions and have ice axe, crampons, adequate clothing and be able to navigate – do not depend on your mobile phone app.”

There to my knowledge at least 6 incidents dealt with by the superbly professional Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team and the RAF and Royal Naval helicopters. Most of the accidents are to winter mountaineers some poorly equipped not only with the correct gear but basic knowledge of navigation! Unusually for Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team spoke publicly about this on their Facebook page!  They were all on the terribly named “Tourist path “on Ben Nevis it gives a false sense of security to inexperienced walkers. Why do  they have their accidents it was the same as every year:  no winter gear, poor navigation and many other basic problems? These happen every year yet we learn little and for the local team to complain was very unusual.  The summit of Ben Nevis has a huge complicated plateau the path will be covered in snow with trails leading to climbs and the huge North Face Cornices making it a serious place. In winter when the weather changes the plateau can become a “grey room” with no visibility cairns are lost and the wind can veer you away from safety. Huge cliffs loom on both sides and a slip here can be fatal.  It is a place to be able to navigate properly and those who cannot will have a problem.   The Ben is not a walk in winter it is winter mountaineering be prepared for that please! Please do not buy an ice axe and crampons and think that is it learn to use them in a safe area with someone who knows.   This winter the cornices are huge just now with a big winter and many rotten cornices waiting to fall, these are dangerous so watch your approach to climbs and the tops of gullies.

map ben nevis

It is also worth considering that if you go out alone and I  when fit please tell a relative or friend where you are going and have simple plan of action if you have a problem. I ask every lecture I do on mountain safety how many who go out alone do this simple practice? There is always one or two who say they go out in the hills to get away from the world and human contact to react with nature without communications. My reply is simple “ stand there with a relative on the second   day of a search where we had little clue where the walker climber was going” To listen to them cry into a dark mountain the name of the missing person  is haunting and one I have heard  often.

So please use the emergency Text Service as a backup!

The Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS) is urging everyone who walks climbs and skis in the Scottish mountains to register with the 999 emergency text service. This service has been set up to allow people to text 999 when mobile phone reception is intermittent.
However, you will only be able to use this service if you have registered with emergency SMS first. The MCofS is promoting the service to mountaineers and suggesting that we register now rather than wait for an emergency. To register, text ‘Register’ to 999. You will get a reply and will then need to follow the instructions you are sent. The text system is meant to be used only when voice calls cannot be made and the system does not guarantee that texts will be delivered, so users should wait until they receive a reply from the emergency services before assuming help has been summoned. Further details, including guidelines on how to register, can be found at



Be safe!

So much more is expected of the Emergency Services in this modern era and we must never forget that each time they go out on a rescue they take their own lives in their hands. The Mountain Rescue Teams and Helicopters are not immune to an accident the weather or the avalanche conditions. Mountain Rescue has an incredible safety record and maybe someone up there may be watching them and they need it. If people have a problem in the Mountains and they need help they will do their best to assist. We all have a duty of care to each other in the mountains to be careful and use common sense when out an about .

Maybe we should be more proactive in Mountain Safety and Education and learn from the Statistics?

How can we improve this education and catch those that need advice?    Any ideas please contact me?

About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Family, Friends, Local area and events to see, Mountain rescue, Mountaineering, SAR, Views Mountaineering, Weather, Wildlife. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Big Search on Ben Nevis and welcome to Rescue 951 – Easter winter warnings on the Mountains

  1. Excellent post, Heavy, which I’ve shared to MCofS page and tweeted. Let’s hope people heed the advice – and for a positive outcome to the search on The Ben.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. gasdoc2857 says:

    Reblogged this on gasdoc2857 and commented:
    Another excellent post. And it’s not just the northern mountains. Whilst Loch Lomond may look tranquil this morning there has been heavy rain sleet and hail and high winds down to low level and a lot of snow on Ben Lomond and the Cobbler


  3. C Elder says:

    It always seems like a good idea at the time. I feel all B&B’s and Hostels should have a little card of do’s and don’t’s left on every bed regardless of the stated intentions of the visitors, after all we can all do things on impulse.. Keep it short and sweet. Urge people who are inexperienced not to go out alone. Also for them not to rely on there being a phone signal.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. rkinnear says:

    Reblogged this on Johnstone Kinnear and commented:
    sage and timely advice – I think the simplest precautions are the best: equip, prepare, navigate – it’s all old hat but never more needed.

    Liked by 1 person

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