Learning from Mountain Accidents and Stats – thanks for the input?

Beinn a ' Chaorainn map

Beinn a ‘ Chaorainn map

Many thanks for all the feedback on my last three blogs on Stats why bother, Mountain Accidents can we learn from them and the Avalanche in the Cairngorms an expert view! There were some great comments from many with various views. I fully appreciate that after a tragedy people especially those involved want to forget but many relatives come back years later  for answers! When I lost various great friends in the mountains I tried to understand what happened to them this was never easy. They were all top class mountaineers and yet they made mistakes,    when you are involved personally even harder. Yet despite the grief I came through out and found answers, we will never know exactly how things happen but I do have a good idea of how the tragedies occurred.   Every tragedy has ongoing problems for the family and friends and it is very difficult to come to terms with and the last things grief stricken people want is more angst. Yet is there is much to be done in this area lessons learned from the past have allowed huge improvements in equipment and training. We must never put our fear of litigation up as an excuse and maybe as one comment said it is time for the professional bodies to be more active in this area.

The photo below shows the summit ridge of Beinn A, Chaorainn and the big Cornices awaiting the unwary. Could you navigate safely in a blizzard to this summit?


There are various lessons that need reminded to people regularly take the Munro Beinn a’ Chaorainn near Roy Bridge that had a fierce reputation in bad weather. I am sure I assisted  Lochaber in about 10 call -outs in this area. It has a summit of three tops which on a ridge where in winter the huge cornices beckon, many have had accidents here. The old maps were very sketchy and as the middle top is the main summit it is a tricky place to navigate to. Even with great skills in bad weather this is a tricky place and Hill users need reminded of it  every winter? Maybe guide books could put in a bit more detail on this ?


22-24/1/94 Glean Spean – Beinn a’ Chaorainn 34/384855 Missing walker – walked over cornice- massive search. The team went back on several occasions to search, located after Hamish Mc Innes brought in a technical piece of search equipment used in the Fred West murder enquiry. The Casualty  was located by the radar and dug out under several feet of ice in August 94  6 months after the incident. A well known black spot!
Radar finds missing Mountaineer !

Radar finds missing Mountaineer !


I understand that there has been an update on information by the Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland on Information on Mountain Accidents by
Mark Leyland, Scottish Mountain Rescue
Dr Cameron Stark, NHS Highland.

I would appreciate a copy if anyone has one?

This was from Davy Gunn a very respected Mountaineer and Rescue Expert from Glencoe

I can’t disagree with whats’ being said, only comment that the real story is probably already known and due to not wanting to scrub raw wounds I suspect that the parties involved and the fiscal do not want to make a decision as yet. If folk really want to know what occured maybe just ask the folk who conducted the internal enquiery or who were directly involved. I have been at 4 FAI’s of which 3 were for accidents to professionals in the mountains, and for one colleague who had been killed next to me in a non mountain incident. I have also been predicated by the fiscal to make a statement on a couple of others. None of these were to make comment on professional capability, just what I had seen, encountered and my actions. Of the 4 that went to full FAI the conclussions as to cause were nothing more than was already well known, and the recommendations were either already put in place (barn door syndrome) or unworkable as the fiscal didnt grasp mountaineering as a sport. I do remember the difficulty of professionals being asked to comment as witness’s on the judgement of fellow guides and MIC’s and was very glad I wasn’t in that position. FAI’s do not always answer much other than supressing the clamour to have one. They are a bit like a good old fashioned highland funeral as opposed to a cremation. There is the drawn out angst, gnashing of teeth and lots of tears and regardless of outcome the greif bubble and anger boil gets lanced. These of course are only one persons disenchanted experience and others may have a more positive experience.
So back to the original premise of the post asking for comment: Are the facts already known? Almost certainly. Is an FAI in the public interest? If so then the statutory bodies for mountaineeering such as BMC/MCofS, British Guides Assoc, Sport Scotland should make a public statement asking for one and make a representations to the fiscal. This is how you get an FAI. More importantly, do the families want an FAI? I suspect they want and need to move on as they already know the facts. Could there be lessons to learn regardless? I agree with James we can’t learn unless we know the facts, but a lot of hurt can occur in the learning and thats the balance of in the public interest. I too lost two folk I know that winter. All we can do is ask questions and do our bit to prevent more needless loss. If an FAI is wanted then let the statutory bodies represent the views of mountaineers and the families to ask for one, and to that end maybe the folk who feel its required need to lobby them.




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 Articles, Enviroment, Friends, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Munros, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering, Weather. Bookmark the permalink.

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