A sad few days in the Mountains of Lochaber – Can we learn from these tragedies?

It has been a sad few weeks in the mountains and few people outside the Highlands may notice that there has been three fatalities in the last week. The Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team has again spoken out to the public about the recent tragedies on Ben Nevis. Carn Mor Dearg and the Grey Corries. Three fatalities within a week in summer and two others missing  have highlighted  this . There have been some  long searches make this a sad time for all, especially for the families who have lost a loved one or still await a result in their loved one being found. call outs in Lochaber are up this year after a fairly poor summer and many are getting caught out in the weather. The rocks on the hills are slippy, many paths are heavily eroded after the rain and a stumble or slip can be fatal.  There has been so much rain  this summer and low cloud and this means navigation has to be used even on the easier hills. Add to this the heavy winter with huge snow fields that have lasted most of the early summer it has been a tricky time to be on the hills. This increase in accidents in Lochaber is not that unusual as the Mountain Rescue Statistics show annually that different areas can at times have more accidents and some especially the honey pot areas that are busy.  I know more than anyone that a simple slip on the hill can lead to tragedy and the old maximum:

Look well to each step.

Look well to each step.

It is  unfortunate the same problems that are repeated year after year:

There is little new about these incidents many have common causes and as always poor navigation and the recent use of phones as the only tool as a navigational aid should always be supported by a map and compass and the knowledge of their use.

Many walkers mountaineers are still not leaving a route or plan of their intentions, so easy to do  with a partner, relative or friend .  A good idea is to text when you reach your summit (Have it ready to go before you go on the phone) or start down with your contact and this in the past is a great way to have a bit of security if you have a problem coming off the hill.  This makes the search on a Rescue much easier they at least have an area to search and may stop the Rescue team wasting valuable time searching in the wrong areas. Try explaining to a wife or partner why you could not be found after a long search because of no route or idea of where you were going. Or explaining how a rescuer got injured searching dangerous areas where you may never have been if they had known your route. 

I love going out on the hills alone but leave where i am going and a contact - it is simple really!

I love going out on the hills alone but leave where i am going and a contact – it is simple really!


This could help – how many walkers mountaineers have this on their phone it is free and a no brainer to me!

  999 Emergency Text Service.

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 services. 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 


“Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team has had to handle an “exceptional amount” of call-outs so far this year, its leader has said.

Three rescues on Sunday saw the team hit 91 shouts since the start of 2015.

Team leader John Stevenson said usually in a year the team would expect to be deployed on 70 to 100 occasions.

Bad weather, people making navigational errors or not leaving information about where they were going and then having an accident have been factors.

Mr Stevenson told BBC Radio Scotland: “We’ve had an exceptional amount of calls.

“We usually see 70 to 100 in a year. It depends on the weather and general conditions on the hills.

“The weather this year has been pretty poor and there have been lots of people having slips and trips.”

‘Big problem’

But Mr Stevenson said people were also getting into difficulty for other reasons.

He said: “Navigation has been a big issue this year. People should know how to use a map and compass and not be relying on mobile phones.

“Another big problem has been people not leaving information about where in the hills they are going. We are having to search big areas because of that.”

Earlier this year, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS) asked people not to rely on smartphones and GPS devices as navigation tools in the hills.

It urged hill – walkers not already versed in the use of a map and compass to learn the skill.

The council’s warning was issued ahead of the busy summer walking season.

MCofS said there had been an incident where a couple had to be rescued from a situation they could have got out of themselves with a map and compass.”

From BBC Scotland  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-33801741


What can we do to help ?

In Scotland we already do a lot to assist in mountain safety and education. Scottish Mountain Rescue Teams are supported by the Scottish government to the tune of over £300,000 annually, and every little helps. Is this enough in today’s climate but money is tight and maybe more could be done. How do we reach those who are having accidents? Is there a pattern or a group we are not reaching with the safety message and education? Who should be doing this, should we be investigating these incidents as is done in North America?  As more people take up the healthy outdoor life and enjoy the mountains and wild places will this increase incidents?   The free Mountain Weather Information Service(MWIS) and Sportscotland Avalanche Information Service (SAIS) are also funded by the government, and greatly help to inform those who go out in the hills. The Mountaineering Council Of Scotland has a Mountain Safety Officer who does so much to enhance mountain safety in Scotland. All these posts and money have been fought for over many years and in these days of cuts we need to ensure they stay in place.

Again I stress that we should not take our eyes off the ball and all those who give Scotland such a joined-up approach to mountain safety and education should keep up the great work. Now is not the time to relax; we must keep pushing new methods and ideas of how to get mountain safety across to the hill-going public. The winter is coming and the usual epics will happen with a few getting caught out by shortage of daylight and the weather, some may not even have a torch or a bit of gear to help you safely of the hill. Maybe we should all have a look and remind ourselves about the basics?

My thoughts are with all those families and rescuers involved in the recent tragedies. Please be careful in the mountains, read and use all the tools available in assessing conditions and be aware that normally easier areas can still hold considerable dangers.

Mountaineers can  at times be very selfish and many of us go away to get away from a busy lifestyle.  Surely we can leave a note where we are going and take care to be as safe as possible doing what we love.

It is a small sacrifice for those who sit and wait and at times worry about us?

Please remember that Mountain Rescue is a voluntary organisation and relies on donations to exist, if you can please support these true heroes who give up their time to help those in need.

Any views?




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 Charity, Friends, Gear, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Munros, Views Mountaineering, Weather. Bookmark the permalink.

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