“Triple H” or Trauma in Scottish Avalanche Accidents. Observations from 35 years by Davy Gunn

Friday, 23 December 2016 From Davy Gunn’s Blog – I am very glad to have permission to reblog this article from Davy Gunn from Glencoe on of the most experienced Mountain Rescuers in the UK. Davy is now retired from Mountain Rescue but has a unique knowledge of Avalanches in the Glencoe and Ben Nevis area. These are his thoughts.  


Friday, 23 December 2016

“Triple H” or Trauma in Scottish Avalanche Accidents. Observations from 35 years 

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I thought I would set myself the task of looking at a map and trying to remember all the MRT avalanche accidents I had been at in Lochaber. It’s a lot sadly and I am sure there are many others where injury occured not recorded as avalanche incidents that the team attended and some notable ones from the 50’s to early 70’s before my time including one at “The V” above the end of the road at Clachaig (Fatal Asphyxia) and some involving the rescue team that were thought to be better forgotten as near misses. Three of these I was involved in. One on the BEM Coire na Tullaich, and two close ones in Great Gully which popped just after evacuating someone on a stretcher.

The incidents themselves remain as fresh as ever, as do the dilemmas and triage considerations. I wanted to dispel the myth that most Scottish avalanche victims are trauma victims. Although many are injured, many are potentially salvageable if found quickly and taken to the appropriate facility where potassium and biochemical markers can be taken and resuscitation continued. The fatal victims listed  are complete burials.  All other injured bar 1 stayed on surface. All this information is freely available via the SMC Journals from these years or SMR data and while there are personal notes of my own as reference as an aside to these events no confidential data that is not already in the the public domain is listed


I often only recorded the events as an end of winter summary, although for injured patients I still have trauma report forms from my Paramedic records. A person wanting to check this data’s veracity will need to go the relevant SMC Journals or SMR records.

Avalanches also hurt – if they don’t kill you!
  •  1974  Great Gully x 1 Fatal – Trauma
  •  1974 Gully right Broad Buttress BEM x 1 Fatal – Trauma
  •  1975 Crowberry Gully x 2 Injured
  •  1976  Below Carn Dearg Ben Nevis x 2 Fatal – Asphyxia
  •  1977 Great Gully x 1 Fatal – Trauma
  •  1978 Great Gully x 3 Injured
  •  1978 ScRL Twisting Gully x 2 Injured (Mal D on scene)
  •  1978 Lost Valley Rev Ted’s x 2 Injured
  •  Feb 1980 ScRL Twisting Gully x 1 Injured
  •  1982 Lost Valley x 1 injured
  •  1982 BEM Curved Ridge x 1 Injured #Leg
  •  1984 Sron a Creis – Cam Ghleann x 1 Injured (skiers)
  •  Feb 1984 No 6 Gully x 1 Injured #Femur
  •  1984 Easy Gully x 1 Fatal – Asphyxia/Hypothermia (Colin G)
  •  1984 Beinn Bhan (St Johns Church) x 1 Injured
  •  1984 Sron a Creise x 1 Fatal – Asphyxia
  •  1983 ScNB NW Gully x 2 Fatal – Trauma
  •  1986 Central Gully Bidean x 1 Injured
  •  1983 ScNB NW Gully x 2 Fatal – Trauma
  •  1988 Mamores Binnein More x 1 Injured
  •  1988 Lost Valley Rev Teds x 2 Injured
  •  1988 Aonach Dubh N. Face x 1 minor injury (Mick F after FA)
  •  1988 BEM Great Gully x 3 injured
  •  1991 Glas Bheinn Mhor South x 2 Injured
  •  1991 Gear Aonach Zig Zag – x 1 Injury (witnessed by Ronnie Rodgers and I)
  •  1991 Beinn Fhada L. Valley Boulder x 1 Fatal – Asphyxia/Trauma combo 
  •  1991 The Rognon x 3 injured Slab (witnessed Chalky, Pete and I)
  •  1991 ScRL x 1 Injured
  •  1994 BEM West Face above Coire na Tullaich x 1 Fatal – Asphyxia
  •  1994 Water Slab x 1 Fatal – Trauma (Paul M and I)
  • 1993 ScNB NW Gully x 2 Fatal – Trauma
  • 1995 BEM Coire na Tullaich x 3 Fatal –  Asphyxia x2 Hypothermia x 1
  • 1995 BEM Crowberry Gully x 1 Fatal – Trauma
  • 1996 N Face Aonach Dubh/Dinner Time B x 1 Fatal – Trauma (Potter)
  • 1995 BEM East Face/Ladies gully x 3 Fatal – Trauma
  • 1995 Coire na Tullaich Headwall x 3 Injured 
  • 1996 Central Gully Bidean x 1 Injured (JP Oban)
  • 1999 BEM Crowberry Basin x 2 Trauma (one deep burial dug out alive but with # Femur)
  • 1995 Coire na Tullaich Headwall x 3 Injured (Mark T Reported incident)
  • 2008 Crowberry Gully Basin x 2 Injured
  • 2009 BEM Coire na Tullaich x 3 Fatal –  Asphyxia
  • 2011 Cam Ghleann x 1 Fatal  – Asphyxia (ski)
1991 Above “The Rognon” near Hidden Gully x 3 injured Slab (witnessed Chalky, Pete and I)

Davy Gunn personal anecdotal observation from 69 victims and 26 Fatal Burials I attended is 11 Asphyxia/Hypothermia (absence of any obvious fatal injury) and 15 Trauma so around 42% and 58% respectively. This does not pretend to be a scientific study only an observation based on my own experience from 1974 until leaving MR in 2009 and quite often as senior medic on scene. Much is made of the presence or absence of an air pocket and ice masks. I have nor seen an ice mask and its nearly always very hard to determine if an air pocket is present. They are all alive unless there is an obvious fatal injury. “Not dead until warm and dead” as the old saying goes so resuscitate following the ICAR guideline and transport them all carefully as alive to the appropriate hospital.

42% Asphyxia/Hypothermia – 58% Trauma. Not science, very local but a start point for comment

I have over that time also attended many avalanche incidents as a ski patroller, some with full burials and some with injuries but due to early search, and companion rescue a much better outcome. Since 2009  I have attended quite a few incidents with ski patrol and these are on the increase as off piste and BackCountry/Free ride takes off.

So is it worth being searchable? It’s certainly better than burial. The “Old Fox” agree’s


Davy Gunn and Hamish

Davy Gunn and Hamish

Any comments?



Davy runs an excellent Avalanche training
For information on 2016/17 avalanche training courses or safety equipment please contact me
  • Avalanche Awareness
  • Transceiver Training
  • Avalanche Rescue & Resuscitation
  • Training following the AAA L1 & 2 Syllabu

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 Avalanche info, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, SAR, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering. Bookmark the permalink.

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