Avalanche in Scottish mountains claims lives of four climbers

Posted Jan 20, 2013 by Robert Myles
In one of the worst ever tragedies in the Scottish mountains, four mountaineers died and one was seriously injured when a party of six climbers fell victim to an avalanche at Bidean Nam Bian in Glencoe in Scotland.
Coire nan Lochan  a corrie of Bidean nam Bian on the southern side of Glen Coe  Scotland
Coire nan Lochan, a corrie of Bidean nam Bian on the southern side of Glen Coe, Scotland
Wikimedia Commons - Wojsyl
Freezing weather has gripped the UK over the past few days and it is believed the climbing party, comprising three men and three women, were descending Bidean Nam Bian in Glencoe when the snow slope they were on gave way, sweeping five of the party down the mountain, reports BBC News.
Location Map of Glencoe  Scotland
Location Map of Glencoe, Scotland
Wikimedia Commons
The Scotsman reports that the dead were two men and two women, who have not yet been named. One of the party, a woman, is reported to have survived a 500 feet fall down part of the 3700 feet Bidean Nam Bian in Glencoe in Scotland’s West Highlands. She suffered serious head injuries and was said to be in a “very serious condition” having been moved, firstly, to a local hospital in Fort William, then later to the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow.
The sixth climber, who was able to direct rescuers to other members of the party, suffered only minor injuries.
The alarm was raised at around 2 pm yesterday when another climbing party found one of the casualties in the snow. Mountain rescue teams and a helicopter were immediately mobilised to locate the dead and injured.
Later reports in The Herald newspaper said the climbers may have tumbled 1000 feet in treacherous weather. The Herald reports that the rescue was co-ordinated by Andy Nelson, deputy head of Glencoe Mountain Rescue, who described being caught in an avalanche as "a brutal experience". Mr Nelson said,
"Being in an avalanche is literally like standing on a carpet and having it pulled out from underneath you. Any thought of trying to swim out from out of it is futile. You are on steep ground, essentially standing on a raft of snow that is sliding downhill at speeds of maybe 40mph to 50mph. It would have unfolded in a split second, they would have felt the snow moving and then they would have been travelling at a speed that was impossible to stop. The man that survived was standing above the snow and we think he actually jumped and got his ice axe into firmer snow. They slid over some very rocky ground and ended up about 1,000 feet below, under between 1.5 and two metres of snow. It's a brutal experience. There are enormous forces at work and you are being twisted about at high speed."
The avalanche is thought to have been caused by a wind slab when snow and ice builds up along a ridge creating a frozen cliff, often difficult to see in conditions of low visibility. Such a wind slab is thought to have given way underneath the climbers.
Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond described the deaths as an appalling tragedy. The Daily Telegraph quotes the First Minister as saying, “This is an appalling tragedy and our immediate thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who have been lost. To lose four people from a party of six is truly devastating. The Scottish Government will provide any support that we can and I would like to thank the police and mountain rescue team for their efforts in these difficult circumstances."
One of Scotland’s most celebrated mountaineers and former Glencoe mountain rescue team leader Hamish MacInnes, speaking in the Daily Mail, said conditions had been "hazardous". MacInnes said,
"I was talking about the danger with a member of the mountain rescue committee just about an hour before it happened because there was a heavy fall of snow. It had been blowing a lot and forming a very fine powder. It was a fairly hazardous situation for avalanche. I was speaking to some people who were up the mountain and the show was drifting quite badly although a lot of it had gone, the temperature had risen. It was a hazardous wind, the conditions were quite bad."
The foreboding Buachaille Etive Mòr in Glencoe in winter has claimed the lives of many climbers.
The foreboding Buachaille Etive Mòr in Glencoe in winter has claimed the lives of many climbers.
Wikimedia Commons
Each winter, the mountains of Glencoe attract many climbers and mountaineers. Invariably, the difficult conditions which proved fatal this weekend are, to many climbers, part of the attraction. Despite their modest height — there are comparatively few Scottish peaks over 4000 feet — with a combination of adverse weather and difficult ascents, Scotland’s western Highlands in winter can offer some of the most challenging climbs in the world. That they are easily accessible, being only an hour or two’s drive from Glasgow, is a further attraction.
Glencoe has claimed the lives of many mountaineers in the past. In 2009, three mountaineers met their deaths on Buachaille Etive Mòr, whilst in February 2010, two climbers lost their lives to an avalanche, again at Buachaille Etive Mòr in Glencoe.