Weekend warning: Ben Nevis is plastered in snow

Posted by Carey Davies on 21/05/2015
A recent picture from the top of Ben Nevis. Cairns as high as 1.5 metres are buried. Pic: Heather Morning

On the eve of the Bank Holiday weekend, the top of Scotland's highest mountain is covered in snow two metres deep. Walkers planning to climb it are urged to be cautious.

Thousands of hillwalkers are planning to climb Ben Nevis this Bank Holiday weekend, but winter conditions and snow in excess of two metres deep present serious hazards. 

The conditions are making navigation in poor visibility particularly challenging above the 900 metre contour line. Some of the navigation cairns, relied on by many walkers traversing the summit plateau, are completely buried under snow, heightening the risk of accidents on The Ben’s renowned cliffs. 

What's more, the cool weather is set to continue into June, overlapping with the high season for Three Peaks Challenge attempts, when thousands attempt to climb the high peaks of Scotland, England and Wales in one 24 hour push. 

But in white-out conditions many of the plunging gullies on the north face of Ben Nevis are hard to spot until it is too late, and strong navigational skills are required to negotiate them safely.

Lack of skills

Heather Morning, Mountain Safety Adviser for the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, said: “For most of Britain, spring and early summer is definitely upon us; but on the high plateau of Ben Nevis it is a very different story. The conditions up there are very difficult to imagine when you set off from Fort William, which can easily lead walkers to underestimate what dangers they will encounter. Appropriate clothing, footwear and navigation skills are essential to make a safe ascent of the mountain.”

Heather's warning is directed in particular to the growing proportion of walkers who do not have basic map reading skills.

Heather explains “I often meet walkers on snow covered hills whose only method of navigation is to follow the footprints in the snow ahead. Footprints can get covered with new snow or wind-blown snow drifts within minutes on Ben Nevis. They can also lead you off into dangerous and steep terrain.”

Three Peaks

Ben Nevis’ iconic status brings with it additional mountain safety challenges due to the high proportion of first time walkers and ‘Three Peaks’ charity challenge walkers who attempt it.

The season for Three Peaks attempts tends to peak around the June solstice - less than a month away. But with its northerly latitude and standing nearly 1000 feet taller than Scafell Pike or Snowdon, conditions on Scotland’s highest mountain can be very different to its English and Welsh cousins.

Respect the weather

The MCofS and the BMC are calling on hillwalkers to respect Ben Nevis’ unseasonable winter conditions and call into the Glen Nevis Ranger Base to obtain a map, weather information and advice regarding underfoot conditions before starting their ascent, alongside using web-based weather resources in advance of setting out.

Heather adds “People have often invested a good deal of time, effort and money to attempt their climb on Ben Nevis and it is a difficult decision to turn around, particularly if other people are carrying on. But, the mountain will always be there, the trick is to make sure that you are too”.

For more information contact Heather Morning, Mountain Safety Advisor with the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, on 01479 861241 or by email. 

READ: Essential winter know-how

ESSENTIAL LINKS: Get a heads-up before you go out

Specific weather information for Ben Nevis can be viewed at www.bennevisweather.co.uk/weather.asp

Information on appropriate clothing and equipment can be viewed at www.mcofs.org.uk/winter-check-list.asp

Met Office Mountain Weather: www.metoffice.gov.uk/public/weather/mountain-forecast

Mountain Weather Information Service: www.mwis.org.uk

Scottish Avalanche Information Service: www.sais.gov.uk

THREE PEAKS: Planning a Three Peaks attempt? Check out the Three Peaks Partnership website for information

WATCH: Choosing winter boots and crampons on BMC TV

WATCH: Kit: what's different in winter, on BMC TV

WATCH: How to choose an ice axe, on BMC TV

WATCH: How to carry an ice axe, on BMC TV

WATCH: Conditions and weather, on BMC TV

WATCH: Route choice: what's different in winter, on BMC TV

WATCH: Kicking steps and an introduction to self-arrest, on BMC TV

WATCH: Winter navigation tips, on BMC TV

WATCH: Travelling in the winter hills, on BMC TV

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