Hillwalkers who attempt to tackle Britain’s highest mountain wearing trainers have been described as “foolhardy” and “stupid”.
• John Stevenson, Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team leader, says lives are being put at risk by acts of ‘stupidity’
• He claimed that part of the problem was the route being classified as a ‘tourist path’
• He says the route should be renamed ‘a mountain track’
Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team leader John Stevenson, whose patrol includes the snow and ice-covered Ben Nevis, claims lives are being put at risk by such “acts of sheer stupidity”.
His team, the UK’s busiest mountain rescue unit, has been called out twice this week to assist walkers off the peak, all attempting the 4,409ft ascent in sports shoes.
He said: “You would not believe the stupidity of some people. You wouldn’t attempt Ben Nevis in the best summer weather with trainers on, so why on earthy they think they can tackle it with snow and ice and blizzard conditions at the top is beyond me.”
The 58-year-old claimed part of the problem was the route being classified a “tourist path”, saying it should be renamed a “mountain track”.
His warning about ill-equipped walkers taking to the hills comes as the death toll on Scotland’s peaks has reached 14 so far this year.
The Lochaber team were called out at the weekend when two men wearing trainers became stuck on a steep snow slope near the summit.
The pair were airlifted off the mountain by an RAF Lossiemouth Sea King helicopter.
On Wednesday, the rescue team was out again to go to the aid of a female walker who had fallen while attempting the climb in trainers.
Mr Stevenson said: “Her footwear again was totally inadequate. We spoke to her and said, ‘you have to try and get yourself out of it’.
“Obviously we are ready to go up if needed, but ultimately everyone who goes out in the hills has to take responsibility for themselves.”
It follows another rescue in January when a 31-year-old walker fell on the main track.
A full search and rescue operation was launched involving police, 18 mountain rescuers and a Royal Navy helicopter from HMS Gannet, Prestwick.
The injured man was airlifted to Belford Hospital in Fort William for a leg injury and the effects of the cold.
Mr Stevenson said the incident could have turned to tragedy.
He said: “He’s an extremely lucky young man to have survived. His equipment was just rubbish – he had nothing. He was wearing trainers and didn’t have a torch.
“He did everything we tell people not to do. When we found him he’d lost one trainer, the backside was out of his trousers and he was wet and cold.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that he would not have survived the night if he hadn’t phoned in on his mobile, and we were lucky enough to find him.
“He didn’t actually set off on his ascent until 11am, having come straight off the train atFort William. That’s just a ridiculous time to be starting out when darkness falls at about 4pm. It’s crazy and not on at all.”
Mr Stevenson said he found it increasingly frustrating that, despite annual messages from rescue teams, climbing organisations and the police, walkers were still heading to the mountains ill-equipped for the conditions.
He added: “People need to be prepared. They need to heed the advice about having proper equipment and clothing.
“The thing is, so many people get away with it every year, but unfortunately many don’t and end up injured – or worse.”
Mr Stevenson said: “One of the problems is it being called a ‘path’. It’s not a path. It’s a track, and that’s putting it at best.
“At this time of year it’s solid up there. All the loose snow has blown away and the stuff that’s left is rock hard and it’s been trampled on.
“They have to follow footprints when they get to the top but of course the wind blows them away and the tracks are leadng al over the summit. It’s very easy to get lost up there.”
Pair found safe and well
Meanwhile, two men have been found safe and well after spending the night in the Cairngorms in the Highlands.
The men were reported lost at about 7pm on Thursday, after a day’s climbing in the area.
The search involved teams from RAF Leuchars, RAF Lossiemouth, Cairngorm, Glenmore Lodge, Braemar and search and rescue dogs.
The climbers were found on Ben MacDui at 10am. They were uninjured but suffering the effects of the cold.
A Police Scotland spokesman said they were flown by RAF rescue helicopter to the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Base.