THE search for two missing climbers could resume on the ground today, almost a week since they were last seen.
Rachel Slater, 24, and Tim Newton, 27, failed to return from a Valentine’s Day outing on Ben Nevis in Lochaber. But bad weather could continue to hamper efforts as the Met Office issued a yellow warning for snow and ice in the Highlands for today and tomorrow.
All ground and air searchers were suspended yesterday because of the extreme conditions, with the last helicopter surveys carried out on Thursday and the last ground ones on Monday. Officials said the situation was being reviewed “hour upon hour”.
Police teams leading the hunt on Britain’s highest peak have described attempts so far as “very frustrating” because of the bad weather. Heavy snow, fog and high winds – as well as the risk of avalanches – have led the local mountain rescue team to suspend ground searches for most of the week until conditions improve.
Aerial sweeps by HM Coastguard helicopter Rescue 951, along with Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team personnel, have found no trace of the pair.
Though there were possible sightings on Sunday, rescue teams and police have no definite route they can search. One witness said he saw two people at the summit at around 2-2.30pm on Valentine’s Day, but did not speak to them.
John Stevenson, leader of Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team, admitted the situation is frustrating but he was hopeful teams can get out on the mountain over the weekend.
He said: “We’re hoping to get a squad out tomorrow. We’re looking at getting localised searches of different areas.
“We’re going to go into the areas where the general public are not normally in during the week. It’s a bit dangerous in groups of twos or threes, so we’re really going to need to try and get a squad.
“We had the helicopter out yesterday with the team members doing some searches on board, but again, weather conditions have kept us fairly limited as to what we could do.”
The avalanche risk in Lochaber remains high, according to the Scottish Avalanche Information Service.
A climber was killed after an avalanche on Wednesday, just miles from Ben Nevis, and his companion remains in a serious condition in hospital.
Ms Slater’s family have flown from their home in Canada to be kept up to date with the search on Ben Nevis. In a joint statement with Mr Newton’s family released on Thursday, they thanked search and rescue teams for their work.
They added: “The overwhelming response from members of the public and the climbing community has greatly assisted the search effort and we appreciate all the support and words of encouragement.”