DCSIMG

Analysis: ‘I do everything to avoid large open snow slopes’

  • by CAMERON McNEISH
 

This particular situation in Glencoe is awful and my thoughts are with the climbers and their families. It could happen to any of us.

I live in the Cairngorms, and there has been a lot of snow. But more importantly, in this situation there’s been a lot of wind as well – wind can be as big a contributory factor to avalanches.

From what I understand, there wasn’t a lot of lying snow in the Glencoe area when the accident occurred, but there has been a strong south-easterly wind. Those winds blow the snow that’s on the ground over the tops, where it settles in the lee of the summits and steep crags.

This snow then settles on the steep slopes, and forms what we know as windslab. The snow lies there on the slope and is very unstable. If someone comes along and disturbs it, that’s usually enough to make it avalanche.

I was avalanched in 1979. I was with a group of people and I remember plunging my ice axe into the snow, taking a few steps up, plunging the axe in again – and suddenly I was aware of a great horizontal crack appearing, 300m long, in front of me.

We just started falling backwards – like being on top of this great big plate of snow. It took us down 500ft, and the closest I can come to describe it is that it’s like drowning.

Fortunately, nobody was seriously injured in our avalanche, but even to this day, I will do everything to avoid walking up large open snow slopes.

There is an excellent online Avalanche Information Service at www.sais.gov.uk.

Winter hillwalkers need the right equipment, the right knowledge and be efficient in the right skills to enjoy a winter’s day in the Scottish hills and return home safely.

• Cameron McNeish is a mountaineer, author and broadcaster.

 
 
 

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