An injured skier has been taken to hospital after a marathon rescue mission in extreme conditions on one of the country’s highest mountains.
The man, aged in his 30s, was found and taken to safety in a 12-hour operation after falling 200m through an overhanging ledge of snow while navigating in whiteout conditions on the summit of Aonach Beag near Ben Nevis at the weekend.
A team of 22 mountain rescuers and the coastguard’s Rescue 951 helicopter were called out at midday on Sunday to search for the skier, but efforts to reach the man were hampered by bad weather on the 1,234m-high peak.
Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team said the expedition was its “most difficult and technical rescue” in the past year.
High winds and limited visibility meant the helicopter was forced to drop the team around 1.5km away from the summit.
Four volunteers climbed about 1,000m up the north-east face of the mountain before being forced to retreat because of “deep unstable snow” and a high risk of avalanches.
They were finally able to reach the casualty around 11.20pm and administer first aid before winching him back to the summit and stretchering him off the mountain.
He was taken to Belford Hospital in Fort William and then transferred for treatment in Edinburgh.
His injuries are said to be serious but not life-threatening.
The call-out was Lochaber MRT’s 16th in past month, in what the team has described as “some of the most challenging winter conditions experienced in a very long time”.
A spokesman said: “The first rescue was on 16 January and we have been having roughly four call-outs per week.
“So far this year we have put in nearly 3,000 volunteer hours on rescues alone.
“This year has been exceptional and we have to go back to 2010 since we have had conditions equivalent to what we are experiencing.”
Meanwhile, searches are ongoing for two other people who have gone missing in separate incidents in the region.
One is a Polish national who fell through a cornice near the summit of Ben Nevis and into Observatory Gully.
The other is a local climber from the Fort William area who suffered a similar accident on Beinn a Chaorinn.
Again, challenging conditions have thwarted rescuers.
The Lochaber MRT spokesman added: “There is so much snow and until the thaw, which started yesterday, the snow pack has been unconsolidated and therefore we have had considerable avalanche risk most of the time.
“The depth of snow build-up due to regular heavy falls and avalanches has resulted in snow pack depths in excess of 15 metres in the locations where we are looking for the two missing people.
“We will continue to search but may need a significant change in the weather pattern to shift the snow, which judging from forecast is not likely to happen in very near future.”
There have already been more than 120 avalanches this winter, compared to a total of 90 during the whole of last season.
A Lochaber MRT spokesman said: “Conditions have meant rescuers from many mountain rescue teams in Scotland having to go out in very difficult and dangerous conditions.”
Lochaber is the busiest mountain rescue team in Scotland. It consists of 45 volunteers and is funded largely by donations from the public.
The team usually responds to around 100 call-outs annually, though mild weather and very little snow last winter saw the lowest number in a decade with just 78.