Google criticised for sending walkers on ‘potentially fatal’ Ben Nevis routes

Scottish mountaineering charities have hit out at Google for suggesting routes up Ben Nevis and other Munros they say are “potentially fatal” and could direct walkers over a cliff.

The John Muir Trust, which looks after the upper reaches of the UK’s highest mountain, said its attempts to contact the company over the issue have “so far have been met with silence”.

The charity said certain searches for routes up Ben Nevis on Google Maps direct users to the car park nearest the summit as the crow flies, and then indicate a walking route that is “highly dangerous, even for experienced climbers”.

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A screenshot from Google Maps issued by Mountaineering Scotland showing a dangerous 'route' up Ben Nevis.

Nathan Berrie, Nevis conservation officer for the trust, said: “The problem is that Google Maps directs some visitors to the Upper Falls car park, presumably because it is the closest car park to the summit.

“But this is not the correct route and we often come across groups of inexperienced walkers heading towards Steall Falls or up the south slopes of Ben Nevis believing it is the route to the summit.”

Heather Morning, Mountaineering Scotland’s mountain safety adviser, said that even experienced climbers would have trouble with the suggested route.

“For those new to hillwalking, it would seem perfectly logical to check out Google Maps for information on how to get to your chosen mountain,” she said.

“But when you input Ben Nevis and click on the ‘car’ icon, up pops a map of your route, taking you to the car park at the head of Glen Nevis, followed by a dotted line appearing to show a route to the summit.

“Even the most experienced mountaineer would have difficulty following this route. The line goes through very steep, rocky, and pathless terrain where even in good visibility it would be challenging to find a safe line. Add in low cloud and rain and the suggested Google line is potentially fatal.”

The charity said Google also directs users into “life-threatening terrain” for other Munros.

It said for An Teallach in the north-west Highlands, a walking route suggested by the search engine would take people over a cliff.

Ms Morning added: “It’s all too easy these days to assume that information on the internet is all good stuff, correct, up to date and safe.

“Sadly, experience shows this is not the case and there have been a number of incidents recently where following routes downloaded off the internet have resulted in injury or worse.”

Mountaineering Scotland and The John Muir Trust recommended climbers cross-check information on a map or consult a local guide.

A Google spokesperson said: “We’ve investigated the issue at Ben Nevis, and have confirmed that our walking directions do not lead people through dangerous routes.

“Our driving directions currently route people to the Nevis Gorge trailhead car park – the lot closest to the summit – which has prominent signs indicating that the trail is highly dangerous and for advanced hikers only.

“To help both novice and experienced hikers more easily find trails that suit their level of expertise, we’re now updating our driving routes to take people directly to the visitor centre, where they’ll be able to speak with staff about the best trail to take.”

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