Saturday, January 19, 2013


From the Daily Mail. This is Bidean. The avalanche was in a valley - as ever - and they were on their way down - as ever

Webcam showing the area now

This is a webcam from the Kingshouse Hotel, which lies in a moorland area, about 5 miles from where the accident took place. You can see very little snow, even high up on the mountains looking South. The accident took place in the Glen itself. They must have been swept away, their feet going from under them sliding down the hill.  

It is so sad this. So awful for their families, and friends. Awful for the survivors, too.

The Scottish avalanche warning system had warned of wind-swept snow lying on top of soft snow in  the Glencoe area together with warnings for the other districts of Lochaber, and in the Grampians. This can easily be dislodged by human movement. At this time of year it is not unusual to have this warning. It does not need deep snow, just unstable snow. To-day six winter climbers dislodged it. Four people have died, a woman is badly injured and one escaped. Apparently other walkers raised the alarm

They do not have to be idiots, they do not have to have bad equipment, they do not have to be inexperienced. They can be totally expert in every sense. But they had bad luck. Like probably 40 others people in the area  they were just out on the most wonderful mountain on a fine day, enjoying the spectacular scenery. They were walking home, towards the area where the infamous "Glencoe massacre" took place 330 years ago, in February.

The usual advice is to move one at a time in an avalanche prone area. You can often "feel" it to be unsafe, just an instinct. Climbers learn to rely on it. 90% of avalanches are caused by the movement of people.

This one was in a dangerous area. The wind direction was from the South, that leaves drifting snow on the lee side of the mountain which is where they were. It would look safe, but snow lies in layers of different ages. When one of these starts to slide, you get catastrophe.

Yes, I know it puts a big strain on the rescue services. They are truly good people, and truly expert. One of their big problems is to avoid starting another avalanche themselves.

The accident happened in the area of the highest mountain in Glencoe, Bidean. It took place at a place called  Church Door Buttress at about 2pm. The Central gully, next door to it, is known as an easy winter climb. This is probably where they were. The area has had beautiful weather and not even a lot of snow.

There has been a run of avalanche accidents in the past five years in this area.. 3 climbers were killed in January 2009 at the notorious Buchaille Etive Mhor.The following year near the same spot  two climbers were killed and one escaped from an avalanche.

The avalanche forecast for Glencoe was
"Poorly bonded windslab will persist, mainly on West through North to East aspects above 800 metres. These deposits will mainly be hard windslab, often overlying a weak softer layer. Soft windslab will also be present in places. The avalanche hazard will be Considerable."

The website for avalanche prediction is

So terribly terribly sad. Winter climbing carries these objective dangers with it. Don't stop them. Don't stop Formula 1 drivers either, nor soldiers in Afghanistan, nor horse riding come to that. They are all dangerous. Including cycling in London.

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