Published: 31/10/2013 16:56 - Updated: 31/10/2013 17:05

Timely Cairngorms winter danger warning issued

The Chalamain Gap where an avalanche claimed three lives in February
The Chalamain Gap where an avalanche claimed three lives in February

A timely warning has been published warning of conditions which presented "a misleading perception of a benign landscape" as the first mountain rescue of the winter was carried out.

A huge search was mounted on Monday evening in the Cairngorms for two freezing and exhausted hillwalkers who were ultimately found in the Devil’s Point area near Cairn Toul.

Teams from the Highlands, Grampian and Tayside linked up to scour the mountain , with the added assistance of volunteers from Braemar and the local Cairngorm rescue team.

The walkers were eventually found on the high plateau suffering the effects of hypothermia. They were airlifted to Braemar’s rescue centre by the RAF.

At the same time, Sport Scotland Avalanche Information Service has just released its report on the bitter winter of 2012/13 which included the loss of three lives in an avalanche in the Chalamain Gap on February 14.

Those who perished were Squadron Leader Rimon Than (33), a doctor from RAF Valley in North Wales; Flight Lieutenant Fran Capps (32), of Royal Air Force Odiham in Hampshire; and 18-year-old William Currie, 18, from Penzance, Cornwall, died.

Scottish Avalanche Information Service co-ordinator Mark Diggins states on the deaths in his report: " . . the effect of the avalanche was amplified due to the debris being confined into a narrow valley resulting in deep burials and tragic consequences."

There were 19 human triggered avalanches for 2012/13 but eight deaths in Scotland compared to 28 triggered avalanches and no deaths the previous winter.

In the report Mr Diggins states: "Our perception of the Scottish winter mountain landscape can often be misleading, especially when the weather is good and snow cover is limited, knowing what is lying under the surface of the snow and how it is distributed is important information which can help greatly with the planning of excursions.

"Although during the winter three avalanches with tragic consequences occurred, it was also a winter that provided some of the best climbing and mountain walking conditions for many years and many thousands of people were able to enjoy the magnificent Scottish mountain landscape in all its wild beauty."

The SAIS also revealed that the past winter was a much busier period for the Scottish avalanche service compared to the one before. There were a total of 133 operational days for 2012/13 compared to 119 in 2011/12.

They said this was largely due to the prolonged cold temperatures created unstable snowpacks until late Spring 2013. The Northern and Southern Cairngorms had the most unstable snowpack with 80 per cent of the forecast period having hazard levels of moderate, considerable or high.

The service, which is due to start again shortly, now provides avalanche reports ready for mobile phones, tablets and PCs, and there is also a SMS text service for a small payment.

Last year there were 384,556 views of the avalanche reports between December, 2012 and April 2013 with most being accessed in England (58.66 per cent) followed by Scotland (37.79 per cent).

Mr Diggins has repeatedly stressed the need to have the latest information available when venturing into the hills in wintery conditions.

• For more visit www.sais.gov.uk

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