As the May Bank Holiday approaches, Cairngorm hill walkers are being urged to treat long-lying snow patches with caution.
Although it’s spring on lower ground, all the high mountains of Scotland are still hanging onto winter, and there are still substantial snowfields and snow patches lying across the routes up many popular hills.
Temperatures over the last week having been unseasonably low, with new snow falling on some of the higher mountain tops, and much of the old snow people encounter may be hard and icy, posing a significant threat to anyone not properly equipped.
Heather Morning, mountain safety advisor with Mountaineering Scotland, said: "Every year at this time, folk get into difficulties when encountering old snow patches. Sadly, a slip and subsequent slide in the wrong place does sometimes result in fatalities."
She added: "These snow patches will often be hard and located high up on the shady, north side of the mountain. Many traditional mountain routes cross through such terrain and are the usual choice for Munro baggers. Hill walkers are advised to treat these old snow patches with caution, particularly if the ‘run out’ below is over steep or rocky ground. Route choice is really important and hill walkers should consider a ‘snow free’ alternative or simply turn around.
"My advice, if you don’t have the kit or knowledge to deal with hard snow, is to adjust your plan and enjoy a day out on one of our fabulous lower hills or glens where there is no chance of encountering old snow patches.
"If you are planning to head up onto the higher mountains take a good look at the mountain weather forecasts. If temperatures at 900m are forecast to be below freezing then my advice would be to still have your winter kit with you - a rigid pair of boots, crampons and an ice axe. Check out mountain-specific weather conditions at www.mwis.org.uk"
Carey Davies, the British Mountaineering Council’s Hill Walking Development Officer, said: "It’s important to remember there can be a big difference in climatic conditions across different parts of Britain, especially in spring. The south of England can have sunny T-shirt weather while the Cairngorms are still in sub-Arctic snow conditions. Even lowland Scotland can be a completely different world to the upper reaches of the Highlands".
"When spring arrives a lot of people feel the pull of the mountains and want to get up high again. But don’t forget to check the weather forecast carefully and be prepared for things like snow fields and cornices."
Pictured: Loch Etchachan and Ben MacDui in the heart of the Cairngorms – still under snow and ice at the beginning of May