What’s the UK’s most dangerous mountain?
Q Which of the UK’s mountains is regarded as the most dangerous in winter in terms of accidents, injuries and deaths? Tony Bateman, Thetford
Jeremy says It’s arguably wrong to class a particular mountain as the ‘most dangerous’ since simply looking at stats from accidents wildly skews findings towards popular peaks. It’s probably better to look at blackspots and use them to inform us on how we can modify our behaviour to avoid accidents. The list of blackspots is fairly long so it’s useful to pull out a few notable examples.
The normal route up Buachaille Etive Mor via Coire na Tulaich (aka Langangarbh Coire) has seen a number of very serious avalanche incidents. Huge quantities of wind-driven snow regularly accumulate, but people still use it as it’s the easiest route in winter and is perceived as safe. Avalanche forecasts are available for Glencoe and should be heeded, and the skill to make your own slope assessment is vital for this sort of route. If you find yourself on the topside of the slope needing to descend and it’s unstable, the scrambling line down the ridge on the western side of the corrie, although harder, is a less risky route.
Sharp Edge when dry and calm is a perfectly amiable Grade 1 scramble, but is a different beast altogether in the damp with high winds, or in winter conditions. Mist is perhaps the most misleading, and therefore dangerous, condition to affect it since the moisture it brings turns the rock (slate) slick at a few key points, thus denying positive footholds. Competent movement skills are required to overcome this situation so leave Sharp Edge for a dry and sunny day if you are inexperienced in the hills.
In snowless conditions, the walk out and back to Ben Macdui from the comfort of the high-level car park at Coire Cas is a fairly easy experience, and those who have undertaken it in summer might expect the same to be true in winter. Sadly, many have found it not so!
Winter conditions on the Cairngorm plateau are among the most brutal you’ll find in the UK. Being almost featureless yet surrounded by high cliffs means you have to be spot-on with navigation for safe passage. Massive depths of snow obliterate what few features there are and, with frequent high winds whipping up white-outs and extreme low temperatures, if you are unable to retreat to safety your survival options become extremely limited. Having a strong set of winter skills and being able to navigate precisely in testing conditions will help, but probably the best approach is not to go out if poor conditions are forecast, or having the confidence to retreat early on your walk before you over-commit.
On the summit of Ben Macdui.