What’s the UK’s most dan­ger­ous moun­tain?

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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.

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