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Please heed the warnings if you are planning on climbing in Scotland over the next few days.

January 26, 2009

Buachaille Etive Mor, near Glencoe in Scotland, was the scene of a  triple tragedy on Saturday. Three other triple fatalities have happened in the area in the past 15 years.

Avalanche tragedy

9 people in total, in at last 2 separate parties,  were caught up in the avalanche in the Scottish highlands.

Buchaile Etive Mor is known for its distinctive shape, which looks like a pyramid. The mountain’s highest point is at 3,352 feet (approx. 1.020m).

Mountains of Glencoe Scotland

The route the  climbers took yesterday is a popular walk in the summer for amateur hill walkers but in winter it is more difficult to ascend and is normally only tackled by experienced climbers.

The 3 climbers who died,  brothers Eamonn Murphy, 61, from Carrick­fergus, Co Antrim, and John Murphy, 63, from Portrush, Co Antrim, and Brian Murray, 46, from Monifieth, Tayside, were experienced climbers who were taking the “easy” way up Coire na Tulaich, a gully about 10 metres wide by 20 metres deep, when the avalanche struck at about midday on Saturday. The snow could have been moving at up to 75mph. They, along with 6 others, were engulfed by thousands of tonnes of snow.

Experts said last night that although the climbers had not been reckless, the deaths were a reminder of the dangers of the mountain. Hamish MacInnes, 78, a founder of the Avalanche Board, which assesses the risks of avalanches in Scotland, said: “There are a lot of avalanches on this particular mountain.”

“It’s a miracle we survived. We have never experienced anything like this in all our climbs on the mountains”, said Jim Coyne, who, along with his friend, David Barr were climbing together when the avalanche swept down the mountain. David was taken to hospital with a shoulder injury.

Police warned people to keep off the mountain amid fears of more avalanches. The avalanche risk at the time was “considerable”, a category 3 out of 5, according to Scotland’s official Avalanche Information Service. It rose to 4 today.

The mountains of Glencoe are built from some of the oldest sedimentary and volcanic strata in the world. They were subsequently moulded, sheared and repositioned by a geological event known as a ‘cauldron subsidence’ which took place 380 million years ago. The mountains which first greet the visitor arriving from the south are the strikingly beautiful and instantly recognisable peaks of the Buachaille Etive Mor and Buachaille Etive Beag, – ‘The great’ and ‘The little’ Shepherds of Etive.

Glen Coe is a very popular tourist destination; partly because of its scenic qualities and historical associations, partly because it is on the main road north, and also because of its attraction for walkers and climbers. It is famous for the quality, and variety of its winter climbing, most of its routes being comparatively easy of access from the main road.

Rock climbers concentrate on the Buachaille Etive Mor (1018 m), often called simply “The Beuckle”, and on the various routes on the Three Sisters (shoulders of Bidean nam Bian). For adventurous experienced walkers, the finest mainland scramble in the UK is the  Aonach Eagach.

Our thoughts are with the families and friends of everyone affected by this tragedy.

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One comment

  1. Whilst being very saddened by this tragedy, I cannot understand why experienced people continue to venture into this corrie in winter. It is the most notorious in Scotland for avalanches. The ironic aspect is that there is a perfectly good and interesting route up the mountain which does not require ropes for ascending and descending – the ridge to the right hand side of the corrie. It seems that very few people are aware of this or perhaps they have other motives which I am not aware of. There is no need whatsoever to go into this deadly corrie.
    The first time I did this hill was on a snowy January day. No avalanche forecasts then. I just took one look at the corrie headwall and the alarm bells rung. Decided to venture up the ridge and see how things went – it turned out to be perfectly fine with great views all around.



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