Climbers in Cairngorms avalanche 'got off lightly'

image captionA boulder among avalanche debris found by SAIS observers last winter

A mountain skills instructor has said six climbers "got off lightly" after an avalanche swept them back across boulders they were using as protection.

Sean Roberts was one of three off duty instructors who went to their aid shortly after helping a man hurt in an earlier slide in the Cairngorms.

The six walked away from their avalanche with cuts and bruises.

Saturday's incidents have pushed the number of avalanches recorded so far this winter season to 99.

The total number of avalanche occurrences recorded by the Sportscotland Avalanche Information Service (SAIS) for the winter of 2009-10 was 220.

At the weekend, Mr Roberts and two other off duty instructors from Glenmore Lodge national outdoor training centre helped eight people caught in two separate snow slides.

In the first, a man was injured and had to be airlifted by an RAF helicopter to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness for treatment. His companion was able to walk off the hill.

The second avalanche happened shortly after and swept away six climbers.

Mr Roberts told BBC Scotland Radio: "They definitely got off lightly. There was potential to be buried in that avalanche."

Hazard 'recognised'

He said that on their way up towards the Cairngorm Plateau they had been "hugging" large boulders to stay off areas of snow that posed a risk of avalanche.

Mr Roberts added: "They recognised themselves there was a hazard."

According to the SAIS, 176 of last winter's avalanches were natural events and 44 were triggered by people.

Of the 44, nine were triggered deliberately by ski patrols and SAIS observers during risk assessments.

Fourteen incidents were caused by skiers and snowboarders and 21 by climbers or walkers.

Five people died in the hills last winter.

Teachers Rupert Rosedale, 37, from Wiltshire, and 34-year-old William Wilkinson, from Inverness, were swept to their deaths on Ben Nevis on 30 December 2009.

Another man, Chris Astill, 54, from Tideswell in Derbyshire, died in an avalanche at Torridon on the same day.

Christopher Walker, 29, from Keswick, Cumbria, and Robert Pritchard, 37, from New Malden, south west London, were killed by a snow slide in Glencoe.

The two others died in falls.

Scout leader Stephen Young, 18, of Kent, died on Creag Meagaidh in Inverness-shire and Dr Timothy Garn, 27, a researcher in extragalactic astrophysics at the Royal Observatory of Edinburgh, was killed while climbing Ben Lui, near Tyndrum.

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