Most snow in hills in 69 years, says Hamish MacInnes

By Steven McKenzie
BBC Scotland Highlands and Islands reporter

image copyrightAndreas Heinzl/Unexplored Scotland
image captionA climber at the top of North Gully on An Teallach

World-renowned climber Hamish MacInnes believes this winter in Scotland's mountains is the snowiest since 1945.

He said he had not seen such "colossal volumes" of snow since he started climbing as a youngster 69 years ago.

Dumfries and Galloway-born Mr MacInnes is also the inventor of mountaineering equipment, including a stretcher.

He said: "The first time I went climbing was in 1945 and I remember cutting our way through snow in Glencoe.

"I've not seen anything like it until now.

"This covering of snow we have just now is very alpine. There is a very defined demarcation line between where the snow starts and the bare grass below.

"The volume of snow is colossal. It has been falling for weeks now."

Mr MacInnes, whose first climb was Buachaille Etive Mor, added: "The biggest accumulations have been on the main plateaus."

He said the snow at the highest levels was powder, which for walkers is tiring to hike through and is also unstable, raising the risk of avalanches.

Mr MacInnes, who has written extensively on hillwalking and climbing, said climate change could be a cause of this year's heavy snowfalls. He said he had been critical of climate change science in the past.

"I wrote an apology to the people who predicted climate change," he said.

"I thought it was just a historical pattern, it probably is to a large extent, but I did kind of poo-pooed the idea of climate change."

The veteran mountaineer added: "This snow is not just something happening in Scotland.

"This turmoil is throughout the world. I have been in contact with people from all over the world, people in rescue teams, and they have got the same pattern - even more pronounced than us."

Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team, the UK's busiest MRT, has suggested that the snow and also frequent strong winds have discouraged some walkers and climbers from heading into the hills.

Team leader John Stevenson told BBC Radio Scotland: "It has been a quiet year. People are either behaving themselves, or the conditions are too bad for them to go out.

"The conditions haven't been good this winter. There is no big route climbing going on."

image copyrightAndreas Heinzl/Unexplored Scotland
image captionA walker on a winter skills course amid falling snow in the Cairngorms
image copyrightAndreas Heinzl/Unexplored Scotland
image captionSnow holing at Ciste Mhearad in the Cairngorms
image copyrightSAIS Southern Cairngorms
image captionDogs give scale to blocks of avalanche debris in the Southern Cairngorms
image copyrightSAIS Glencoe
image captionAvalanche debris in Glencoe
image copyrightAndreas Heinzl/Unexplored Scotland
image captionWalkers on a winter skills course in Coire na Ciste in the Cairngorms
image copyrightAndreas Heinzl/Unexplored Scotland
image captionWalker descending descending off Bidein a' Ghlas Thuill with large cornices on north east and east aspects

Mr Stevenson said there were plenty of safe areas for walkers to enjoy, but said they should check weather and avalanche risk forecasts before heading out and also make sure that they are well equipped for winter conditions.

The team leader said even highly experienced mountaineers could be caught out.

He said that during a call-out on Saturday two members of the Lochaber team fell through a cornice - an overhanging edge of snow - and another was caught in an avalanche. All three were unhurt.

Mr Stevenson said: "It always something we have to expect will happen, but I think this time the boys got a bit of a wake up call."

He added: "There have been some huge avalanches this winter. You can see them from the road."

The Sportscotland Avalanche Information Service (SAIS) has recorded 219 avalanches so far this season, 116 of them in the last month.

Last winter, the service recorded 129 avalanches.

SAIS forecasters and winter skills instructors including Andreas Heinzl have been photographing the conditions this winter in areas such as the Cairngorms, Glencoe and Torridon.

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