Sunday 28th November: Storm Arwen had left the area and the forecast was good, a mate and I decided to do Ledge Route, with the plan to come back down via CMD. We left the North Face carpark about 0720, made our way to the CIC hut, and got up Ledge Route with no issues. Really decent conditions - just lots of soft snow, with no icy sections, and a relatively easy ascent.
We had lunch in the summit shelter, and then descended the shoulder to the CMD. We saw a group quite a long way ahead of us - after about 20 mins we realised they were coming towards us, but very slowly! We reached them about 300 m short of the summit of CMD itself - it was now 1430. They were actually spread out over about 50 m, so we had a chat with the guy at the front and pointed out sunset was in less than 1.5 hrs, and they were moving pretty slowly. At their current rate they'd probably still be on the ridge as it was getting dark. We convinced him (and he convinced his friends when they caught up) that they should turn around. The group was 3 guys in their 20s. Given their obvious lack of experience, my mate and I thought we should stay with them for the walk down. One of the group seemed particularly uncomfortable on the ridge (because of the conditions, exposure, and snow) - it actually took more than 30 mins for all 3 of them to get back to the summit of CMD. Given sunset was now fairly soon, and the distance still to cover, I decided to take a pretty direct route down to the main track leading up to the CIC hut, rather than trudge through the snow over to Carn Beag Dearg. However, the 3 guys were so uncomfortable and unused to moving in those kind of conditions, the descent was incredibly slow - even with me creating path / steps for them all to follow. It took until about 2030 to get them down to the main path. Once on that, they were a bit happier that they were on solid ground(!) and moved a bit faster. We got back to the carpark at just about 2300
From the time we spent with them, we found out:
- they'd hired boots and crampons from a shop in Fort William
- they hadn't left the North Face carpark till about 10
- for 2 of them, this was their first *ever* Scottish mountain (and they thought CMD in full winter conditions would be a good intro! They definitely realised they'd underestimated the conditions once they were on the ridge, and when they were on the descent with us) - the other guy said he had about 20 days of experience, but had done virtually nothing in winter.
- they had one headtorch between the 3 of them
- no flask
- carrying a rope but I don't think they really knew how to use it
- very small rucksacks
- very little extra clothing / no spare gloves
It was a standard example of how relatively inexperienced walkers underestimate how difficult the route would be, and how much extra longer the journey would take as a result of both the snow and the scrambling.
I think that despite the press releases that Mountaineering Scotland / BMC put out every year, either these doesn't always reach all the people who should take heed of the advice, or they think that the warnings don't apply to them.
I'd like to think that with more stories of how quickly conditions can deteriorate / how difficult even quite simple summer routes can be in summer, people will think twice about attempting routes like this, but I know it's within human nature for some folk to want to attempt "adventures" like this, regardless of prior experience.
In this instance, several human factors probably played a role:
- expert halo (relying on the decisions of those perceived to have more experience, skill, knowledge or assertion)
- social facilitation (tendency to increase the amount of risk one is willing to undertake as a result of the presence of other group members)
- Consistency (propensity for someone to stick with prearranged decisions – those often focused on timelines, routes and descents) - the group didn't appear to consider the possibility of turning back until we advised them to. They hadn't really thought about how much more difficult the ridge would be if they continued, and were still on the ridge at nightfall
Route Selection, Inadequate equipment, clothing or footwear
Rescue Services Involved?
24 December 2021 at 18:29:25
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All reports are self-submitted and have not been edited by the BMC in any way, so please keep an open mind regarding the lessons and causes of each incident or near-miss.