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Date of Incident

22/02/2023

Country

Scotland

Incident

Party of 3 intending to ascend Couloir - Grade 1 with one ice axe each. In fog and approaching from directly West, missed the approach hidden behind slab and ascended Grade 3/4+ Y Gulley Left Branch. The early ice was considered expected based on prior climb of Grade 1 days prior (Aladdins).
At the time the error was recognised, descent was not possible due to severe run off, no flat ground to stabilise on and lean conditions/thick ice on incline meant rucksacks were inaccessible from our position.
Called mountain rescue with hand jam in between rock and ice to stabilise, and held on with ice axe and crampons until rescue.

Lessons

1. Familiarity of Grade - we expected some ice and awkward approach, but did not have the level of experience to define a Grade 1 vs Grade 3 vs Grade 4.
2. Familiarity of area. From the image, it's clear which area is the lower Grade, however we didn't have this view on the day or from the recommended approach.
3. More equipment than the Grade. We intended a Grade 1, so we did not bring any harnesses, rope, protection, etc. Just 1 ice axe and crampons each.
A second ice axe may have given more security for a descent. If we had knowledge of how and where to set up additional protection retreat could have been safer.
4. Recognise the retreat/point of no return. We climbed past a point that would not be safe for us to retreat from with the equipment we had, with the prospect of a safer point to settle and regroup being slightly higher.
5. Have some Emergency equipment on your immediate person - if the headtorch was in my rucksack rather than my pocket, it might not have been possible to locate us after night fell.
6. Register 999 - we were fortunate I had phone signal in the gulley.
7. Phone batteries will discharge quickly in the cold - have a backup battery and charging cable, and keep it in an inside pocket when not in use.
8. The wait for help will be long. Sing / Joke to keep spirits up and also to check responsiveness/health of the party. Hypothermia has some psychological symptoms (confusion and dropping of consciousness).

Activity

Winter climbing

When

Ascending

Injury

No injury

Causes

Navigation Error, Route Selection, Inadequate equipment, clothing or footwear, Adverse Weather

Anonymous?

Yes

Reported By

Participant

Wearing Helmets?

Yes

Rescue Services Involved?

Cairngorms Mountain Rescue; Search & Rescue of our party

1. Intended route description. Note "Hidden from a distance", "Y Gulley Left Branch is the other side".
4. Shot down from Y Gulley via another climbing group. View looks similar to what was visible, though lake and ground was not visible for us (and we did not have a belay set up)
3. Map of the area - Pink area we approached from, Purple approximate position #2 was taken from.
2. Subsequent shot indicating our error from a different angle (image taken from another source/day) - Green arrow the route we should have taken; Red the route we did take.

Author

11 March 2023 at 09:03:12

For more advice and guidance on good practices visit BMC skills

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. 

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