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  Fatal avalanche on Buachaille Etive Mor - Monday, January 26, 2009

It was a sad weekend for our namesake mountain with an avalanche killing 3 people on Saturday afternoon.

We're not going to regurgitate the information in the papers, however, it's worth noting that despite the press repeatedly referring to the victims as "climbers" (which was technically correct), they were actually on the walkers' route (Coire na Tulaich) when the incident occurred. This makes the incident even more sobering - these poor souls weren't climbing on the face on the Buachaille but simply ascending the same path tens of thousands of walkers/climbers use each year.

SAIS had rated the avalanche risk as category 3 for Glencoe on Saturday. Looking at the text of the forecast (see below), it looks like they got it spot on (Coire na Tulaich faces NNE).

Its been another showery day with snow showers above 300 metres accompanied by brisk South-Westerly winds. New accumulations of soft slab have continued to form in sheltered locations and field tests showed several weakly bonded layers within the snowpack. The greatest accumulations of unstable snow is above 850 metres on North-West through North to East aspects. The avalanche hazard is Considerable (Category 3).

To be honest, many winter walkers go out in Category 3's without necessarily thinking too much about the avalanche risk. It's true this was a freak incident, however, anyone who has done a fair amount of winter walking in Scotland (or read Barton and Wright's Chance in Million) will know that avalanches are very commmon in Scotland. The reason this particular avalanche was so fatal is purely down to the popularity of the route and therefore the number of walkers in close proximity when the avalanche occurred.

The SAIS provide a great service - we should all continue to make good use of it and encourage others to do the same.

Our thoughts are with the families of those involved.

Related BBC news article

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