Being male, not being able to look beyond your mobile phone and being unfamiliar with avalanche forecasting: these are critical risk factors in the mountains of Scotland, according to the country’s leading climbing expert.
Heather Morning, who took up her role as lead instructor at Glenmore Lodge, Scotland’s national outdoor training centre, earlier this month, urges visitors to ‘think winter’ this spring, as Scotland Police Scotland revealed on Friday that mountain rescues have risen 40% in recent weeks, with climbers misreading treacherous conditions on the peaks. Seven people have died in the hills this month alone.
Morning, who is based in Aviemore, 50 miles northeast of Fort William, said: “In March, we have more daylight hours, and in the valley here it feels like summer. People are not convinced of the fact that you might still need an ice ax and crampons at heights.”
With snow still falling in the Cairngorms, warmer days and freezing nights combine to make conditions even more dangerous, with meltwater turning to hard ice.
“Inevitably, we see deaths from people stepping on old, hard snow, taking flight and hurtling onto rocks or cliffs. The loss of life is complex, but there are definitely some trends. Virtually all deaths in the Scottish mountains are men. Men over 60 are the demographic that gets into trouble.”
In her previous position as a mountain safety advisor at Mountaineering Scotland, Morning analyzed data covering a seven-year period to early 2019 and found that women made up just 10 of the 114 deaths.
She said: “You make generalizations about male and female attributes regarding risk taking and it obviously doesn’t reflect everyone, but from the many years I’ve spent coaching people, guys tend to overestimate their ability and try. and don’t think they need formal skills training, while the ladies tend to lean the other way.”
Women, in Morning’s experience, have much less confidence in their own abilities and are more willing to attend, for example, a navigation course, “which some people consider irrelevant, when it is the absolute pillar of safety in the boat.” mountain”. She estimates that about 25% of mountain rescue incidents are the result of the “basic navigation error of putting people in the wrong place.”
This male reluctance to learn about navigation overlaps with the assumption among many young people that all they need is an app. “As a younger person, your whole life revolves around your mobile phone, so it seems very natural to take it into the mountainous environment, whereas a map and compass feel outdated,” she said.
It is one more challenge to educate people who do not consider outdoor resources to be relevant to them. “If we take the classic example of someone driving from the south to climb Ben Nevis, I suspect most people you meet on the main road will never have heard of avalanche forecasting.”
Morning, who originally trained as a typist before learning about the Mountain Leader program while volunteering at a local youth club, believes that while women are increasingly embracing outdoor adventure as much as men, this equality is not translates into those applying for leadership qualifications.
she advised bonnie bootsthe Glasgow-based group that organizes women-only hiking sessions for women from ethnic backgrounds, and has further plans for a training program to encourage more Bame women to take the path of leadership.
His decades in the mountains have taught him to never make assumptions about an individual’s climbing capabilities, and this extends to dogs. He remembers his initial surprise when a “little chihuahua” arrived with his owner to attend a boating course he was teaching in the Ochills.
“Oh my gosh, it was tough as nails. The thing came off the hill dirty, having had a ball and done something like 18 Munros. So never judge a book by its cover,” he said.