Letter: Climbers can see warnings in clouds

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The Independent Online
Sir: Peter Gillman's article (17 December) following the tragic death of Jane Thomas in the Cairngorms and the subsequent correspondence have emphasised that adequate clothing and equipment are essential for safety on the mountains. The article also rightly draws attention to fitness and ability to navigate but there is no mention of the need to watch continually for changes in the weather.

Jane and her fellow climber experienced fierce winds and resulting blizzard that developed earlier than forecast. But severe weather is almost always preceded for several hours by warning signs in the clouds: changes in cloud type, height and motion. Hillwalkers and climbers are well advised to recognise the signs and take action to reduce risks - part of the 'danger management' mentioned by Peter Gillman.

It may be that the two climbers were so absorbed in their ascent (it took longer than intended) that they forgot to keep an eye on the sky. Perhaps they had no choice, once started, but to go on to the summit plateau rather than retreat. Their task at the start would then have been to weigh up the chances of a slower ascent against an earlier storm. Were there no signs of an earlier storm at the start of the ascent? Some mountaineers may wish to go 'prepared for anything'. That does not seem to be good danger management. Is it not wiser to plan the day according to the forecast but change the plan when the clouds so dictate?

Yours sincerely,


Crowmarsh, Oxfordshire

30 December