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‘I honestly thought I was about to die’: Mountaineer caught in Cairngorm avalanche urges people to stay safe

Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team at the Cairngorm ski area. After an avalanche in  Coire an t-Sneachda. Supplied by Cairngorm Mountain Rescue
Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team at the Cairngorm ski area. After an avalanche in Coire an t-Sneachda. Supplied by Cairngorm Mountain Rescue

A mountaineer has described how it felt like being “hit by a car” after being caught in an avalanche in the Cairngorms.

Aaron Hodgson and his friend were climbing when an avalanche hit Coire an t-Sneachda on December 4, 2021.

Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team battled the dark and wintry conditions to reach the pair, who managed to self-rescue down to the coire floor and find an emergency box for shelter.

Mr Hodgson’s friend suffered a broken leg and was stretchered off the hill.

But the pair – both experienced mountaineers – know it could have been far worse, and Mr Hodgson has taken to social media to share a warning with his 6,600-plus followers.

A member of the British Mountaineering Council, Mr Hodgson – who goes by Aaron Tregellis on Instagram, admitted he was struggling to come to terms with what happened.

‘The mountain gave us plenty of warning signs, we just didn’t read them’

He wrote: “Last month something happened and if I am honest I have been struggling to deal with it all.

“Early in December my climbing partner Tom and I headed out for a day’s winter climbing in the Cairngorms.

“The weather was much worse than predicted and the avalanche forecast was low, but the day ended with Tom with a broken leg having been hit by a pretty big avalanche.

“The mountain gave us plenty of warning signs; we just didn’t read them.”

Explaining that he was not going to go into too much detail, he said the impact of the avalanche on his chest felt “like being hit by a car”.

“I honestly thought I was about to die.

“After about six of the longest seconds of my life the lights suddenly came back on. The snow had settled up to around my neck where seven seconds earlier it had been around my knees.”

Mr Hodgson’s friend broke his leg on impact, but luckily their climbing gear held.

They were able to self-rescue and find shelter, with two other climbers in the area helping to splint the injured man’s leg. The emergency box they found also included extra supplies and a stretcher.

The men then waited “a couple of hours” in worsening weather for Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team (CMRT). The 21-strong team battled to reach the men, and then had to face “full storm” conditions to get them off the hill.

‘Thank you’ to Cairngorm Mountain Rescue

Mr Hodgson thanked the walkers who helped them and the mountain rescue team.

In his post he added: “We are so incredibly lucky to have the @scottishmountainrescue teams. They are volunteers and yet are so professional.

Please consider donating to support them.”

He said: “There are lessons here that I think that we can all learn from. The weather was completely different to what was forecast and we trusted the avalanche forecast too much.

“Instead we should have been using it as part of our analytical toolkit. If the weather is dramatically different to what is forecast then the avalanche forecast will be as well.

“Such a hard won lesson.”

Climbers were ‘lucky’

At the time of the incident,  Iain Cornfoot, leader of CMRT,  said it was “lucky” only one person was injured.

Six or seven avalanches were recorded in Cairngorms on December 4 – including the one in Coire an t-Sneachda.

Mr Cornfoot urged anyone out walking or climbing in harsh weather to be ready to adapt their plans to changing conditions.

He said: “The conditions changed from what was forecast and people have to be mindful of what’s in front of them as well.

“The guys we spoke to said they saw red flags but kept going. It’s difficult because those conditions are always changing and avalanches are difficult to predict.

“You have to be ready to change your plans if what you’re seeing doesn’t match the forecast.

“Trust your instincts and don’t push a bad situation. The mountains will be there another day.”

Cairngorm MRT are currently working with Glenmore Lodge, Mountain Training Scotland, Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland and Snowsport Scotland to ensure climbers know the dangers of the mountains during winter.

Sources include:

Mountaineering Scotland’s ThinkWINTER checklist
Scottish Avalanche Information Service’s avalanche awareness guidance 
Avalanche forecasts
Mountain Weather Information Service mountain specific forecasts
Met Office mountain specific forecasts

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