At 3500ft, Bidean Nam Bian is the highest peak in Glencoe and an area known to be susceptible to avalanches.

Lying to the south of Glencoe, it is a complex mountain with many ridges and subsidiary peaks, and contains the Three Sisters – three steep ridges that extend north into the Glen.

The avalanche warning issued yesterday said that the risk was "considerable".

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Mark Diggins, head of the Scottish Avalanche Information Service, said: "A 'considerable' hazard means that in certain areas there is a risk that a human could trigger an avalanche – even just one person could trigger it. The next warning is high and that's when there's a risk of natural avalanches."

Diggins added that the weather conditions had been fairly dry with little snow over the last four days, adding: "In Glencoe there doesn't look like there has been very much snow, it is very localised, which can give the appearance that there isn't much of a hazard."

He added that the chances of surviving being buried by an avalanche are low but, historically, people have been able to survive them in Scotland.

Diggins said: "People have been able to survive for many hours so there's always hope, and the mountain rescue teams don't give up until they find who they're looking for."

Former Sunday Herald writer and climbing expert Cameron McNeish said: "The mountain rescue teams will have formed lines and used large rods, prodding them into the snow to try and find something.

"But generally speaking if you're under for an hour or more, it's unlikely that you'll come out alive."

However, he added: "Thousands of people climb the hills every winter and go home safely, this is just a tragic accident."