The snow-covered peaks of Glen Coe merged into the grey-white of the winter's sky, but their pull was as strong as ever.

They had done their worst the day before, killing four and seriously injuring another, but the climbers were back in the glen regardless.

Their cars filled the car parks as they made their way into that other world of stone and scree, sculpted over millennia, which draws them in their thousands to Glen Coe every week of the year.

Loading article content

They come from the length and breadth of the country and abroad. Some travel seven or eight hours in a car on Friday night to spend two days on mountains including Bidean Nam Bian, the Aonach Eagach ridge, Buachaille Etive Mor, and Meall a' Bhuiridh.

All were conscious of the avalanche that claimed four of their fraternity 24 hours earlier, but still they made their way up into the hills in the biting cold winds that swept through the glen.

Among them was Dave Pascoe from Manchester, who was on a mountaineering course with a friend from Chesterfield and another from Cornwall.

The trio are learning advanced mountaineering skills as they are planning a trip to the Everest area later in the year.

"I would say that conditions are unsettled today. But we were really just stretching our legs. We just went up the Lost Valley [Coire Gabhail], which is about 1600 to 1700 ft. It was quite safe, but when you got to the back wall you could see where there was an avalanche.

"Yesterday was very sad and you feel so sorry for the families, but these things do happen in the mountains.

"They were experienced people. We weren't equipped to do what they were doing. We don't know any more than was on the news. It wouldn't stop us going to the hills.

"You take all the precautions you can, but sometimes it's not enough. We are experienced walkers but I wouldn't say experienced climbers. There is a big difference, even though I have done a lot of winter walking."

Mark Anstiss was in a party from Newcastle who had driven up for a weekend's climbing. Speaking as they changed out of their climbing clothes for the five-hour drive back to Newcastle, he said: "I don't think today is significantly different from yesterday.

"We were climbing fairly close to where it happened. There was a lot of loose powder snow, but we assessed the area as being safe. It was a tragedy but it is part of climbing. You have got to be careful."

A woman climber from Derbyshire who wanted to remain anonymous said: "It was awful for these four to die in that way, and it did make me think this morning whether I should be heading to the hills. But climbers know the risks and it is so much part of our lives. It just gets into your blood.

"I have the Peak District on my doorstep, which is lovely and has some good walks, but it just doesn't compare to this. You don't get that feeling of real wilderness. However, it was a bit too cold today, very cold. You needed ice axe and crampons."

Another two young men just shook their heads as they made it back to their car, and said they didn't want to talk about the lost climbers.

It had been the first time four climbers had been lost in Glen Coe in one incident. Four years ago, three were lost in an avalanche on Buachaille Etive Mor. Two of the dead then were from Northern Ireland and the other from Scotland.

Scotland's worst mountain tragedy remains that of 1971, when five pupils from Ainslie Park High School in Edinburgh and a trainee instructor from Newcastle-under-Lyme died in a blizzard in the Cairngorms.

This weekend's events were felt deeply in the local community, where residents are well used to sharing their home patch with tens of thousands of visitors.

The Highland and Islands manager for Scottish Land and Estates Drew McFarlane-Slack, a former local councillor, lives in nearby Ballachulish. He said: "This is a real shock to the community to have such a tragedy in the mountains here, particularly when over the last few days the bad weathers seems to have been further south and not here.

"Looking out on the hills today, they have a dusting of snow but you wouldn't think there was any great danger there. But it does appear the snow up there is unstable. People certainly weren't expecting this given the recent weather patterns.

"I used to climb, but it is a few years since I was on top of a Munro. I have certainly been up Bidean Nam Bian.

"I was telling my wife when I heard the news that I took a friend up who had never been up a Munro before and we were up in the snow without crampons. It put the fear of death into me. That was a beautiful day round about this time of the year. The snow was very hard and we had to come down very slowly.

"It really is a frightening experience being up there, particularly without the right gear."