THE search for two experienced climbers missing on Britain’s highest mountain has been delayed after rescue teams were diverted to reports of an avalanche elsewhere in the Scottish Highlands
Efforts to locate Rachel Slater, 24, and Tim Newton, 27, from Bradford, on Ben Nevis in the Lochaber area of the Scottish Highlands were suspended yesterday due to treacherous weather conditions.
The pair went climbing over the weekend and were reported overdue on Monday.
The avalanche is thought to have happened in the Creag Meagaidh area of north Lochaber, Police Scotland said.
The search and rescue helicopter 951 is currently attending the scene, having been diverted from the search on Ben Nevis.
Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team planned to resume the search at first light today but heavy snow, fog and blustery winds forced them to review their plans.
This morning, an appeal was made by Chris Denham, pastor at Hope City Church in Leeds, where Mr Newton’s brother is assistant pastor.
He posted a picture of the couple on Instagram with the message: “Please pray today for the safe return of Tim & Rachel (Tim is the brother of our Assistant Pastor, Ed Newton, in Leeds).
“Also pray for the weather to clear which is preventing rescue teams from searching at present and for all the family. Believing for miracles to be taking place on that mountain because God is Able!”
Two members of the rescue team were caught up in an avalanche during the search on Tuesday but survived unscathed.
Leader John Stevenson told BBC Radio Scotland: “We’re expecting more bad weather so we’ve put everything on hold and are reviewing it.
“There were high winds yesterday which have died down a bit but it’s still very blustery on the hill and the areas we want to look at have had a lot of fresh snowfall blown in so they are very unstable and we wouldn’t like to put people in there until there is a bit of settlement.
“It’s always a worry when you’re putting people in to these areas. It’s quite scary and very hard work in these conditions.”
Mr Stevenson said it is hoped that teams can take to the mountain later.
He said: “We’ll just have to wait and see - it’s the snow conditions that will determine what we can do and where we can go.
“We’ll keep reviewing it and as and when we’ll try and send people out.”
He added: “As time goes on it’s very difficult, the weather conditions have been really bad and no-one has heard from them or seen them is a worry. You always have hope but as time goes on that diminishes quite rapidly.”
Friends and fellow climbers have been posting messages on social media praising the search teams and voicing hope that the couple will be found safe.
One wrote on the UKClimbing forum: “Great, enthusiastic young climbers. Such good role models for the sport.
“I’ve seen them out and about in the past and follow their logbooks cos they climb routes I’d like to. I hope they are found OK. I’m crossing everything and thinking of them and the search teams.”
The alarm was raised on Monday afternoon when the couple were reported to be overdue in returning from the expedition.
It is believed they had been camping in a green tent behind the Charles Inglis Clark (CIC) memorial hut on the north side of the mountain.
The hunt for the pair - involving police, mountain rescue teams and search dogs - entered its second day yesterday as fears for their safety grew.
But after five hours of searching, it was decided that conditions were too dangerous to continue.
Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team (MRT) said 80mph to 90mph winds had been making the temperature feel like minus 20C.
Searches were spread over a large area of the mountain including Coire na Ciste, the South Trident Buttress, Coire Leas and the Red Burn area.
Police in Fort William have issued a picture of the couple. They would have been wearing climbing gear similar to that shown in the photograph.
Miss Slater and Mr Newton are both experienced climbers. On her website Miss Slater, who grew up in Canada and is now a mineral, waste and environmental consultant near Bradford, describes climbing expeditions around the world.
She wrote: “I’ve been around rocks my whole life as my parents are very keen climbers - most of my childhood was spent scrambling around at the bottom of the cliff with the occasional easy top rope.
“In 2005 my family moved to Calgary, Canada, and in 2007 I joined a youth climbing team at my local wall and in 2008 progressed to the competitive youth team.
“We trained three times a week at 6am and competed locally and nationally throughout the winter. In the summer and school holidays I sport climbed with my family in the Rockies and Western States of America.”
She left Canada in 2009 to study at the University of Manchester, from where she graduated with a BSc (Hons) in environmental science.
In September 2013, she completed a six-month contract with an environmental consultancy in Glasgow before embarking on a three-month sport climbing trip to France and Spain.
After returning again to Spain on her own to climb in Catalonia, she “joined the grown up world of 9-5” at the start of last year, according to her online posts.
She is currently employed as a mineral, waste and environmental consultant near Bradford.
Her firm, the Mineral Planning Group, has declined to comment on the ongoing search.
Ms Slater’s profile on the firm’s website says she previously worked at a number of UK consultancies specialising in intrusive ground surveys and waste management.
Mr Newton, originally from Leicester, also lives in Bradford and has studied physics at the universities of Manchester and Leeds, according to his Facebook profile.
Nick Colton, deputy chief officer at the British Mountaineering Council, said that climbers, hill walkers and mountaineers are made aware of the risks of the activity “from the very beginning”.
He said: “Our thoughts go out to those who are missing and also their family and friends who will be understandably anxious and concerned at this difficult time.
“People who engage in climbing, hill walking and mountaineering gain much from their participation and in many different ways.
“These range from the obvious benefits of simply being in the outdoors in beautiful and inspiring surroundings and the feelings of well-being this engenders, to the social aspects of what they do and being with like-minded people and friends, and to the sheer physical activity itself with all the positive physical and mental health benefits that brings.”
On a climbing forum, Patrick Roman said yesterday that he saw the missing pair at the weekend.
Writing on the forum, he said: “I was outside the CIC on Saturday morning. There were two people matching the image in the photo. He was wearing a red jacket and she a green and turquoise jacket. I went around the back of the hut to sort some of my kit out of the wind.
“The male came round a minute later and stood very close to me - I remember thinking at the time that he probably thought I was raking through the tent. I don’t know if it was his tent, but he stood there for a few minutes before walking back round to the front of the hut.
“When I returned round a few minutes after that, I remember seeing the girl putting on white (?) sunglasses by the water pipe and begin heading back down the path. I started up towards Coire na Ciste and after another couple of minutes I spotted her for the last time about 100m or so further down the path.”
The Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team has posted a request for information on its Facebook page.
Responding to the message, Tony Walker wrote: “The missing persons are Rachel Slater (my niece) and her partner Tim Newton.
“Both very experienced climbers. Most likely they are wearing the same clothing as in the photo. Any info greatly appreciated.”