Police have issued a stark warning to hillwalkers after six people lost their lives on mountains across Scotland in the space of two weeks.
Mountain rescue teams across the country have received a spike in callouts as many climbers are getting into difficulty during the wintry weather.
A total of six people have died over the past fortnight with dozens of casualties also reported.
The latest death happened on Tuesday night, when rescue crews dealt with an emergency callout on Ben Nevis near Fort William.
A 28-year-old man was found dead at the scene and 23 people were rescued off the mountain to safety.
Members of the Army also provided support to the stranded walkers however, two soldiers, aged 29 and 37, were injured during the mission and had to be taken to hospital for treatment.
In the weeks prior, a 61-year-old man lost his life on Ben More, Crianlarich, on February 27, shortly before a 54-year-old man died on March 1 on An Teallach in Dondonnell.
On March 2, a 47-year-old man died on Bidean Nam Bian in Glencoe and three days later a man, 50, died on Anoach Mor in Lochaber.
A 62-year-old man also lost his life while climbing Creag Meagaidh, Cairngorm, on March 7.
A search for Neil Gillingham, last seen near the summit of Stob Coire Nam Beith, Glencoe, has been stood down on Wednesday due to weather conditions, however, officers say it will resume once it is safe for rescue teams to do so.
Inspector Matt Smith, Police Scotland Mountain Rescue coordinator said, “The onset of spring has brought some more settled weather patterns and a welcome increase in daylight hours.
We would urge those seeking to venture into the outdoors to take extra care. Challenging winter conditions still prevail in the hills with large areas totally covered in snow and ice.
“Often these areas are completely unavoidable and snow may be rock hard with a high likelihood of a fall unless crampons and an ice axe are carried and most importantly, the group has a knowledge in how and when to use them.
“A slip in these situations may have very serious or fatal consequences.
“As with all outdoor activities, planning is key and a number of key partners produce resources and guidance to help keep you safe including the current #thinkWINTER campaign backed by Scottish Mountain Rescue and Mountaineering Scotland.
“It is vitally important to understand the risks of your activity, the experience of your group, the prevailing weather conditions during, and at your intended destination and that suitable equipment is carried to allow you to navigate safely over steep or icy terrain. Make a plan, don’t be afraid to adapt and make sure you think about what to do if things go wrong. The photo you’ve seen on social media is not always a true reflection of what you may find when you get there.
“The volunteer mountain rescue teams across Scotland are an amazing network of dedicated and highly skilled people who will do everything they can to assist you if you find yourself in difficulty but responsibility for staying safe on the mountains rest with us all and involves good planning, sound decision making and the ability to carry and use the correct equipment. By all mean enjoy Scotland’s spectacular scenery but do so safely.”
The Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team, who dealt with the latest Ben Nevis incident, said it had received 12 callouts since Saturday morning with three of them resulting in fatalities.
The crew also said it had dealt with 26 casualties over the past five days.
Members issued an online plea asking hillwalkers to be “adequately prepared” when heading up mountains.
A spokesperson from the Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team said: “The past five days have been especially busy for the team.
“Since Saturday we’ve had 12 callouts and recovered 26 casualties.
“Unfortunately, three of these shouts resulted in fatalities and we’d like to extend our heartfelt condolence to the friends and family of those involved at this difficult time.
“It would be remiss if we didn’t stress just how important it is to be adequately prepared for winter in the hills.
“Having the ability to competently navigate with map and compass as well as having and being able to use crampons and axe are vital skills to have if you’re venturing into the hills.
“Once again, to members of the public on the hill, team members, neighbouring teams who assisted, helicopter crews, those who fed and watered us and those who continue to generously donate – thank you.”