Ben Nevis campers describe dangerous conditions shortly before avalanche struck

Two climbers who were scaling Ben Nevis but decided to turn back less than an hour before the avalanche have described the terrifying conditions on the mountain.

Eoin Donnelly, 20, and Jean Gill, 20, had travelled to Scotland from Co. Kildare in Ireland to try and reach the UK’s highest summit.

The pair had camped on the mountain overnight in poor conditions and only decided to turn back less than 40 minutes before the avalanche struck, killing three people.

Eoin Donnelly on Ben Nevis
Eoin Donnelly on the mountain before the avalanche on Monday (Jean Gill/PA)

Ms Gill said: “When we started it wasn’t too bad, we got near to the lake and it was so windy – there were hailstones blowing into our face.

“We basically had to change our plans and turn around because it was getting too dangerous, because the wind was so strong it was really hard to walk with it blowing against us.”

Mr Donnelly added: “The wind was so, so bad – you couldn’t open your eyes the hail was so bad.

“I’d say there was about a foot of snow. It was just really, really scary.

“Once you got to the point the ground was frozen over so you wouldn’t have been able to cross without crampons or proper climbing gear.

“When we did decided to turn around we said ‘we need to go home – this is too dangerous’.

“We crossed a guide with a group of hill-climbers and he was like ‘these people want to go up there, but there’s no chance.’

“Even an experienced climber with climbing gear would be crazy to go,  because the weather was so dangerous.”

The pair packed up their camping gear on the way back down and booked into a nearby hostel.

Ben Nevis hillwalkers
Hillwalkers make their way along the Ben Nevis mountain path the day after the fatal avalanche (Andrew Milligan/PA)

They only learned there were fatal casualties the next morning.

Scott Pratt, from Bristol, was among those who was attempting to reach the summit on Tuesday.

He had been in Fort William as the avalanche happened and witnessed part of the emergency response taking off.

The 29-year-old said: “We saw the helicopters heading this way and the mountain rescue, so it did bring things into perspective a bit.

“Obviously we just want to take it steady and be aware of things.

“We’ve done our research, checked the avalanche reports and if we stick to the paths it should be alright.”