Summer snow expert Iain Cameron has confirmed that the last snow patch on Ben Nevis has melted
Every year, Iain Cameron conducts a snow survey to gauge the extent of summer snow patch survivals in the UK. Results have varied widely over the last few years, with record numbers of snow patches surviving in 2014 after heavy winter accumulations – but 2017 seems set to be the first entirely snow-free year for some time.
Iain Cameron took to Twitter to break the news, posting a photo indicating the location of the recently vanished final snow patch. “It probably melted on the 16th or 17th of August,” he told The Great Outdoors. “I’ve been up Ben Nevis and its surrounding hills about half a dozen times this year, checking on the size of the usual patches and how they shape up against previous years.”
Snow might not be something you associate with summer in Scotland – although it can fall on the high tops at any time of the year – but experienced hillwalkers will know of secretive places where it hangs around, resisting the warmer rains and storms of the summer until next winter’s snow blankets it again. Summer snow often resembles glacial ice: hard and granular, covered with debris such as grass and rock particles. Dramatic tunnels and caverns often form beneath the larger snow patches due to the action of melting water. Snow patches can be extremely deep – up to 10m (30ft) in a good year.
Iain Cameron is fascinated by long-lying snow, and is perhaps the best-known ‘chionophile’ (snow-lover) in the UK, dedicated to recording where it survives at times of year you might not expect it to. We asked him if there was a chance all snow in Scotland might melt this year. “It is highly likely that all snow will vanish in Scotland this year by the middle of September, which would be only the 6th time this has happened since at least the 1700s.”
In most years, snow survives until the summer on Ben Nevis, Aonach Mor, and in Garbh Choire Mor on Braeriach in the Cairngorms. It’s rare that snow entirely melts in these locations. Late-summer snow on other Scottish mountains is less common and tends to be concentrated in the higher mountains of Lochaber and the Cairngorms.
For a comprehensive photo record of snow patches over the last decade, have a delve in Iain Cameron’s Flickr account.
All photos © Iain Cameron. Header image: the Point 5 Gully snow patch, 20 August 2016