Scottish mountaineering groups have warned that hikers using Google Maps to climb some of the UK’s highest mountains are being set up for “potentially fatal” falls. One such route on the app apparently directs people off a cliff.
In a statement, the John Muir Trust and Mountaineering Scotland have cautioned climbing enthusiasts about the dangers of relying on technology to navigate on mountains. The trust helps to protect and conserve the summit of the UK’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, which stands at 1,345 metres.
The group said that a number of searches for routes up the mountain leads people to the car park nearest to the summit “as the crow flies” and then directs them to a dotted walking route that was “highly dangerous, even for experienced climbers.”
“The problem is that Google Maps directs some visitors to the Upper Falls car park, presumably because it is the closest car park to the summit,” Nathan Berrie, Nevis conservation officer for the trust, told the UK press association.
“But this is not the correct route and we often come across groups of inexperienced walkers heading towards Steall Falls or up the south slopes of Ben Nevis believing it is the route to the summit,” Berrie said, adding that the correct route actually begins at the visitors’ centre at the mountain’s base.
The trust said it has put signage back to the centre from the Steall Falls car park, but noted that this has often been overlooked.
If you put google maps in walking mode it shows the right route, in this case. We can’t protect everybody… I know we want people to enjoy the outdoors, but climbing the highest mountain in UK even if it’s only 1345m high, “should” not be taken lightly… pic.twitter.com/3RHKOMhCBg
Even the “most experienced mountaineer” would have difficulty following the route mapped out by Google, Heather Morning, safety adviser for Mountaineering Scotland said.
“The line goes through very steep, rocky, and pathless terrain where even in good visibility it would be challenging to find a safe line. Add in low cloud and rain and the suggested Google line is potentially fatal,” she said.
The groups said Google was also leading unwary users into “life-threatening terrain” on other popular Munros – mountains with an elevation of more than 3,000 feet (914 metres). For instance, a walking route suggested by the app for the An Teallach mountain in the northwest Highlands would send people over a cliff.
While it would seem “perfectly logical” for novice hillwalkers to check out Google Maps for the easiest routes and assume that the information is correct, Morning said, there had been a “number of incidents recently where following routes downloaded off the internet have resulted in injury or worse”.
Modern navigation technology brings some amazing advantages for hill walkers, but this example is clearly not one of them.
Responding to the groups’ appeal to consult with them in order to remove the route suggestions, Google said that it “built Google Maps with safety and reliability in mind, and are working quickly to investigate the routing issue on Ben Nevis”.
“In addition to using authoritative data and high-definition imagery to update the map, we encourage local organisations to provide geographic information about roads and routes through our Geo Data Upload tool,” a spokeswoman said.
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