TRIBUTES have poured in for a highly experienced climber and outdoors instructor who died in an avalanche on Ben Nevis.
The mountaineer – 48-year-old Mark Bessell – plunged almost 600m when the avalanche began as he and a fellow climber attempted to summit via the north face.
Mr Bessell’s 40-year-old companion suffered serious injuries, and remains in hospital.
A Gloucestershire Regiment veteran and a teacher at Bristol’s Ashton Park School, the outdoorsman was declared dead on December 30. Weather conditions on the day hindered rescue teams, and also meant a rescue helicopter couldn’t reach the scene of the tragedy for eight hours.
In Spring last year, Mr Bessell had led a group of pupils on a week-long Icelandic adventure, teaching students how to navigate a glacier and climb using crampons and ice axes.
Paying tribute to the married father-of-one, Ashton Park School headteacher Richard Uffendell described Mr Bessell as a “well-respected and long-standing member of our staff”.
“Mark was climbing on Ben Nevis and was caught in an avalanche,” he explained in a school announcement.
“Mark suffered a significant fall and despite the efforts of mountain rescue has sadly passed away.
“Mark was a huge part of Ashton Park and he will be hugely missed, but never forgotten. Our deepest sympathies go to the family and especially Charlie (Mr Bessell’s wife), during this very difficult and upsetting time.”
Steve Priday – a close friend and fellow military veteran – also paid tribute. He told the Daily Telegraph his friend was “incredibly experienced in all forms of outdoor experiences, including mountain biking and climbing”.
“Mark was super qualified, very experienced and very efficient. This was an absolute tragic accident that no one could have foreseen,” he said.
“I say it’s the very nature of climbing mountains at this time of the year. There was always a risk even for the most experienced and qualified climbers.”
Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team leader explained an overhanging ledge of snow had given way beneath to two climbers.
“They must have fallen 600 metres (1968 ft) and the chap who survived was very lucky,” he said.
“Though badly injured he dodged a bullet while his friend didn’t. Sadly, so often, that is the luck of the draw.
“We wish to extend our condolences to the deceased’s family and friends at this difficult time.”
The tragedy was the first avalanche death in the UK for almost three years. Climber Andrew Vine from Manchester went missing following an avalanche in Aonach Mor, near Fort William, on February 28 2020. His injured climbing partner walked to a snowsports centre to seek help, but rescuers were unable to locate Mr Vine’s body until March 9.
Although rare, the UK is no stranger to the danger of avalanches.
In January 2009 on Buachaille Etive Mòr in Glen Coe, three climbers perished when a slab of snow became dislodged from the peak, sending tonnes of snow crashing down on two climbing parties below, sweeping them 500ft down the side of the mountain.
The same mountain was the scene of the UK’s previous deadly avalanche when three climbers were killed in 1995.
Britain’s worst avalanche occurred on December 27 1836 during a particularly severe winter that saw a huge build-up of snow on a chalk cliff above the town of Lewes in East Sussex.
The snow crashed into a row of cottages on South Street 100m below, killing eight people and leaving several others injured.