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Online giant Google is reportedly making changes to its popular mapping service after both Mountaineering Scotland and the John Muir Trust voiced fears that walkers might mistakenly attempt a ‘potentially fatal’ route up Ben Nevis.
The John Muir Trust, which looks after the upper reaches of Ben Nevis, had become concerned at an increasing number of visitors using Google Maps to direct them to a route up Ben Nevis.
Depending on how someone searched for the route, Google Maps may have directed them to the car park nearest the summit as the crow flies, indicating a route described by experts as ‘highly dangerous, even for experienced climbers’.
News of the concerns saw the story feature last week on media outlets across the globe, including the US television network, CNN, and the New York Times.
A plea from Mountaineering Scotland and the John Muir Trust last week to Google to consult with them to ensure this potentially life-threating information was removed from their system was initially met with silence.
However, a spokesman for Mountaineering Scotland, Neil Reid, this week told the Lochaber Times that there had now been discussions with Google and that these had been ‘very positive’ and that the company was aware that its driving directions took people to a car park where a dotted line showing distance to the summit could be misinterpreted by users. In future the maps will direct drivers to a visitor centre instead.
‘We have now spoken with Google to express our concerns and the company seems to have taken that in a very positive way and we are now just waiting to hear back from them on a potential solution to the problems,’ added Mr Reid.
Speaking last week, the John Muir Trust’s Nevis Conservation Officer Nathan Berrie explained: ‘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.
‘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.’
Heather Morning, Mountaineering Scotland’s mountain safety adviser, added: ‘For those new to hill walking, it would seem perfectly logical to check out Google Maps for information on how to get to your chosen mountain.
‘But when you input Ben Nevis and click on the ‘car’ icon, up pops a map of your route, taking you to the car park at the head of Glen Nevis, followed by a dotted line appearing
to show a route to the summit.
‘Even the most experienced mountaineer would have difficulty following this route.
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.’
And it is not just on the UK’s highest mountain where walkers can be lead astray, said Mountaineering Scotland. Many other popular Munros have fallen foul of the same – likely computer-generated – line luring the unwary into life-threatening terrain.
For An Teallach in the north-west, a ‘walking’ route was input into the search engine and the line offered would take people over a cliff.
Ms Morning continued: ‘It’s all too easy these days to assume that information on the internet is all good stuff, correct, up to date and safe. Sadly, experience shows this is not the case and there have 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. Walkers and climbers with even a little experience will know to read information from a map, whether digital or paper, and if they are looking for downloadable routes know to use reputable sources and check several sources to ensure the information they are accessing is the right route for their level of experience and ability.
‘But especially on Ben Nevis, many people are not aware of where to get reliable information and may quite naturally assume that Google Maps, which got them from their home to the foot of the mountain, can carry on and do the job right to the top. This is not the case.’
Google did not respond to an enquiry from the Lochaber Times, but told the New York Times that the map’s dotted line from the parking lot to the summit was meant to indicate the distance to the top, not a walkable trail.
‘Our driving directions currently route people to the Nevis Gorge trailhead parking lot — the lot closest to the summit — which has prominent signs indicating that the trail is highly dangerous, and for advanced hikers only,’ the statement said.
Google said it has updated driving directions to bring people to the visitor centre, where they can speak to staff members about the best route to take.