Google Maps criticised for suggesting 'potentially fatal' mountaineering routes

The John Muir Trust and Mountaineering Scotland warn that routes downloaded off the internet are resulting in 'injury or worse'

Mountaineering organisations in Scotland are warning people against using Google Maps to navigate their way around Ben Nevis and other peaks.

The John Muir Trust and Mountaineering Scotland have expressed concern that an increasing number of visitors are using the ubiquitous app to direct them to a route up Ben Nevis that is “potentially fatal”.

“It’s all too easy these days to assume that information on the internet is all good stuff, correct, up to date and safe,” says Heather Morning, mountain safety adviser at Mountaineering Scotland. “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.

“[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.”

Even the most experienced mountaineer would have difficulty following this route
Heather Morning, mountain safety advisor at Mountaineering Scotland

Google Maps currently directs people to the nearest car park to the summit of Ben Nevis, as the crow flies, which is Steall Falls. The route it then recommends is highly dangerous, even for experienced climbers. The safest route up Ben Nevis for walkers starts from the Visitor Centre. John Muir Trust urges anyone walking Ben Nevis, or any other mountain or hill, to cross-check information on a map, or consult a local guide.

“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,” Morning explains.

“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, the suggested Google line is potentially fatal.”

It’s not just on the UK’s highest mountain that Google can lead people astray. At An Teallach, in the north-west of Scotland, a walking route was suggested by the system that would take people straight over a cliff.

“Modern navigation technology brings some amazing advantages for hill walkers, but this example is clearly not one of them,” says Morning. “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.”

Google has responded to press coverage on the issue, saying "we built Google Maps with safety and reliability in mind, and are working quickly to investigate the routing issue on Ben Nevis”.

Updated: July 18th 2021, 8:55 AM
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