A 'bunch of idiots' who decided to climb Ben Nevis in trainers and without a map during Storm Ciara are 'lucky to be alive' after mountain rescuers saved the group from hypothermia and 80mph winds.
The quartet, described as 'stupid' by Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team, got caught on steep and icy ground on Coire Eòghainn near the 4,413ft-high summit as a -20C blizzard stormed around them.
Poorly-equipped - without ice axes, crampons, or maps on them - and separated from each other, discerning mountain rescuers called the suspected Glasgow-based students 'lucky to be alive'.
They used mobile phone app what3words to flag their location, before 22 fearless volunteers rushed to their aid and performed a long rescue operation in the midst of a ferocious lightning storm.
All four are now being treated at Belford Hospital in Fort William.
The 'stupid' quartet (one walker pictured sitting down and another left) became trapped near the 4,413ft-high summit in the Scottish Highlands after embarking upon a walk up Ben Nevis during freezing 80mph winds
After a long rescue operation by 22 volunteers (one pictured above) in the middle of a blizzard and lightning storm, the 'stupid' group-of-four are now being treated at Belford Hospital in Fort William
What equipment and knowledge do mountaineers need to climb Ben Nevis in winter?
At 4,413ft, the conditions on the summit of Ben Nevis will always be much colder and more treacherous than they are at sea level.
That means that yesterday the summit of the mountain was experiencing winds of 80mph and a minus 20C wind chill while conditions at sea level were a relatively benign minus 4C with 40mph winds.
On the summit it will have been difficult for the students to stand, and their feet would quickly have started to suffer frostbite in trainers.
White out conditions would also have made keeping their bearings almost impossible.
Outdoor experts say that even experienced mountaineers would think twice about going out onto Ben Nevis in such conditions.
Those that do will be equipped with crampons, ice axes, thick mountain boots and several layers of high-tech clothing.
They will also have a map or GPS system and the ability to navigate at night and during a whiteout.
Rescue-team leader John Stevenson revealed how his team gave the four 'a piece of our minds'.
He praised his team who 'risked their lives' during the 'whiteout', and warned ominously: 'Those four would not have survived the night - no way'.
Speaking of the quartet, Mr Stevenson said: 'It was sheer stupidity. They were a bunch of idiots. We have never had to rescue people in trainers in winter before. They are so lucky to be alive.
'It was whiteout with winds gusting 80mph at the top with minus 20C wind chill.
'We found them several hundred yards apart and had to cut footsteps in the ice to get three of them down. They were so poorly-equipped it was not true.
'I cannot praise my team highly enough. They risked their lives and did a brilliant job.
'Those four would not have survived the night - no way.
'They couldn't say much at the time - because they were so traumatised. But we have since had a message from the hospital to say that they are grateful.'
He went on: 'They were absolute idiots. They were wearing trainers and decided to walk up Ben Nevis in those conditions! They were just plain stupid.
'They weren't climbing - just walking but I don't think they even made the summit. They were poorly-equipped for any weather let alone those conditions.
'We found the first, then the others and walked them down half-way to where the helicopter airlifted them to the base and we then took them to hospital.
'It was so bad - with lightning strikes about as well - that the chopper could not even fly back to Inverness for a while. These guys didn't have a Scooby. It really is maddening.
'Two of them were particularly bad from the cold. All four would have never survived the night up there.'
The quartet got caught on steep and icy ground on Coire Eòghainn near the 4,413ft-high summit as a -20C blizzard stormed around them. They had got lost in white-out conditions and could have plunged off a cliff if they had gone further
John Stevenson, leader of Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team, has said how the quartet (one pictured sitting) was 'given a piece of our minds'. He praised his team, who 'risked their lives' during the 'whiteout', and warned omninously: 'Those four would not have survived the night - no way'. Mr Stevenson called the four men 'absolute idiots'
Mr Stevenson said: 'It was sheer stupidity. They were a bunch of idiots. We have never had to rescue people in trainers in winter before. They are so lucky to be alive.' He added: 'These guys didn't have a Scooby. It really is maddening'
A UK Coastguard rescue helicopter from Inverness was also called to assist but was hampered by the weather. The four rescued men were airlifted from the Half Way Lochan - half way up Ben Nevis - by the helicopter (pictured) off the mountain
Hundreds of people took to the team's Facebook page to vent their fury. One social-media user cried: 'Unbelievable! How dare people put so many others at risk by going out in ridiculous weather conditions. There's been a major storm and snow predicted for almost a week and 4 prats choose to climb the UKs highest mountain!
'Some people may be able to climb in snowy conditions, but add the storm in and that's well out of anyone's ability range. They put 22 volunteers lives at risk. They should be charged. Respect to all at LMRT and your families.'
A UK Coastguard rescue helicopter from Inverness was also called to assist but was hampered by the weather.
The four men were airlifted from the Halfway Lochan off the mountain.
A Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team spokesperson described the quartet as 'extremely lucky people'. They told MailOnline: 'No winter kit - no ice axes, no crampons and as far as we are aware no maps. Three of the guys were in trainers!!!! They were about 150 metres down into Coire Eoghainn on steep ice and if they had slipped or gone down any further consequences could have far more serious.
The weather forecast for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Tuesday is expected to be another day of wintry weather for most of the country
BEN NEVIS: The 4,413ft peak that people climb in TRAINERS, FLIP-FLOPS, AND BARE FEET
Ben Nevis, view of the north ridge (stock)
Yesterday is not the first time that the team have rescued somebody in trainers - but the first in full-on winter - or other inappropriate footwear.
A walker was blasted as 'incredibly stupid' by the team in March 2018 after he called for help trying to scale Ben Nevis in thick snow in work boots.
The man was found slipping and sliding by two other walkers. Mr Stevenson admitted he gave him 'piece of my mind.'
In March 2016, a 28-year-old woman came close to perishing after scaling Ben Nevis in shorts and tights.
Sara Albone, of Brighton, reached the summit amid blizzard conditions and started displaying signs of hypothermia. But two pairs of male climbers spotted her and gave her dry clothes and dextrose tablets to boost her energy, before another trio of climbers provided a tent and assisted her down the mountain.
In the summer of 2014 rescuers on Ben Nevis's sister peak, Aonach Mor, had to carry a man to safety when he slipped and hurt his ankle - while wearing flip-flops. The walker's two companions, who said they came from Asia to Scotland to 'see the snow', were in bare feet and trainers.
Members of Lochaber MRT found the trio halfway up the 4,006ft Aonach Morr. The men later apologised.
160,000 people conquered Ben Nevis in 2018, according to figures from the charity which manages the peak.
More than 1,000 hikers, runners and charity racers trekked to the summit on busy days, leading to 'long tailbacks' at certain points on the path.
'Fantastic effort by the team members to find them and get them down safely. The boss is letting the team members from summit team have an extra sugar in their tea and a ginger nut each now.'
This 'maddening' incident came as Britain was battered at the weekend by the 'storm of the century', which is soon to be eclipsed by a week of projected snow and ice by 'Storm Dennis'.
Heavy snow fell in some regions after the bad weather disrupted flights, ferries and trains throughout Britain yesterday, while gusts swept across the country felling trees and causing chaos on the roads.
Storm Ciara has moved eastwards from the UK, but it will leave mass white-outs in its wake up and down the country as the Met Office issued fresh snow warnings for today.
The Met Office has issued a warning over the next named storm, Storm Dennis, which a spokesman said is not expected to be as extreme as Storm Ciara but will bring widespread strong winds and heavy rain this weekend.
The effects of Storm Ciara, that hit the UK at the weekend leaving more than 20,000 homes without power overnight, was felt by commuters this morning who encountered further delays.
There was reported disruption on the M25, a closure still on the M11, and delays to some Southeastern, Greater Anglia and Southern train services. The Queensferry Crossing, connecting Fife and Edinburgh in Scotland has been closed due to the wintry conditions. The forecaster has warned that treacherous icy conditions will sweep across the Midlands, parts of the northeast, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
A yellow warning for heavy snow and strong winds is in place for Northern Ireland and most of Scotland, while a yellow warning of snow and ice is in force for north-west England today. There is also a yellow snow and ice warning covering these regions on Wednesday, as snow showers and icy stretches could cause further disruption.
A yellow weather warning has been put in place for much of England and Wales on Saturday, with gusts of more than 50mph forecast and heavy rain bringing a further risk of flooding.
A statement said: 'Storm Dennis is expected to bring a range of impacts, including delays and cancellations to transport services, damage to power supplies and large coastal waves.'
Steve Ramsdale, chief meteorologist at the Met Office, added: 'Another spell of very wet and windy weather is expected for Saturday, although Storm Dennis is currently not expected to be as severe as Ciara disruption is still likely.
'Our confidence in the forecast means we have been able to issue severe weather warnings well in advance, giving people time to prepare for potential impacts of the storm.'
Snow covered houses in Princetown on the top of Dartmoor, Devon, where snow has fallen on high ground
A Royal Mail worker attempts to push a stuck delivery van up a snow covered road in Nenthead, Cumbria
A van driver off the road in County Durham as severe weather of high winds snow and ice hits the North of England today
Queuing traffic on roads affected after the Queensferry Crossing was closed for the first time since it opened in 2017
A huge floating island of rubbish has washed up in Salford Quays after Storm Ciara battered the region. Experts said the disgusting pile-up emerged due to heavy rain and five rivers and canals draining into the Quays
Flooding in York Knavesmire, Yorkshire today. 30 flood warnings are in place in the Yorkshire region today
A bull grazes in a snow covered field off the A66 in County Durham today as further snow and ice is expected
A car covered with snow drives through the streets in Princetown on the top of Dartmoor, Devon, where snow has fallen on high ground
The treacherous driving conditions are causing a number of incidents on the road network. Pictured: a car crashed in Oldham this morning, the driver was not thought to have suffered any injuries
Storm Ciara has already claimed two victims after a falling tree killed a 58-year-old Mercedes driver and a 77-year-old man fell over and banged his head on ice.
Emergency services were scrambled to the scene in Clydebank, West Dumbartonshire at around 11am yesterday after the pensioner fell over in icy conditions but they were unable to save him.
The 58-year-old man died in the storm in Hampshire on Sunday. The victim was driving from Winchester to his home in Micheldever, when the tree came down on top of his Mercedes at around 4pm.
Wind speeds in the area reached 60mph at the time of the incident and the man was declared dead at the scene.