Scottish mountaineering charities have criticised Google for suggesting routes up Ben Nevis and other mountains they say are "potentially fatal" and direct people over a cliff.
The John Muir Trust, which looks after the upper reaches of the UK’s highest mountain, said attempts to contact the company over the issue have been met with silence.
Ben Nevis, located near the town of Fort William in the north-west Highlands, attracts more than 125,000 walkers a year with people coming from the UK and overseas to make the climb.
The charity said certain searches for routes up the mountain on Google Maps direct users to the car park nearest the summit as the crow flies, and then indicate a walking route that is "highly dangerous, even for experienced climbers".
It warned that walkers following routes downloaded from the internet has already led to "injury or worse".
Screenshot from Google Maps issued by Mountaineering Scotland showing a dangerous route up Ben Nevis
Credit: Google Maps/PA
The warnings come after the body of an experienced walker – who had been using an app – was found last month during searches on Ben Nevis.
Sarah Buick, 24, from Dundee was last seen in a selfie she took at the summit. Mountain rescuers said it appeared Ms Buick tripped and slipped in an area of mixed terrain with lots of rocks.
Nathan Berrie, conservation officer at The John Muir Trust, explained that the Google navigation system directs some visitors to the Upper Falls car park because it is the closest park to the summit.
However, this is not the correct route and the trust "often" finds groups of inexperienced walkers heading towards Steall Falls or up the south slopes of the mountain believing it is the route to the summit.
Heather Morning, Mountaineering Scotland’s mountain safety adviser, warned it would seem "perfectly logical" for those new to hill-walking to check Google Maps for information about how to get to their chosen mountain.
Ben Nevis attracts more than 125,000 walkers a year to make the climb
Credit: Moment RF
"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."
The charity said Google also directs users into "life-threatening terrain" for other Munros (Scottish mountains over 3000 feet high).
It said for An Teallach in the north-west Highlands, a walking route suggested by the search engine would take people over a cliff.
Ms Morning added: "It’s all too easy these days to assume that information on the internet is all good stuff, correct, up to date and safe.
Scottish Mountain Rescue recorded a total of 497 independent incidents in 2020, of which 289 were related to mountaineering
Credit: Apostolos Giontzis
"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."
According to latest figures from Scottish Mountain Rescue, a total of 497 independent incidents were reported to the service in 2020, of which 289 related to mountaineering.
Navigation error was a contributing factor to 68 of these, while a slip or trip contributed to 96 and being lost accounted for 49.
In 2019, 112 (36 per cent) of the people assisted had obtained an injury, with a fracture being the most common (46 per cent), followed by sprains (20 per cent) and lacerations (six per cent).
Mountaineering Scotland and The John Muir Trust said they have appealed to Google to consult with them, but that efforts "so far have been met with silence".
They recommended climbers cross-check information on a map or consult a local guide.