Families thank 'brave' Ben Nevis teams after bodies found
The families of two climbers whose bodies were discovered on Ben Nevis have thanked the "brave and generous" rescue teams who worked to find them.
Rachel Slater, 24, and Tim Newton, 27, from Bradford, had been reported missing on 15 February.
It is believed the experienced climbers were caught in an avalanche before starting a climb on the mountain's North Face.
Their bodies were found under snow in Observatory Gully on Wednesday.
In a joint statement, their families said: "We would like to thank the mountain rescue teams, climbing community, police in Fort William and all concerned for finding Rachel and Tim, bringing the news we have been waiting for and for their sustained efforts over the last six weeks.
"These brave and generous men and women have worked incredibly hard to find Rachel and Tim in difficult and dangerous conditions."
'Messages of kindness'
The statement went on: "Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team, police, climbers, friends, family and wider community near and far have been overwhelmingly supportive, generous and kind throughout this difficult time. We have received thoughts, prayers, and messages of kindness from all over the world.
"Although much anticipated, it still comes as a shock but we are thankful that we can now move forward with our lives in the knowledge that Rachel and Tim were doing what they loved to do. Climbing was their passion, they loved the mountains, wilderness and outdoor spaces.
"Rachel was also known as Yvonne at Junior High and High School in Calgary, when she lived with her family in Alberta, Canada."
Hazardous weather and a high risk of avalanches hampered the initial efforts to look for them.
Lochaber MRT and other rescue teams, search dogs and their handlers and coastguard helicopter crews carried out searches when conditions were safe enough to do so.
Climbers and hillwalkers also helped by reporting finds of pieces of gear, such as ropes and an ice axe
The bodies were found in separate, but nearby, locations in Observatory Gully and mountain rescuers said early indications suggested that there had been an avalanche in the area.
Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team told BBC Scotland rucksacks found had ropes and gear inside.
'Struck before climb'
Team member Miller Harris said that it would appear that the climbers were struck by a large avalanche before they started their climb.
On Wednesday, a climber found Ms Slater's body at the base of the gully, Police Scotland said.
About 20 members of Lochaber MRT went to the scene of the discovery to recover the body. Later, at about 18:15, team members found Mr Newton's body nearby.
The families of the two climbers were told of the development.
Mr Newton's father Chris, from Leicestershire, had previously spoken of being "haunted" by the idea of the couple being avalanched.
Ben Nevis is Britain's tallest mountain.
The peak rises to 1,345m, according to an updated measurement made by the Ordnance Survey.
And its status as the highest mountain draws tens of thousands of people to it every year.
The John Muir Trust, the landscape charity that manages Ben Nevis, estimates that in summer up to 20,000 people walk or climb it.
Hundreds of others head to the peak in autumn and winter.
For climbers it offers a variety of climbing routes, with Observatory Gully being one of the most popular areas on its North Face for summer and winter climbing.
UKClimbing.com describes Ben Nevis as having "some of the finest mountaineering in the land" and offering rock climbs "of alpine proportions".
The mountain is covered by Fort William-based Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team, one of the UK's busiest rescue teams.
Fatalities and accidents involving serious injuries are a frequent occurrence.
Many of these incidents involve falls of several hundred feet, or avalanches.
Avalanches are a risk on Scotland's highest mountains in winter and spring.
There have been 152 recorded since December last year by the Sportscotland Avalanche Information Service.
The couple were reported missing on 15 February after failing to return from an outing on Britain's highest mountain.
Hazardous weather and a high risk of avalanches hampered initial efforts to find them.
However, a number of searches by rescue teams, Sarda search dog teams and coastguard helicopter crews were carried out when conditions were safe enough to do so.
In a message on its Facebook page, Lochaber MRT paid tribute to all those involved in the searches as well as the couple and their families.
The team said: "I am sure that everyone will join us in offering our thoughts and sincere condolences to the families and friends of Rachel and Tim.
"They were well known, experienced and respected climbers and their plight has touched so many people over the last few weeks."
The message added: "We have been overwhelmed by the help and support we have received over the last few weeks as we tried to get some clues to where Rachel and Tim may have been going on the day they went missing.
"We would like to thank the whole climbing community for engaging and assisting, even when it was only to eliminate some of the small clues we thought we had obtained."
It was believed the couple had been camping in a green tent behind the Charles Inglis Clark (CIC) memorial hut on the north side of the mountain.
Seasoned climber Ms Slater was a graduate of Manchester University and employed as an environmental consultant near Bradford.
She spent some time living and climbing in Canada, where her parents are still based.
Mr Newton, originally from Leicester, studied physics at Manchester and Leeds universities.
He joined Hinckley Mountaineering Club in Leicestershire in 2010 before he moved away to university, with fellow climbers there calling him a natural.
Their families have previously praised the overwhelming response from members of the public and the climbing community in helping to search for them.