Crazy Sorrow – The life and death of Alan Mullin a book that is hard to read but you have to finish it.

This is the story of one of Scotland’s young mountaineers Alan Mullin his short life and his dad death. To me it tells a story of a horrific childhood the effects of sectarian bigotry, a hard life in the military and then a short life pushing climbing to its limits.

It was tragic reading but tells another side of life one that even now is hardly discussed.

The effects on his family and friends and how he struggled with his demons. He was a controversial character in the small world of mountaineering loved by a few and also in liked but always controversial.

This book must have been so difficult to edit by Grant Farquar to me it was a look into a tormented soul.

The troubled mind is to most of us so difficult to understand. Expert help is hard to get and resources are scant.

Yet every year we lose a lot of folk including a few top mountaineers to suicide. Few talk about their problems maybe this book will help in some way?

Just to get folk to discuss mental illness is a big step forward. The “Black dog” can hit many of us at all ages. We must try to look after each other better?

Its good to get help and unlike Alan maybe many lessons have been learned for future generations? I hope so as it a subject that we need to discuss and understand better?

Comments as always welcome.

Posted in Articles, Book, Family, Friends, Health, Mountaineering, People, PTSD, Recomended books and Guides, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering, Well being | Leave a comment

Books – that mean a lot to me a few more ideas for Christmas?

Books have always meant a lot to me and my early climbing days these books especially were specail. In these days that was what I wanted for all my Birthdays and Christmas presents from a very young age. 

I was always interested in Mountaineering and my Dad gave me his copy of Mountaineering in Scotland by W.H.Murray and Undiscovered Scotland what superb books as I was always reading it.

It was a first copy, signed and lent out over the years now lost but I got another copy but that first one took me into another world. My books which I tend to use a lot I highlight and underline that is too many is not the way to treat books? Yet to me they are like old pals to sit and read again and again.

I remember seeing that classic cover photo of a climber on the snow arête on Ben Lui. In these days it was so impressive and when I climbed it in winter via the Central Gully on Ben Lui it meant a lot. Nowadays it may be dated by the flowery writing according to “experts “but in my teens and still to this day it’s a magical book. I remember doing the early climbs like Clachaig Gully when I started climbing this book was so important to me. There were also winter climbing / walking adventures and I loved them all. These faraway places became mountains I wanted to visit and see. It gave  you an insight into these early days of Mountaineering.

To me still this is a classic and for all those interested in Mountaineering it’s a grand read.

My Dad also bought me Hamish MacInnes wonderful book “Callout”. I remember getting it again the classic cover with Hamish looking lean with his bonnet and rope on is another classic. The book was a shock when I read it. It showed the life and death that is part of Mountain Rescue with some incredible photos of Callouts in Glencoe. It’s still a sombre read but I read it from cover to cover. It’s been a favourite of mine. Again get hold of it is still a classic. It was recently re – released on Kindle.

Space below my feet. Gwen Moffat./Two Star Red Gwen Moffat.

When I joined RAF Mountain Rescue we had a huge library many of the team members bought a book before they left. Our Classic was “Two Star Red “a story of the early days of the RAF Mountain Rescue.

Yet it was “Space below my feet “that made a huge impression on me. It tells the tale of how Gwen Moffat as a single Mum in the 50’s climbed and made a living in the mountains. Life was not easy for her but what a tale she tells. I have given that book to so many girls who took up

Mountaineering and most enjoyed it. It’s a special book, years ahead of its time and again the classic photo of Gwen climbing barefoot is stunning. 

Hamish Brown’s “Mountain Walk” and Climbing the Corbett’s.

At first I never really appreciated this book but every time I climb a hill I read again about them in Hamish’s books. Hamish was the first person to climb all the Munro’s in a single trip. Not only are there the mountains but snippets on the history of the hills, the land and the local folk. I have highlighted so many paragraphs over the years and tried to pass on these wonderful tales. This is another classic.

Tom Patey – One Man’s Mountains.

What can I say about this book? It was put together after Tom’s death a series of Essays and songs by this Classic pioneer and Mountaineer. As I got into this book and was so lucky to climb some of his routes it again became a huge favourite. The black and white photos with so many epics are inspirational. The original book cover with the simple gear of the day and the rope round the chest in winter is of another era. Yet to me what a time to be a climber and part of these great days.

Martin Moran – The Munro’s in winter the first complete traverse of Scotland’s Winter Munro’s and Martin Moran “Scotland’s Winter Mountains” This is another classic that Martin Moran published in 1988. It is so full of information of safe travel in the mountains in winter. It’s to me so easy to read and written by an expert every time I read it I learn something else. Martin is a favourite author of mine sadly lost in an Avalanche in India this year. He left a huge legacy in his routes and his writing.

Martin Moran in his last book “Higher Ground “ is an insight into a Mountain Guides life. This is another brilliant book taking you into the life of a Mountain Guide. Martin writes with such passion. We miss him dearly. 

I also read and bought most of Chris Bonnington’s Himalayan Expeditions. These were a huge change with magnificent photos of the “Rock Star climbers” of the day. These were the last of the huge expeditions that were the norm in these days.

Then came the incredible Book by Peter Boardman – “The Shinning Mountain” it was followed by another great book by Joe Tasker – “ Savage Arena” these were out together in a wonderful Omnibus and what a change from the big Expeditions that were the norm. These were small expeditions with limited support that climbed Alpine Style on some of the Worlds hardest peaks. They showed what was possible and the way forward for small expeditions to the Himalayas. We visited the Himalayas not long after these books were published on an Alpine Ascent of Kusum Kanguru meaning “ three snow peaks”.

Kusum Kanguru has the reputation for beings the most difficult without doubt increased by the level “trekking peak” The climbing is technically difficult, needing a high degree of commitment and experience. Where as many Nepal’s peaks are ideal for well- led groups with limited experience, this mountain is not. On our trip we learned so much we were certainly not anywhere in the class of Peter Boardman and Joe Tasker.

There are so many these are just a few that I love :

A modern classic is Sandy Allan’s In some Lost Place the first ascent of Nanga Parbat’s Mazeno Ridge. What a story that takes you to another world of extreme Mountaineering by a local hero.

Classic Rock/Hard Rock/ Cold Climbs – Ken Wilson when these came out they were a superb insight into varied climbing all over the Uk.

The Munros/Corbetts – SMC always classic books and the profit goes towards the Scottish Mountain Trust to help with footpaths etc.

Always a Little Further” by Alistair Borthwick, a time capsule of Scottish Mountaineering.

Ben Nevis – K. Crocket/ S.Richardson. A real insight into the story of this great mountain.

No Tigers in the Hindu Kush. – P Tranter. Another hero of mine and an early trip to the Himalayas.

Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain: A Celebration of the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland. A book of great joy about the mountains one I only read recently.

Chasing the Ephemeral – Simon Richardson how to get the most out of a Scottish winter.

Posted in Books, Expeditions - Alaska - Himalayas etc, Friends, Mountaineering, People, Recomended books and Guides, SMC/SMT, Views Mountaineering, Well being | Leave a comment

Some ideas for stocking fillers for lovers of the outdoors.

As always a few ideas for the Christmas stocking fillers.

Bivy Bag

A Bothy bag / a great bit of kit its magic of you ever need it in an emergency or to get out of the weather. They all are lightweight and a place to get out of the weather even out for a walk. Kids love them and they can become a Den and a fun place to be! In an emergency in winter they can save a life. I carry one even on short walks! Well worth thinking about it may even save your life. Get a bright one.

A decent head-torch can be great stocking filler so useful in winter when the days are short. I carry two one as a spare – there are so many to choose from nowadays and always spare batteries . A must carry it’s dark in December in Scotland in early winter at 1530 and light after 0800 not much time of out in the wilds.

Good gloves are essential if your hands are cold then you can do little. Navigation and even putting on your torch becomes hard work. I carry at least two pairs more when climbing in winter they are essential. Thin working gloves and other pair that fit over that are windproof etc. Again so many choices.

Headwear is important hats balaclava and a buff a great piece of kit. Fairly cheap the Buff and they are made by and sold for so many good causes like Mountain Rescue Teams. They have so many uses and make an ideal stocking filler. I love them.

If you love the outdoors the winter is the time to appreciate it. I would advise a course on navigation and winter skills. Learn safely how to read the weather and the winter experience. There are so many Outdoor organisations who can teach you basic skills and advanced skills. How many outdoor winter lovers have done an Avalanche skills course this is another must do to keep you safe no matter how experienced we think we are.

Joining Mountaineering Scotland or the BMC is worthwhile as there is so much information and courses available to you. They also help fight for Access the environment to the wild places and represent us at many levels. This is so needed today in the environment issues that are occurring.

I also love to support the Mountain Bothies Association the MBA. What a bunch of volunteers that look after the remote mountain shelters in the UK.Mountain Bothies Association – Life membership is available, please contact our membership office for details. An online voucher for Life membership can also be purchased from their website.

The Bothies give something back.

The purpose of membership is to support the maintenance work of the MBA- your subscription enables us to buy the materials to repair the bothies and to run the association. Members receive a copy of the Members Handbook, a quarterly Newsletter, which contains MBA News, bothy related stories and notification of planned work parties and projects, and the Annual Report and Review. Some members help keep our bothies in good condition by joining work parties and others help in administrative roles. However, all members support the open bothy concept through their subscriptions and donations. All are valued whatever their contribution, but we do hope that you will be able to give us some of your time. How many have had a break in a bothy why not support them.

John Muir Trust. – Become a member

Wild places are special and need protecting. In becoming a member you join more than 11,000 like-minded people. You’ll be part of an organisation with a UK wide reach that is educating people about nature, taking care of wild land and influencing decision makers. In return you’ll receive regular, high quality information and get access to a number of member only experiences and benefits.

Order a gift membership between October and December and your loved one will receive a special festive welcome pack. Simply use promo code FESTIVE when prompted and as a thank you for giving this special gift you’ll save 10% on each Individual or Joint/Family membership bought.

Buy online here or call 01796 470 080. T&Cs apply. We’ll do our best to send all orders in time for Christmas but to be sure it arrives on time, please place your order before Friday 6 December. If you have any questions at all about a gift membership, or have a query about your order, please contact our friendly team at membership@johnmuirtrust.org

The Munro Society

Founded in 2002 membership is open to anyone who has climbed all the Munro summits as listed in Munro’s Tables at the time of compleation – currently there are 282 mountains of Munro status with a height of 3000ft or more above sea level. Many such Munroists, who are often said to have ‘compleated’*, register their detail with the Clerk of the List. This official list is maintained by the Clerk on behalf of the Scottish Mountaineering Club and now exceeds 6,000 names. However, some of ‘compleaters’ do not register their details for a variety of reasons.

The Munro Society welcomes all Munroists who have compleated whether or not they have registered with the Clerk of the List. The Society exists to bring together the wealth of mountain experience that members have accumulated and thus provide a forum in which to share interests and concerns as well as creating opportunities for convivial gatherings.

http://www.themunrosociety.com/about-the-munro-society

Of course the trusty whistle cheap and always worth carrying, I carry one on my bag all the time. Why not give a donation to your local Mountain Rescue Team?

These are just a few ideas any more?

Posted in Bothies, Charity, Enviroment, Equipment, Friends, Gear, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Well being | 7 Comments

A great show at Culloden Academy Inverness. Christmas is a time for the kids to enjoy.

I drove to Inverness at the weekend Ben Wyvis was looking great but I was not going on the hills. It was magic as I managed to get to watch my Grand kids at Culloden Academy Inverness take part in their Christmas Dance show. It was fantastic and both girls loved it and it was a full house of over 500 watching. Sadly many years ago I hardly saw their Mum and her sister who also loved these type of shows as I was always away on the mountains. It was for a great part my job at the time but you never get these years back. Looking back how much I missed, not just this but call -outs on birthdays, time you can never get back. So it was so good to see the hall full of parents family and friends all there to support the kids. The effort by all the performers and their teachers was excellent. The rehearsals were kept secret by the girls but it was some show and they all did so well. Thanks to all at Performers UK who made it all possible.

To see so many kids loving the dancing and singing makes you believe that this is what Christmas is about.The joy the smiles and the effort they all put in was superb. In my mind we are so lucky that people volunteer or give their time to teach the kids and how they loved it. We had a family meal after and it ended a great day. I was laughing all day at the concert and nearly crying at times. ( Becoming so sentimental in old age)

I can never get that time back with my step – kids when I missed so much being away so often. But I am so lucky to get some real time with those I love. As i drove back Christmas has started and its so good to see the excitement in their lives.

we at times live in a crazy world but things like this help give you faith.

Thanks Yvette, Dave and the girls it was magical.

Posted in Friends, Mountaineering, Music & Cinema, Weather, Well being | Leave a comment

Every photo tells a story. Always take them a savour them mark them up with dates people and hills.

It’s great when you go through old photos and they can mean so much. It was a lot harder in the 70 when film was expensive to develop and cameras were not so cheap. I in the end took two cameras and have built up some collection. There is still lots on slides that I need to buy/borrow a slide converter any ideas.

In the 70’s the RAF MRT Team leaders course involved a phase of a two week walk. This was after all the technical rope and stretcher part was done in Wales. I think it lasted two months then It also involved some caving and then a Big Walk with some huge days. I helped support them on their journey on their walk as they had support at times and managed to get on the hill. It was interesting to see so how fatigue effected all those folk being assessed. As a young lad it was hard to believe that one day I would do a several Walks across Scotland and in the mid 80’s a Team Leaders course much shortened to two week on my Course. The gear looks so primitive compared with the modern kit. Breeks, gaiters and Karrimor bags, Henry Lyodd jackets, Dachstein mitts!

Ben Lomond after the end of the Team Leaders Walk – I was supporting them date approximately mid 70’s Heavy, Bob, Pete McGowan, Tom Taylor, USAF D Albridge, Pete Weatherhill, Don Shanks. Don Aldridge was the guy from the 67 ARRS USAF, 18 days on the hill, 349 miles, 113,870 ft of ascent 70 Munroes
A few years on 1976 the Aonach Eag Glencoe after one of our parties spent the night out on the ridge.

The photo above is of Glencoe. This is early morning on the Aonach Eag when one of our parties were benighted, it was a stunning morning and Don Shanks and myself went up to drop a rope to them. They were cold but okay. Note the kit I am sure that was my first Gortex Jacket that I bought, some of the others are in ventile jackets that we modified with full zips. Hard wearing but heavy. That was a magical morning we were lucky with the weather and the boys had roped most of the way coming from the Clachaig side I think. We all learned from that but as we reached the ridge as the summit cleared it was incredible. We were carrying two ropes and hot flasks. Hamish was aware of what was going on and just laughed.

1973 Skye ridge Easter . Tom MacDonald, Dave Foy, Paddy Allen and me the 5 Beatle.

I think this was taken in the big Easter grant in Skye 10 days on the hills mostly in winter garb. A young boy in this photo with my mate Tom MacDonald.

This photo is 46 years ago in Skye of to the Skye ridge, note the gear. Woolen jumper homemade, breeks, Bobble hat and small issue hill bag with radio in the back. Paddy has a hawser laid rope on his bag and the McInness Massay ice axe a heavy beast. The wagon was a 4 tonner where we sat in the back on boxes. No health and Safety then.

The Tragzitz.

No Health and Safety again 1972 Longhaven sea cliffs – Stretcher lower techniques day Paddy with no helmet. Now its Crag Snatch and simple lowers a lot easier.

The old techniques were scary and practised a lot. Note the gear the Curly boots on Paddy the breeks and the classic hill jumper. The wire would nearly decapitate you coming off the harness. Keep taking these photos they will make you smile in later years.

Comments welcome.

Posted in Equipment, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Views Mountaineering, Well being | 2 Comments

Thinking of my Mum – 40 years on.

This is always a hard week as every year at this time as the years go by its still the same today as it was when my Mum passed away.  This is the anniversary of my Mum’s passing she died in 1980 I still miss her every day, she was as all Mum’s are a special lady.  As you get older and wiser you appreciate her more and more. She raised 5 children washed cooked and looked after us, how she managed is incredible.  She was also the minister’s wife and worked so hard for the Church throughout her life which was never easy. These were the days when she was at the beck and call of not only her family but a needy church.  As the youngest of 5 children I was spoiled in every way, always in a scrape or trouble and being a Ministers son a bit of a rebel. Mum died of Leukaemia and right up to end told my sisters to keep it from us and even though I phoned her every week she still spoke as though all was well. I was at RAF Valley in North Wales in a relationship and with my job as full – time Deputy Mountain Rescue Team leader she thought I had enough on. It was only on her last few days I was told to get home as Mum was dying. It was a huge shock to me to see this lady so frail and yet not a moan though she was in great pain. It was a sad few days.     

My Mum was always there for me and we had a great bond through her love and care! She loved her family, their kids, the church, the mountains, football the tennis and dedicated her life to her family her grandchildren and as always the church. Money was really tight but we never wanted for love and she brought us all up almost single handed as Dad pursued his life as a minister. In these days he visited most of his congregation at night and we hardly saw him. During my wild years my Mum saw something in me as Mum’s do and as I grew up we got a lot closer! When I went and joined the RAF she loved that I was in Mountain Rescue though she worried about me daily as only Mum’s can do! We spoke every week on the phone as most of my leave was spent chasing mountains I was a rare visitor home!

All these years on I can never get these times back and like many regret my selfishness but that can be what happens when you work so far from home.  I wonder how many who read this sadly feel the same? At least you can do something about it.

https://heavywhalley.files.wordpress.com/2018/11/1936-my-mum-xxx.jpg
My Mum – sadly I never got her looks!

I rushed home on the train arriving in the early morning and walked with my dog from Kilmarnock to Ayr money was tight. I was shocked poor Mum was so frail and yet every week on the phone she never said a thing or complained and just listened to me and gave me advice. Poor Mum I later found out was in terrible pain for a long time but never moaned, she was incredible during these last few months. She told me to get my brother back from Bermuda and then she died shortly after he arrived home. We got some special time only two days together near the end and she was so upset she told me that she had little to leave us a monetary sense. Yet she had given us a lifetime of love and care and that is what matters. In this modern life I despair at times when I families ripped apart after a loved ones death over money and possessions. To me love, care and kindness is the greatest gift ever that parents can bestow on their kids.

The next few short days were awful and I think I was programmed to seeing so many tragedies in the mountains that it took me years to realise what had happened. Even at the funeral I was like a robot and had to rush back to work next day to North Wales. How I miss her and wish I could have done more for her and when in trouble or down she is still always still there for me!

Sadly it took me many years to grieve for her.

She was such a beautiful person in every aspect who loved us all yet had time to guide and be there for us. I shared so many secrets with her over my life and she was always there to listen when I needed! How she would have loved to see her grandchildren and their kids now. I would have loved her to have met all the great Grandchildren and Lexi and Ellie Skye and shared their lives! I also hope I got some of her good points I got the love flowers from my Mum so every few weeks I buy some or pick them and they always remind me of her. I have her deep love of the wild places and still feel her with me when out and about, sadly what would she have made of today’s world, I wonder?

She loved her tennis and would have been so proud of Andy Murray getting fit again and his brother in the tennis world and I believe she watches them in heaven and is praying for Andy to get well. I have had a few near misses in life in the mountains and I am sure she was there with me giving me that extra drive and push to get out of a situation. She told me how much she worried about this all-consuming aspect of my life.

Mum loved the Mountains and wild places.

Please give your Mum and Dad a hug or a visit or a call we all owe them so much they make us who we are. Mum I miss you as we all do thanks for being there for me. I am off to get some flowers for the house and for my friend Wendy, she reminds me so much of you every way.

Last year was incredible I wish I could have told her about my trip to America and the meeting of so many kind folk. So many reminded me of my mum one 81 year old who had lost her daughter 30 years ago in the Lockerbie Tragedy was so like my Mum. She radiated love and care and had no bad words to say despite what the world had thrown at her and her family, She spoke to us all and  gave us all a hug and I had a cry I am sure my Mum saw it and was happy for us.

Yet every year I miss her more and those I have lost including my two sister Jenifer and Eleanor who I lost this year. As you get older you think a lot more I suppose you have time it’s always worth looking after them every time you see them. Always make time for each other and learn and love form those we owe so much to.  

Last Sunday in the Church that Mum and Dad loved in Ayr there are two plaques on the wall dedicated to both my Mum and Dad. Flowers were placed this year in memory of them both and I was sent a photo it was a lovely thought.

Flowers in the Church in Ayr in memory of Mum and Dad.

Thanks Mum XXX

Posted in Aircraft incidents, Family, Friends, Mountaineering, People, Well being | 2 Comments

An Winter Ascent of Central Gully Direct on Lliwedd, A Memorable Day.

This is the last of a series of articles by a pal Andy Watkins who wrote them up after being confined to a wheelchair after a being knocked off his bicycle. This last article is about a winter cliff in North Wales on the mountain cliff LIwedd. Its a huge mountain cliff over 1000 feet sweeping to the lake. It was a place for the early climbers preparing for the Alps. Its a huge cliff and though I never climbed here in winter myself but had a few wild days on the Classic Rock routes. We even did a Rescue here when another climber fell nearby its a serious place. In winter which in Wales can be fickle this is a wild face with some classic climbs. This is Andy’s account of the Classic Central Gully Direct. As usual its an understated account of a winter climb on a classic Welsh cliff.

An Winter Ascent of Central Gully Direct on Lliwedd, A Memorable Day.

The cliff. from Cold Climbs.

It must have been February 1987 when we drove, Gary Lewis and I, S. Wales to N. Wales in my 2cv. The forecast was good but there was no snow at the edge of the road.

I planned to do Central Gully Direct but there was no snow at Pen-Y-Pass, in the morning, so I thought my luck had deserted me. There was snow below Lliwedd though and things looked more promising. When we got to below the Direct there was a thin covering of ice and I decided to try it. The problem was that the ice was too soft to enable a secure placement. I led and got a poor runner at 50 ft. I advanced another 60 ft until I came to a steep slab beneath an overhang.

Here, the snow was even softer but I managed to get one placement with my trusty Simond Chacal, which I managed to mantelshelf onto. This put me below the overhang. I had just surmounted this when the rope came tight. The belay was 10 ft above me. There I was 100ft above a poor runner and I’d run out of rope.

What could I do but shouted down “Climb when you’re ready”.After a short interlude, Gary started climbing and I got to the, loose, spike for a welcome belay. Luckily neither of us fell off!

The gradient of the gully eased after this and we soloed to the top. Gary was effusive in his praise and said “that had been a lead that Mick Fowler would have been proud of “.

We returned to the SWMC hut in Deniolen and I basked in adulation.The next day Gary dragged me up Vector and some other E2s at Tremadoc, I forget which ones, but I will always remember that climb.

Note: Thanks Andy for these articles they were superb and many of your pals have read and enjoyed them I have put these together for you.

Peter White ( Chalky) Most of us have had epics on at least one of those ridges! A very understated account of an incredible achievement but that is Andy… absolute legend.

Bill Batson – I climbed with Andy on several occasions, both on rock and ice. Always an adventure of life on the edge. Stunning days in fabulous company.

Dougie Borthwick – That makes Tom & myself look very sedate…5hrs to do the same route.. in summer 😅. Nice memory of partying all night, doing the 4 ridges then drinking the Alt a Mhuillin dry 😂. Wonderful read 👍👍

Eric Joyce – A legend

Posted in Mountaineering, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering, Well being | Leave a comment

Dicing with Death Feb 1990 – A winter Ascent of the Central Buttress of Beinn Eighe

This is the second of a series of 5 articles written by my pal Andy Watkins. Andy was sadly knocked of his bike many years ago and is now confined to a wheelchair. I knew Andy well he was a member of the RAF Mountain Rescue when I was in Valley North Wales and we met and climbed a lot. He moved up North at RAF Lossiemouth and was oneof a group who were pushing military climbing in the 80,s and 90’s. He travelled light on the hill never felt the cold and was always introducing many others youngsters into this crazy climbing game. His gear was basic. This is an article about a wonderful climb on that Torridon Giant Beinn Eighe. “Dicing With Death”

Intro Heavy Whalley – The Triple Buttresses of Beinn Eighe, located in the stunning Coire Mhic Fherchair and is one of the most impressive cliffs in Scotland. The sandstone buttresses are capped by large quartzite cliffs. There is an array of classic summer rock and steep mixed climbs as well as some long mountaineering journeys. Central Buttress (Winter) VI 7. I have climbed a few routes on Beinn Eighe in winter the classic Eastern Buttress stands out but after a long day on Central Buttress in summer it was well out of my ability. The Central Buttress was a classic of the day climbed by a formidable team of Alan Rouse and Alec MacIntyre in Feb 1978. These were folk we met a fair amount as the climbing world was a lot smaller then.

This is Andy’s Story.

The phone rang on the Thursday night. Nick Clements, my partner on this escapade, was free for the weekend. I finished at 12 o’clock, lunchtime, but Nick had to work until 4 o’clock in the afternoon. It was February 1990 and we arranged to go to Beinn Eighe to do the Central Buttress of Coire Mhic Fheachair.

Beinn Eighe Central Buttress – from the classic Cold Climbs.

It was featured in cold climbs but would it be in condition? We decided to go anyway, I’d never been in to Coire Mhic  Fheachair and the walk would do us good.

After driving across to Torridon, from Morayshire, on the Friday night, we had a drink in the Loch Maree hotel, before driving a short distance down the road and turning in for the night. There was no snow by the side of the road, and our prospects looked bleak. At the time, I was driving a Lada Niva, a hopelessly unreliable beast, which insisted on overheating given half a chance. It had the advantage however of the seats folding flat so that you could use them as a bed.

We woke the next morning to find a warm wind blowing. But this is Torridon, and you walk in from sea level. It might still be frozen higher up. We decided to look, and decide when we got there. We started walking. Initially there was no snow and it was not until just below the first tier, that we encountered any, and that was melting fast. Having walked in we were loath, not to try it. Accordingly, we set out on the first pitch.

The Triple Buttress of Bheinn Eighe can be divided into two tiers. The top were covered in ice but the lower tier was bare. We roped up and started climbing. Initially the rock was bare and we climbed in boots, only putting on crampons on the second tier.  

On the first tier, I was lay backing a crack, when the whole boulder came away and, bouncing over me, fell to the screes below. Nick was sure that I had fallen, but I managed to step back onto the ledge below. It was the size of a small car and it would have crushed me if it had hit me.

At the second tier, we had to put on crampons and, as we’d hoped, ice abounded. Nick led off in the gathering gloom. The second tier is made of quartz, the water flowing out over the non-permeable rock to form a series of iced grooves.

We climbed on, dispatching this section in two long pitches. It became fully dark, and we had to put on head torches. The last tier is provided the crux. Nick led this bit and I led the last pitch to the, perfectly flat, summit.

Here there was a moon, among scudding clouds, and we didn’t need our head torches.We headed down to the Loch Maree hotel and had a well-earned drink. It was before the days of 24 hour pubs, and I seem to remember having a lock in, drinking with the guests and talking to a man, still buzzing from doing the route. He just couldn’t understand what made us do it.

Only twenty hours before, when I had pulled off the big boulder, I had asked myself the same question. Was it in full winter condition?

Decide for yourself. It was harder if anything. All I know is I’d come very close to being crushed.

Thanks Andy another great tale.

Notes My pal Ron Walker wrote this after he an incident in the Cairngorms. Tip, Tap Test.

” Unfortunately loose rock and rubble is normal on mountain routes and is to be expected even on the most solid and well travelled line, treat every handhold and foothold as if it were loose because many are or will be in the future – so take care. Tip, Tap and Test with your hands and feet as you climb, remember the three T’s!”

This Classic book was a wonderful addition to climbing at the time first published in 1983 and became a bible for many. The essays on each route are wonderful, well worth getting hold of. Great days.

Posted in mountain safety, Mountaineering, Rock Climbing, Scottish winter climbing., SMC/SMT, Views Mountaineering, Weather, Well being | Leave a comment

Winter Adventures – A day at the races on Ben Nevis Castle Ridge, Observatory Ridge, North East Buttress and Tower Ridge.

Winter Adventures

Andy Watkins – photo A. Watkins Collection.

This is a from a good pal who I climbed with many years ago. It is his birthday this week I was supposed to go down South to celebrate his birthday. Due to other family commitments I could not make it. My pal Andy Watkins sent a series of articles that he wrote.

This is the first in a series :

Andy Watkins on the Sword At Carn Eacheacan – photo Nick Clements

A Group Of Five Short Articles About Winter Climbing

Do you have climbing memories? I do. I can remember some climbs, the most hairy, the sketchiest, the best, classic conditions, or the worst, very vividly sometimes.

At other times, I struggle to piece together the details. But my climbing memories are important to me, and so there are times I rehearse particular memories, actively trying to remember what it was I did on a certain day.

There are “old climbers, and there are bold ones”, the saying goes, but few who are both, and so all climbers who don’t die get old and have memories. There are lots of climbers. That’s a lot of climbing memories. What happens to all those memories if we don’t actively remember them? Do they just get erased, like the old messages on our answer messages?

If I write down my best climbing memories, will I remember them better? Will you help me remember them? Here are five of my best:

“A Day At The Races”{setting the record straight)

My first story starts, as do all good stories, with a failure. At the end of March, it must have been 1992 or 1993, Nick Clement, Phil Caesley and myself failed in our first attempt to climb the four ridges of Ben Nevis in a day, managing only Castle Ridge, in foul weather, before admitting defeat and skulking off down the Tourist track. There was a big avalanche in Castle gully, which I remember as a cautionary signal for the day.

In good weather, Phil and myself returned to Ben Nevis the following weekend. We intended to climb all four ridges un-roped to save time. We had in our bags a spare jumper, a Gore-tex suit and some Twixs chocolate and Phil had a “gopping” Cream egg which was a real struggle to get down with a dry mouth. It was the first time I had taken a litre of water on the hill. On previous visits to hills I had carried a much smaller water bottle.

Phil admits the dehydration training seemed to work though.

We carried a single 9mm rope but, in the event, did not use it. I had done all the ridges before but Phil had only done Tower Ridge, Castle Ridge and North East Buttress leaving Observatory Ridge for this event.

We were both experienced winter climbers but Phil had only done a dozen routes. This included a solo of Point 5 gully so he was not a novice!

We started on Castle Ridge, which we despatched in double quick time, descending via the abseil posts, which we did every time due to the avalanche risk.

We then ascended Observatory Ridge with the Zero Gully finish, for speed reasons, as cramponing on steep neve’ is fast. Phil commented on the sustained nature of the route, what he actually said was very rude saying the route was ——- hard but this is a family magazine and the actual words are unprintable.  

Then we turned our attentions to NE Buttress, which we despatched in a very quick time. The only pitch that I remember is the 40ft corner pitch at the top of NE Buttress, and I’ve got a picture of Phil on the traverse in, the rest is a blur.

We descended via the Abseil posts for the last time to the foot of Tower Ridge for our “piece de resistance”. The average time is 5 hours. The first ascent, by Norman Collie, took 5 hours in 1894, a good time today.  It was our last route and we did it in 56 minutes, not our best time, we had done it in 53 minutes after doing Hadrian’s Wall, but we were to tired this day, hence the longer time.

We topped out to meet two climbers who’d just done Tower Ridge and said they’d just seen two climbers on Observatory Ridge and were suitably amazed when we told them it was us. The looks on their faces when we told them we’d done 4 ridges in a day had to be seen to be believed. They shared a can of Guinness with us to celebrate our achievement.

We descended the Tourist Track just as it was getting dark and drove to Onich, where the RAF Mountain Rescue team, from RAF Kinloss, were staying and I drank beer out of tins long into the night, while Phil slept like the dead.

“Heavy” Whalley, the Team Leader, said that he thought it was the first time that it had been done and I should write an article about it.

(D Whalley – Many of my team including me were on the Ben and had seen Andy and Phil and offered them a bed for the night if they made it or possibly a “stretcher” ride home. I was very worried about them all day. Yet when they arrived it was one of these nights. It was inspirational to all of us and sowed seeds in many of the younger troops what was possible)

It must be emphasised that conditions were perfect, we just followed in the footsteps of those that had gone before and we didn’t jump the Tower Gap, climbing down into it instead, but it was still a good day, especially as we descended via the Abseil Posts and not number 4 gully.

We only took 13 hours, from car to car, more time spent in ascent of the mountain, descent and walking across the top than in ascent. I hope this sets the record straight.!

I had met Andy many years before in South Wales he was an incredibly driven climber. Climbing with little gear much of it needing repaired. I once met him and gave him a pair of crampons as his had no front points left. He climbed in Ron Hills and a woolly jumper soloed a lot and was always pushing the boundaries climbing solo at a bold pace.

Sadly Andy was knocked of his bike and is now confined to a wheelchair. It was a tragic event I visited Andy when I was down South at Innsworth and Andy was in a Care Home. I visited most weeks and it’s incredible to see what Andy has achieved.

This is what he wrote “I don’t climb any more because I was knocked off my bicycle in the year 2000, and I can no longer walk. I’m in a wheelchair. All I’ve got are these memories now.

But I can remember, and that at least is something.”

Thank you Andy for sharing this adventure and you were a huge inspiration to that group of climbers in my team and the military mountaineering clubs. If anything had happened during these days I would probably been involved in the investigation about what happened. It was always in my mind and worse if it was a pal . I had known Andy since the 70’s when we met at St Athans in South Wales. He one if a group that pushed the RAF Teams climbing to a new level. Getting that boldness, ability and drive within the Military environment is not easy to achieve. When you become a leader it is even more apparent. Yet this is what our sport is all about. No matter what level you achieve.

I will get down to see you Andy.

Posted in Articles, Avalanche info, Bothies, Equipment, Friends, Gear, Health, Mountain rescue, Mountaineering, People, Rock Climbing, Scottish winter climbing., SMC/SMT, Views Mountaineering | Leave a comment

Night time walks, rescues and climbs in the summer and winter.

Night time climbs and walks. A few memories.

It’s so popular now to go out at night on the mountains camp or bivy and catch the early sunrise on the summits . Over the years all over the world I have been so privileged to be there. I have slept out under the stars in the hills and the deserts during my time in Mountain and Desert rescue and among some of the worlds great peaks.

Oman Desert Rescue sleeping under the stars. Every night whilst out on Exercise.

Some were coming of the hill on an all night Rescue after a full days work exhausted but to see the sunrise was always so uplifting. Even after a long night no matter how tired you were it raised your spirits. It’s was to me a primeval feeling.

In our early days we would rock climb at night the “Classic Savage Slit” after work in late summer in the Cairngorms was a team favourite. We would look at the weather and with a few pals climb at night drive home and go straight into work in the morning. We would be buzzing all day but you were young and fit then. In the RAF team part of the training was a night navigation and bivy. The Cairngorms would be ideal for this as after a long day we would announce an overnight bivy with just what we had. The plateau Loch Avon and Corrie Sputan Dearg we’re favourites.

A team bivy near Hells Lum then a scramble up Afterthought Arete,

Then the night climbing moved on into winter climbing when the cliffs were a lot quieter and climbs like the “Mirror Direct” done again after work. Once involving a Rescue after one of our troops fell and broke his leg. That involved a big carry off helped by the “A team “at Glenmore lodge and lots of explaining to do to our bosses. Yet this was great training for Rescues and mountaineering.

Then we had night traverses of the Aonach Eag in Glencoe as in the way wonderful W.H.Murray book. This would involve the West to East of the ridge then turn back straight round and do it East – West. I was always telling Hamish what we were up to and the local police.

In Wales there was always the classic Lockwoods chimney done late at night an annual event for the RAF Valley MRT. The 14 peaks would start with a night ascent of Crib Goch then on to a long day on the hills. It was all great training.

We alway every year had big night Exercises in Wales on the Idwal Slabs . These would involve big lowers at night. Unseen boulders crashing down the smell of Cordite filling the air. No fear just another part of the training. It is so easy to make a mistake at night and everything has to be doubled checked. Safety was paramount.

Then it was on to the epics in Skye, a lower off the In Pin on a wet night with Gerry Ackroyd of the Skye team on minimal gear. A stretcher at night down the loose slabs with a casualty was never easy. Often there would be rocks falling and then climbing down after the stretcher was at the next belay. All this was done on a single 500 foot rope and a with a badly injured casualty. Yet we all got down safely the “big man” must have been watching us! We had a few on Skye like that I was pleased it was dark and I could not see where I was.

The Ben was another great place in the 70’s the Lochaber heroes would be lowered down the big winter faces on Rescues. Communications were poor as usually was the weather lots of basic lowers and simple gear in these days. In early summer we would climb the gullies before the sun hit the remaining snow and it was always good training for the “Greater Ranges” The Classic Four ridges meant that me being a slow climber doing at least one of the ridges in the dark. Interesting times.

In the Alps then the Himalayas it was always early starts to get the summit in before the sun hit and melted the snow. Lessons hard won and learned.

Bivy at 20000 feet on Diran Pakistan – Photo Dan Carroll

So many now go out now to see a sunrise many introduced by the Munro Moonwalker and his superb books and photos. You have to be careful at night it’s a different game.Yet is there anything better than arriving at a summit in the dark awaiting the dawn?

A very cold bivy in the Himalays.

Another pal in Skye Adrian Trednall is always up in the Cuillin awaiting that classic photo and his photos are inspiring as is his enthusiasm. His Facebook page all things Cuillin is full of wonderful photos that were hard won by early starts.

My best but hardest memory was in 1982 on Skye on that classic wee mountain Stron na Stri. We had an epic night in the snow when an F111 USA aircraft crashed near the summit killing both crew. We located it after a long search late at night. Our gear was a lot simpler then plastic bivy bags etc. We were soaked frozen and had to stay till late morning. That was our job as the crash site was to classified and dangerous to leave. It became a survival exercise for the 5 of us. We bivied down in the wet snow we were soon soaked. It was my longest night I watched the weather clear at about 0730 and the views of the Skye ridge plastered in snow were incredible.

Early Morning drop off.

You felt the sun slowly warm you and rise on a cold morning in an early December day. You were still alive and the next few hours awaiting the rest of the team were spiritualWe were all alive and had survived in my mind as all these night time adventures had given us a great deal of experience that kept us going through that long night.

Later on when the Sea kings had Night Vision capability we would get early drop offs by helicopter as the sun rose. Was it cheating to be dropped of on the Devils Ridge on the Mamores as the sun rose on a big search. Not on a call out !

Looking back how lucky have I been ! Going out all night was looking back after a days work in training or on a call – out some of the best memories I have.

The navigation, the effort but the prize of a sunrise make all the effort worthwhile.

Night navigation in winter.

I hope I can get a few more nights out maybe a camp overnight on a summit like I did in the old days. The gear is lighter but is the body still capable.

Cave dwelling now that’s another story.

We will see.

It is in winter that the Scottish Mountains Excel

No one who has seen the skyward thrust of a snow peak, girdled by its early morning cloud and flushed with the low sun, will dispute with me.

Follow a long ridge of encrusted snow to its sunset tower and tread the summit at moonrise.

This is Scottish winter climbing!

W.H.Murray

“Nothing but a memory of the wide silent snowfields crimsoned by the rioting sky and of the frozen hills under the slow moon”.

W.H.Murray

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An Teallach wreath. In memory of Sarah Hassall thank you Angus Jack.

Sarah on An Teallach “ Best Ever”

A great friend of the RAF MRT Angus Jack from the local Dundonnell MRT laid a wreath on An Teallach this weekend in memory of Sarah Hassall.

As you will see from the photos An Teallach is in winter garbh an incredible mountain and one Sarah loved.

When I wrote back to Angus to ask and thank him for allowing me to use his words and photos.

He wrote this David Whalley.

“It was an honour and a privelege from our mountain community.” The mountains give us so much.

The wreath – photo Angus Jack.

“At the request of family and friends a wreath was laid on An Teallach at the weekend in memory of Sarah Hassall a former RAF Kinloss and Valley MRT member who died tragically last month.

It was Sarah’s favourite mountain. My thoughts were also of the many deaths on Teallach over the years and thankfully many more successful dramatic rescues.

A faint Brocken Spectre was seen.”

An Teallach – photo Angus Jack

Many thanks Angus for your efforts and kindness. It means so much to her family and her many friends. Thinking of you all.

Posted in Articles, Family, Friends, Mountain rescue, Mountaineering, People, Views Mountaineering, Well being | 2 Comments

Great climbing gear / The Moac Nut ! Wooden Wedges.

Who remembers the classic MOAC nut. I loved them I remember on a classic route Nordwand in winter on Ben Nevis retreating from a battered in Moac and abseiling off into a storm. It will still be there!

Also using one on a wild lower in Skye at night a few years later, I bet they are still there I saw many stuck in cracks over the years .

Have you got any tales of great gear from years ago? .

Nowadays the gear for protection is incredible how far have we come on since these early days. I remember climbing on nuts made by the engineers in the RAF with a number 2 line threaded through. Classic gear.

Before that some climbed with wooden wedges on Beinn Eighe and early ascents on the sea stacks made again made in RAF workshops and with rope threaded through. The Old Man of Hoy still has some of the remains of these wedges.

The MOAC Nut photo Scottish Mountain Heritage Collection.

Moac – Created by Sheffield blacksmith, John Brailsford, the M.O.A.C. was one of the first ever purpose designed nuts for rock climbing,(the first being the Acorn – also invented by Brailsford.) Chockstones and machined nuts were the norm up to the point when MOAC’s first appeared in 1962.

The first batch were cast in Manchester and finished by Peter Gentil. At the time a guy called Ellis Brigham owned a chain of outdoor shops in the UK which had an import section called Mountain Activities and the first two letters of each word were used to create the name of this new nut – the MOAC – as Brigham had backed the first production run as a financial gamble which seemed to have paid off because millions must have been sold and fifty years later

Some of the older climbers are still using them. Remember to change the rope in the very early Moacs. The first versions were more rounded at the four corners and there were smaller production versions later on. They could also be filed down to fit smaller cracks.

Comments welcome.

Posted in Articles, Enviroment, Equipment, Gear, History, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Rock Climbing, Scottish winter climbing., SMC/SMT, Views Mountaineering | Leave a comment

Handy reminders for the winter.

The Saddle Kintail

In my early days a few of the more experienced mountaineers in the RAF Team would advise me of possible danger areas in winter They would take time out to explain where they were when we were out. As we trained all over Scotland it was so important we knew of the danger areas This came with their many years of knowledge on the mountains in winter. It helped me on many occasions when we were on a call out or just a wild day climbing.

The wonderful Forcan Ridge at Kintail.

I try to pass this advice on when I am out in the winter.

The Saddle Kintail ” Care needs to be taken on the descent into the corrie below the Saddle, as there have been avalanches here. Otherwise, it’s fairly safe“.

The old Winter guide books used to advise of Avalanche areas but nowadays much is hidden in the climbs narrative. I wonder how many are aware nowadays? Of course Avalanche Awareness is all part a Mountain Day and one that is so important to learn. There are a great many ways to gain information and it is also well worth taking a Course in Avalanche Awareness. You can buy all the Safety gear, Avalanche transceivers, shovels , probes etc but getting a few days out with an expert is money well spent. You need to train with the gear as we did every year have a good shakedown on Avalanche training. As is reading the daily avalanche reports and weather reports in the day you go out and as part of your preparation days before. It all takes time but its well worth it,

The old Ben Guide !

Nowadays the knowledge is there there are great websites the Scottish Avalanche Service (SAIS) is a great resource and the App is free and easy to download. The Daily forecast give you so much information on what is happening all over Scotland.

It took weeks to locate these folk.

The normal descent route of Buachaille Etive Mhor Glencoe

Much of the knowledge is there but sadly some is getting lost in time. Be aware of where you are and use all the tools to travel safe in winter.

Well worth a read.

Every climbing area has places to be aware of in the wrong conditions, it might be a descent after a climb or on the way up to a route or hill. Always think be aware of where you are. A safe route can change due to a change of wind direction and a big deposit of snow. Be safe and use everything to make your day safe.

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Short wander in the Cairngorms to the crag in the mist.

Yesterday I missed the good weather by a day but wanted a wander. The Cairngorms is on my doorstep so it was a lazy start. The road was icy at the Dava Moor and it’s a wild place with a sprinkling of snow.

The roads needed care it was icy yet so many blast past and at the bridge at Grantown a car had skidded and smashed into the bridge. There were Police aware stickers on it.

The Dava with the light coming through.


The Cairngorms were hidden in cloud and I went via Aviemore. I stopped in at Glenmore to see Heather “the Safety “ but she was out but caught up with George and we had a bleather.

Not great visibility today.

I decided to go to the lower car park at Cairngorm and see if anyone was climbing on the cliffs above Strath Nethy. The cloud was down and there was a pair heading of. One was wearing lightweight snow shoes. They had lots of gear and must have been planning to climb. They headed off there was one other car there.

I go enjoy this walk up to the cliffs above Strath Nethy it is a short walk and usually very quite. Today it was hard going no views and the snow deep in places. The visibility was not great and did not look like lifting so the normal one hour walk took me longer to get high. There was some slab about as well as the photo shows.

Slab about ‘

It was heavy going at times . I decided that there were no photos to be taken and headed down after about an hour and a half. There was no wind thank goodness and though deep in places I was struggling. It was one of these days. I could hear the climbers in the mist but there would be little point. Two parties I think ? Hardy folk.

Off the path it was hard work. A big change from the day before. I had missed the weather by a day. It was definitely winter today.

Lots of snow !

The Crag features

This small east-facing winter crag was first developed in the 2010/11 season. The cliff has a short approach (less than one hour from Coire na Ciste carpark) and short routes allowing you to climb many routes in a single day.

Whilst it’s still nowhere near as popular as Lochain/t’Sneachda, Cha-no is no longer as secretive as it once was. As such it’s very likely that you’ll bump into other people. However, if you turn up with a mindset to climb anything (including unclimbed routes) as opposed to just the small number of popular routes, you shouldn’t be queueing!

You can download a SMC PDF mini-guide to this crag from https://www.smc.org.uk/publications/downloads/creaganchanofor the price of a coffee – all profits go to the Scottish Mountaineering Trust.

I was soon back at the car and headed home feeling pretty tired limited energy today? Maybe it was one of these days but at least I got four hours out on the hills.

You definitely needed to navigate yesterday and more snow is coming. If going out remember it’s winter. Leave a note and keep your eye on the weather conditions and snow.

Sadly on the Anniversary of completing my Munro’s in 1976 I never got to a Munro but still got out.

Today’s tip watch the roads early in the morning they were very icy yesterday. Worth taking your time.

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“He wore two hats”.Tom Gibbon local Policeman and Killin Mountain Rescue member.

In my time in Mountain Rescue we relied so much the local village Policeman he was the person to get to know. They were the person in the know.

When we arrived in villages all over Scotland on our weekend training they were our contact for Rescues. These were the days before mobile phones and good communications . Often the local Bobby would be the point of contact and arrive in the wee small hours in the village hall. He would pass us the information and tell us to contact our Control the Rescue Centre. When we were training in the area we would phone ahead and tell them the Base usually the village Hall and got to know them well.

It may be a call – out a long way away and we would have to get moving for an early morning start moving our Base. Often we would be driving hours to get to Fort William, Glencoe, Aviemore,Skye or the far North.

We built up many contacts with the local “Polis” and many became friends and helped us out on so many occasions. Often friendly advice was given and taken when the team were out socially? The local Policeman knew every one the landowners keepers etc and was a great help.

Such a man was Tom Gibbon who we lost a few weeks ago. These are some of the words that have been written about Tom.

“The 66 year-old served as a rural community officer in the village and was one of a team of four officers providing 24-hour on-call policing from Strathyre to Tyndrum. He served with the police for 32 years.

More than once he would have to book someone as a police officer, but he would go out of their way to try and help them and they ended up buying him a pint.”

As a police officer he was involved in a number of high profile cases, including being drafted in to assist the investigations following the Lockerbie disaster and Dunblane tragedy. His first mountain rescue came in 1979 when he was called to assist walkers stranded on Ben More. Tom battled waist deep snow drifts and assisted in the recovery of the casualties.

In 1987, a Wessex helicopter crashed on Ben More killing team coordinator Sgt Harry Lawrie who was the local Police Sergeant and injuring another team member and one of the air crew. Tom was in the first group of eight members already on the hill and played a vital role conducting the rescue effort, ensuring survivors were recovered from the wreckage and evacuated. (I was at RAF Leuchars during this time and got to know Tom and the Killin Team well.)

He was one mountain rescue shy of 300 when he retired.

His close friend and former colleague Bill Rose, who is a former Inspector at Callander police office and Killin MRT team member, worked with Tom for 23 years. He said:

“Tom was very much respected and an integral part and good friend to the community. Always on hand to assist local people when required. A traditional police officer, his door was always open and often a word of advice from Tom was all that was required to resolve a situation.

“Tom commanded great respect from all who worked with him in his role of co-ordinating search and rescue for Killin MRT.“He was instrumental in recruiting a strong nucleus of members who lived in Lochearnhead and Balquhidder who provided a wealth of local hill knowledge.”

Earlier this year, Tom published a book, titled ‘He Wore Two Hats’, a collection of stories from his time with the police and mountain rescue”

Thanks for all you did for so many, Tom my thoughts are with the family and friends .

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Remembrance week – after all the parades how do we look after our Service men and women today ?

Thanks for the comments on my blogs during this Remembrance week each day I did a piece on Aircraft Crashes in the Mountains. It’s good to remember these places and to get away from the crowds and remember those who gave so much. I do not like crowds so I like to get into these wild places on my own.

Beinn Eighe

This is my way of thinking of those who gave so much. I visit many crash sites all over Scotland not just at this time but all year when I can. This is my way of paying tribute to these brave folk.

I find it interesting and wonder how many after the Remembrance parades think about the ultimate sacrifice so many made. Sadly today in the Military many are still suffering. I find it hard that despite the politicians being present at all these so Public parades and Services little is still being done for our Servicemen and women.

The old memorial at Assynt

Many who still struggle with PDSD and other illnesses ! Many are homeless yet there is little help available there was supposed to be a “Military Covenant” what happens to that?

So when the medals are put away for another year and we remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Let’s ask all the politicians of all parties when they chase your vote at the door in the coming weeks what they are doing for servicemen and women ?

There is more to Remembrance than a once a year parade and a media soundbite?

These comments are not meant to upset people but to try to improve the current situation for Service folk.

Angus Jacks photo of the memorial the crew are buried here.

My good friend Angus Jack sent me this photo of his visit yesterday to the crash site of the Anson in Assynt. I have written often about this place and the fight to get this grave acknowledged by the powers that be. Angus sent me a few photos of the new headstone and I thank him. I will visit soon this winter. I did over 10 trips to Assynt when I was pushing to get this completed. It was well worth it.

Thank you Angus who also cleaned the algae of the memorial. He also laid a wreath .

The headstone and an Engine in the background. Photo Angus Jack

Comments welcome .

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Remembrance Sunday the Lancaster on Beinn Eighe and the Royal Marines from 45 Commando.

Today is Remembrance Sunday and a few years ago I was honoured to receive these words and photos from 45 Commando.

Sir,

I am a Royal Marines Mountain Leader from 45 Commando, based in Arbroath and I follow your thought provoking blog. We train the Commando Units in these mountains in large numbers every year and I always like to take the lads up Bienn Eighe as it’s a magical mountain.

I didn’t know about this tragic story until a couple of years back when I found your excellent article about it. I thought you’ would like to know I was there today with 60 lads from X Company. We were doing a 2 day route from Achnachellach over Beinn Liath Mor and on to Beinn Eighe in order to be below the crash site before 11 o’clock. We normally split into 3 groups of 20 ish. I give the instructors your article to learn and pass the story on to the young Marines in their group. Today we ran 3 mini remembrance services up there just before 11 O’clock to pay our respects. The rest of our Unit normally attend services around Angus and send a contingent to Spean Bridge but the fact our route landed on Beinn Eighe today made it a very poignant place to hold a remembrance Service.

45 Commando on Beinn Eighe on Remembrance Sunday – photo Scotty Muir

Thanks to your article the story of those brave airman has been passed on to many. Please keep up your great work.

Lest we forget.

Best Regards,

Colour Sergeant Scotty Muir

Beinn Eighe is a mountaineer’s mountain in summer a huge hill of over 9 tops and in winter one of Alpine grandeur. Many chase the Munros there are two tops but this is not a mountain to be rushed it is the haunt of the eagle and those who venture into its wildest Corries will see the grandest of Scotland’s secrets. One of these Corries is the huge Cathedral like Triple Buttress and in one of it gully’s lies the wreckage of an RAF aircraft this is some of the story.

On the 13th March 1951 at 1804hrs, Lancaster TX264 call sign ‘D’ Dog of 120 Squadron, converted for reconnaissance purposes, took off from RAF Kinloss, a ‘fog free’ climate of the Moray Coast between Lossiemouth and Nairn.

The pilot was Flt Lt Harry Reid DFC, 24 years of age, a total crew of eight with a Second Pilot, Navigator, Flight Engineer and four signallers. It was a ‘Navigational Exercise’ via Cape Wrath, the very name a ‘mingled feeling of anger and disdain’ this being the extreme north-west point of the Scottish mainland and named after the Viking word ’hvraf’ meaning a turning point where the Vikings turned south to the Hebrides in the ninth century. The cape is isolated and its heathland untamed. Around midnight the aircrew flew over the Lighthouse. The last position, sent by radio was at 0127hrs 60 miles north of the Cape, this was the very last message from the aircraft.

The RAF Kinloss Team 1951 on Beinn Eighe photo Joss Gosling Collection

At 0200hrs a boy living in Torridon, on the east end of Upper Loch Torridon, looking through his bedroom window saw a red flash in the distance, but didn’t think any more about it until he saw the headlines in a Newspaper, ‘Missing Plane Sought’ and this was two days after the aircraft went missing. He mentioned it to the local Postmaster who immediately contacted RAF Kinloss.

Similar reports had been received. An Airspeed Oxford was sent to search which concentrated on Beinn Eighe. The wreck of the Lancaster was sighted on the 16th March. On the 17th March the Kinloss RAF Rescue Team arrived in the area and on the 18th approached Beinn Eighe from the North and into Coire Mhic Fhearchair from Loch Maree. Wreckage from the Lancaster was found after arriving at the foot of the Triple Buttresses and lying in the ‘corrie’. A ‘corrie’ is a semi-circular hollow or a circular space in a mountain side. This particular wreckage had fallen, the bulk of the aircraft being much higher with the crew inside. At the foot of the Western Buttress were the port wing, undercarriage, two engines and various cowlings. On the following day the starboard wing and some other parts had been blown down by the strong winds, but still no fuselage.

1951 Photo of Beinn Eighe on the search by Joss Gosling

The next day another party managed to climb higher and spotted the fuselage, burnt out, but couldn’t reach it. Further attempts were abandoned for the time being.The weather over the whole period of the search was ‘exceptionally’ severe for the time of the year. It was intensely cold with constant snow showers and high winds and temperatures well below freezing at night. The North of Scotland is much closer, in fact ‘considerably’ closer to the Arctic Circle than North Wales. Conditions in winter can be more ‘Alpine’, they may be ‘Artic’.

Between Beinn Eighe and Sail Mhor the weather was absolutely ‘atrocious’, with the wind coming over the ridge with such force it was virtually impossible to move, and the snow anything from one to four feet. The gully from the corrie was a solid sheet of ice. It was certain that no one was alive in the wreckage, and in the opinion of the Officer in Charge of the team the wreckage was so situated it couldn’t be reached by any members of the public unless they were ‘highly experienced climbers’.

The CO at RAF Kinloss, in the meantime, had offers from the Moray Mountaineering Club, a Doctor John Brewster with this Club having considerable climbing experience in winter.

This offer and another suggestion for help from the Scottish Mountaineering Club, holding their Easter meeting at Achnashellach to the South of Beinn Eighe were both declined.

On the 24th March Dr Brewster informed the CO that men from the Moray Club were going to Beinn Eighe on their own initiative, the RAF team were ordered to return to base. Five men from the Club arrived at Torridon and attempted to reach the aircraft but of no avail and didn’t make a further attempt.

Another attempt was made by a Royal Marine Commando, Captain Mike Banks and Angus Eskine. After a really difficult time with the weather, particularly gusts of wind that brought the human body on all fours, these two reached the main bulk of the aircraft. Eventually all unauthorised visits were stopped and the RAF Team once again returned to Beinn Eighe and this time reached the wreckage. It was most difficult and dangerous work recovering the bodies; three were actually in the fuselage. The last body was not recovered until 27th August.

1951 the Kinloss Team on the summit ridge digging Photo Joss Gosling

Rumours, idle gossip as always, flourished that the crew had survived the impact but rescue being too late. It was obvious to the rescuers, and verified by the medical authorities that death was ‘instantaneous’ in all cases.

After the last body was recovered the team sent the large pieces of the fuselage and wing hurtling down the gulley and later came to be known as ‘Fuselage Gulley’, much of it remains to this day.

Five of the crew of Lancaster TX264 are buried in Kinloss Cemetery, set in the peaceful grounds of the ruined Abbey, they are Sgt W D Beck, Sgt J W Bell, Sgt R Clucas, Flt Sgt J Naismith and Flt Lt P Tennison, in a section reserved for many aircrew who have died flying from RAF Kinloss over the years.

EPILOGUE On the 28th August 1985, a group of Officer Cadets led by Sergeant Jim Morning and Sgt Tom Jones were airlifted on to the summit of Beinn Eighe by a Sea King Helicopter from 202 Squadron. One of ‘D’ Dog’s propellers was recovered and put into a lifting net and taken by the helicopter to the road, and then to RAF Kinloss. The twisted three-blade propeller now stands outside the wooden Mountain Rescue Section building as a permanent memorial to ‘D’ Dog’s crew. The gully where the aircraft crashed is called by mountaineers Fuselage Gully and one of the propellers has to be climbed over and is used by climbers as a belay in winter.

Abseil – of Prop photo
Andy Nisbet.

THE CREW:-PILOT Flt Lt H S Reid

PILOT Sgt R Clucas

Fly Off R Strong

Signaller Lt P

Tennison

Flight ENGINEERFlt Sgt G Farquhar

Signallers Flt Sgt J Naismith

Sgt WD Beck

Sgt J W Bell

The standard of a Mountain Rescue Team, of even the rescue service as a whole fluctuates considerably and, sometimes, alarmingly. Several factors contribute to this.

For many years there was ‘National Service’ eighteen months to two years. A Man would be trained as a good mountaineer and when competent he would be lost to civilian life. Sometimes several members would be demobilised at the same time. Not only would it be imperative to find new volunteers but also men to train these novices, also the teams had to be commanded.

To say that they were sometimes led by incompetent men is unfair and misleading, but because there might be no experienced men available at one time, they were often led by Officers and NCO’s who would be incompetent to deal with emergencies, even those which might appear simple problems to the experienced mountaineer.

Sometimes, and by chance, the fault might be corrected in time, for with tact a good team could teach an Officer his job (although no team will tolerate an inefficient NCO.

Either the NCO will go, or the good men and therefore, the standard of the team). Tact was required on both sides and when life is in the balance, as it always is on rescues, feelings ran too close to the surface. The fewer experienced mountaineers in a team, the more tolerant prevailed.

As the Service took shape and experienced men were in the majority the teams worked more smoothly, and with, as it were, less emotional involvement.

Teams at the start of 1951 were inadequately equipped and poorly trained, but where – in Wales – this knowledge was confined to the RAF, in Scotland the repercussions of the Beinn Eighe disaster were widely publicised.

About this time two Medical Officers Berkeley and Mason who had put forward suggestions for improved efficiency came to the notice of the Air Ministry. It was largely due to the efforts of these two Medical Officers that the organisation and training of the teams underwent a drastic change in the following year.

One of the team members who was on the crash and has a unique account of what happened Joss Gosling who lived in Fort William.

He was only a young lad at the time and the crash affected him greatly. Joss was a competent mountaineer as he had climbed previously before his National Service. He had some unique photos and a diary of events of what happened. He explains how awesome it was to see the corrie for the first time and how he felt during the long days of searching and recovery. His description of the great Corrie being like a Cathedral always sticks in my mind and when the mist swirls in these great cliffs you can feel his words of that eventful time.

He explained that the “ugly step” on the ridge caused problems as the kit they had was very poor but they did their best, he is a wonderful man and a great example to us all.

Joss was at the crash site on the 50th anniversary in 2001 and speaks with great authority on this tragedy. The RAF Kinloss team put a small memorial on the propeller below the gully in 2001 in memory of those who died in this crash, “lest we forget”

I was very privileged to have my last weekend before I retired from the RAF in this area as a member of the RAF Kinloss mrt. This area due to its history is unique and I have spent many days enjoying these peaks. The “Torridon Trilogy” Beinn Eighe, Liathach and Beinn Alligin became test pieces for team training first in summer then in winter conditions. Many of the classic climbs in summer and winter were climbed by team members and a few epic callouts over the years.

These hills have huge corries and alpine ridges where rescues have occurred mostly not reported by the National Press. The local Torridon Team and the RAF MR have assisted climbers and walkers over the years.

I have climbed Fuselage gully on many occasions with team members during my 37 years with the Mountain Rescue Service. In early Dec 2007 with two of the young, Kinloss Team members we had a special day. This was my last day with the RAF before I retired. It is a fairly simple climb by modern standards but I broke a crampon at the beginning and it made the day very interesting as we were being chased by a big storm as we descended. One crampon on the steep descent was thought provoking and I can only think of how the team in 1951 with their simple kit coped. I was brought up to respect the history of this majestic area and its people; there was no finer place to spend my last weekend than in this special place.

On my retirement I spend a two great years with the Torridon MRT as a team member. Finally retired from Mountain Rescue it is a great privilege to return to and enjoy the beauty of this mountain, its ridges, corries and wild life. Recently in 2009 two well known climbers were avalanched whilst descending from Fuselage gully and the wreckage stopped them being seriously injured as one of the climbers hit the propeller on his way down the gully.

It made big news in the Press!

In 2011 on the 60 th Anniversary of the Crash at the exact date a group of serving RAF MRT & Torridon MRT went up to crash site. The actual weather according to Joss Gosling who was on the actual search for the aircraft was very similar. We had thigh deep snow and the journey into the corrie took over 3 hours. BBC Radio Scotland accompanied us on the day and did a programme on the incident. We had a moving ceremony at the crash site, where we left a small wreath. The Stornoway Coastguard helicopter flew over the site as the weather came in making it a very moving day. Joss was now in his 80’s was interviewed by the BBC Scotland at the Hotel where the team had camped 60 years before.

What a story to tell and it still lives on and must never be forgotten. Beinn Eighe

Unseen from the road, the majestic cliffs are hidden. The long walk, views expanding as we climb. Liathach brooding in the mist, is watching?

As usual we meet a family of deer.

They have been there for many years

What have they seen? The Great cliffs sculptured by time and nature.

Wreckage, glinting in the sun.

Memories!

This is a wonderful poignant place. Only too those who look and see.

How mighty is this corrie?

This Torridon giant Beinn Eighe.

Recently in 2013/2014 and 2016 a relative of the incident Geoff Strong a nephew of Fg Off Robert Strong who was killed in the crash asked to visit the crash site. He lives down South and has now three times made the pilgrimage with myself and friends to the great Corrie. This place even after all these years after the 1951 crash mean so much to many. People ask why do I visit these places?

Just speak to Geoff and then look in Joss eyes who was there when he tells his story of a young lad in 1951. “Lest We Forget”

RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue have now been disbanded and there place taken by RAF Lossiemouth MRT. The memorial has been moved from Kinloss to Lossiemouth and is looking great well done all concerned,

I headed up again this May 2109 with Geoff and this time with Ian Andy and Heather Joss’s daughter to visit the site and to replace the memorial.

Joss sadly passed away in his late 80’s and would have been so excited his daughter is going up to see a place that means so much to him.

It was great to see that the RAF MR were up the gully this year in 2019 and the tradition lives on as do the teams.

It is great to see an event such as this still not forgotten.

Joss was a wonderful man who taught us all so much about the past In memory of the crew and my pal Joss Gosling. Heavy 2019 . This summer I was up with Channel 5 filming for a programme on the Lancaster. I was with Ian Joss’s son it was a wonderful day. I think this program that will be out in Dec this year will be a great tribute to those who have so much.

Lest We forget.

Comment from a relative of the crew

“Heavy, My, just wanted to say what wonderful & poignant articles all week culminating in the Lancaster story for Remembrance Sunday today, brought a tear to my eyes. Take care when out on those hills you love.

Lest We Forget,”

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Remembrance Week Wellington Crash / Corrour / Alder Estate – Geal Charn.

This tragic Crash was on 10 th Dec 1942.

This crash site is in remote country access can be tricky. The route to this site is up an Estate road from Dalwhinnie just of the A9. Many nowadays Mountain bike up here. The bothy At Culra is closed due to Asbestos 2019. To visit in a day is a long expedition and care should be taken these are tricky mountains.

There is an amazing story of a Vickers Wellington aircraft 10/12/1942 that crashed south eastern flank of Geal Charn. One crew member survived in mid-winter and went for help. It is a story that few have heard. Wreckage can be found on Geal-Chàrn, and then at various points downward on the slopes of Leacann na Brathan, in the vicinity of Ben Alder.

The crash : The crew, from B Flight of No.20 OTU, were on a day navigation training flight from RAF Lossiemouth on 10 /12/1942. The planned route was from base to a point some 30 miles east of Peterhead – Crieff – Friockheim, near Arbroath – Maud, near Peterhead – base.

At some point the aircraft deviated from this route and at about 15:00 while heading in an easterly to north easterly direction (some 40 miles off course) flew into Leacann na Brathan on the south eastern flank of Geal-charn which at the time was snow covered and enveloped in blizzard conditions.

The only survivor of the crash, Sgt Underwood, after checking for signs of life from his crew made his way off the mountain and arrived at Corrour Lodge in a very poor state.

He was taken in and the next day transferred to hospital in Fort William. I cannot imagine trying to get off the mountain alone high up in winter from this area and all your crew are killed.

Wreckage

How Sgt Underwood managed this is a tale of survival and huge mental courage this is one of the wildest areas and remote hill country in the UK, Sadly little was known of this tale as in 1942 it was the dark days of the war and I would imagine crashes etc were fairly restricted information.

One can only think what was in his head as he headed down to Corrour and what he said to the keeper and his family who live in this remote place?

After the aircraft had failed to return from its exercise a search was organised but nothing was found before the report of the rear gunner reaching Corrour and help was received. The rest of the crew died in the crash.

• F/O James William Heck (25), Pilot, RAAF.

• Sgt Maurice Hutt (21), Obs. / Bomb Aimer, RAFVR.

• Sgt William Ernest Riley (22), Navigator, RAF.

• Sgt Joseph Towers (25), Navigator, RAFVR.

• Sgt James Hemmings, W/Op / Air Gnr., RAFVR.

Following the recovery of the bodies of those who had been killed the task of clearing the site was given to No.56 Maintenance Unit at Inverness. They inspected the wreck and decided to abandon it until the spring of 1943 before any work could begin. The recovery operation eventually began in July 1943 with a camp being established some distance from the site, assistance was rendered by army personnel of the 52nd Division, Scottish Command.

They provided 25 pack mules and a 3 ton lorry. With these most of the wreckage was removed from the site, but today a reasonable amount still remains.

I am sure there was an aircraft Tyre down near the road coming out of the Beinn Alder Track near the Dam at Loch Eiricht and the railway line, it would make sense that is where some wreckage was taken by the mules?

The wreckage on the mountain is in three debris fields, with the lowest lying (containing a few twisted pieces of fuselage) right on the main path going over the Bealach Dubh between Ben Alder and Geal-chàrn at an altitude of about 730m.

It was here that much of the aircraft was brought down by mules and I am sure that is why the wreckage is there on the path? I am sure this is where the wheel came from as the road passes the point where I used to see the aircraft wheel. Please be aware this is a tricky wild remote area if you plan to visit where the snow holds on for a long time.

OS 10-figure grid refs (GPS):

NN 48049 73196
NN 48072 73585
NN 48223 73680

Thanks to Danny Daniels and others for the information.

What a film this story would make and few have heard or have knowledge of this story, it was hidden in the tragedy of the war. I bet there is still a few who would know the tale, the keepers from Corrour would have been involved as would the Beinn Alder Estate/Corrour Estate any information would be gratefully accepted.

I had planned to go up on the 70 th Anniversary but was pretty ill for two years. I will make a point of going up on this 75 th Anniversary in 2020 god willing!

Do you have any contacts on the Estate who may be have a tale of this epic?

For many years I have explored this area and even winter climbed here we had the privileged of using the Estate tracks then when Mr Oswald was the keeper at Beinn Alder.

Often I have done these great hills and the 6 Munros in winter was always an objective with young troops a full on winter experience and the navigation wild on the huge Cornices of Beinn Alder. How many times did we struggle on these long days with limited light then be hit by huge drifts on the way off and swollen rivers in the dark with my trusted dog showing the way.

What a story worth a few thoughts “Lest we forget”

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Remembrance Week – The Oxford aircraft on Ben A Bhuird Cairngorms missing for 7 months and the tale of its find and a watch found at the site in 1973 returned to the family.

Ben Avon (1171m, Munro 17)


Beinn a’Bhuird (1197m, Munro 11)

Ben a’ Bhuird is amongst the remotes of the Munros in Scotland and amongst the granite tors of Stob an t-Sluichd there is the remains of an aircraft crash. Beinn a’Bhuird has huge cliffs with a summit on a vast plateau, with a tiny cairn resting there requiring navigation skills in mist. This is a tricky mountain in bad weather. Some large parts of the aircraft remain at the site, including the two engines. More info here

www.archieraf.co.uk

The crew

Squadron Leader Karel Kvapil – Pilot
Flying Officer Leo Linhart – Pilot
Flying Officer Jan Vella – Pilot
Flying Officer Valter Kauders – Wireless Operator/Air Gunner
Warrant Officer Rudolph Jelen – Pilot

On January 10th 1945 this plane went missing. It was located months later by two hill walkers from Elgin. Nearly 30 years later a watch was found on the site and it was eventually returned to the family. Its an incredible tale and well worth reading about this tragedy

In 2005 memorial plaque to the aircrew who were killed in the crash was affixed to a boulder near the site by the local Air Training Core a lovely tribute.

https://heavywhalley.files.wordpress.com/2019/09/memorial-ben-a-bhuird.jpg?w=358
The Oxford

A Vickers Wellington crashed about 1 k from the South top There is a second wreck site on this mountain it was just off the plateau, Bruach Mhor, where the Wellington crashed in October 1940.

Every crash site has its story and these are incredible and must never be lost. “Lest we forget.”

Lots of information here http://www.archieraf.co.uk

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Remembrance week – Ben Macdui the 1942 Avro Anson air crash remembered.

The Anson

“Lest we forget”

Many people visit Ben Mac Dui as the second biggest mountain in the United Kingdom it is a busy mountain. It is amazing how many visit this summit yet fail to notice a memorial marked on the map. 70 years ago on the 21 of August 1942 there was a plane crash on Ben MacDui .The memorial is about 500 metres from the summit, on a ridge, the view is incredible. There used to be a wooden plaque but now there is a metal one next to a small cairn and some wreckage. It is a great navigational point to find especially in winter but to me it is another very poignant place.

The Memorial – have you visited?

On the memorial are the crew names

Sgt J Llewellyn – (Pilot)

Flight Sergeant G Fillingham (Observer)

Pilot Officer W Gilmour (RCAF) Canadian Air Force. (Navigator)

Flight Sergeant Carruthers   (Wireless Operator/ Air Gunner)

Sgt J B Robertson (Wireless Operator/ Air Gunner)

This is to commemorate an aircraft crash here 70 years ago. It was an Avro Anson Mark 1 DJ106 the aircraft crash killed all five of the crew.  The aircraft and crew flew from RAF Kinloss in Morayshire in Scotland and was on a Navigational Exercise. The crash was located by the Royal Observation Corp on the 24 August and it took till the 27 August to remove all the casualties off the hill. This was in the dark days of war when Britain was fighting for its life. The Cairngorms was a huge training area, much of it sealed off and the public not admitted.  The mountains were the ideal place to test the skills needed by many different troops and Special Forces.

The Memorial on MacDui.

The Avro Anson was a two engine aircraft and wildly used as a training aircraft by the RAF and Commonwealth crews. Many of whom were lost in the mountains and the sea during training. This was due to the aircraft being very basic with limited navigation facilities, communication and the crew training short to support the war effort as quickly as possible. In addition the maintenance of the aircraft would have been very basic due to shortages of equipment and manpower. Crews were needed as quickly as possible for the war effort and unfortunately aircraft regularly crashed. Many crews died in the mountains after surviving a crash but dying of injuries. This was why in later in the war The RAF Mountain Rescue Service was formed.

As a member of Mountain Rescue for nearly 40 years, one can only imagine the recovery operation to recover the fatalities. This was a very remote place in 1942. Access was a long 3 -4 hour walk with basic equipment, no helicopters in these days and highland ponies may have helped with the transport of the casualties. There was no Cairngorm Mountain Rescue team in these early days.  Even in August the Cairngorm plateau can be a very inhospitable place.

One of the engines.

There is a lot of wreckage around the crash site even after all these years. Both of the Armstrong Sidley Cheetah engines are still there. The wreckage follows a line about 300 metres into the burn the Allt a’ Choire Mhoir where one of the engine lies. Pieces of the undercarriage some of it made of wood and sections of steel framework and lots of aluminium panels are still there. To wander round on a clear day as I did this month is a moving experience. The views of the Larig Gru and the huge corries of Coire Bhrochian and An Garbh Coire are impressive, this is a special place. The burn has several pieces of wreckage including a tyre. If you follow it further down the hill, you will see the power of nature and more wreckage. In winter the crash site can be under snow for several months and I have often used the memorial as a winter navigation training point when I was with the RAF Kinloss and Leuchars Mountain Rescue Teams. It is hard to find in a Cairngorm whiteout and the ground on the Larig Gru side is very steep. The stream and gully is usually full of snow and most of the wreckage is buried in winter.

Another Engine in the burn.

I did a piece for the BBC to be shown on the anniversary of the crash on BBC Scotland and BBC Wales. The weather was incredible and the views amazing, what a backdrop over to Angels Peak and Devils Point. It was a truly moving day and I hope we manage to portray some of the atmosphere of this special place. Three of the crew are buried in the cemetery at RAF Kinloss Abbey and the other two were taken home to Wales and Windermere. Whenever I visit a mountain with a crash nearby I try to leave a small cross in remembrance of those who gave so much.

Even today aircraft still crash in the mountains and in 2001 two American F15 aircraft crashed about half a kilometre from the Anson on MacDui. The F15 was state of the art technology aircraft and unfortunately both crew were killed. It took 2 days to find the aircraft, even in these days of huge changes in technology and equipment. Nature has a way of showing man who is in charge!  The whole recovery took several months to clear of all the wreckage, unlike during the war when there were no resources and aircraft were left where they crashed.

The high mountains of the UK have many such aircraft crashes from the war, where few survived after a crash and one near Ben More Assynt the crew are buried at the site. We must never forget the cost to these young lives; these were young men who died on the mountains for us to have the life we have today.

If you visit I hear that the plaque needs a clean let me know I must get over and check it out. Please be careful if visiting this site this is a wild place on a bad day and especially in winter.

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Remembrance Week The Shackleton Crash AEW MK2 WR965. 30th April 1990 Grid reference NF 996914. Isle of Harris

Shackelton AEW MK2 WR965. 30th April 1990 Grid reference NF 996914

The RAF Mountain Rescue was formed during the Second World War to rescue aircrew from crashed aircraft in the mountains of the UK. To this day the 3 RAF Teams that still survive are still called to carry out some difficult recoveries of aircraft both Service and civilian in the mountains. This was in 1990 when I was the RAF Mountain Rescue Team Leader at RAF Kinloss.

The Memorial for the Shackleton crash.

This is the sad story of this incident and the part played by the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team where I was the Team Leader on the 30 th April 1990.

It was a beautiful day at RAF Kinloss which is situated on the North East coast of Scotland. Unusually a lot of the Mountain Rescue Team had gathered in the crew room . It was lunch time when I was told on the phone by the Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre (ARCC) and there was a Shackelton aircraft missing from RAF Lossiemouth. It had been on a Training sortie from Lossiemouth and was last seen near Benbeculla, near the Isle of Harris on the West Coast of Scotland. I was told a helicopter from Lossiemouth a Sea King would be at Kinloss in 10 minutes and would take 10 of my team to the area. This is called a “fast party” a quick fast response to any incident.

10 Minute’s is not long to get ready for a pick up and to collect your thoughts”

In these circumstances 10 minutes is not long to prepare and the teams have a long established protocols to ensure we have the correct equipment to carry out any rescue. We managed to get to the aircraft pan ready for the Seaking Helicopter which landed rotors running and we were off!  In an aircraft crash information is coming in all the time, from the ARCC.  As The Team Leader I was getting constant updates from the aircrew and passing the information on to the team members in the back of the noisy helicopter not easy.  

“I was up front with the crew on headphones the radio full of information”

In any incident the helicopter flies flat out on a Rescue especially, when it is an aircraft from their station at Lossiemouth, nothing was spared. I was up with the pilots and getting all the updates on my earpiece. There are so many things going on in your head as the Team Leader and you are very busy. The flight to Harris was about 60 minutes and as we neared the last known position we were picking up the aircraft beacons in the helicopter which meant the aircraft in trouble and had crashed. Due to the remoteness of the area I spoke to my control the ARCC from the helicopter and asked for the rest of the RAF Kinloss team to be sent immediately to assist.

As we neared the crash site the noise from the beacons was intense and we feared the worst. The crash had occurred near the village of Northton on a small hill called Modal about 800 Feet above the sea. The only cloud in the whole of Scotland was over the crash site and the helicopter dropped us as near as they could to the incident. It was like the scene from a battlefield, a tangled mess of a once proud aircraft and the casualties, all fatal scattered around, memories that still haunt me to this day.  

“At times like these even in the middle of such carnage the Mountain Rescue Team has a job to do and we are all as professional, most of us had seen these sights before”.

A few shocked locals had managed to get to the crash and were relieved to see us and leave the horror of such a place. There was very little chance of any survivors. All 10 were dead.

Our first task is to ensure that all the casualties are accounted for and then to secure the crash site. All the fatalities have to be left in place as there will be a Crash Investigation Team on scene as soon as possible. Our next task is to secure the site which was still on fire and ensure there were no classified materials about.

“It was grim work but most of my team on the helicopter were veterans of such scenes, I had been heavily involved with the Lockerbie Disaster, we did what we had to do”.

Once things were organised at the scene I walked back down to the road about half a mile from the scene. It was surreal already the locals had put a small caravan in a lay-by and the ladies had a welcome cup of tea for us. They were wonderful people with typical Highland hospitality and care, which my team would need later on. They were so kind to my team and helped in the difficult days that we had ahead.

The cloud had cleared and this was one of the most sad but beautiful places in Scotland.  The local Police, firemen were on scene along with the Coastguards and the site was secured awaiting the Board of Enquiry, no casualties could be moved until the Police and the Procurator Fiscal arrived. My team guarded the scene and took photos and mapped the site out, standard procedures for an aircraft incident.

The aircraft was guarded through the night and all  the local people were so helpful to us all.”

The majority of the team who were still at Kinloss were flown to Stornoway by a Jetstream aircraft and by Hercules aircraft complete with our Mountain Rescue vehicles, they were all on scene by 1600, an amazing piece of organisation.

I never found out who was on in the ARCC who helped sort this out when I asked for help”.

 In the end I had 27 Team members, the 4 Tonner vehicles’ arrived by Ferry the same day! In the end all were needed to move the 10 casualties form the hill.

Once the site had been visited later on by the Board of Enquiry the team then receives permission to remove all the casualties from the scene, a hard and difficult task.

 “Few will understand but this is our job and we did it with great respect for the crew as we could,”

It’s hard to believe that I fought to stay in a Hotel at Tarbet during the grim task, we had to guard the site and after moving the casualties we needed to get simple things like showers. We needed that and it gave those who were not on shift a break away from the hill.

 After 3 days on scene we handed over the crash site to RAF Lossiemouth crash guard who were there for several weeks working with the investigation board. Most of the team and vehicles’ flew out that day from Harris in a Hercules aircraft ahead of all the casualties who were in another aircraft. We flew into Lossiemouth and drove through the camp for the short journey to Kinloss. The whole camp at RAF Lossiemouth lined up as we drove through a very moving experience, waiting for their fallen comrades. It was then back to normal, most of the team straight back to work we had been away for 4 days.”

 Sadly some Bosses were annoyed that we had been away from work for so long how little they knew what my team had done”.  

I went back to my partner and the kids as did most of the team few would understand what we did but we did our job as always. 

 “It was a moving experience for us all and one I will never forget”      I had a great team seasoned after years of Rescues all over Scotland yet this was an event few will forget, These were the early days before PTSD was acknowledged. After Lockerbie is was a reminder to me and I had a lot more knowledge hard won to look after my team who as always were superb.   

A few years later I revisited the crash site in Harris. The drive down was in driving rain but as we got nearer to Tarbet the weather cleared to bright sunshine and the hills had a smattering of snow. As we got nearer to the site the sun, blue seas, surf and clear sandy beaches made this a sad but beautiful place to be. Though the hill is only small by mountaineering standards, it’s fairly steep as it starts from sea-level. Memories came flashing back of the accident and even the superb beauty of this special place made it a difficult wee walk. Nature has as usual sorted things out and the scars on the hill are covered by heather and peat, occasional bits of wire and small pieces of metal remain of a fairly large aircraft.

The memorial on the top commemorates the crew of the Shackelton “Dylan” and details of the aircraft with the words “We Will Never Forget” inscribed on a memorial on the summit. It faces West the inscription is getting the worse of the weather and may need replaced within the next few years.  I think this has been done.

 On the summit the views were immense, unsurpassed with unique Island scenery of mountains and the sea and the fresh snow enhancing everything.  After spending some time on the top, with the wind it was fairly cold, we left that beautiful, though sad place, with a wee prayer for the crew and wondering how many people know of this place.

I will never forget what happened that day and how tragic the crash site was even to hardened mountain rescue men. The RAF Mountain Rescue Team carries out a complex job at times but I am proud of what my team did over these few days.

 “I will never forget the wonderful help we received from the Police, Coastguards and these magnificent people from North Harris who treated us so well over a terribly difficult 3 days. Thanks to all, from all of us”.

Footnote;

It should be noted that the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team has been at least two other Shackelton Crashes in their role in RAF Mountain Rescue. The first was on the 21 December 1967 when a Shackelton crashed at Locailort near Fortwilliam killing all 13 of the crew. The team were involved in the recovery all over the Festive period until the 8 January. I met the son of the navigator of this aircraft who came to visit RAF Kinloss in 2007, 40 years after his father died, a very moving day for me. I took him and his wife around the Rescue Centre the ARCC where I was on shift. From here we went to the Mountain Rescue Section at Kinloss and tried to answer all his questions, which he wanted answers for many years. In addition the team were also involved in the Shackelton Crash at the south end of the Mull of Kintyre killing all 11 of the crew on the 19 April 1968, the RAF Kinloss team were there till the 23 April.

“All these terrible incidents make a huge impression on the RAF Mountain Rescue Teams and the team members and are never forgotten by those who were involved. Sadly this was our job.”        

“Lest We Forget”    

Shackelton  Crew

Wing Commander Stephen Roncoroni

Wing Cdr Chas Wrighton

Flying Officer Colin Burns

Squadron Leader Jerry Lane

 Flight Lieutenant Al Campbell 

Flight Lieutenant Keith Forbes

Master Air Electronics Operator Roger Scutt

Flight Sergeant Rick Ricketts

Sergeant Graham Miller

Corporal Stuart Bolton

Posted in Aircraft incidents, Mountain rescue, Well being | Leave a comment

A weekend of memories. The Annual Scottish RAF Mountain Rescue Reunion.

Today after watching the rugby I am heading to Newtonmore for the Annual Scottish Mountain Rescue Reunion. There will be over 100 at the Reunion which is held at the Highlander Hotel.

RAF Mountain Rescue Badge worn on uniform with pride.

It’s a great gathering and the Current Lossiemouth Team usually attend. Even better is that many of the wives and partners will be there. They have supported the teams over the years. It’s hard to think that in the early days before many had phones the team would be off on a call – out and often the families did not know where they were.

1972 RAF KInloss Team.

The RAF teams were at the forefront of Mountain Rescue and when you look through some of the incidents before many of the civilian teams were set up it was a different world. Imagine no helicopter support, 5 hour journey to Skye. No bridge at Glencoe or Inverness or Kylesku. Epic drives basic gear poor communications and no GPS or mobile phones. These were different days, we have lost many of our early members gone to the big Munro in the Sky. Yet many are still about. I love to here the stories and try to document them. In these early days they dealt with some trauma without any help and yet when many still talk about the big incidents you can see the effect on them and their families.

RAF Leuchars Team

I enjoy hearing from the long suffering wife’s whose husbands were away 3 weekends a month plus call – outs they are the real heroes. We rarely mention this.

Things have changed and yet the ethos is still the same. The RAF Lossiemouth MRT are still in action and a great asset to Mountain Rescue. We have many ladies in the team and they have proved a huge asset over the years.

It was sad to lose the Military helicopters but the Civilian contract is working well and they will be giving a talk at the Re Union.

Early days of the Sea King on a call out
The Wessex

As always the tales will get longer and the snow will be deeper the climbs harder as the night goes on. Many only spent a few years in the teams yet the companionship changed there lives. Other spent over 30 years in various teams. Yet we are all the same it was how you coped in the hills that mattered not your rank. There were some great characters about it was a simpler world and we had leaders who all different shaped your life. The word “Team Leader”is now so well used in many professions.

I will meet many of whom were heroes to me. They taught you so much , gave you a hard time when needed and tried to ensure your training kept you safe when few would venture into the hills in the worst of weathers. Many like me are getting on in life but for a few hours we will be back on the hills fit as a fiddle climbing and having adventures. These were incredible days I was so lucky to be part of it. Even the long carries with stretchers through the night the scary helicopter flights were all part of my life. Yet you belonged to a superb group of people who gave a lot back to society and still do.

The new Memorial on Beinn Eighe.

Thank you all for shaping my life and to the families who gave us so much support we can never repay you. To all the team members what great days and to the current RAF MRT be safe and enjoy every day. These are some of the best days of your lives.

“The kit on the outside and the equipment may have changed.
Underneath the heart and soul of the troops remains the same.”

W.MacRitchie MBE RAF MRT Warrant Officer.

A huge thanks to Ray Sefton who had run the reunions for years and had stepped down. Thank you for all your hard work. To Brent and Gus who are taking over I am sure it will all go well.

To many troops please have a look and maybe come along it’s the same date every year.

The first weekend in Nov and at the Highlander Hotel in Newtonmore. Let’s get some of the beer troops there.

Posted in Aircraft incidents, Articles, Enviroment, Family, Friends, Local area and events to see, Mountain rescue, Mountaineering, People, Views Mountaineering, Well being | 2 Comments

Suilven – the Famine or Destitution Walls – Beinn Dearg and The road of Destitution.

After my winter wander on Beinn Dearg I had a look at some other effects of this tragic time in Scotland’s history. On that day I followed the “Famine Wall” on to near the summit and then all the way along the ridge. Its a huge feature that few know of its history and why it was built. It was built in the time of the Potato Famine in the 1840’s its a story of tragedy and” Man’s inhumanity to man” Yet its good to know some of the stories of these majestic places and the cost in emigration to our small country. How many died making these walls and roads we will never know but the Walls and roads are there as a reminder. So please when you visit these places please pass on these stories?

Many who climb Suilven in the North West Highlands of Scotland may wonder why has a dry stone wall running across its middle. The wall was built about 160 years ago. Some of the stones are massive like all the walls in these mountains.

The Wall – Photo Shane Younie Suiliven

I had two pals camp up on the summit this week they took some great photos especially of the wall that crosses the mountain. What effort went into that Wall? Its a long day and how this Wall was built is incredible as you hit the ridge there it is. You feel so feeble struggling up this mountain and yet over 140 years ago people built a wall here?

The famous Road of Destitution is another that I was told about and how it was built.

Why is it there ? I was told these tales long ago they are a huge part of our Mountain Heritage and big reminders into our history. The late George Bruce, John Hinde and Hamish Browns magical book Hamish’s Mountain Walk and Climbing the Corbetts are full of historical information and tales of these mountains.

There is far more to these wild places than ticking a list of mountains. Names like Destitution Road and Famine walls are a huge part of the heritage of this area

These were such terrible times where so many left emigrated “forced” for places like America, Canada, Australia and other places. This was due to famine and the terrible treatment of those who controlled the land. We lost so many folk that the Highlands never recovered frpm

Those who climb up Suilven will be amazed by how remote and incredibly steep it is . I cannot imagine the sheer effort to also carry/move such huge stones which make up the Destitution or “Famine wall” that crosses the mountain. When building the Wall where did they stay, they must have camped high up at times, there are few shelters and huge walks to get to the mountains .

The “Famine Wall” on Suilven

Why were they built?

The sad answer is starvation. In the 1840s and 1850s, during the Highland clearances, the people were forced from their lands by rich landowners to make way for sheep farming. Many leaving for America, Canada, Australia, etc. a potato famine struck leaving those that were left behind starving. Too proud to beg for charity, which the rich landowners had refused anyway, they were forced to work with little or no purpose, building roads and walls in the middle of nowhere in exchange for food. These were the ‘destitution’ roads and famine walls. They still exist across the Highlands to this day, a sad reminder of a blighted history.

The Destitution road. A832

From a Tourist write up.

This remains popular with travellers and tourists alike as its fine stretch offers a unique view of the Scottish Highlands. How many know that after endless hours of graft, what was created by the desperate men was the A832, a 126-mile long road which links Cromarty, on the east coast, to Gairloch on the west coast. For 125 miles, it remains in a single county, making it the longest 3-digit A road in Scotland and the fifth longest in Britain.

Dundonnell to Braemore

The most famous stretch of this road is from Dundonnell to Braemore is one of the most famous parts of Destitution Road. The A832 road enters the wild Dundonnell Gorge where it climbs alongside the waterfalls on the Dundonnell River before leaving at Fain Bridge.

Fain Bothy just off the road we used to use it as a Base Camp before it demise. Its in the middle of the moor a wild place.

It then travels across the wild open moors reaching an altitude of 1000 feet where you get these incredible views of An Teallach,The Fannichs and Beinn Dearg. I have used this road often in winter it is wild and one can only think of the effort making this road, controlling the rivers and how bad the weather could be. How many died making this in the days before Health and Safety? I have come back in a blizzard on a few occasions this is a wild place where the wind sweeps across there is no shelter. I often think of those who built this place.

Yet in Scotland it was a lot better than what occurred in Ireland during their famine. Yet is was a close run thing, The effects of the famine negatively impacted the already impoverished Highland population, leaving them in further despair and desperation.

The disease is thought to have affected around 150,000 people with one-third of the population leaving Scotland between 1841 and 1861. Many thousands died on the voyages or on the shores of their new world.

Destitution road remains popular with travellers and tourists alike as its fine stretch offers a unique view of the Scottish Highlands. It would be good to see something to teach future generations of its history.

Have we moved on today with Food-banks etc?

Rations: A day’s work involved eight hours of labour, six days a week. Oatmeal rations for the workers were set at 680g for men, 340g per woman and 230g per child.

Posted in Books, Corbetts and other hills, Enviroment, Equipment, Friends, Gear, History, Mountaineering, Other hills Grahams & Donalds, People, Recomended books and Guides, Views Mountaineering, Views Political?, Well being | Leave a comment

Great weather on Beinn Dearg Hard going it’s hard going in the snow. A Winter day

Beinn Dearg (Ullapool)

I had not been up Beinn Dearg for a while so with a good weather forecast I was away early. It’s a 2 hour drive but it all went well though it was raining when I left home. Lots of stags on road especially on the Fannichs in dark so be careful.

I parked in the forestry car park just before 0800 there was another lad in car park he was heading to Seanna Bhraigh a long way. The stags were roaring on the hill. I could see fresh snow at about 700 metres. It was freezing when I got out the car and got sorted ice axe and crampons with me. Big boots and a bit heavier bag. I can see that the trees have been cleared near Stron Nea a cliff I had some adventures on as Doctor Tom Patey climbed here. This was his patch and I wanted to see how the gullies were looking it used to be a climbing ground for the team.

The Classic is Emerald Gully a wonderful ice climb. Yet before the cliff there are great routes neglected and well worth a look when the big cliffs are out due to winds. We have done many routes here. They have an Irish connection in their names.

Crag features UKC.

“This massive mountain has many corries providing some of the best winter climbing in the far north.”

The bike. Must sort my gears out.

The start is a track through the forestry for two miles so I took my bike. I had to be careful as there was plenty of ice on the track. It is worth taking it as on the way home it’s all down hill. My bike gears were causing problems. So I left it early. I was soon out of the forest and onto the hill path past the wee hydro in the trees. The path was tricky lots of ice and verglas. This was tricky going as it was pretty frozen all the way to the snow.

Inverleal.

It was hard going I was slow and the gullies on the way up were still snowless until I hit the main cliff. It’s a good path but another needing tlc.

Some classic winter lines here.

I walked on heading to the beleach and after 2 hours I was in the snow. I had snow-holed hear many years ago when ice climbing in Coire Ghranda that was some day, it’s wild country with lots of scope.

From here it was heavy going there were no footprints just snow and when your on your own it’s hard going.

This was icy underfoot.

Once at the beleach it seemed to go on for ever but the main cliff had lots of snow but no ice. I have been to a few avalanches here there are lots of big Cornices above the ice routes. Be careful here if winter climbing.

From here I followed the Famine Wall that was built in the mid 1840’s during the potato famine . A tragic time in our history.

It is also called “Destitution Wall stands on Beinn Dearg, leading from the bealach up to near the summit before striking down the mountain’s north-west ridge. It was built in the mid-19th century by crofters in return for food during Scotland’s potato famine – a harsh way to earn a pittance”

The wall that had drifted snow on each side. That was hard work. I was feeling the hard going and stopped to eat. It’s a wonderful place to be. Yet it was bitter cold. I had my ice axe out as there was hard neve snow in places.

The Famine Wall

The wall takes you onto the plateau where you leave it and head to the summit. It’s featureless here and tricky navigation in a white out.

My phone stopped working it was bitter cold but moved it into my fleece pocket and it was okay after a charge and some heat. I marvelled at the views yet it was bitter. Running for several miles along the east-west ridge on Beinn Dearg is another sad reminder of our past, a huge drystane dyke, in places up to six feet high. It was built in the 1840s during the potato famine by starving crofters in return for food, just another monument to the harsh Highland living conditions of the time.

The Famine Wall

I decided to go back this way as the Glen would be still icy maybe the ridge would be better? It was still hard going and there was a lot of snow on this side. The views of The Fannichs and An Teallach and further North it was spellbinding.

Hard going

I dropped back down to the path fairly steep and had a wet river crossing then back on the path to the forest.

End of the Wall
I stopped here and had a great break no rush to get away from this place .

I picked up the bike and was soon at the car. Yes it was worth taking it. I was very tired and then the a change of clothes and rehydrate. I met the guy who I had seen earlier he had not made Seanna Bhraigh the heavy going put him off. Then it was a send a couple of messages that I was off the hill safely then the drive home. The Sky was pink and the hills looked incredible.

Bonnie view on way off.
I was soon home really tired but so happy what a day hard work but to be out on this place alone is a special feeling. Always tell someone what your plans are.
Posted in Gear, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, People, Scottish winter climbing., SMC/SMT, Views Mountaineering, Weather, Well being, Wildlife | Leave a comment

Blast from the past – Dachstein Mitts.

After yesterday’s wee blog on Wind – suits I got a few photos of Wind – suits and the famous Dachstein mitts. Looking through some of the climbing forums it was amazing to see how so many “tigers” berated them. As clumsy and overall an awful glove. In there day they were a great bit of kit for there time. That’s all we had. I loved them especially when they got worn thin and fitted your hands better. I even dyed mine red, they ended up pink . I least no one pinched them.

The Classic Dachstein Mitt.

Dachstein-mitts – They are not modern and hi-tec but still one of the best winter mitts available. Warm and virtually windproof – completely so when covered in frozen snow – they also provide excellent grip on snowy/icy rock.

On a tragic Avalanche on Ben Alligin In 1986 as flying over in a Wessex to start a search. My mate Jock noticed a Dachstein projecting from the snow. It was some spot and we landed on. It was way out of our search areas. We located the casualties two survived.

Gloves are a key part of winter mountaineering , lose a glove in the winter and have no spare and you can be in serious trouble. Without gloves you are useless, in wild weather the hands freeze quickly and soon you cannot navigate, use an ice – axe and that’s when all the problems start. They are still available from most climbing shops between £ 30 upwards – buy them a bit big a good tip.

The Classic Dachstein mitt

I have used them for years they are still an incredible glove and well worth carrying a spare in your bag.

Top tip ; Always carry a spare , ask me how many I have given away to people who have lost theirs on the hill.

Dachstein mitts are made from 100% wool, shrunk and felted to make them thick and dense. These naturally highly wind resistant, and provide good warmth even when wet. They are also very comfortable to wear as wool is an excellent absorber of any dampness from the hands. You cannot do anything requiring dexterity, but they are a cheap, comfortable and long-lasting mitt for winter use. So for all those poor climbers with limited funds they are still available.

Available in any colour you like as long as it is grey.

n Mitts

Traditional heavy duty wool mitts. made well oversized and then boiled to shrink to a tough thick woollen felt. As used by Scottish winter climbers, alpinists and Himalayan expeditioners for over 50 years.

Not waterproof but when used in snow, an icy skin forms over the mitt which is very effective at keeping hands warm. If you are an impecunious winter climber looking for the one glove that will do everything (as cheaply as possible) then this is about as close as you’ll get!

Please note that with the change in supplier from Lackner (who ceased production) to Huber, the sizing of these mitts has changed and they are now larger than they used to be.”

Back in the 1970’s just about everybody wore Dachsteins, but as with lots of things, fashions change and they are nowhere near as common 40 years later in 2013. There are so many great gloves about yet it’s good to see that they are still available though.

Ben Nevis Point 5 only a few years ago Wind suit and Dachstein mitts. Photo A. Barnard. Al gets the most of of his gear.
Many used them and attached them to your body like your mum did so you did not drop them!
27 Nov 2006 – Wind suit and Dachstein Gloves with fingers plus broken probe Cairngorms after a night shift in the Rescue Centre.
Posted in Articles, Avalanche info, Equipment, Friends, Gear, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering, Weather, Well being | 2 Comments

Classic Gear – wind-suits.

In the RAF we were lucky we had always a contact or folks in the team who could make things. The Safety Equipment could turn and old parachute into a basic wind – top or suit if you chatted to them and provide Zips and some cash. I had some great gear made in my many years with the RAF MRT. They made so many other bits of kit but that’s another tale. The Marines had wind – suits and there were a few swaps made for them. Also some of our team members were part of big long expeditions to the arctic and came back with many prototypes. Gear was developing . My first sight of a real Wind – suit was meeting Pete Boardman in the Northern Corries in the mid 70’s. He was not famous then just another climber who was always helpful when we chatted, We met a lot and marvelling at this light piece of gear his wind – suit that he put on so quickly. We were struggling with trousers and zips. The wind – suit had huge zips it was also bright and light. I had seen the early wind suits that were designed by the Everest Team Don Willians on some of the massive expeditions of the 70’s.They were iconic.

1990’- The Keela windsuit in the Himalayas on Kusung Kangaroo a heavier bit of gear but great wearing kit. I bivied high in one of these ,

They were great for snow-holing easy to put on with lots of zips and pockets. You could just wear them with your underwear when digging a hole and keep your gear dry.

1996 – Alaska clearing the camp after heavy snow. The wind – suit was ideal, The classic Slioch one.

The great Slioch one we got made to our spec was lightweight yet was superb for winter climbing. Made from Pertex I loved it. Even a midget like me got it made to measure as my short legs were always hard to get the right length of material. I loved it I think I had it for years but gave it away in the end after several patching due wear and tear.

Summit of Diran 23000 feet with a Keela windsuit . The summiteers bivied in them for two nights after there high camp was Avalanched .photo Dan Carrol.

I loved my heavier wind-suits for the big call outs in the Winter. Keela a local company sponsored us for an Expedition and we helped design it. We bought many for the team. Okay you could sweat a bit but they were ideal for the wild weather you get on a wild winter day. I loved the pockets for maps, spare food and other items. I bivied in them at times. They came into there own when hanging about I still have a Keela suit . They were robust!

Ben Nevis – Ledge Route,

We wore them a lot for winter climbing in Canada and Scotland. They were light and even better bright for the photos that meant so much to us then. We were so vain.

Hanging about on a call out on the Cairngorms – Steve in Keela wind suit.

Wind-suits/ down suits have come on a long way the Suits we wore on Everest were well over £1500 each but for a different job. We did not buy them we were loaned them from the Military Expedition Store and returned after the trip.

Ted on Everest in his Down suit at 8000 metres.

I think I gave my red Slioch wind-suit away to a pal I had overgrown it ! I still have another one I carry in the car in winter, its still great gear. I miss the red Slioch it I wonder if it’s still about? It was so light and easy to wear.

Carl and Guy in the snow hole on Diran after the summit totally exhausted bivy in Keela wind suits / photo Dan Carroll.

Do you have any stories of Wind – suits ?
2001 – Rusty on Everest summit photo Dan Carrol.

Terry Moore my mate was climbing last year in winter in the Lakes he is still wearing his white wind – suit that he wore on Denali. He was climbing with another pal Brian Kirkpatrick who took these photos. I have a photo somewhere of Terry on Hells Lum in his white wind – suit. I must find it.

Terry in the Lakes in his White Wind – suit. Still like him going strong. Photo Brian Kirkpatrick,

Andy Kirkpatrick wrote a great piece on Peter Hutchison the founder of PHD it gives and early insight into Down Suits its on phdesigns.co.uk Its called Down all the days : A profile of Peter Hutchinson by Andy Kirkpatrick, its well worth a read.

Also the incredible smhc. co . uk The Scottish Mountain Heritage Collection has some great photos of down/wind suits always worth a look.

High Bivy on Diran Carl sunbathing before the sun goes down in wind suit at 21000 feet photo Dan Carrol
Posted in Alaska, Articles, Expeditions - Alaska - Himalayas etc, Friends, Gear, Himalayas/ Everest, Ice climbing Canada, Mountain rescue, Mountaineering, Scottish winter climbing. | Leave a comment

Looking back – on Cycle to Syracuse and looking after your Mental Health.

This time last year I was a small part of the team that completed the Cycle to Syracuse an incredible trip to the USA. This was to commemorate the Lockerbie Tragedy on its 30 th anniversary. The cycle ended at Syracuse University where sadly 35 Students were killed in the crash . Every year they have a wonderful poignant ceremony at the University.

I have met so many relatives from Mountaineering tragedies and aircraft crashes over the years. Yet during that week in the USA where the team cycled 600 miles in 7 days and we met so many relatives from the tragedy. We met many relatives on the road and in their homes all had a story to tell about young lives lost in their prime. All were heartbreaking tales that could not be rushed and yet their was love and forgiveness in their hearts.

I found it very hard coping with this but the love, kindness and care we received was heartwarming and heart breaking at the same time.

The families were so pleased to see us and I still cannot believe the support we received.

Incredible meetings with relatives.

I struggled for years after Lockerbie and other disasters. It effected my health and well being .

Not because I am a weak person but we all handle tragedy differently. Lockerbie was only a part of the trauma I was involved in my life. Apart from the many mountain incidents I was involved in some horrific aircraft incidents like the Chinook on the Mull of Kintyre where 29 died.

As the memories come up this week in photos it takes you back to an incredible trip and I thank the team and so many friends for their support.

These next few months will be as always hard yet I receive wonderful words from many of who are now friends we met on our trip.

Every year I get contact from families who many years later want to visit where they lost a loved one. It can be hard but it’s all part of the healing process for the family and helps me as well.

Many folk say why do you do it, you do not need the hurt and heartbreak. Yet to me it so good to be able to help and tell often the hidden story of a hard rescue or recovery and the people involved. Our families bore the brunt of a hard incident on these days we hardly spoke about what we did. It is so much better nowadays. We must keep going we are only in the early days of accepting that we may have problems.

Lockerbie Window of Rememberance .

It’s sad that a lot of history call out information was lost when teams when to to computers for there Stats. It seems sad that the Police have very few records of call outs going back to the early days. Were they destroyed?

I have a full history of the RAF Kinloss Team that runs from 1944 – 2012 to its closure. It is a wealth of history of Rescues all over Scotland. Sadly this is the only RAF Rescue team to still have a full history. It is amazing that they never kept this information. The only way I kept it was that we kept the originals that were binned and Retyped them out. Many helped with this task but they have been so useful. This has been down over the years in wthe Scottish Mountaineering Club Journals. They maintained a basic record of incidents since the early days of recording incidents. They hold incredible information much that is still relevant for safety and Stats.

I would be interested to find out how many teams have a complete record of incidents. This week I am trying to trace some information on a call out for relatives. This is the 4th request this year and I have managed to help all of them. One incident was 40 years ago.

So as the memories come back just now I remember the good we did on our trip. How we met so many folk and told them just a little of what our folks did. Most were unpaid volunteers from many Agencies some who still suffer today.

Posted in Articles, Cycling, Family, Friends, Lockerbie, Mountain rescue, Mountaineering, People, Well being | Leave a comment

Every picture tells a story it’s so worth taking them.

Today saw the first over the radio of roads and a few cars stuck in the snow near the Lecht in the Cairngorms. Is winter on its way.

I saw the photo below on the RAF MRT Instagram Account. It was of the late Al MacLeod ice climbing in the Cairngorms I think. It looks Mid 80’s with the Korflack plastic boots and I think the axes are Chacals. Al is wearing the classic footfang crampons at the time an incredible piece of gear. Name the route?

Photos like these make me think of so many things, the climbs, the history and the company. I think this photo was taken when we came back from Ice climbing in Canada in 1984 full of confidence in our gear and ability. Al was so powerful on the ice it was his medium, he loved it and Scotland.He was fun to be with. I was never a great climber but was lucky to climb many of the classics of the time all over Scotland with so many pals. After a second trip to Canada in 2 years it was incredible how things had moved on.

The late Big Al MacLeod in action in his red wind suit and tracky bottoms. Plastic Boots, Chacal axes Loving the ice the situation and view.

Plastic boots came upon the mountaineering world like a rash in the late 1970’s and within a couple of years just about everybody had a pair. Scottish bog trotters said it was the first time they’d had dry feet for a hundred years, Himalayan climbers didn’t get frostbite and boot polish dried up in the tin – redundant. Unfortunately, there was a down side – condensation made your feet look like wrinkled prunes with blisters popping up on each wrinkle! Blisters appeared round the ankle where the boot top rubbed and if water did get in, it couldn’t get out. Some folk loved them, others hated them, but as if by magic, they almost totally disappeared from the scene sometime in the late 1990’s.
Koflach were one of the main producers back in the 70’s, using technology gleaned from making ski boots and we’ve got a prime example of their ‘Ultras’ here in the collection. They were probably the most prolific boot on the market at the time.

I also met the late Andy Nisbet when we climbed a lot in these years he was pushing the winter grades as he always did. We were on Cascade in the Cairngorms at the time we had a great chat as you did in these days when most climbers knew each other. He loved my dog who would wait patiently at the bottom of the route. Andy knew these climbs and was always there to give advice a great man.

The tools !

Mark Hartree / Just checked my diary. It was 21st Feb 1989. Cascade, Stag Rocks, 200′, IV. After we did Left Gully, 200′, III.
AXES
The hammer is called the Chacal. The Adze version is called the Barracuda. Superb pieces of kit. Loved them. Al wore Footfangs and we both had the excellent Slioch pertex wind suits. My old axes here with my trusty old Grivel crampons I wore.

From the Scottish Mountain Heritage Collection.

The Simond Chacal

Produced by Simond from 1975 until the late 1980s, this axe featured one of the first “reverse curve” commercially available. There had been steep drop picks (Peck/MacInnes Terrodactly) and modular tools (Forrest Modular System, 1974) but giving the pick a reverse curve was, up until then, only done by climbers experimenting with their own axes. There is some debate about who tried it first.

As is sometimes the case, the idea seemed to occur to several groups of climbers at about the same time. Scottish climbers needed a better tool in the steep ice of the Cairngorms so they modified there picks.

Simond Ice Hammer

Others were tinkering with and re-forging alpine axes, and several manufacturers were starting to independently develop the concept as well.

The Chacal axe has a nice weight and head design. The pick was secured by a large yet low profile double sided nut and two rolled pins. Thin washers on each side of the nut covered the rolled pins and insured they stayed in. Replacing the pins or removing the pick required knocking them out with punch and hammer.

The tool initially came in a silver/grey painted version with a red rubber grip on the bottom third of the shaft for insulation and vibration reduction. Three lengths (45cm, 50cm, 55cm) were available.

In 1977 the shaft was fully protected by a black molded rubber covering and this remained the standard shaft through the remainder of the production.

I never had a set sadly expense I used the Terrordacyl that were made in Scotkand and of course the Chouinard Zero axe and hammers.

Chacal.

Produced by Simond from 1975 until the late 1980s, this axe featured one of the first “reverse curve” commercially available. There had been steep drop picks (Peck/MacInnes Terrodactly) and modular tools (Forrest Modular System, 1974) but giving the pick a reverse curve was, up until then, only done by climbers experimenting with their own axes. There is some debate about who tried it first. As is sometimes the case, the idea seemed to occur to several groups of climbers at about the same time. Scottish climbers needed a better tool in the steep ice of the carringorms so they modified their picks, Colorado climbers, always an inventive lot, were tinkering with and re-forging alpine axes, and several manufacturers were starting to independently develop the concept as well.The Chacal axe has a nice weight and head design. The pick was secured by a large yet low profile double sided nut and two rolled pins. Thin washers on each side of the nut covered the rolled pins and insured they stayed in. Replacing the pins or removing the pick required knocking them out with punch and hammer.The tool initially came in a silver/grey painted version with a red rubber grip on the bottom third of the shaft for insulation and vibration reduction. Three lengths (45cm, 50cm, 55cm) were available.In 1977 the shaft was fully protected by a black molded rubber covering and this remained the standard shaft through the remainder of the production. I could not afforded them so I had Terrordactyls and Chounaird Zeros later on . That is another story for another day.

Posted in Ice climbing Canada, Mountain rescue, Mountaineering, Scottish winter climbing., SMC/SMT, Views Mountaineering | 4 Comments

Getting to the top means your only half way there. “Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory.” Ed Viesturs

Getting to the top means your only half way there! You still have to get off the mountain. With Bill Batson on Lochnagar.

The photo above is after a wild day on Lochnagar a magic mountain. Yet it has always taxed me to the full on several occasions especially winter climbing. It seem that when the wind blows it can be so bitter, more so than other hills.

It also has great hil lwalking and the circuit of 5 Munros is a classic day. In winter its a big test of stamina and in poor weather navigation.

Lochnagar (Cac Carn Beag) (1155m, Munro 20)
Carn a’Choire Bhoidheach (1110m, Munro 42)
Carn an t-Sagairt Mor (1047m, Munro 84)
Cairn Bannoch (1012m, Munro 117)
Broad Cairn (998m, Munro 142)

Yet though I climbed the Munros circuit many times I was attarcted to the Coire of Lochnagar Dark and foreboding. It is a place of historic routes and climbs and one where I have had many adventures. Many years ago when I was climbing regularly Lochnagar was a favourite. Yet it involved a big walk in 2 hours plus to the Corrie. Even the drive up the Glen in snow can be tricky. I climbed here a lot when I was stationed at RAF Buchan on the East Coast. I started a mountaineering club and took a few climbing. Looking back I was very fit I had just done a 3 week walk across Scotland. Most of the club were complete novices and yet we climbed a few good mountains and routes. We even held a 5 day winter course on the mountain with big walk in every day.

Lochnagar

This is a superb Mountain and the view of the huge cliffs and the lochan below are special. I had several epics here and some wild flights in by helicopter in the past. We always got battered by the wind here and had some crazy winter days. With a strong windS and snow this can be a fearsome place. I had a big scare in the late 70,s after an ascent of Raeburns Gully where the weather was so bad we could not get the gear off harness etc as it had frozen on until we reached our bothy at Crathie! It was one of the hardest days ever and we had a fight to get of that hill. In the early 80’s I was avalanched nearly down to the loch when two climbers brought a cornice down by walking over it as we descended from a wild day on Black Spout Buttress. Again it was a big walk out fairly battered.

Classic Lochnagar.

A bit more detail:

On a wild day (this was the 70’s the weather forecast were not so accurate) After a climb we hit a big storm on the plateau. Lochnagar has can have a huge rim of massive Cornices in winter that you have to be aware off. What followed was an epic getting of the hill safely. My two young companions were inexperienced and were exhausted after our climb yet we got back to safety just and no more. I had led the climb all day climbed the huge cornice and then navigated off. On the top in the blizzard we could not get the ropes of they were frozen. It was a pretty close run thing for me.

It was a long walk out in deep snow and whiteout once we got out the wind things improved. It was very late back and one of the party had slight frostbite. I wore glasses all the time and had an epic reading the map and the compass. It was impossible to speak to each other but looking back the rope kept us together as I tried to keep away from the huge Cornices in the white out. It was a massive day of learning but I was amazed how exhausted one of my party was. On the summit I could see he was running on empty.

I was younger then and not so wise. I thought I knew this hill well it was our local mountain at the time. I had climbed it then over 20 times. I had lots to learn as we all do.

Big Cornice on Lochnagar,

The weather when it hits Lochnagar can be brutal as bad if not worse than anywhere. So it well worth remembering “getting to the top your only half way there” Over the years this mountain brought me much joy and sorrow when I lost two pals on Parallel B a classic ice climb. It took me years to climb back in that Corrie again. Yet this mountain has everything, great climbing and the Dark Lochnagar. Its an area that I love and learned so much from and always will.

Dark Lochnagar

The tight road, stags and hinds nearby.

Park and leave the woods.

Mr Oswald the cheery keeper long gone.

The bothy still stands, the sign still there.

The flats, more deer and wild animals.

The Royal bothy, unused?

Scots pines, the small wood

Safety after a long day.

The grind up the track never- ending.

Familiar names

the ladders, fox’s well, comforting.

Then the view   Dark Lochnagar

Brooding formidable,

Historical and familiar climbs.

Summer and winter battles.

Steep  granite and dark gully’s.

Laughter, joy and sorrow.

Wind, rain, snow and tears

Lochnagar and Teallach

Sit in the peace and wildness.

Dark Lochnagar 

For Neil & Mark

Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory .Ed Viesturs

Posted in Friends, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering, Weather, Well being | Leave a comment

An Teallach wandering a few tips? Navigation and low level ice – winter ridge walking. The Scottish Mountain Trust and path repair?

Yesterday on the way back from the Munro’s on An Teallach I met my mate Ray and we had a wander over the neglected land to the West of the main path. When you leave the beleach you just head over to the high ground.

Ray on the plateau.

It’s a lovely area and a place I would take the new members of Mountain Rescue team members navigating. It’s pretty barren an ideal as it has few features. After a long day on the hill it kept the brain going as navigation is the key skill in the mountains especially in winter top tip. This area has a bleak look but is so interesting the geology of the plateau has lots of interest. There are loadss of sandstone about and loads of the effect of weathering.

Also in places lots of pebbles from the sandstone strewn in various locations. It’s like someone has been working on the rocks it’s just weathering. Its amazing to come across several metres of just pebbles.

We also located this structure I thought it must be for taking bearings etc. I received this last night . Its a “Base for supporting a Stevenson screen for housing meteorological instruments – thermometers etc.” That must have been a long plod to get the readings anyone got any tales of this up here?

IN MY CLIMBING DAYS WE HAD SOME FUN OF THIS CLIFF OUT OF THE WIND.

On the way off An Teallach I had noticed in my early days some good climbing on the small cliffs pf Glas Mheal Mhor and had climbed here with my mate Mark Sinclair. In these days the 70’s you rarely put your new climbs in as the North West was at that time going to be an area where you could explore with limited information. It was to be left for future generations. I think it was due to the rise of the climbing guides that were getting popular. Anyway attitudes changed and lots of routes were reported. The RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team had been climbing since the 50’s on many of the crags in the summer and winter.

The crag on Glas Mheall Mor.

They rarely reported their routes so a few routes were never in the guides. We had climbed on the main cliffs on An Teallach fairly often in the winter these were long hard days and usually completed with the ridge traverse. This cliff with a short walk in was a bit easier and after a hard weekend we had some fun on the ice. Despite the crag being low when the temperature drops the ice forms in the wind.

I was Chairman of the Mountain Rescue Committee at the time.

From the SMC Northern Highlands Central Glas Mheall Mor -NH080 860 Page 274.

This is a good option with easy access when the winds are high and you are getting old. If Cold enough, ice forms readily producing various ice falls on the cliff. The cliffs are spring fed giving water ice when the higher cliffs may not be in condition.” A good tip if Fain Falls is there as you drive about 3 ks from Dundonnell NH 132837 Carn A’ Bhiorain – Coill A’ Bhun another grand climb 105 metres grade 4 two star. Its a classic and the team put up another route nearby Goat Falls grade 3 – 100 metres.

A great climbing guide well worth buying and the profits go to the Scottish Mountain Trust. (SMT)

The Trust’s revenue is derived in the main from two main sources:

  • Publishing guidebooks and other publications on behalf of the Scottish Mountaineering Club and other books connected with the Scottish Hills. The Trust’s publication activity is carried on by a wholly owned subsidiary company, Scottish Mountaineering Trust (Publications) Limited. The whole operating surplus of the company is covenanted to the Trust and forms the overwhelming majority of the Trust’s income. The trust is also responsible for the administration of the legacy known as Mrs Snart’s Bequest, which is solely for assisting mountains safety.
  • Donations. These are always most welcome and can be of any amount. If a donation is made to us without any conditions it will go into the general fund. If you would like to discuss specifics in connection with a donation then please do contact us. Any donation can be kept confidential, if so wished.

Examples of the work of the trust

Below are shown the approximate totals of the grants made by the Trust in its major areas of activity in the period 1990-2017.

Footpath Construction and Maintenance £419,000
Core Funding of Mountaineering Scotland £215,000
Land Purchase £68,500
Mountaineering Education and Training £31,500
Mountain Rescue Equipment and Facilities £65,000
Support of Expeditions £32,500
Renovation of Club Huts £189,000
Other £277,000
TOTAL £1,297,500

The huge corries of An Teallach make a great wander in winter as in snow and ice they excel. The various ridges are wonderful and the views in the Corries make this a place of wonderment to me. I will leave you to explore this mountain don’t just chase the Munros look into this mountain and its wildness.

A view I love the snow and ice sculptured Corrie and the knife edge ridge.

When I was ill after 3 years of operations I left early and headed into the corrie I only made the lochan but what views. In winter its incredible the gullies and winter lines, the snow and ice make this place unique. It was long hard trip home but how good I felt in the wild, with wind and snow. The best type of medicine you can get?

A grand way up in winter Glas Mheall Liath.takes you onto the summits.

Top Tips: It was great to be out on the hill again, I see the Cairngorms have snow now so the first blast of winter is with us. I have put some more gear in my bag, extra gloves so important drop a glove and you can be in trouble always carry a spare. Its time for a bit more clothing and bothy bag is a great idea in an emergency. Head torches are vital and must be checked every time you go out. Plan your day accordingly to the weather and your fitness. Learn to navigate carry a map and compass practise every time your out. There are no paths in a white out ensure you have a fun day. Winter is wonderful.

The wonder of winter – top tip carry some spare gear If out tell folk where your going..

The Munro Society is another great way to support great causes in the mountains so if you have completed the Munros and want to give something back why not?

http://www.themunrosociety.com/

Posted in Friends, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Munros, People, Scottish winter climbing., SMC/SMT, Views Mountaineering, Weather, Well being, Wildlife | Leave a comment

Maybe a selfish day?

Today I should be out with my Mountaineering Club on a Bus meet to Dundonnell . I decided not to go out as I am needing a day out on my own. Selfish ?

The SMC Munro
App.

Safety note ( I have left my plans with a pal)

I will leave early and head North I am not sure how far I will get but need the time out.

I do not need a summit but just to be near these great peaks will be special.

The mountains give you great healing and make you feel so much better so it will be good to get some fresh air.

The weather looks a bit mixed so it will be a blast. I will see what happens.

Posted in Articles, Enviroment, Family, Friends, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Views Mountaineering, Well being | Leave a comment

Some information on Sarah.

Many will know that we lost Sarah last weekend a star troop, a young Mum, wife and part of the RAF Mountain Rescue Family. Sarah’s husband has been in touch and has seen my blog and the many comments by friends it gives the family great comfort. He will be in touch with me reference funeral arrangements which due to the nature of Sarah’s death the date is at present difficult to forecast. When I get any information I will update through the usual channels. Sarah’s loss has been mind numbing to so many least of all her close family and young sons. She was a great lass, one of us and was so enthusiastic, bubbly and loved the mountains, Mountain Rescue and its member’s. She coped in what was then primary in the military “a man’s world” and proved without doubt that she was equal to all of us and great company on the hills. Please if you have any photos of Sarah send them to me and I will collate them and pass on to the family. Stories and memories are what make Sarah specail as well fell free to add them. I leave you with Kenny Kenworthy’s words which sum her up for me. “I like to think that those of us in charge were these young people’s guardians; entrusted with their well-being and tasked with giving them some life skills besides great adventures that hopefully have stood them in good stead throughout their lives. When one of then goes prematurely it is a real jolt and the sadness is palpable. Death can never take away the memories though” Kenny Kennworthy RAF Kinloss MRT Team Leader. I hope to travel down whenever the dates are released. Thinking of you all.

Sarah on An Teallach overlooking Beinn Dearg Mor and Beinn Dearg Beag wonderful mountains and a great day in the mountains. Photo Mark Falcus.
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Check your head – torch is working – Tilly lamps on the hills.

Tilly Lamp

From Tilly lamps to head – torches.

It is hard to believe that on one of my early call outs in 1974 in March on Ben Nevis I was on a search at night for a young couple who had wandered into 5 Finger Gully on Ben Nevis.

I was given a Tilly lamp to search with and I carried it up the gully. It was steep awful ground with snow and ice in the Gully when a then well-known Lochaber Team Member Willie Anderson who saw it took it off me as I was really struggling on the steep ground.

Willie threw it away, he was looking after me I needed to be fully aware of any slip with my axe.

I was worried about how I would explain that to my Team Leader but he was okay about it. I have been there on several other occasions in 5 finger Gully and never found it and apologise for leaving litter on the hill.

I wonder what future Mountaineering archaeologists will make of a Tilly in 5 finger gully.

After that I purchased a decent head torch as the issue one was pretty poor. In Mountain Rescue you do a lot of Rescues and train at night a head torch is essential and there have been a few disasters on this piece of gear over the years.

At RAF Valley in North Wales during a time when money was tight late 70’s MOD in its wisdom bought cheap batteries for our head torches that fell apart on a Wet night rescue high on the Idwal Slabs. I was the Deputy Team Leader at the time and sent of a powerful signal to the powers that be about the procurement of such rubbish.

That was the last signal I was to send for a time as it ruffled so many in the Supply Branch at the time but we got descent batteries after that. The marvellous improvement in head torches and lighting for personal and Rescue use is incredible. Tales of climbers climbing in a wild winter night with a torch in their teeth as they climbed some of the big routes in the ebbing light and moonlight are legend.

After seeing the recent pictures of Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team on call outs last winter with their powerful headlights is a huge improvement from the early days. Each rescuer is in their own world of snow and a pool of light it is surreal and impressive. I try to keep up with all the changes and the costs of some of these head torches are incredible some are over £300.

I have tried so many the famous “Sharks Eye” with 6 heavy batteries that lasted about 2 hours was amazing but it was hand held and not much use when searching very steep ground. We also did some testing with Hamish MacInnes and a huge Military Searchlight in Glencoe millions of Candle power how many remember that night?

A head torch is a vital addition to a winter hill bag and I always carry a spare so often I have had to give mine away. This was often to some person who does not carry one or has not checked it for some time and the batteries are flat. Always check your head torch and ensure it is working.

Try walking at night and see how tricky it is, imagine that without one?   

I always carry two after lending mine out on rescues and never seeing them again.

It’s worth remembering Your phone is NOT A HEAD TORCH.

I AM LOOKING TO BUY A NEW HEAD TORCH ANY ADVICE?

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Thanks for all the kind thoughts and words after the loss of Sarah.

It is great to hear from so many folk after the loss of Sarah a tragedy. I am lucky to have so many who care with incredible words and thoughts when you lose someone.

Over the last few days I have received so many.

Mountaineering especially Mountain Rescue brings you very close to those you climb or walk with. There is at times a unique bond and trust in each other especially in bad weather or if things start to go wrong.

In Mountain Rescue you may take a lot more risks at times than normal. That is the nature of the beast. You hope that your training will ensure that the chances of an accident are cut. That means training in weather where most would not be out in. At times the “risk assessment” was high but I was so lucky in my time we never had a fatality from one of our own.

Many were very young folk joined with limited experience but our training produced some exceptional Mountaineers and people. Yet I always worried about them on a Rescue and was so glad when they all came back home. Looking back we must have been doing things right.

“I like to think that those of us in charge were these young people’s guardians; entrusted with their well being and tasked with giving them some life skills besides great adventures, that hopefully have stood them in good stead throughout their lives. When one of then goes prematurely it is a real jolt and the sadness is palpable. Death can never take away the memories though. “Words from Kenny Kennworthy RAF Kinloss MRT Team Leader. Photo Kalie Wilkinson.

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In Praise of An Teallach – In memory of Sarah Hassell

Many who climb An Teallach climb the Munro’s Sgurr Fiona and Bidean a’Ghlas Thuill. they are both exceptional mountains and though a great day this to me is the appetiser they miss the main course. This mountain has 9 tops on it and is a complex mountain and one I love. How many have climbed the full ridge Sail Liath the Four Pinnacles of Coire Bhuidhe and Lord Berkeley’s Seat and gone out to these other outliers on the ridges?

I love climbing the full ridge from Sail Liath and then you meet the pinnacles falling into Toll an Lochain and the ridge looking like a natures hacksaw has made this place. The huge sandstone pinnacles and Buttress and the Lochan below.

How many who climb the whole ridge still miss the views from some of these rarely climbed other summits. The Munro tops.

The tops of An Teallach

Yet from these viewpoints the mountain is seen at its best. In my view the If you can go and climb them.

The modern guide books will tell you step by step how to climb the Two Munro’s but few go into the other ways onto the ridges. These are great fun and you can have superb day in the two Corries. I doubt if you will many others.

In winter there is some great climbing and that is well documented. Yet to do a winter route and then a traverse of the complete ridge is an incredible winter day. I have had the privilege to do this several times. Getting of the hill at the end of the day especially in the short winter daylight can be interesting. The classic Constabulary Couloir climbed by Tom Patey and members of the Police Mountain Rescue Team years ago. I had so many great days in winter here as well we climbed the Waterfall that flows onto the frozen loch and never recorded it.

Over the years we built up big days including An Teallach and the Fisherfield 5/6 in a day that became a tradition for a few. They now they add the Corbetts Beinn Dearg Beag and Mhor in running gear but what fun these days were. Sadly most were done at speed taking little time to look around just after a time that never really mattered. We often meet the Goats high up you smell them before you see them. You watch there agility on the steep ground and marvel at them.

Great nights in Sheneval Bothy and climbing An Teallach from this side but by rarely climbed ways. This is a complex mountain but with views that are always changing.

I have taken family and completed several Munro Rounds including one with my Dog Teallach and others with various pals. It was where I completed 2 rounds of the Munro Tops on these summits. Its a mountain that I love with all my heart.

Many of these climbs became a classic in my days with the RAF Mountain rescue team.

The young troops enjoyed this route and it became a right of passage for some. In winter its a fierce mountain where in varying conditions it can provide a long Alpine day where care is need.

 I really enjoyed it in a long Summer day when we could sit on the summits and enjoy a full traverse. There would be no rush but it was still a long day.

In my youth!

This would also be a good place to use the rope on the scrambles  and show the new team members the routes and places where care is needed and sadly accidents can happen. This was our job and those pieces of area knowledge were vital. The next time we could be here may be at night helping the local Dundonald MRT. They have a base at the foot of the mountain nowadays.

One of these days we did the whole ridge plus the outliers on a long summer day. It was special as three of the troops were young and loved every minute. We took a rope and took the hardest route up the pinnacles.

Mark and Sarah on An Teallach.

It was a marvellous day with special folk. Sarah, Mark and Stu were superb and the photos show it. This is a Scottish day in the Mountains that is very special and it was great to introduce them to the full ridge. The views all around of the Fisherfield hills and the remoteness is spectacular. 

The Troops on An Teallach.

That day I told them the incredible story of  the attempt of a Rescue a Documentary based on the diaries of Iain Ogilvie, “Duel on An Teallach” its now on utube about a single man’s effort to rescue two fellow-climbers. This was after they slipped from the ridge and fell down a 700-foot gully while climbing the An Teallach ridge in winter the north west of Scotland in April 1966. It is a tale I know well as the Kinloss MRT team were involved in the recovery Ian Olgilive did an incredible job to try and save the lives of his pals and the late Doctor Patey reached the casualties at night after Ian’s epic attempt to lower them alone down the face. Ian was awarded an MBE for his efforts and Doctor Patey the Queens Commendation for Bravery. The Ross and Sutherland Police Team led by Donnie Smith followed Tom Patey in that night. Please watch that video it is a insight into winter mountaineering. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RF5H4v6shNs

In Winter Garbh


That day I went out to the Munro top Sgurr Creag an Eich with Sarah the rest sat on the top enjoying the views. We dumped our bags on the beleach and headed out it was an incredible day. I was a bit fitter then but not as fit as Sarah. Instead we walked slowly chatted as the views of this hidden side of An Teallach expanded. We sat on the summit and enjoyed it then took a few photos.

Sarah On the summit of Sgurr Creag an Eich

No one knew that was my last Munro top that day but I told her. She took a photo, then we wandered back to meet the rest of the boys. They I think had fallen asleep on the last summit. We walked off on a stunning evening with the North West at its best. They were all full of this specail day and had enjoyed it the weather was superb as was the company. They laughed at me running ahead getting the photos.

I found it great to see how these new team member’s had developed, the ones that last love the mountains forever. They share the joys and the sadness at times as a fatality is never easy on the hills. Yet the memories of bringing someone of alive is so fulfilling. They grow up and learn so quick. Many spent only a few years in the team yet they were involved in some epics that stayed with them for life. You watch them change and in a couple of winters become incredible capable young folk. There is great responsibility in this job most are young folk who trust you completel. At times there is great danger and you push them in bad weather to ensure they can cope when the call outs happen. Few ever let us down and you watch them become steady mountaineers but even better humans. I never stopped enjoying seeing them improve and you become very fond of them all. You can always learn and laugh as you are now the “old Codger” but still of use at times.

This week we lost Sarah in such tragic circumstances and I have had incredible messages of sympathy from many of her pals from all over the World. I cannot thank you enough for that. It was one of the best hill days of my life that day on An Teallach yet another memory of this great mountain and also of the specail people you meet in them.

For Sarah.

Our Sarah was one of them “Best Ever”

In memory of Sarah Hassell

Posted in Articles, Books, Corbetts, Corbetts and other hills, Enviroment, Family, Friends, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Munros, People, Rock Climbing, Views Mountaineering, Well being, Wildlife | 4 Comments

Tragic News today.

I was on the hill today and received a few texts usually a sign of bad news. It was sadly an ex Team-member had been Murdered. Sarah Hassall (McIroy) was with me in the RAF Kinloss MRT. She was a great team member loved the Mountain Rescue and a strong lass on the hill. She was always “happy go lucky” laughing and like us all a troop. It was neverv easy in these early days when the girls arrived on the RAF teams. She was a great lass strong and always enthusiastic and so funny.

She spent time in her first years at RAF Kinloss and was full time Mountain Rescue At RAF Valley in North Wales.

Sarah on An Teallach.

We had many great days on the hills and crags over the years. Sarah loved the mountains and became talented rock climber. We had one special day together doing all the tops and Munro’s on An Teallach she was the only one who came out with me to that last top. The rest of the boys sat on the Munro enjoying rest. Call – outs were never easy she saw a lot in these early years some sad events. She was a true team member.

She married and joined the Army and left in 2010 to raise her two young sons. They were her pride and joy.

Sarah on Blank
The Isle of Arran – she loved the mountains x

Sarah on Beinn Alder.

I always tell folk that after she had a great day on the hill or a climb her words “Best Ever” would be to thank you for a fun time. My thoughts are with the family.

See below the Police Statement.

“Pontypridd murder investigation:
Woman victim named and her family pay tribute

South Wales Police is now in a position to name the 38 year-old woman who died following an incident at an address in Llys Graig Ty Wion, Pontypridd, on Sunday morning (6 October).

Sarah Hassall was from Chelmsford, Essex – her family have paid the following tribute to her:

‘After growing up in the family home in Chelmsford, Sarah dedicated herself to 14 years of military service in both the RAF and the Royal Engineers.

‘Her career was dominated by her commitment to mountain search and rescue – Sarah represented her units at both rock climbing competitions and competitive running.

‘Sarah left the army in 2010 to embark on, and excel at, even greater challenges – raising two young boys, Owain and Evan.

‘Sarah was my best friend and touched many more lives along the way. We all now mourn her passing, grateful for the short time we had in her company.’

Sarah’s family are currently being supported by specially trained family liaison officers.

The investigation into her death, which is being treated as murder, is ongoing. The 37 year-old man from Pontypridd, who has been arrested in connection with her murder, remains in police custody.

Anyone with information on this incident is urged to call 101 or contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111, quoting occurrence *369431.“

Awful News.

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That old Question “Is it worth recording that you have completed your Munro’s ?”

When I completed in 1976 I completed along with a mate Tom MacDonald on the same day on separate mountains. I was pretty pleased with myself as in these days It had become a consuming passion and I was lucky to be able to go out most weekend to a different area with the RAF Mountain Rescue Team. In these days I could not drive and many hills were hitched to on our weekend off. The late John Hinde and Ben Humble put in our completion with the SMC as at that time in the RAF Kinloss Team as few had previously completed. There were few guide books then and a very basic Munro book. In the Briefing room we had a Munros Board even then.

Most of the information was in the SMC District Guides or from others. Few of the hills have paths and often you rarely met folk on the hill. It was a different era.

“Dear Heavy

On behalf of all the members of RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team may I congratulate you on a really fine achievement in ascending An Socach 3097 feet in Braemar on 13 November 1976.  You completed a unique double with Tom Mc Donald to join a small band of climbers who have ascended all the 280 “Munro Mountains” in Scotland.

Many thanks for your hard work with the team, for you can be rightly and justifiably proud of your efforts. Well done and best wishes for many happy and enjoyable days in the mountains.” Pete McGowan.

Munro write up.

This is a great discussion point to me I would be interested to hear your views on whether you should Register with the Scottish Mountaineering Club Clerk of the lists or not?

The SMC hold a record of Munros, Corbetts, Grahams and Donalds compleators. Notification of compleation and any amendments to the List should be sent by email to the Clerk of the Munro list – munroclerk@smc.org.uk or in writing to the Clerk of the Munro List

Last Munro Ladhar Bheinn

Alison Coull
258/1 Ferry Road
EDINBURGH
EH5 3AN

The Clerk of the List, likes to know how long you have taken, your first and last hills, your age, plans for the future, where you are from and any other details which may be of interest. You letter will be added to the SMC archive in the National Library of Scotland. The information in your letter may also be included in the summary of munro achievements in the SMC’s journal which is published annually.

Enclose an SAE to ensure a reply notifying your number and details of how to purchase a specially designed Munroist tie or brooch. If you request a certificate the SAE should be A4 size with correct postage (A4 is Large Letter size)

The Clerk aims to respond within two weeks of receipt but there may be a longer delay at busier times of the year for registration or if the Clerk is on holiday. If you have not heard after a month you may wish to contact the Clerk again in case your notification has not been received. 

Another Completion . Sgurr Na Ciche.

If you have completed your Munro’s the Munro Society does a lot of good.

Founded in 2002 membership is open to anyone who has climbed all the Munro summits as listed in Munro’s Tables at the time of compleation – currently there are 282 mountains of Munro status with a height of 3000ft or more above sea level. Many such Munroists, who are often said to have ‘compleated’*, register their detail with the Clerk of the List. This official list is maintained by the Clerk on behalf of the Scottish Mountaineering Club and now exceeds 6,000 names. However, some of ‘compleaters’ do not register their details for a variety of reasons.

The Munro Society welcomes all Munroists who have compleated whether or not they have registered with the Clerk of the List.

The Society exists to bring together the wealth of mountain experience that members have accumulated and thus provide a forum in which to share interests and concerns as well as creating opportunities for convivial gatherings.They do a lot for Mountaineering and they give a lot back to the mountains which give us so much.

The Munro Society.

Some books that made the Munro journey a joy for me. These books and many others are a wonderful insight into this magical journey.

In 1985 mountain guide the late Martin Moran achieved the first completion of all 277 Munros* in a single winter with the support and companionship of his wife Joy. Their success was a feat of dedicated mountaineering and effective teamwork through the storms, snows and avalanches of an epic winter season in the Scottish Highlands. Martin s account of the winter journey became a classic mountain narrative, combining his passionate enthusiasm for the mountains with humorous insights into a marriage put to the test through three months of living in a camper van. It was described as the best guidebook to the Munros by mountain writer Jim Perrin. The book inspired many other climbers and runners to pick up the gauntlet in pursuit of new feats of endurance on Scotland s hills, and is now reissued with full colour photographs plus an introductory update by the author on how the Munros in Winter changed his life.

Hamish Brown was the first walker and climber to complete the Munros in a single round. By his own rules he did it self-powered except where ferries were required and with the aid of his trusty fold away bike. The year was 1974, and the roads of Scotland carried only a fraction of the traffic they do today, windmill farms were unheard of, crafting was more vibrant than it is today, and a strong Scottish mountaineering tradition was already established. Four years later Hamish s Mountain Walk appeared and was an immediate success, inspiring not only climbers but also readers fascinated by the history, geology, plant life and lore of one of Europe s most remote and unspoiled regions. Many walkers and authors would follow in Hamish Brown s boot prints, but none could bring the freshness and few could touch the depth of knowledge and experience. Now the book returns, re-imagined in modern fonts, with a new introduction and appendix and with two brilliant full colour plate sections provided by the author from his photography over four decades. This new volume is destined to further inspire and guide new generations of hill walkers about the Scottish hills in this new era.

Some terms on those who chase mutiple rounds.

Munro golfer is one that walks “pure” rounds. They walk every round from start to finish, one Munro after another.

Munro banker walks multiple rounds at once. So while walking round number one they also bag Munros for their next round or even their third round.

These terms, of course, only apply to people who are waking more than one round of Munros, but these Munroists are increasing in number.

Many when I started Munro Bagging were so against the Munros most I felt were a bit narrow minded, the Munros etc in my view give you a great understanding of this land we all love. We are all different many enjoy like me many aspects of mountaineering but I still get great joy attending a final summit of any round.

Footnote – On Oct 1 st Steve Fallon Mountain Guide completed his 16 th round of the Munros well done Steve! https://www.stevenfallon.co.uk

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Thank you all from Mountain Aid. Corbett’s for Courses. Thanks for raising £1200 for Charity.

Mountain Aid is a great charity and best to my heart they do a lot of work for Mountaineers.

During May, June and July 2019 Mountain Aid, the hillwalkers’ charity, organised a successful fundraising campaign “Corbetts for Courses”.

Over the three months over 200 ascents of Corbetts  (Scottish hills between 2 500 ft. and 3 000 ft. and a drop of at least 500 ft. all round) were undertaken by more than 70 participants, some four legged, many climbing several hills.

Corbett’s for Course Collage

The sum of almost £1200 was raised for Mountain Aid.  This will enable the charity to fund its navigation and winter skills courses which are free to participants.

Highlights of the event included ascents of:

     Ben Aden, a remote hill in Knoydart, accessed by canoe along Loch Quoich

     West coast hills accessed by private yacht

The Corbetts on the islands of Rum, Skye, Harris, Arran, Jura and Mull And Goatfell at night.

     Many of the Corbetts along the Stevenson Way during a three-week trek

A spokesperson for Mountain Aid said, “We would like to thank everyone who took part in the event and made it such as success, whether that be by climbing a Corbett, making a donation or supporting others in their endeavours. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, Mountain Aid will be able to continue to provide freetraining courses for the next year”. 

Further information available at     www.mountainaid.org.uk

Background

Mountain Aid

Mountain Aid is a volunteer-run Scottish Charity (SC040294) with the objective of promoting mountain safety. Established in 2009, the charity is the successor to the well known Boot Across Scotland. 

Mountain Aid activities include:• An annual programme of free “experiential” navigation, winter skills and outdoor first aid training courses.• A series of free mountain safety lectures at venues across the country.• Organising Skills for the Hills and Scottish Mountain Safety Days. These exhibition style events offer hill-goers a chance to meet and talk to agencies involved in the great outdoors in Scotland.

Corbetts

Compared with the more popular Munros, the Corbetts are spread further across Scotland, stretching down into the Borders, west into Ardgour and featuring on many more islands. There are 222 of these distinctive mountains, whose height ranges between 2500 and 3000 feet, with descent of at least 500 feet from adjacent hills. The challenge of completing all the Corbetts is often considered to be greater than that of completing the Munros.

Contact: 

info.mountainaid@gmail.com

www.mountainaid.org.uk

https://www.facebook.com/MountainAidUK/

The included image is a collage of summit photographs taken by participants during the event.

Mountain Aid is a Registered Charity SC040294 and is privileged to have Cameron McNeish as Patron since 2009

For more information, visit www.mountainaid.org.uk or email info.mountainaid@gmail.com

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Ardmair a wonderful setting by the sea and the mountains. This week snow is forecast for the mountains

I am so lucky my Grandkids are in Scotland and up and they were up for the Festival at Ullapool staying at Ardmair Point caravan and campsite. What a location that is. The sea the small Isles and the mountains make it a perfect setting.

I was on baby sitting duties on Sat night so Mum and Dad could go to the Festival in Ullapool.

I drove up in the afternoon through rain but it cleared as I arrived near Ullapool. The sun was out and the town so busy. I had a drive round up to Elphin the hills wet clearing and as always it was incredible these hills are so wild. Sadly the road was busy with “posh cars” blasting along in convoy ticking off the NC 500 oh for the Police with a speed gun. Goodness knows what they see in their mad rush or is it just me?

They miss all this.

It was great having a bit of time as the girls were in Lochinver and I had a few hours on my own.

The great poetry of Norman MaCaig are always in my head when I leave Ullapool into these hills.

A Man in Assynt

“Glaciers, grinding West, gouged out

these valleys, rasping the brown sandstone,

and left, on the hard rock below –

the ruffled foreland –

this frieze of mountains, filed

on the blue air –

I love these hills.

Stac Polly,

Cul Beag, Cul Mor, Suilven,

Canisp –

a frieze and

a litany.“

On my drive it was busy though with lots of folk about many looking at the views and enjoying it. There were loads of photographers waiting for the right light to hit the hills

Ardvreck Castle – where one of my heroes was murdered.
While Montrose was landing in Scotland, from Orkney, Charles was agreeing with the Covenanters that he would disband. The King’s letter never reached Montrose and he marched to defeat at the Battle of Carbisdale, in April, 1650. A few days later, Charles disavowed Montrose under the terms of the Treaty of Breda. Montrose fled to Ardvreck Castle on Loch Assynt, where he was betrayed to the Covenanters by the Laird, Neil MacLeod, for the princely sum of £25,000.

I stopped at Ardvreck Castle is a ruined castle dating from the 16th century which stands on a rocky promontory jutting out into Loch Assynt in Sutherland, Scotland. It has great views of the hills.

One can reach the ruins by driving along the A837 which follows the north shore of Loch Assynt from the village of Inchnadamph.

Opened: 1590

Built by:

Clan MacLeod

I visited the Castle and it was good to have a wander and see this piece of history I had often visited years ago on a wet day hiding from the hills. In these days it was a quick look now at last I had time. It had great views of the back of Quinag and I will be back in winter to revisit when the crowds have gone.

It was then a wander a walk them back to a sun filled Ardmair and fun with girls. They love the beach and learning the simple things like skimming stones. It was warm and after tea we had more fun outside. The light was incredible and to watch the girls on the beach was magic as the light changed. The sun setting to young eyes and the stunning views even to young kids is spell binding. They both had their faces painted at the Festival it was so good to have them with me. The simple things are so important.

The beautiful sunset.

So often we rush about and miss the simple things like sunset and family time. It was an easy night with the girls and instead of staying I headed home after Mum and Dad returned . It was an easy drive home the hills were dark but the stars were out. I saw a few deer about and stopped for a break in the dark as I always do. I am sure I heard the first stags of the season roar in the darkness. Always a sign to me of the winter on its way. The girls Mum and Dad stayed and visited old haunts that we had done many years ago. It’s great and I hope the girls will have a love of the wild places that they have. We are spoiled up here we have so much and I never take anything for granted.

It’s hard to believe that snow is forecast for the mountains this week after sitting in the sun enjoying the last of summer. Yet it is – the nights are drawing in and I wonder what another winter will bring.

Today’s tip.

Watch how you plan your days on the hills.

There is less time before it’s dark.

Check that torch and put some extra gear in your bag.

Have fun as that is what it’s all about.

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Tom Patey – One Man’s Mountains.

I head up to the North West to Ullapool this weekend. Ullapool is a gateway to the promised land. It was and is a place of incredible beauty and wildness a place I love. It was the home of a great character Doctor Tom Patey. The climbing Doctor.

One of the great mountaineering books I have ever read is” One Man’s Mountains” about the life of the famous Scottish Climbing Doctor Tom Patey. Sadly I never met Tom but he was well known by many of my friends in the RAF Mountain Rescue and helped them on many call – outs especially in the far North West where he was a Doctor in Ullapool.

His most famous call -out was on An Teallach in April 1966. 2 climbers we’re killed on Sgurr Fiona.  This incident was recently reconstructed and filmed for television. Hamish McIness film “Duel with An Teallach” Tom Patey awarded a medal for his part. It’s an incredible tale and the Locals and RAF Kinloss MRT we’re involved in the evacuation. I have spoken to some who were involved what Tom Patey did that night was incredible.

Tom Patey was a Scottish climber mountaineer, doctor and writer. He was a leading Scottish climber of his day, particularly excelling on winter routes. He died in a climbing accident at the age of 38.Tom Patey worked for ten years as a General Practitioner (GP) in Ullapool, in the far north-west of Scotland. He served for four years as Surgeon Lieutenant in the Royal Marines at the 42 Commando School at Bickleigh. I have climbed many of his routes and really enjoyed them.

Wreckers Slab.

The most recent was one of his Classic climbs in Cornwall “Wreckers Slab” and that was a great day.

Wreckers Slab 115 metres VS – North Devon – One of the longest, most alluring and serious VS climbs in the West Country, Wrecker’s Slab is nevertheless the most attempted of its genre on the coast. The huge, slim slab rising from the beach on the far right-hand side of the cliff has very little in the way of technical difficulty but should not be underestimated as the rock is poor, protection spaced and the situations very serious. Start at the base of the slab just right of the overhangs. An amazing cliff, one of the best adventurous routes in the country. Make it a must to climb, what a fantastic day out. Oh and make sure you don’t throw all the hand holds down to your belayer.I had waited 40 years to climb this route and my pal Pete Greening took me up it what a climb.

An old peg on the route.

Patey’s routes are all over Scotland and his writings about his adventures are all in the book, I love “Night Shift in Zero” and his epic Sea Stack adventures you have to read the book and then have a go a some of his adventures.

His regular first ascents, such as Mitre Ridge, The Scorpion and Douglas-Gibson Gully (Scotland’s first grade V—sustained ice to 80 degrees), whenever his studies allowed.  He was based in Aberdeen then and with Brooker climbed the first winter ascent of Eagle Ridge in Lochnagar, in 1953, with Patey and Mike Taylor. The trio astounded their peers by completing the traverse in just over four hours in hobnail boots—to this day an impressive feat for what is still seen as a long day’s climb at grade V. Their climb remains a classic Scottish winter route. 

Zero Gully was another and they climbed these routes with simple gear. Most climb Zero Gully downgraded now with great ice tools and 8 ice screws, they were bold men.

Hamish MacInnes recalls one February evening in 1965 and asks if he would like to make an attempt at the first winter traverse of the celebrated Cuillin Ridge on the Isle of Skye, which lies off the west coast of Scotland. The winter traverse of the Cuillin remains a major challenge today. Alpine in length, commitment and technicality, the ridge neither rises above 4,000 feet nor drops below 2,500 feet. Yet the historic traverse by Patey and his three companions is reported as a catalogue of comic and near-tragic mishaps, including a broken crampon and Patey’s climbing partner Brian Robertson “stopping every half-mile to be sick” due to the accordion-and-whisky session of the night before.

Patey routes in the Alps and the Himalayas are incredible. After summiting the Mustagh Tower along the Northwest ridge (just days ahead of a French team), Patey was chosen as the doctor for the British-Pakistani attempt on the 25,550-foot Rakaposhi in the Karakoram, in 1958. Again, his stamina and grit came to the fore, and he made the summit with Mike Banks.

In his memoir of the expedition, Mike Banks recalls how Patey, after a grueling day, would cheerfully kick snow-steps up the start of the next day’s section of mountain, while the other team members lay exhausted in their tents.

Tom after the ascent of Rakaposhi
The Maidens sea stack.

He was probably best known for his humorous songs and prose about climbing, many of which were published posthumously in the collection “One Man’s Mountains.”

What a man read the book.

Comments:

Frank Strang

“I grew up with Tom, he and my Dad were big pals and disappeared every weekend to the hill. He was some character and used to tell his wife he was out treating patients but would be playing the accordion in our kitchen with a dram in hand . They “discovered ” the Northern Highlands decades before the masses . I was fortunate as a boy to live in Assynt and the house was a stopping off place for the likes of Tom , Bennett , Slessor, MacInness , Todd, Weir, Tiso  all legends now but characters and family friends then. Great stories . Seems like another World now though?”

On May 25, 1970, Tom Patey was abseiling off a sea stack off the north coast of Scotland called The Maiden. He and a group of friends had just made the first ascent, and Patey was the last man off the top. On his way down he paused, apparently to rearrange the rope. Then his friends watched as he plummeted off the rock face to his death on the slab below. He was 38.

The exact reason for Patey’s death, carrying out a relatively simple manoeuvre that he had done thousands of times, can never be known for sure. However, a predominant theory among his friends hinges on the way he dressed and his notoriously chaotic rope management.

Offering further insight, HamishMacInnes says, “The previous weekend I had been climbing with Tom and he had forgotten his belt, so I gave him an old sling and an old Pierre Alain carabiner [a swing gate that was recalled due to safety issues] that I just used for hauling rucksacks. I told him, ‘Don’t use that carabiner for climbing,’ but these things didn’t register with Tom. That was the carabiner he used for the abseil.”

Wrote Patey: “To my mind the magic of a great route does not lie in its technical difficulty or even the excellence of its rock but in something less readily definable—atmosphere.”

“Live it up, fill your cup, drown your sorrow

And sow your wild oats while ye may

For the toothless old tykes of tomorrow

Were the Tigers of Yesterday. ”

Tom Patey with fag. “How does he climb Solo and briskly , 20 fags a day and a bottle of malt whisky”

Patey Comments from friends

Neil Reid “An early lesson in what a small world it is. almost 40 years ago I was sitting reading the book in my parents’ home and my Dad asked what I was reading. I showed them and started to explain who he was, but was interrupted by my Mum who said she “kent fine fa he wis” – his widow was one of her Thursday morning fly cup pals. That was me in my place”

Tony Bradshaw  –  A well ken’t GP from Ullapool and he turned up at any base camp we set up in his area in the mid to late 60’s , TP with a fag in his mouth and John Hind making up a rolli

Andy Nisbet – Never met him sadly, but I did a new route with his daughter some 20 years ago (the only route she’s ever done, I think).

Neil Findley – An old pal of mine hamish baites climbed with tom and bill brooker,hamish used to tell me tales of their adventures while sipping his pint in the nuke in old portlethen

Graham Hunter -Yes, knew Tom. Excellent book, must re-read.

G. Ackroyd – One of my first reads David Whalley. One of the true characters. (read once or twice since as well.

Angus  Jack – A great read, an inspiration in my younger days. Lived life to the full

Ranald Strachan – My old man fell off one of his new routes back in 1964 on an outing with Dinger Bell in Applecross (DB had to coax him back onto the crag!)….owe my existence to a shonky peg that held. Bit of legend of Dr Patey.

Pete Ross – A short walk with Whillans,’ in Games Climbers Play, was one of the most descriptive character essays I’ve ever read. Perrin’s iteration dissected Don Whillan’s character, warts and all, but in my opinion didn’t quite capture the essence of the man. Tom Patey’s description of their aborted attempt of the Eiger North Face gave us a real insight: ‘Don’s philosophical discourses were not for the faint-hearted’. One skillfully crafted phrase gave the reader a unique insight into a flawed genius’s character. One Man’s Mountains a must read on a cold night, with a ‘dram’ close by, to experience the richness of Scottish Mountaineering literature.

George Adams – I did some winter and summer routes in the Cairngorms with Tom and Bill Brooker in the early 1950

Jim Bruce – My first climb with Tom was at the Bullers o Buchan.

Quite embarrassing really, as I picked up my spoon before his dad had said grace for the meal.

Any more comments.

Posted in Articles, History, Mountain rescue, Mountaineering, People, Recomended books and Guides, Rock Climbing, Scottish winter climbing., SMC/SMT, Views Mountaineering | Leave a comment

The Film the Dawn Wall – El Capitan an incredible story.

Last night I watched The Dawn Wall with Yvette my stepdaughter her choice it was an incredible story and to me easily as good as the recent Mountaineering film Free Solo.

The Dawn Wall is an account Of Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson’s climb on Yosemite’s El Capitan’s incredible Dawn Wall. The film leaves you with your heart in your mouth as they both suffer near misses. It’s a very personal journey the highs and lows for both with a huge insight into climbing at an elite level. It also for me enters a personal insight for Tommy after he was taken hostage and the difficult journey he went on.

Below El
Capitan

“On January 14, 2015, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson topped out El Capitan’s Dawn Wall in Yosemite Valley to a circus of friends, family, and media. Their 19-day push to complete the first free ascent of the wall cfar beyond the climbing community. But the story of their cutting-edge ascent begins long before that winter, or even the seven years that Caldwell, joined later by Jorgeson, had attempted what’s considered the hardest rock climb in history. The story of the Dawn Wall is the story of Tommy Caldwell.

The Dawn Wall, the long-awaited documentary film from Red Bull Media House and Sender Films, delivers Caldwell’s story in full, from childhood to his capture by militants in Kyrgyzstan his passion for big-wall free climbing, in which equipment is used only to catch falls. Of course, highly accomplished free climber and boulderer Jorgeson plays a central role in the film as the other half of the climbing team, but The Dawn Wall focuses heavily on Caldwell, the visionary behind the climb. Through moving interviews, the film explores Caldwell’s inspiration that led to the seven-year project. But the documentary skims over his darker motivation: a deep depression that would ultimately lead him to the greatest accomplishment of his life”.

The story is an incredible one and I enjoyed it so much. I rarely watch films but this was a great choice. I saw the incredible Yosemite again where I visited and worked with the Yosemite SAR

I was there on a Rescue on El Capitan with YOSAR team in 2008. It was some place the scale of 3000 feet of pure granite was wild. I loved my month here and this film brought so many memories back.

Rescue Expert John Dill below the Wall.

It was great to see that incredible place and these cliffs again. I never climbed on El Capitan but did on Half Dome. Yosemite is place you must visit and the land of Environmentalist John Muir. I learned so much being out there and saw the wilderness of nature and how folk struggle against it. The wild life, the waterfalls, the Trees,the flowers are incredible. It is a timeless land and one I will never forget.

I visited on early spring it was amazing to see snow still high up and only a few folk about.

How lucky are we to be able to escape into another and get the highs and lows of extreme athletes in this place .

Yosemite is a special place we owe at lot to John Muir for leading the fight to keep it that way. We can look into another world of climbing on the Dawn Wall.

Please watch it it’s impressive and see what true companionship on a rope means. It’s unique as are the two climbers.

Comment

It’s a great film, heavy and every bit as good as Free Solo. To be honest, I preferred Dawn Wall since it was a much bigger picture story with lots of interest about Tommy’s life and problems he’s had to deal with/overcome. Also brought back great memories of long trips to Yosemite in the 90s to do Salathe Wall and the Nose etc. Adrian

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Memories of Wales – The 14 peaks – grand days out on the rock and ice.

After visiting Wales on a Golfing trip last week it got me thinking of my great days on the hills and climbing in Wales. It was the late 70’s I had just come from Scotland from up in the North and completed a Winter West to East Traverse of Scotland it was a hard three weeks. I was pretty fit when arriving in Wales in these days.

The Wessex

I was coming as the full time Mountain Rescue Deputy Team Leader of RAF Valley in Anglesey. It was a big change for me and my knowledge of Wales was limited to a few Summer rock climbing courses and my Mountain Leadership Assessment In Llanwryst. Yet I loved the place and learned so much in these early years.

My young Dog born in Wales and a great companion on the hills. Teallach

In these days 1978 there was a lot of Internal rivalry between RAF Teams and coming from Scotland it was a hard gig. The troops then did a lot more rock climbing in the South and thought we in Scotland were all big walkers on snowy hills.

RAF Valley MRT

My first early weekend was the classic 14 peaks a great day then as now. Very similar to the big Scottish hill days like the Mamores. The hard thing was I was given a rope to carry and I ditched that early on. Also coming down to the main road twice was not what I expected. That was where the physiology comes in especially after Tryfan. Yet it was a great day and to be met on Drum by the late Colin Pibworth RIP a famous name in RAF MRT was magical. The early start on the Friday night Crib Goch by night and then walking most of the day. It was a wonderful day. We did great things like the Annual Snowdon Bike Race over Crib Goch for Charity when most of the Rescue Teams got involved before Health and Safety. It was so competitive as well.

The Annual Bike Race over the Snowdon Horseshoe.

I am sure I was with Stan Owen a great hill runner at the time. I did this day fairly often as it was a such a classic.

On Crib Goch Dave Booth in action.

Most of the team had it in there list to do. I remember being tired but spent next day at Tremadoc with my mate Jock climbing Merlin Direct and a few other routes I was tired. Jock said “your a Welsh troop now so you have to learn to climb. “

Yet there were other great days the Rhinogs A few miles south, however, is a pair of wild and beautiful secret gems: The Rhinogs a classic day in anyone’s book. I loved the remoteness of this area and it became a favourite. We covered the Karrimor Mountain Marathon here it was a hard day as there were a few injuries at the time. I learned lots from that weekend.

The Classic Creag Dubh Wall – Tremadoc

I got some great climbing in as we had a board in the Mountains Rescue that was in theory a guide to some of the selected climbs . These were a great idea to make you get about the area. I did all the classics in Wales in the book Classic Rock. Most were done in big boots and a rucksack scary at the time. Looking back we did Main Wall in a snowstorm and had great days in the Pass. The Llanberris Pass was always special with the steepness and famed routes but so there were so many routes. Looking back on it every day was incredible Mountaineering. We would walk one day then climb the next when the Scrambles book in North Wales came out we did many of them it was a great way of getting to know these mountains.

Tryfan became a favourite even then on the polished classics . Grooved Arête was a favourite as were many of the climbs on this wonderful face. The Milestone a place of history was one we could grab a summer climb when we had the long nights. Wales had so many places to visit I always found Craig Yr Ysfa a classic place very Scottish in atmosphere. We climbed all over and had Gogarth on our Doorstep we even did the odd Exercise here with the Coastguards. Add to that having the Wessex helicopter at RAF Valley we had a wonderful relationship with the crews.

Wales was so compact the drive from Valley in Anglesey was short and there was so much time even to climb in the long summer nights. The old classics like Lockwoods Chimney became a tradition within the team done at night it could be classic.

We learned quickly and got involved in so many Rescues as we were on scene climbing when many happend. All the time I was learning and gaining knowledge of the area. There was a great social Scene as well and we met many of the top climbers and though most of us were climbing easier routes it was incredible to see what was being climbed.

Wales worth doing Rock just a few I can remember so many more. It is all easier routes but great fun.

Classic Rock !

I loved Wales never a great climber I was lucky to be in North Wales for 3 years as the Deputy Team Leader of RAF Valley MRT. I learned so much thanks to Wee Jock, Nige Hughes and Pete Kay we had some amazing days. I was also back on many RAF Summer Course two weeks climbing in Wales teaching rock climbing. A few pals have asked me to recommend some areas and my memory is poor I have not even touched the surface can you help and add or improve this please.

Everything is in Wales and usually an easy walk in, what a great change from Scotland and if the weather is poor you can usually find dry rock somewhere. The scrambling is also exceptional and a few on their day off after 6 days climbing on our Annual Summer Course did the 14 Peaks as it was called then. The cliffs in the popular areas can be busy but we climbed a lot in the evening or when the cliffs were quiet or away early. I loved it and must get back soon. We did lots of call -outs working with the local Teams and it was a place of lots of learning. Many crag call – outs that were complicated and at night but you learned quickly.

Here is a wee guide just my thoughts can you help by adding improving?

Ogwen Valley – has always been in my mind a place to learn and some grand mountaineering routes. Idwal Slabs classic climbing a great day to start a trip in Wales combination of routes is possible to climb to the top of the crag. This can be very busy but there are so many routes and great to get multi pitch routes in with a short walk in.  The routes on the slabs are classic Hope, Tennis shoe,  Lazarus, The Arete , Grey slab a tricky VS up high all classics and you can have a great day here, easy walk in and such fun place to be.  

Idwal Slabs Big Boots on many occasions.

Tryfan – Milestone Buttress and East Face Routes – Milestone Direct a short walk from the road, it has so many situations and a climb we did so often, many before the pub or in the evening before it got busy. Soap Gut another old classic rarely done is very classic and here are other routes here with plenty of history and some great fun. Many are in Classic Rock by Ken Wilson. On the East Face of Tryfan  there are more mountain routes that finish near the summit of Tryfan  –  Gashed Crag, First Pinnacle Rib and the lovely Grooved Arete  all fairly long routes average 500 feet with Grooved Arete at 700 feet. Also Munich Climb was another we did a bit harder .There are so many climbs all classic can be polished but again superb climbing.

Those who like the walk in Craig yr Ysfa in the Carneddau with Amphitheatre Buttress and Great Gully big 750 feet climbs, very Scottish in feel. 

The Llanberris Pass a place of pilgrimage for those who love rock. Here there are great classics again a bit steeper and more serious in my view and some great climbs.

Classic Rock recommends – Nea, Crackstone Rib Wrinkle, Flying Buttress and Spiral Stairs, The Cracks on Dinas Mot and of course the Classic Cenotaph Corner, others like Cemetery Gates and the modern wild lines are impressive. There are also many steady VS routes that get you into the feel of the place. Spectre was one or am I wrong? For a mountain route Main Wall on Cairn Las is excellent and a great mountaineering expedition. We had snow on one of our ascents.

The Slate Quarries – You will love this place, in Llanberris – Bus stop Quarry was our haunt in the past – Comes the Dervish and so many others so many fun days.

The Moelwyns – A place well used by RAF MRT for leading on good rock, Slick, Slack Kirkus all about 400 feet so many climbs usually quiet and a great place to get the leading and route finding in. My mate Alaister lives below the cliff you may meet him top man.

Tremadog – Love this crag usually great when the weather is poor a crag with a café heaven. To me One step in the Clouds, Creagh Dhu  Wall, Scratch, Christmas Curry, and  Striptease so many others a majestic place.   I spent so many happy days here and Eric Jones used to run the café.

Gogarth – Sea Cliffs Abseil descent and well worth just a look is awesome, we did some lowers and training on these cliffs in my RAF Valley days.  It the Classic Dream of white Horses and so much more Lighthouse Arete a great introduction to sea cliff climbing. There is also Holyhead Mountain a grand cliff nearby with many routes worth doing.

 Memory fade again can anyone recommend me a few more climbs? A few have already.

Comments -Pete Kay – Dream, Grim Wall, Cenotaph Corner

David Tomkins –   Striptease Tremadog , Cemetery gates , Direct on Dinas Mot

Main wall Cyrn Las severe

Crackstone rib is hard to beat. Steady climbing and great situations. Pass hasn’t seemed so busy recently as it was in 80s.

Phil Williams –  Bochlwyd Eliminate, King Bee Crack, Mean Feat!

Rhoscolywn – I climbed here a few times memory fade but great sea cliffs maybe someone will remind me of the routes to advise.

Pete Kay and me after a wet day in Idwal a few years ago.

So many other place apologises for missing them can you add please cannot find my Valley photos but the memories live on.

I have so many memories and lucky to have a mate Rusty who Guides in the area maybe I will get a few climbs with him before I get to old. Rusty Bale ?

Looking back it was a grand time I was back two years ago on a wet day on Idwal Slabs with Pete Kay and Rusty Bale, we had fun. In my years in Wales we had the best winter for years and that is another story we ice climbed everywhere all over Wales and I was so lucky. Add to that the great folk and the odd big call -out we even went to Ben Lui in Scotland for a Jaguar aircraft crash in winter. We were flown up by Hercules to Prestwick. These are other tales like the Bike race over the Snowdon Horseshoe for Charity and the Forest Fires that are worth telling at a later date?

Ben Lui Valley MRT

The Valley Team and Hercules on way home from Ben Lui Call out.

Posted in Aircraft incidents, Books, Charity, Equipment, Mountaineering, Views Mountaineering, Well being | Leave a comment

What would you have done ?

This is another interesting story of a pal who was out alone in the Cairngorms Last week. He had been up on the hills for a week. He is A very fit competent Mountaineer.

Heavy,

How’s things? I saw your comment on my FB post. I won’t deny it, I was in agony but didn’t have much choice. I’ve been up in Scotland for the past week enjoying the hills and as the forecast for yesterday was quite good, I decided to go and do Bynack More then round onto Cairngorm and back to the van which was parked outside Glenmore.

Whilst running down off the summit of Bynack More I tripped and took a forward tumble landing badly on my left elbow. Straight away I knew it was bad. I’d also gashed my left knee and a scuff on my right wrist. The pain was intense and I almost threw up. Weighing up my options, I decided it was probably best to retrace my steps and walk back the way I came in, all be it the longer way. A passing walker was going to call MRT.

I told him my legs still worked and by the time anyone got to me I could have descended a fair way on my own, besides I wasn’t going to be rescued(!) so set off walking. 2 hrs later I got back down and called into Glenmore to see if there was a medical centre in Aviemore. I told them was I’d done and suspected that I’d broken my arm. When they helped me get my jacket off and saw that my left arm was badly swollen and deformed they called for an ambulance – a bit embarrassing! The outcome, I’ve fractured the ulna in my left arm and gashed my left knee.

It could have been a lot worse and typically it happened at probably the furthest point away from my van. That said, it’s the first time I’ve ever walked 7 miles with a broken arm before and it was excruciatingly painful but these things happen and I get to play another day.

How’s things with you? I spoke to Al yesterday but then offered to come up and drive my car back bless him. I’m still in the RAF, based down South at the moment.

😀

A interesting story and a hardy man. Thanks for letting me use this piece there are some interesting thoughts in it.

If you were out on your own would you be able to cope! Great effort.

Comments welcome

😀

Posted in Charity, Enviroment, Family, Friends, Local area and events to see, People, Well being | Leave a comment

One Last Climb – the incredible Eric Jones Mountaineer – Sky Diver – Adventure.

I just watched this incredible film on Catch up “The Last Climb” it was superb and a great insight into an incredible man and his life.

I was very lucky to meet Eric a lot on North Wales at his cafe at Tremadoc near the cliffs we loved climbing on when I was at RAF Valley in North Wales. Eric was already the local hero made famous for soling many of the great routes in Wales. I also attended a First Aid Course with him we had a laugh. He said he did it as a few climbers had fallen off his local cliff Tremadoc and he had looked after them. I am sure we have him an old stretcher as his wife was getting upset with climbers bleeding on her sofa.

He is most well known for the first British solo ascent of the north face of the Eiger in 1981, and for his climbs on the Matterhorn and South Col on Mount Everest.[1] In 1969, Jones ascended the Bonatti Pillar on the Dru solo,[2] and in 1971, he was the first person to climb the Central Pillar of Brouillard on the south ridge of Mont Blanc. In 1986, he became the first person to BASE jump from the Eiger.

It was a powerful film and shows that Eric is at over 80 still an incredible man. This film gives a small insight to the man. It has an incredibly moving end and I loved it. Stay well Eric and thanks for a great film and an insight into a true adventurer.

Posted in Films, Mountaineering, Music & Cinema, Rock Climbing, Views Mountaineering, Well being | 2 Comments

Soay St Kilda The Mystery of the aircraft crash

I got a email from an piece I wrote about Soay and an aircraft that crashed during the War, was there any update on my article. I have been so lucky to visit such places and St Kilda is a place so unique and its history is incredible. Yet it was the scene of lots of aircraft during the War Years who used it as a navigational point on training missions. There are several aircraft crashes on the main island. Many more were lost on route. For some years there was thought to be an aircraft crash site on the St Kilda archipelago of small Islands.

Soay (Scottish Gaelic: Soaigh) is an uninhabited islet in the St Kilda archipelago, Scotland. The name is from Old Norse Seyðoy, meaning “Island of Sheep”. The island is part of the St Kilda World Heritage Site and home to a primitive breed of sheep. It is the westernmost point in the United Kingdom, excluding Rockall

Soay lies some 40 miles (64 km) west-northwest of North Uist in the North Atlantic It is about 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) north-west of Hirta, from which it is separated by the narrow Sound of Soay, which is only about 500 metres wide. Two sea stacks, Stac Shoaigh (Soay Stac), 61 metres (200 ft), and Stac Biorach, 73 metres (240 ft), lie between. The island covers about 96.8 hectares (239 acres) and reaches a height of 378 metres (1,240 ft), the cliffs rising sheer from the sea

SOAY 2016
SOAY 1978

Soay is a 0.97 km ² large, uninhabited island in the Scottish St Kilda archipelago, the most isolated group of islands in the UK. This archipelago is located in the Atlantic  Ocean and the Outer Hebrides are adjacent.

1978 – AT THE CRASH SITE

This was the scene of an attempt by RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team in 1978 to try to locate a crash site that was reputed to be on the small inaccessible Island. The team had a few epics including and overnight stay in wild weather, where tents were smashed by the winds in the exposed cliffs. The Team were tasked by the AHS (Air Historical Society) that some yachtsmen had located an aircraft crash on the Island. Some RAF EOD, the procurator Fiscal and a CID Sgt from Stornaway went along with the RAF Kinloss Team dropped of by the Sea King Helicopter. Over two years including a tented night stop when the tents were smashed wreckage was investigated but the aircraft could not be confirmned. The aircraft remains a mystery according to the RAF.

EARLY DAYS OF THE SEAKING ON SOAY

This was all done by Sea Kings helicopter and there are a few tales of these trips. You can never take the weather for granted in this area and I pray for good weather this year for me.

The islands hill on Soay is a prize Marliyn for you secret hill bashers! You will have to climb to get on the Island from the sea.

St Kilda and Rockall were all part of navigational training sorties in these days of very primitive navigational aids and many aircraft were lost in this area. St Kilda has a few aircraft wrecks on the Island and I have been so lucky to visit them on several occasions. Unfortunately Soay will not be on possible, I wonder if anyone has visited this place recently.

Keith Bryers.

Hi Heavy –” the aircraft was almost certainly Wellington Mk.VIII LA995 from 303 Ferry Training Unit, Stornoway, which was lost on 23 February 1943 with a crew of 6 whilst on a navex/fuel consumption test. The rear gunner was washed up at Europie on 2 March 1943 and is buried in Essex, the others (I have all the names) lie on the site in an unmarked grave. The wreck was known about in 1944 but wartime priorities seem to have prevented a visit to search for remains until the RAF’s visit in 1980; certainly, the wreck was reported by Morton Boyd of the Nature Conservancy Council as long ago as 1952. I visited the site in 1979. A rather foreboding location, truly ‘on the edge of the world’.” 

Keith Bryers

More info  from the blog

The aircraft could also be Wellington HX448, Lost Sep 28 1942, which also had Canadians onboard and was also in the area. The magazine After The Battle No30 has the story of the investigation conducted to find out the identity of the crashed plane on Soay, However no definitive proof (i.e id tags engine numbers etc) was found either way hence most websites giving both aircraft numbers.It would seem unlikely that further searches would be possible due to the remoteness and difficulty of access, changeable weather etc.

 Also as the wreckage or what is left is most likely to have been covered by scree falls and or rolling or being blown down the cliff The book, Aircraft Wrecks, the walkers guide is a good source of info regarding the two planes on the main island of Hirta. I have just been to the island again and hoped to have a look at the crash site on Connachair (Beaufighter) but low cloud stymied this.

From the site RAF Kinloss Archives.


The Church building on Hirta(St Kilda) has a small plaque commemorating the losses and carries the names of the casualties for the two planes on the main island, but for the Soay crash this section has been left blank of names. (until the mystery is solved?) It would be great to see another trip with the modern investigation techniques to prove which aircraft it was finally I have asked before but got no joy. It would be a wonderful tribute to those who died.

The Memorail in St Kilda The Soay crash names not there.
Posted in Aircraft incidents, Mountaineering, Other hills Grahams & Donalds | 4 Comments

Ruadh – Stac Beag

Ruadh-stac Beag the wonderful Beinn Eighe Torridon outlier.

The great domed Corbett of Ruadh-stac Beag is separated from the main Beinn Eighe ridge; it has considerable defences on most sides and access is usually via the screes of its southern flank. It makes a fine walk through stunning scenery – and could be combined with the ascent of Meall a’ Ghiubhais. From Walk Highlands

Ruadh – Stac Beag

This was planned to be my last Corbett but after hearing from a few folk who said it’s a long day I decided it would not be ideal. It’s a hard Corbett by any means. I have only three left and want to invite a few special folk to my final one. This will be next year as two special folk are recovering from illness.

The wonderful walk in from the pony track that starts near the Aultroy visitor Centre of the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve.

Meall a’ Ghuibhais another great Corbett. The Pony track is a great way in to this wilderness.

I left fairly early as the forecast was looking good. I was on my own and have wanted to climb this hill for many years. This mountain is an outlier of the complex mountain of Beinn Eighe with its myriad of summits. Few venture into this side chasing the two Munro’s and missing so much?

The inner Corrie of the Black Carl’s lots of scope for winter. Few see this side.
The great dome of Ruadh Stac Beag and the hidden Corrie’s.

Parking is easy at the You leave the path and I headed into some wild country it’s very rocky and you have to take care as you round Creag Dhubh the vastness of this place is incredible.

The burn sparkling on the sun this
Is an incredible place to be.

I had planned a scramble up the slab on my hill. Yet on my own I felt that it was not right and looking at it I had been up there before. Yes again The memory plays with you in these days the Corbett’s were just another hill an adventure to get to know this area for Rescues.

I would take the young team members into these places. Often we would get dropped by helicopter on a search in bad weather and this hill knowledge was invaluable. I saw no one at all all day till on my way home. There is no phone service round here once in these mountains . Yet the solitude is peaceful as are the views of Slioch and the Fisherfield hills are incredible .

Looking back

The water was sparkling clear water on the Quartzite rocks add to the beauty.

This is not the place to have an accident so I was careful all day but just enjoyed the weather. I love walking alone I always say where I am going and when I am off it’s simple to sort out. I can stop when I want and have no time limits my days of rushing round the hills are long gone. The quartzite of this area allows so many plants to flourish and though late in the year there are still many about. This area is especially good for Juniper and rarely have I seen so many mini junipers about.

It was perfect for walking and as I picked my way up to the beleach the mountain is an incredible amount of scree and tottering cliffs. Yet in there own way they are so beautiful and I love hugging the corrie Rim and seeing them and there crazy shapes.

The view up to the beleach.

The path is vague even on the ridge and lots of loose scree And blocks but the views are incredible as you climb.

Shattered pinnacles and scree.

It was hard work yet as you climb you could see the Munro’s on Beinn Eighe and the outlying cliffs. I could see folks on the summits possibly of my own club who are in Torridon for the weekend.

The Munro summit of Ruadh Stac Mhor – with the hidden cliffs of a route I climbed many years ago – Thin Mans Ridge !

Once on summit is very flat and I made my way along to the Cairn in the sun. I could see the sea and for miles.

It was warm and I had my lunch and saw More folk on the main ridge. I could have slept up here it was such a grand day but wanted to get down the loose screes and the burn.

Near the summit of Ruadh Stac Beag any idea what it is for there were two of them ! From Eoghain Maclean Fixed points photography points. I put them in 20 plus years ago 😀well spotted Heavy. Just off the summit I saw these two objects?

I headed down taking care it was steep and loose. It was a good decision not to not leave this hill to my last one. Yet again the views were stunning all round vistas of the sea to Gairloch and Loch Maree.

Coming down the ridge.

I was glad to be back down safely and headed back higher up on the moraine on the way I came in seeing the incredible cliffs close up of the Black Carl’s.

The descent and a well earned drink .

I was soon on the path after a long walk across the screes. I still had not met anyone and I was back on the pony track. Slioch was back in view as was the massive Waterfall near it. I stopped again and took of my top to enjoy the sun.

Here I met a few folk and was soon back at the car. It was then I noticed my phone was missing I headed back up the hill I had an idea that I had put it down at my last stop. The round boulder where I had a drink and a short break. It was hard going back up but I met Ian and Lorraine from Muir of Ord who had found it. They had just done the same hill as me yet we had seen no signs of each other. They were a lovely couple and would not take a reward so we wandered down the hill. Good Karma to them. I stopped in at the Visitor Centre to tell them I had located my phone.

What a day I headed home after a superb few hours that I will never forget. This is what it’s all about for me. How lucky am I ?

Posted in Corbetts, Corbetts and other hills, Enviroment, Local area and events to see, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Munros, People, Plants, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering, Weather, Wildlife | Leave a comment

My local hill Ben Rinnes

Two pals are of on a walking holiday and we had a wander on our local Corbett yesterday. The forecast was for rain at midday. We drove through whisky country it was still dry and parked at the Distillery below the hill.

Ben Rinnes.

We had not been up this way for a while so it would be a change from going up
the busier route from the other side.

Parking was easy and it’s only about 45 minutes drive from home. We follow the hill track from the Distillery. In the past I have been this way and it was always wet. Today the track was a bit worn and there were lots of shooting butts on the hill. Sadly no sign of wild life. The track is getting eroded by the weather but helps you get onto the ridge.

A warm start very close.

This is a quieter way to climb this hill and you pass the Scurrans Cairngorm granite tor’s that always are a place to stop. Before that the path heads on to the ridge it’s pretty wet here. It was today and muddy. The summit has the great name Scurran Of Lochterlandloch and the name Scurran (is applied to the other two tors on this magic wee hill. Many thanks for reminding me of this Donald Watt and Hamish Brown!  Hamish Brown’s Mountain Walk and Climbing the Corbett’s is a great book for information on the hills in Scotland.

The weather still held and it was good to get a wind on the ridge. The Scurrans dominate in a land of Wind Farms and the beautiful fields of Moray in late summer. The mist came and went and we followed the main track to the summit where we met a few souls.

We had a break here the Granite Tor’s are incredible I have camped here many years ago in winter. They were then covered in snow and they look wild.

The Scurrans

From here the rain came in and we wandered along to the summit. The trig point has been painted and looks great thanks to Eric Grant that was a labour of love.

Ella on top with the refurbished Trig Point..

The old Trig Point – now sorted out thank you.

There were a few others on the summit we had a bleather. We came back the same way as it was raining but it stopped and the mist lifted we were back in the views again and the sun.

It was then head back to car and stop for tea at the Steam Railway station at Dufftown for some tea and a sausage roll. Cracking day out thanks ladies.

The Cafe.

Ben Rinnes was the scene of a terrible plane crash on 14th November 1943.
A Wellington Bomber HF746 of No20 Operational Training Unit, based at Lossiemouth, crashed into Ben Rinnes whilst on a navigational exercise.
A former member of the ground crew who went to the site on the hill shortly after the crash described it as “the most complete burn-out he had ever seen”.

Crash site References

250 metres downhill from summit

Rinnes W1 – NJ  25627/35634 – 783 Metres

Rinnes W2  – NJ  2562335664 –  774 Metres

Rinnes W3 –  NJ 2563435696 – 761 Metres

Rinnes W4 – NJ 2565035718 – 747 Metres

Rinnes W5 – NJ 25695 –  694 Metres

Ben Rinnes a grand wee hill it always allows you a fun day, no views today from the summit but great company.



Ben Rinnes Wreckage.
Posted in Corbetts, Mountaineering, Views Mountaineering, Weather | Leave a comment

Ben A Bhuird the Oxford Crash Ben Avon and other tales.

The Last Flight. Lost then Found

This great mountain along with Beinn Avon is one we climbed on a lot in summer and winter, I got to know it during 1973 when we completed a winter foray in February with the Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team. Teuch Brewer was training for an Arctic Expedition and we set of after work. He was a “man mountain” and it was a wild adventure navigating in wild weather and staying two nights out.

We carried a tent which meant huge bags and walked in at night after a long days work. We climbed 6 Munros that weekend heading back to Cairngorm for a lift home, it was a place I was to visit often. I then used this area a lot when I was posted to RAF Buchan on the North East Coast and formed a small mountaineering club. We got the offer of training with the new Sea Kings at Lossiemouth this was 1978 and we were dropped of on the summit and then did a long winter route. We got back to Invercauld just as the Kinloss Team were going to come out and look for us. It was -20 that night one of the party got frostbite and we did not realise how deep the snow was in the Glens. We were lucky it was a clear night with little wind but what a day. Over the years I rock climbed here there are Classic rock routes like Squareface and Mitre Ridge in the An Garbh Corrie of Ben a’ Bhuird. To climb on Squareface as the sun hits it is some experience after scrambling down a gully still holding snow in mid summer. These are days you never forget or the Wessex Helicopter offering you a lift home from the summit. In these days in summer we could drive onto the plateau ( not very environmentally friendly) and descend into the Corrie. Squareface was one of Tom Pateys hidden jewels first climbed in 1953 with J.m.Taylor.

Squareface

We did winter lowers here what a situation and a few searches once unable to find the wagon in a white out. I was lucky to climb these these great routes often and meeting few folk but what a wonderful place to climb. In winter few venture but there are some incredible lines and climbs.

Techniques on the plateau!

Even with a mountain Bike its a hard place to get to. On the plateau there is no shelter and the winds are fierce it can be a real battle getting home in winter. It was also the place of the longest Avalanche burial at the time where on Dec 1928 party of 4 avalanched on two fatalities and one found alive after a 22 hour burial. A Chance in a Million? Scottish Avalanches Bob Barton & Blyth Wright. Well worth a read.

The Oxford.

The plane went missing for months and was found in the summer. The recovery of all the bodies is an incredible tale as well with the local Estate and even Indian Muleteers being involved. I wonder if they were the same folk who recovered the casualties in the Beinn Alder area. This was war time when man power was hard to get and these crash sites were classified to keep moral up.

On this mountain there is an Oxford Crash near the summit that was crewd by a Czech crew it went missing in the winter of 1945. It was not until August 19th 1945, that the fate of Oxford PH404 and her crew was finally known when the wreckage was discovered by two hill walkers from Elgin many months later. Being to many crash sites this must have been an awful thing to see as it looks like at least one of the crew had survived but died of there injuries and the cold,

The hill walkers that discovered the wreckage
Dr James Bain F/L Archie Pennie

Years later a watch was found on the site in the 70’s and many years later was returned to the family of the crew.

Oxford Ben a’ Bhuird engines.

Acknowledgements: My thanks to Jim Hughes in Scotland, Pavel Vancata in the Czech Republic and Archie Pennie in Canada.

The website http://www.archieraf.co.uk has lots of information on these crashes and is well worth a visit.

Posted in Aircraft incidents, Books, Mountaineering, Munros, People, Recomended books and Guides, SAR, Views Mountaineering, Weather, Wildlife | 1 Comment

The nights are drawing in. Are you ready?

The nights are getting darker, winter is coming and I was checking my torch, sadly it was not working after a dormant summer. As always summer has seen so many out travelling light and enjoying the hills in the the longer days.

The shorter daylight of the onset of winter means shorter day on the hill or coming off in the dark.

You will be reading in the media soon that a few will get caught out with no head-torches it happens every year.

So when did you last check your torch and batteries?

Get it out and check. It is also worth looking at your route and remembering that if you plan a 10 hour day you have the possiblilty of walking of in the dark.

Top tip

Get out early and make the most of the natural light.

Walking at night is very different and worth practicing , have you done this yet. Its a good skill to have? You do not want to be on the tops in the dark unless you have to.

Plan your day. What speed do you walk at night compared with the daytime.

You may find a big difference? If you wear glasses on the hill its not easy to read a map in dark, I always expand my map by blowing up the scale on the computer . This is so that I can see the contours easily. My phone lets me do this as well and I have a screenshot ready in case I need it.

If using your phone have a spare battery and cable and always carry a map and compass.

A phone is not a substitute for a torch!

A few tips, but the best advice is to get out and practise in the dark and this can be done anywhere.

Far better to learn or check out your skills in a safe area than on the Ben in the dark in bad weather.

The view at night with no torch!

From Tilly lamps to head – torches.

It is hard to believe that on one of my early call outs in 1974 in March on Ben Nevis I was on a tragic search at night for a young couple who had wandered into 5 Finger Gully on Ben Nevis. I was given a tilly lamp to search with and was in the Gully when a then well-known Lochaber Team Member Willie Anderson who saw it took it off me as I was really struggling on the steep ground. Willie threw it away. I was worried about how I would explain that to my Team Leader? I have been there on several other occasions in 5 finger Gully and never found it and apologise for leaving litter on the hill. I wonder what future Mountaineering archaeologists will make of a Tilly in 5 finger gully. After that I purchased a decent head torch as the issue one was pretty poor. In Mountain Rescue you do a lot of Rescues and train at night a head torch is essential and there have been a few disasters on this piece of gear over the years.

At RAF Valley in North Wales during a time when money was tight late 70’s MOD in its wisdom bought cheap batteries for our head torches that fell apart on a night rescue high on the Idwal Slabs. I was the Deputy Team Leader at the time and sent of a powerful signal to the powers that be about the procurement of such rubbish. That was the last signal I was to send for a time as it ruffled so many in the Supply Branch at the time but we got descent batteries after that.

The marvellous improvement in head torches and lighting for personal and Rescue use is incredible.

Tales of climbers climbing in a wild winter night with a torch in their teeth as they climbed some of the big routes in the ebbing light and moonlight are legend. After seeing the recent pictures of Skye Mountain Rescue Team on call outs recently with their powerful headlights is a huge improvement from the early days.

Each rescuer is in their own world of snow and a pool of light it is surreal and impressive. I try to keep up with all the changes and the costs of some of these head torches are incredible some are over £300. I have tried so many the famous “Sharks Eye” with 6 heavy batteries that lasted about 2 hours was amazing but it was hand held and not much use when searching very steep ground.

We also did some test with Hamish MacInnes and a huge Military Searchlight in Glencoe millions of Candle power how many remember that night?

Top tip:

A head torch is a vital addition to a winter hill bag and I always carry a spare so often I have had to give mine away. This was often to some person who does not carry one or has not checked it for some time and the batteries are flat. Always check your head torch and ensure it is working.

Try walking at night and see how tricky it is, imagine that without one?

Top Tip: In winter I always carry two after lending mine out on rescues and never seeing them again.

I repeat:

Your phone is NOT A HEAD TORCH.

A few tips again:

check that torch, maybe buy a spare and batteries and have look at the map and your route, get away early and practice your skills no matter who or how experienced you are.

Posted in Articles, mountain safety, Views Mountaineering, Weather | Leave a comment

Missing my sister Jenifer on her birthday.

Yesterday would have been my sisters Jenifer’s birthday she sadly passed away suddenly a in 2016. It was a huge shock to us all and how we all miss her everyone

She was one I could talk to about anything and despite the news we could always laugh at times.   Many of life crisis, health, family, love, career and so many other topics were discussed. Jen was always a listener and then would advise once I had has my say. I got to know her well when she nursed her husband for so many years until he moved into a Care home and she was there every day till he passed away. 

Jenifer always saw the good in most of us and was always there in times of need and support!

I was so lucky to have had her in my life  and also two other great sisters Eleanor who I lost this year and Rosemary who miss them both dearly.

It was a hard first visit to my home town after

She passed away and realising she was not there, but this is life and you have to enjoy what you have.

It is so hard also for my brother in Bermuda who is so far away.

My sister in my Dad’s old church in Ayr the flowers were dedicated to her by the family and as we all love flowers  like she did it is a great way to remember her!

She would love it but would never want any fuss. A typical Scottish lady.

may-meadow-flowers

Photo Kim Bates 

My thoughts are with her family Stuart, Caroline and their families. 

Always make time for those you love that are dear to you! Never put off that visit or call . Even in these busy times in life cherish those you love and be their like Jenifer was for us in times of need.

Miss you Jen xxx

jen-my-sister

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7 December 1982 – This is the Anniversary of the F111 USA crash on Sgurr na Stri ( Hill of Strife) Isle of Skye.

“At about 8 pm on the night of 7 December 1982 after descending to about 1000ft over Loch Scavaig, an F-111F aircraft struck the southern face of the 1620 foot peak Sgurr na Stri,  The unarmed aircraft, serial number 70-2377, was on a regular training mission from RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk.

The pilot in the left hand seat of the aircraft was Major (Lt Col. Selectee) Burnley L. (“Bob”) Rudiger Jr., aged 37, from Norfolk, Virginia. Major Rudiger was survived by a wife and two children who were then resident at Risby, Suffolk.

The weapons system operator in the right seat was 1st Lt. Steven J. Pitt, 28, from East Aurora, New York. Lt. Pitt was survived by a wife and two children, then resident at Icklingham, Suffolk.

* The Strathaird estate was at the time owned by Ian Anderson otherwise more famous as the lead singer and flautist of the rock group Jethro Tull.”

The story :

It was December the 7th 1982 I was stationed at RAF Kinloss in the Morayshire Coast in Scotland. The Falklands war had just finished but RAF Kinloss where I worked was still working 12 hour shifts. I had done the early shift from 0600 -1800 in In Flight Catering rationing the Nimrod planes; it had already been a busy day. I went back to the Mountain Rescue Section where I was a part-time member and was sorting my equipment of for a weekend’s winter training with the Mountain Rescue team. As I finished the phone rang it was the Rescue Centre at RAF Pitreavie saying that an American F111 Fighter aircraft  from RAF Lakenheath with two crew had crashed in the Isle of Skye. 

The Scenario :

They initially  thought that it was on the main Skye ridge and another aircraft in the two man formation was flying over the area. Skye in Scotland is a mountaineer’s and climber’s paradise, in winter it becomes Alpine with ascents of the easiest peaks only for the experienced.   

The time was just after 2000 hours it was already a wild winter night, pitch dark and with drifting snow at sea level. I was told to get a fast hill party together in 15 minutes and get to the aircraft pan as a Sea King helicopter from RAF Lossiemouth was on its way to take us to Skye. 

The reality :15 minutes is not long to sort out your life after a long days work. There were 6 of us ready to go I was the party leader:Allan Tait, Joe Mitchell, Keith Powell (RIP) Chris Langley, Paul Whittaker and my dog Teallach were the fast party. 

There was little time to get kit sorted and I took as much climbing gear and rope as we could carry and ditched most of my personal gear, weight was critical. that we used for a bivy.

The Skye ridge in a December night was not the place to be but this was payback time for us this is what we trained for. The RAF Mountain Rescue primary task was the Rescue and Recovery of crashed aircrew in the Mountains. The forecast as I said was awful and there was a good chance of the helicopter not getting us to the crash position due to the weather.  It would be a long hard night ahead. These were long before night vision goggles were used in SAR.

The position we were given at first was right on the main ridge between Sgurr Greta and Sgurr a’ Mhadaidh a nightmare scenario in winter and at night. This was 1982 before modern phones and communications and the kit we had was still basic, our bivouack kit was still a big orange polythene bag, which was next to useless in wet weather. We carried hill radios that were efficient, line of sight but heavy and suffered in the cold and wet. The helicopter was at RAF Lossiemouth a few minutes away we were flying with 15 minutes in the darkened aircraft. I was told to go to the front of the helicopter for a brief and stayed there most of the trip out to Skye. 

A Terrifying flight: The snow was falling very heavily and the crew would have to use all their cunning and experience to get to the incident. This was also as I said in the days before night vision equipment and the modern GPS. It is hard to believe we flew low near the roads to get updates on our navigation. I do not enjoy flying at the best of times and this was a really worrying trip. My 5 team companions were in the back oblivious to what was happening. 

When a military aircraft goes in all the efforts are made by all concerned and the rest of the team would follow by road a journey as bad for them in roads plastered with snow and ice and taking up to 6 hours! We would be on our own for at least 12 hours. My head was on fire with plans but we had to get there first and I was helping picking out snowy land marks on the way. 

At Achnasheen about half way there after about 35 minutes we had to land down on the road as the weather was awful. We were soon off again when the snow storm passed through and all the time getting updated on the situation and a new fix for the crash site.

More information comes in: It was now near Loch Coruisk a remote part of the ridge with no road access. There was another aircraft an F111 over the site that was now heading off. It was pitch dark covered by snow and cloud. The local Skye Mountain Rescue team were trying to get to Egol and help us with their local knowledge; this would be invaluable in these hills. 

As we neared Egol (This is a village on the shores of Loch Scavaig towards the end of the Strathaird peninsula in the Isle of Skye.) I moved to help the winch man by going on the harness near the aircraft door. The weather was still wild and snow was blowing everywhere as we were dropping down to pick up the Skye Mountain Rescue party. The winch man saw Hydro electric  wires nearby and we had to rise steeply to miss them, we were very lucky. The aircraft pulled away and later we were told it had over torqued I was told we had one chance of a drop off as the aircraft had a problem now due to the power used. The aircraft was unusable after one more attempt.

Area knowledge : We flew out to sea and I had a quick look at the map, winching was not possible so picked a spot at sea level  I knew it well, there was room a big field and we could land on. I had been here a few times before at  Camasunary Mountain Bothy near a hill called Sgurr na Stri. I had stayed here on my Big walks across Scotland. 

The Bothy and the river.

Safe on flat ground :

Our drop off was near where the aircraft last known position it was it the place to start our search. We could not wait to get out of the helicopter and my party inside had a no idea how near we had been to a disaster. That landing near the shore and on flat ground at last was a great feeling.

The F111 at Strathcarron both crew ejected safely.

A few months previously we had been to another F111 that crashed in Strathcarron we had been involved and the crew were okay they had ejected in the capsule that was unique to this aircraft and both were taken to hospital in nearby Inverness. We were sure that the crew of two would be waiting for our arrival somewhere on the mountain.

The epic :

We were on our own as the helicopter flew off, leaving us alone in the dark, with the smell of fire and aviation fuel about.    Out of the bothy door came three figures. 

Witness to the crash:

They were staying at the bothy for a few days and they also had night to remember. They had just had a wet day on the nearby Munro Blaven. Paul Rosher, John Foggin and Paul Robson had the fire on in the bothy and the dinner was getting cooked. 

In Paul’s own words “Everything happened so fast, a bright red light lit up the whole bay, we could see right across it. Everything started shaking, door windows and table objects on the table. Then there was a shockwave, not a sound but a physical pressure that moved from right to left and when it did the fire went out, the air was briefly sucked out of the room. Kit was flying through the air and part of the ceiling fell on Paul, who ran into the white light covered in plaster. I remember thinking that a nuclear war had started after all it was very much still the cold war years and the Holy Loch did harbour nuclear submarines.

The crash site.

I am sure Paul (who was one of the boys in the bothy when the aircraft crashed) he does not remember but I am positive that the three of them came out of the Camasunary Bothy with their hands up in the air and covered in white dust from the roof.  They had an epic time after the F111 aircraft hit the mountain behind the hut. Sgurr na Stri though only a small hill, was on fire, the explosion, the shock wave and the blast had nearly destroyed the bothy and they like us were fairly shocked. 

Information : 

I asked Paul if he knew whereabouts of the crash was as by now the aircraft that was circling the crash site had gone. It was snowing heavy the cloud was down and it was as dark as hell. The hill is defended by a big river and a very steep South Face, typical Skye, with gullies and steep cliffs. Worse now as even the shoreline was covered in wet snow. Paul said he knew the hill well, I had never climbed it from this side but it was only small by Skye standards, or so we thought! We had some additional lighting with us, state of the art Sharks eyes which though heavy and needed 6 bicycle type batteries helped illuminates the ground. We took Paul with us and asked the others in the bothy to wait until more troops arrived.

Getting to the hill:

The first obstacle was the river but there was a rickety bridge which we crossed with trepidation, but we were high on adrenaline and were soon across, my dog swimming the fast flowing river. It was bitter cold and the smell of aviation fuel and burning was unmistakable.

I am asked what do you do at times like this, training and adrenaline kick in it all seems to work well and we tried to split up to search a bigger area but the group was too hard to control in the dark. I got everyone together again it was too dangerous. There was wreckage every where, small bits of aircraft when your lights swept the hill. It was surreal.

Danger: 

The ground was wild like a Glencoe corrie steep and slippy in the wet snow, route finding was tricky as small buttress’s appeared in the dark all the time. A slip would have been serious but my dog Teallach has a great hill sense and always picked the best line. We very quickly came across more small pieces of wreckage- sharp pieces of aircraft metal lying in the ground the light from our torches and lights glinting in the gloom. 

Danger: 

You have to be aware of the dangers even after a crash, fire, sharp metal and explosives even if the aircraft was unarmed as this one was. You also have so many chemicals goodness knows what you are breathing and nowadays you would enter a crash site in full protective gear, this was 1982.  The Trauma you might see is a thing we now take into consideration but we never thought about this in these days.  

Safety : It was time for Paul to go down as I felt we were nearing the impact point and I feared what we may find. There was also still a good chance that we may find the escape capsule and the crew and that may be on more dangerous ground, we would need all our small team to assist. It was better we carried on alone and Paul was taken down though he wanted to stay but we had no choice. That with hindsight was a good move.

Allan Tait (Gus) escorted him down. It is also very wise not to put people who do not need to be there in such close to proximity to what we were about to find. By now we were finding large bits of aircraft but no sign of the capsule, it was passed midnight we stopped for a break, it was now very wet with heavy snow falling, and we were soaked and needed to gather our thoughts. 

Exhausted :

Everyone was cold and tired but I had a fine bunch of troops and we agreed to search and spread out, it was not long before we found pieces of the cockpit and sadly the crew. It was fairly easy to decide that no one had survived the crash. 

Death in the mountains :

In moments like this life stands still. We were all working in hope that we would find two people alive. I was sure they would have ejected, it hit me hard, though you cannot show it at the time.  Two unknown men to us American Aircrew with families, children and lives just like us had died where we now stood. It is impossible to explain our feelings at the time as we were in a hostile environment its later when these thoughts return.  

Security:

Due to the sensitivity of this crash and its security we had to stay where we were it was now about 0200 and we decided to bivouac at the scene until the reinforcements from RAF Kinloss arrived. We still had no radio Communications all night and I tried every hour to get through transmitting what we had found.

We are on our own:

There was no answer, even Gus at the bothy could not hear us, we were alone.The no sleeping bag for me was okay as I kept walking about with the dog, My head was spinning. The smell of fuel and wreckage was everywhere and I had time to think. I defy anyone not to be upset especially when you spent a long night in midst of this destruction and death. Each incident every death effected me though little did I know at the time.

As the leader you have to show strength and in these days few talked about it. Yet few had seen what we had seen? It was a hellish night, and looking back after 40 years in Mountain Rescue it was one of my worst nights ever on the mountain’s. In the end the rest and bedded down on the main ridge there was little shelter and we were soaked and wet all night with the fresh snow and rain making the ground slushy and wet.

I could see the two young ones suffering so by 0600 we were all up waiting for daybreak; it was a very cold night.  By 0800 the weather had cleared and we heard the team on the radio, they had an epic drive 6 hours and stayed the night at Jethro Tull  Ian Anderson’s Farm in the barn (the musicians farm) and set out at first light. The weather was to bad for them to try to get to us.

The main Team arrive at crash site:

They managed to drive in to near Camusunary a crazy road and eventually reached us by midday. We showed them around the crash site which was all over the area where we had bivouacked. We could not get back down quick enough and were soon back at Base Camp in Skye by mid-afternoon.  We had been on the go that day for over 24 hours.

Gus had a good night in the bothy and the Paul and the boys were amazed when Gus produced a bag of hidden food from a wall near the bothy. He had hid it a few weeks earlier for a walk across Scotland in the summer; they ate like kings unlike us. 

Thoughts:

Back at the bothy we were exhausted but still high on adrenaline and after some food sleep took over. The team arrived back after a long day they had done little such was the weather and the shortage of day light.

Working with the Investigation Board.

Over the next few days the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue and the USAF recovered the two casualties a grim task after some USAF Investigating officers allowed them to be taken from the crash site. I then spent a week working with the Investigation Team on the mountain walking in every day for a week with them looking after them on this amazing little hill. Every day we started in the dark and walked out in the dark it is short days in December, it was a difficult time for all.

We got the odd helicopter lift when weather allowed and I learned so much from this incident and met some incredible people. I learned so much about communications, leadership and fought for decent kit for the team. After this so many lessons were learned that stood me in great stead for other big call outs like Lockerbie 6 years later in 1988.

It showed me that safety of the investigators was paramount and it is tricky trying to keep the engineers safe on this ground. They get so involved in their job that at times they forget where they are. You do not become a mountaineer in a day. A slip would be very serious as wreckage was all over the mountain. In the end we all did our job and no one got hurt. This was due to lots of effort by all.

Friendship:

Paul who I met on the hill that night is now a great friend, living in Skye and a member of the Skye Mountain Rescue Team. The others in my RAF team remain friends for life and Keith who was a power that night on the hill is no longer with us.

I wanted to return on The 30 th Anniversary. The weather was too wild to get the boat so we walked in staying at JMCS hut a Coruisk. It was a wild few days and one with haunting memories.

Return to Camusunary –  Dec 2012

“In the storm lashed car we hide from the weather, we have to leave it warmth.

The simple track to Camusunary, effortlessly works its way.

With heads down into the sleet and snow.

Taking a route over swollen streams and sticky bog.

Blavens Southern ridge climbs.

Long fingered snow-covered.

It winds its way to the heights.

Cresting the beleach. we see the meadow.

The beach and there “Falkland like” the bothy Camusunary!

So many memories of that wild night in 82.

Thirty years to the day″

The families of the crew have been in touch over the years and sent some wonderful words thanking us for our efforts and happy we made that trip in 2012 on the 30 th anniversary in memory of their loved ones.

For Gus, Paul and myself  it was some trip.

Myself and Paul Rosher on a call out in 2000 now a great pal.

I was back again in May 2017 staying in the bothy at Loch Coruisk with my local Mountaineering Club and visited the crash site for 2 days. There is still so much wreckage about and some even 2 kilometres from the impact site.

It is a wonderful poignant place it has incredible views of the Islands and the Skye ridge. Yet it is full of memories for me and those families involved that we could do little for.

I still hear from some relatives every year, through my blog which is heart-warming and few knew of our story and our efforts.

Thoughts :

In 1982 I was 30 and in my prime as a mountaineer but that night tasked us all to the full, looking back what a sad event and one I will never forget. 

There is a small plaque at Elgol with a view to Sgur Na Stri with a view to the incredible mountain and lots of memories.

In memory of the crew of that fateful night Magor Bob Rudiger and Lt Steven Pitt and those with me on this sad event. Allan Tait, Joe Mitchell, Keith Powell (RIP) Chris Langley, Paul Whittaker, my dog Teallach and Paul Rosher and pals.

I have visited the crash site on 15 occasions since 1982 and it is always a wild place to reach especially in winter where it is and can be an expedition.

If you visit at any time of year please be careful this is a serious mountain though small by comparison of the huge Cuillin giants. Route finding to the crash site is tricky in poor weather and their is still plenty of loose rock about.

Sadly the bothy at Camusunary is now a private house but the Mountain Bothies have a bothy nearby which can be used.

I located a bit of the wreckage located in late 1980’s near the shore now at RAF Lossiemouth located by myself. This was about 2 kilometres form the crash site. I hope to take it back to the crash site where most of the wreckage is still in place.

This year 2019 Adrian Trendall a local guide got in touch. The daughter and son of one of the crew wanted to visit the site. They were planning a trip and were coming from America and had never visited the actual site. Adrian asked me to come, I thought about this a lot and decided to go. It was a wonderful day the weather was superb and we got the boat from Elgol to Coruisk.

We were looked after so well by Misty Isle boats. Sara and Steven made it a poignant day and it was hard work climbing this hill where wreckage was everywhere still. They were amazing despite this there first visit to the scene. I felt for them all day we took time and stopped a lot and they asked me to tell them the story. That was not easy.

This was a huge thing for me to be part of and meeting them was another life changing experience. It also brought back that awful night to me. Memories came back as we stopped yet where we were the company and the weather that day made my heart feel better.

After a long day hot day we headed down of the hill. The weather was stunning the Skye ridge looking superlative. The sea and the Islands in the clear water made this an incredible day. The boat trip back was wonderful and we were shown such kindness and hospitality I will never forget.

Setting off on a wonderful poignant day with Sara and Steven Photo A Trendall.

We had a meal together later on for the family it had been a hard day. Yet we had made friends with folk from another country. We had shared a special day together and Sara and Steven stayed with Adrian and Bridgette, they are the best of the best. I find these days extremely hard and next day I headed home.

It is amazing how these tragedies bring you together. I have always felt for the families especially those who die in the mountains when I was involved in Recoveries.

Sara wrote these lovely words after.

“There is a peace to be found in the mountains of Skye. My Father died in the F111 crash on Sgurr na Stri in 1982. It has taken 37 years to work up the courage to visit the final moments of his life, to see where the last breath was taken. He once told my Mother that the Isle of Skye was the most beautiful, magical place he’d ever seen. I felt the same.”

Often we never meet yet this was a wonderful meeting of many folk trying to help each other. The kindness and love we all got on this trip will be with me forever.Today is the anniversary of that awful night. Adrian who lives in Skye is hoping to go to the crash site today. The weather looks rough but I am sure he will make it. I will be thinking of you.

On the way back Sara and Stephen photo Adrian Trendall.

I will revisit again before old age takes it toll. It is a wonderful place despite the tragic events. I want to camp on the summit and watch the sunrise again over the Skye ridge and the Islands. This is a special place to me and many more.

In memory of the crew of USAF F111 and their family and friends. To my teammates in the RAF Kinloss MRT who did their best. To Adrian and Bridgette who showed such love and care.

Thinking of all the relatives in the USA at what always is a difficult time.

Footnote

Lost to the Isles

Accounts of military aircraft accidents around the Scottish Isles 1945 – 1990

David Earl and Peter Dobson

ISBN 978 – 0 – 9523928 – 8 – 0  

If you visit please respect this place.

Heavy Whalley

7 December 2019.

“Lest we forget”

Posted in Aircraft incidents, Articles, Books, Friends, Mountain rescue, Mountaineering, People, Recomended books and Guides, Views Mountaineering, Well being | Leave a comment

Bothies – a few thoughts, comments welcome.

I have seen a bit of a “stramash” on the media forums about problems in the Mountain Bothies. Some of the discussions have been very heated as more is written about these wonderful places. They are unique to this country and so many have enjoyed them. A few books have been written recently giving full details where Bothies are etc.

Many years ago it was by word of mouth and you had to join the MBA to get locations and information. Nowadays there is so much information available through the media that so many more are now aware of the Bothies. This should be a good thing as they are for all to use?

Early information on the Bothies late 70,s ?

I am so lucky to have used Bothies since my very early days on the mountains. My first bothy was Back Hill of the Bush in Galloway. I will never forget as we came over the Silver Flow getting to that bothy after a 2 day expedition. I was about 12 and added to the group to ensure they had the 4 for the Duke of Edinburgh Award.

1974 Back Hill Galloway.

Just to get into that place of refuge and get a fire going was the first of so many memories. Cooking and sleeping there and hearing the stories from others was a great introduction to Bothying. Sadly I am sure Back Hill was closed by the forestry after it was vandalised.

During my big walks across Scotland in the early 70’s we never met anyone in the three week journeys staying in Bothies all over Scotland. The bothy books inside were a great source of information when completed by visitors. We read about trips by people like Hamish Brown and others who were also frequent visitors. It was a small group then that looked after and maintained them.

Over the years I have used the Bothies a lot and rarely had any trouble. We did some long days and only once had to sort out a wild group after a winter ascent of the Fisherfield 6 now 5 Munro’s. One of the boys was exhausted and myself and the dog went of to get a brew on it was about 8 pm on a winter night. I was told by a big group fairly drunk that they had booked the bothy and there was no room!

I was a bit wilder then and there was plenty of room in the bothy once I “moved” some bags down the stairs. I was threatened by them but they did not realise I had a big Alsatian with me who looked frightening in the bothy gloom. They soon backed away as I stood my ground.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Once my mates arrived they never bothered us and even offered us a drink.

This was the only problem I had bothying over the years.It has always been at the landowners permission the MBA was allowed to use the Bothies and look after them. It takes years of working together to get a good relationship with the landowner and the users. It can be easily upset just by a few daft folk.

Sadly the media that we all use can make things far more accessible to others: is this a bad thing if we all act responsibly.

Books and advice on the Bothies sell well and I have noticed a huge interest in them by many folk. In my time in the RAF we got the helicopter to take us training to remote Bothies and collect rubbish and other horrors left after winter. Health and Safety stopped that but we still had access in our wagons and brought lots of rubbish home.

The MBA do wonderful work keeping these places maintained and liaise with landowners never easy. I was invited to give a talk at there MBA AGM in Newtonmore a few years ago. It was great to meet these stalwarts who maintain these Bothies. They are good folk who do so much to keep the tradition going.

Nothing stays the same but I still get a buzz about visiting a bothy and need another stay overnight this winter. I still get the same joy as I did when I enter them whether on a walk or overnight stay. I want others who visit for the first time to get this same feeling that I enjoy. We must look after these places they are our heritage as lovers of the Wild places.

How do we do this in these ever changing days?

As always comments welcome.

The Ultimate Bothy – no location given

The journey to Shenavall

Cars fly by as you cross the road, to another world,

Then silence, the traitor’s gate.

The track wynds through the trees,

the river breaks the silence,

The glaciated slabs hide the cliffs, then:

Views of An Teallach open at every turn.

Midges and clegs abound here but not today,

 too cold, its winter.

Cross the river, is that bridge in the wrong place?

 Muddy and wet, back on track,

Steep hill, upwards towards the top,

the wee cairn, stop, no rush, drink it all in.

An Teallach. Snow plastered, familiar, foreboding.

Open moor, contour round and round, special views,

Every corrie on that great hill has a particular thought. Memories

Fisherfield, these great hills, the light changing, to the West

 Youthful  memories of companions, some now gone.

Epic days, trying to impress?

Pushing it and nearly, losing it?

Descent to Shenevall, steep, slippy and wet,

Eroded now by so many feet.

Collect some wood. The bothy, the deer,

they are still there; Sheneval.

It never changes, only the seasons.

Fire on, primeval.

Tea in hand,

alone with thoughts.

The Deer rattle the door, time for sleep.

Memories ­­

Thanks to the MBA!

Heavy Feb 2013 FOR YVETTE

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