The RAF Mountain Rescue are there to recover aircrew from crashed aircraft and also work with the Air Investigation Board (AIB) after van incident.
This can happen on any high mountainous ground after an aircraft is located can be on steep and difficult ground in the mountains especially in winter . These are the testing times.
At times like this is when the RAF teams and their leaders are under incredible pressure. It is fortunate that we lostvfew aircraft but it seemed every ten years an epic occurs this was one of them.
On the 27 November 1979 a Jaguar aircraft crashed in the Ben Lui area.
It was heading in a two ship formation for Bridge of Orchy, intending to turn west at the main glen towards Oban on the coast. Suddenly the cloud came down, and the leader told the No 2 to abort and pull up; this he did. However, on pulling out of the top of the cloud, he could not see his leader and could make no radio contact.
The two Scottish MRTs, Leuchars and Kinloss, were called out, as were several helicopters and several civilian teams, Killin, Lomond, Strathclyde and SARDA. In all over 200 searchers were involved. I was in the Team at RAF Valley in North Wales’s when this occurred. We were out for a weekend training on Cader Idris when we were called on the Cwfry Arête a climb on the mountain. We abseiled off and were told to pack up go back to Valley for a call out in Scotland.
At the time I was the full time deputy Team leader at Valley. It was the call out we had all being waiting for. We had trained for. We rushed back to be met by the team leader at RAF Valley. We had been getting updated as we drove back to RAF Valley. One can only remember what bead going through our heads. It was a quick sort out at Valley a brief. Our tram leader was Al Haveron he was a busy man.
I was also looking after the Team Leaders Search Dog Dreish with us who just sat under the seats once we boarded the Hercules aircraft. The Team Leader had been on a well deserved weekend off we did not have much time to grab our gear plus food and the Hercules aircraft took us to Prestwick for an overnight stay. We then had flights by Sea King helicopter to Crianlarich. A few troops and vechiles travelled by road in support.
The weather for most of the time was atrocious, remaining so for the whole of the search apart from one day. In the early hours the overnight parties who had been on the hill returned soaked through to the skin. They soon had hung up their wet gear from every hook and nail in the Tyndrum Hotel’s staff accommodation hut, a pattern that was to be repeated time and again over the next three days. Wet clothes were put on every day as we ran out of kit very quick. We had limited clothing with us and had to borrow from the Scottish teams. I also got extra rations dry socks and gloves brought down to us from Kinloss by an old pal Geordie Jewitt.
The aircraft wreckage was located on the nearby Beinn A Chleibh but no sign of the pilot. He had ejected but sadly was killed in the ejection and located on the nearby Ben Lui on very steep winter ground. I knew this area well from my earlier days at Kinloss but for many of the team it was the first time in Scotland but we were a strong bunch. I had huge respect fir them.
That day was another of vile conditions. All teams went on the hill it was a sad message when we heard he had been located.
The investigation Board and Doctor needed to get to the crash site and attempts were made to get the accident investigation people to the scene. Ben Lui in early winter is a serious mountain and on the short daylight in late November is a hard area to search. These are complicated mountains.
The Doctor Photographer and AIB had no experience of winter mountaineering and with their lack of climbing expertise in my mind and others should never have been put in such a situation
A few epics followed that day on very steep ground near Ben Lui and the RAF in their wisdom winched a photographer to the site not dressed for winter mountaineering. The photographer dropped his camera on scene and some where up there is still a very expensive camera!
It was an epic getting him off the hill and we had a discussion with the senior officer that sent him up! He fell coming off the hill thankfully to be held by on of our team it could have been another tragedy.
It was a sad outcome as we had learned later the pilot had ejected but suffered serious head trauma after ejection
In all a very difficult search and showed that an aircraft could still go missing even in these modern- time’s. This was made worse during this period there were no mobile phones or GPS around.
The oldest guy in the RAF teams Colin Pibworth from RAF Valley did the link on the summit of Ben Lui for 3 days mainly alone. This was in the wildest of weather as communication’s were so important as the teams were all over the nearby mountains.
Hard lessons were learned especially when dealing with senior officers with limited knowledge of rescue or recovery! A few points to note were the incredible flying by the helicopters, I still cannot say how many we got on a Wessex on one drop off, I was terrified as usual.
It was a sad Call out but a wake up for us all that aircraft still go missing. Leaving Valley with limited personal gear wearing wet gear every day taught us all huge lessons .
I only told my family that I was at Prestwick after arriving that night by Hercules they lived on Ayr a few miles away yet I never saw them.
I learned huge lessons from this incident that I used in some remote incidents later on in my 35 years in mountain rescue. This was especially true on the Isle of Harris Shackelton crash when I was Team Leader at Kinloss in Morayshire Scotland on 1990.
In 1990 A RAF Team some were deployed by aircraft another years later to assist in the Shackleton Crash in Harris in the early 90’s. I learnt lots of lessons again from this huge search and how important the civilian teams who were heavily involved were so much part of the incident.
At times the military tended to keep the information fairly tight and to get the best result you must share it as it is the casualty that counts in the end and the Teams Safety paramount.
Lots of lessons were learned for future use. We were taken to RAF Kinloss and then back to Wales in another Hercules this time the dog was in a cage on the aircraft. She was tempted in by a huge bone I got from the butcher at Kinloss. Dreish sat and ate it all the way home. The worried aircrew especially the loadmaster thought she was a wild beast yet she was a superb hill dog with a placid nature. I got one of her pups who I jammed Teallach not long after this call out. He became my companion for many years on the hill.
In memory The pilot Flt Lt Alan Graham Procter RIP
Beinn-A-Chleibh, near Dalmally, Argyllshire, Scotland – United Kingdom
RAF Lossiemouth (EGQS)
Encountered bad weather while acting as a chase aircraft. During the ‘pull up’ the pilot ejected, possibly in the belief that the aircraft was about to strike the side of a hill. It crashed on the summit of Beinn-A-Chleibh, near Dalmally, Argyllshire at 2,000 feet AMSL.
The staff pilot Flt Lt Alan Graham Procter ejected. Unfortunately, the weather made it impossible to find the crash site. When the site was located, it was discovered that the pilot had survived the ejection but his parachute had been caught by the wind, which dragged him down the mountain. During this he sustained a head trauma which rendered him unconscious. As a result he froze to death on the mountain. From the AIB report issued later.
Sad days but incredible learning for all.
In bad weather you still need boots on the ground no matter what technology is available.
Weather was really wild. Road at Cononish was snow covered and icy. Long walk out. They set up a helicopter base at Dalmally Mart.recall when first piece of small wreckage found it had a label on it in French confirming it was the Jaguar. Bill Rose
Richard / Bill Rose “ln the mid nineties l found what I thought were pieces of random meccano on Ben a Chleibh, when l was gathering sheep. I had no idea what it was until Alec explained what l had found. “
Richard Eadington “yes. It impacted hard in the boggy ground and much of it was buried.”
Peter White “Bill Rose, yep almost vertical when it impacted. “
Peter White “The first time I met Mr Whalley though he was preceded by a bit of a reputation! 😂 Phil Bransby and I spent a day at the crash site babysitting the investigation team. Interesting looking at the canopy jettison jacks that I’d fitted about 6 months earlier!
Eric Hughes, RIP, found the seat after taking a line from the crater and the canopy about half a kilometre away. “
Dave Tomkins “my 1st experience of you guys i was lossie mountaineering club called in to help crash guard the photographer was my cpl , they should sent me , was very bad weather and i also did radio link for 1 day that was enough cant remember how long we stayed on site but we where put up in hotel “
Dave Booth “That was an epic especially Bruce and my experience in a Wessex.”
One of my first aircraft searches was for a Missing Viscount aircraft from Glasgow airport that crashed on Ben More (Crainlarich) in the winter 19 -23 January 1973. The aircraft was on a short air test from Glasgow. The two engineers involved requested that an air test be performed so that they could examine the aircraft controls in flight. This was arranged, and later the aircraft was taken by a standby crew, led by Captain Walter Durward, on a test flight from Glasgow Airport.
The aircraft then proceeded N from Glasgow, and was about to return to the airport when it vanished. It was located two days later about 600ft NE of, and about 100ft below, the summit of Ben More (3,852ft).
Wreckage was scattered widely on the hillside and down a gulley. Some of the wreckage rolled downhill to Ben More Burn, at the western base of the mountain. This Ben More is E of Crainlarich and about 56 kms (35 miles) N of Glasgow. Poor weather conditions were prevailing at the time, with rain and heavy snow persisting.
I was a young member of the RAF Kinloss MRT it was my second winter in the team and it was an epic callout taking 2-3 days to recover the 4 casualties. I remember the wild drive from Forres in Morayshire and the Police escort from RAF Kinloss and the snowploughs on the A9 in front of the convoy. These were the days before the snow gates were put on the A9 was single track, it was a long 5-6 hour drive. We arrived in the dark for a first light callout, the weather was too bad to go out that night and we had few clues where the plane may be. The heavy snow and huge areas to search in wild conditions it made it a call-out that stayed in my mind for years. It was such a scary and long drive down in the snow and the hills were plastered with snow, it was a big winter.
Both RAF Teams Kinloss and Leuchars stayed in Lochearnhead Village Hall and there were 50 – 60 of us there. A lot of locals helped out there was no local team in the area then it was in the days of limited resources and communications. It was very tight in the village hall and the hill gear was always wet and very basic in these days.
As always all the teams worked well together and the locals could not do enough for the team during such a tragic event. Lots of people searching for people they never knew was an incredible feeling.
I remember information was vague no one had heard much but we had a few ideas from people who phoned the Police and thought they had heard or seen something. In the early morning we had a briefing in the Hall By “Taff Tunnah ” the RAF Leuchars Team Leader. George Bruce was our Team Leader and he was speaking to the Police and getting and trying to sort out the reports from the public.
I have a photo of this that was used in the press of the briefing on that first day, we were very young. see below:
On the first day I had an awful day searching in the Trossachs in the area between Glen Gyle ( West Loch Katrine )and the Balquidder Glen, with the late John Hinde in charge a MRT Legend. The plan originally was for the teams to split into 5 groups to search the main ridges as this is high priority on a aircraft search with limited information. The team had a capability of splitting into smaller groups of two with a radio in each party. In the event the snow was very deep knee deep in places with very strong SE winds and clouds above 1500 feet and we stayed together for the whole long day.
I have recollections that this became a survival Exercise on and off the hill, the Snow chains and shovels were essential as were the land rovers to get to the road heads and snow shoes would have been invaluable. My memory of the first day that it was along hill day even after 40 years’ experience on rescues on the hills in winter this was a hard callout. Teams had no clue where the aircraft had crashed and covered as much ground as possible in the conditions.
On the first day of the Search RAF Leuchars MRT found pieces of wreckage from the Viscount very early in the day a few miles from Ben More Farm. This was from one of the RAF Leuchars Team Steve Brooks – “Just checked my diary, it was around 6pm when Leuchars arrived having had a puncture on 3 tonne truck along way. It was 10:00am next day at 1500′ that documents from the aircraft were found on Ben More, think it was John Couls group, the search was then more concentrated and by evening more wreckage had been found along with 2 seats and 4 casualties” Most of the RAF Kinloss team were not recalled and completed their search area in desperate weather.
Communications were very poor in these days, no mobile phones and we just kept going, In a Rescue you always hope to find people alive but it is very rare in an aircraft crash in the mountains. I was exhausted when we got back soaked to the Village Hall where we were updated. The others had moved into the area along with some SAS troops and a civilian party had an even worse day “in desperate conditions” ( these were words rarely used by George Bruce and Taff Tonner the Team Leaders) Small parts of wreckage and papers from the aircraft were found as was the four bodies of the crew.
The snow was falling very heavily and they did not have a easy time, the avalanche risk would be very high in the Corrie and it was going to be a difficult recovery of all the casualties. The weather was very bad and the teams had to pull out as darkness and conditions had got even worse, the crew sadly had to be left in situ on the hill. They had died instantly and the crash was not survivable.
We arrived back at the Hall and got ready for the next day, it had been a long hard day and there was more to come!
After a hard day on the hill the Viscount aircraft and crew had been located and due to the wild weather they were left in situ until next day.
Day 2 – Weather Sunday 21 Jan 1973 – weather fresh snow and cloud down to 2000 feet a steady wind and wind – chill.
It was a long night in the Village Hall with everyone busy planning next day’s recovery of the crew. As a very inexperienced young troop I was told I was on the body recovery next day, I hardly slept. RAF Kinloss and RAF Leuchars divided each team up into recovery and search parties. It was along haul up the hill with carrying ropes and Stretchers in deep snow to a height of 2800 feet. I was in a long line that left from Ben More Farm in the morning; it was heavy going with big sacks. The weather was misty above 200 feet and still very cold. The rest of the teams and 23 regiment SAS carried out a search for aircraft wreckage further up the very steep West Face of Ben More. They searched at 15 yard intervals up and down the face not easy in the conditions.This was fairly serious ground to search and the teams worked hard.
The Black box Flight recorder was located by them about 150 yards north of the summit by the SAS. A rough map was drawn after the search, which I still have a copy.
When we located the casualties we had first to relocate them in the heavy snow that had fallen overnight and I remember helping digging them out, not easy for a young lad. In these days it was the young lads who were used to handle and dig out the casualties a hard and difficult job I remember it well.
It was a steep learning curb but these were real people, husbands, fathers, sons and we had difficult job to do. It was very hard work digging and removing them from the deep snow we put them each on the Stretchers and they were taken off down the hill by us.
It was a sad job getting the stretcher ready with one of the casualties in the deep snow. A hard day for all concerned.
In the deep snow but we used the stretcher skids to good effect to help move the stretcher down the hill and a couple of ropes to ensure they moved swiftly but safely. It was all a steep learning curb for me and my mate Tom MacDonald and the younger member’s of the teams. We were soon down in the Glen and the BEA helicopter lifted them out. It was then back to the Village Hall, for some food no showers available kit now completely soaked and we were running out of dry gear. I can still remember how strange I felt but positive that I had done my best.
Day 3 Monday 22 Jan 1973
Weather – Freezing level 2000 feet, cloud base 2800 rising later Wind strong westerly decreasing later.
The next day after a briefing it was back up the hill to the main wreckage and digging around the cockpit area and other wreckage. Various sweep searches were carried out and parties were lifted in three’s by the BEA helicopter.
A Joint pair of parties from Kinloss and Leuchars climbed all the Gullies on the SE Face of Ben More locating no wreckage. More searching was carried out on the NE Ridge and SE Face of ben More to the summit. On the summit assistance was given to the Ministry Air Investigation Officer sweep searching in heavy snow. The lowest wreckage was located a fuel tank and the rest was thrown Westward across the summit ridge and down the West Face. It was another long day and I was glad to be off the hill.
The next day we traveled back to RAF Kinloss and I received a “bollocking” from my Boss in my workplace for being away so long, that upset me deeply. I was very lucky as George Bruce my Team Leader went and saw him and told him in a “few words” what we had experienced but I was a marked man after that by my Boss, such is life.
I had learned so much from this sad incident it was to teach me in future years as a RAF MR Team Leader. George Bruce, John Hinde and Taff Tunnah who are now sadly gone discussed this call – out with me a many years ago and the lessons learned.
They were real characters, different people entirely but led strong teams and knew what they were doing. One of the key points from this tragedy was getting the correct information as members of the public respond to the media who were asking for help or sightings of the aircraft. To get the right information to the searchers is very hard to do and I am sure that the local shepherd on the hill had notified the Police of seeing/ hearing something on Ben More at the time the aircraft went missing. The crew unfortunately died instantly but this information amongst many pieces on the day from all over the area. It is very hard to sort out the correct witness information. George, Taff and John Hinde taught me so much over the years especially about missing aircraft searches and recovery of crew and information about the crash. I dedicate this article to them and the crew of the Viscount Aircraft that sadly lost their lives.
In the summer of 1973 when the snow had gone a few of the RAF Kinloss Team went up to the crash site and found a few personal bits and pieces of the crews belongings. They were returned to the family.
2005 January 19 – David Whittick, engineer Bob Elrick and Wally‘s son Mike organised a Memorial service for all the crew of the Viscount, and held, a service at, Crianlarich Church on January 19th 2005 to dedicate an inscribed cairn, which has been installed in the churchyard in memory of the crew. The service was attended by more than seventy ex-colleagues and family members, who subsequently retired to the local village hall to exchange some memories and to enjoy some Scottish hospitality .
There is a memorial to the crew in the churchyard at Crainlarich which I went in the anniversary of the crash.. Meeting the family and locals friends who lost their lives is a humbling experience for all and how they appreciate what all the teams did to try to find their loved ones. All these years later it still has a huge effect on many.
It is worth noting that in another very hard winter of 1987 I was heavily involved in a RAF Wessex helicopter crash on Ben More. Sadly a good friend Harry the Team Leader of Killin Mountain Rescue Team was killed and two good friends very badly injured. After the rescue as a Qualified Team Leader I led the Air Investigation Branch( AIB) for a week on the search on the Steep NE face of the mountain. This was a difficult task as it was full winter conditions and a big AIB Team to look after on winter climbing terrain. We were on the mountain for 5 days with the team. None of the AIB were mountaineers and we had a huge task looking after them safely and helping locate the first impact point on a steep winter cliff. It is never easy as these teams of experts are just wanting to get on with their job but in a hostile environment this can be not easy to try to keep them safe to do their job! The RAF teams have many aircraft engineers and their aircraft knowledge is invaluable locating and identifying wreckage for the ongoing inquiry. This was a where many lessons from the past from my early days in 1973 were well used on this tragic accident in the mountains. Many forget that this was the primary task of the RAF MRT the search and recovery of missing aircraft in remote and mountainous regions. Every few years an aircraft goes missing and the lessons of the past are worth remembering, you can learn much from past incidents and even with today’s technology it still needs boots on the ground in bad weather and the correct skills both of an on the hill to get the job done. It is always worth remembering this.
This is from a past blog in 2018
“Yesterday was a great day as I was planning a hill at last. I stopped at Elma’s in Crianlarich early and dropped of the usual-food parcel. Elma has been a true friend of RAF MRT for 40 years. Her son Derek was in the RAF Kinloss Team and sadly died of cancer. Elma has always been a real star and looks after all the Mountain Rescue Teams for so many years. I had some great pancakes, scones and tea and headed off to meet a group from the Inverclyde Ramblers just outside Crianlarich. They were a varied group lovely folk who like the wild places. For a few it was there first Munro Ben More so it would be an interesting day. In my Mountain Rescue days we often used Ben More to assess fitness not stopping at all till the summit it blew a few minds. We were fit and young and so competitive .
They arrived just before 1000 and we parked near Ben More Farm. There were 10 of us going to hopefully climb the hill! The forecast was pretty wild later in the day with heavy rain and 30 – 40 knots winds. A big change from the recent weather.
I had been asked by Sadie Smart to come with them as her father sadly lost his life on a plane crash on Ben More in Jan 1973. It was my first place crash and involved a huge search for 3 days filled located the plane a Viscount from Glasgow airport that was on an air test with 4 crew. I have written in other blogs of this search the long days in deep
Snow and the eventual recovery of all 4 casualties again in wild winter weather. This incident made a huge impact on me as a young man. Ben More was also
to be the scene of another crash of a Wessex helicopter when the local
Killin Team Leader was killed as the helicopter hit the mountain on a search in the winter of 1987. As I said this is a poignant mountain to me and I had worked on many call – outs over the years with the local Killin Team. Sadie had been in touch over the years and we managed to get together to show her this mountain. It would be a testing day and every year I get requests and feedback for families to go to where they lost their loved ones it is never easy. Her Dad was Jimmy Moore one of the engineers on board.
Ben More is huge hill the highest in the area at 3700 feet . It is a huge pull up from the farm and according to “Walk Highlands is relentlessly steep” I think we all agree over the years on that and we had a group of 10 with us for a few it was their first Munro.
The forecast had some varying weather with torrential rain at times and very gusty winds forecast later in the day. We may be tested on the summit ridge later on. From leaving the track after about 20 minutes you are on the hill-path. From here it is open slopes full of steep wet grass and so many wild flowers enjoying the rain of the last few days. The path is fairly battered by many feet over the years and the dry spell and heavy rain have eroded it. We took it easy with a big group and the steepness.
It is hard at times to get a pace but as the day wore on we got higher. The mist came in and views shut and opened like a curtain. Familiar hills popped up from the clouds and the views expanded. There are some great hills on this area many underated from the popular Glencoe hills further up the road. Any summit here is hard won and the path seems as always goes on and on.
As you go higher you look into the Corrie on Meall Daimph where we recovered the casualties of the Viscount aircraft in 1973. It can be a dark foreboding place and in heavy snow dangerous. Sadie wanted to know how we brought her Dad down and the crew of the mountain. I explained there was a big Avalanche risk and we contoured high into the Corrie. It was extremely hard work digging and recovering the crew and taking them down off the hill. The search had involved three days by several teams Police and Dogs I remember the deep snow and the long 12 hour days.
Sadie was so brave as she listened and it is hard to try and explain but she wanted to know . My memory of these tragedies is clear as I wrote a diary every day. It is so sad that the aircraft hit the top of the ridge steep ground in summer but in a full winter steep and very treacherous ground. As we neared the summit after 3 hours of walking the weather came in. We had torrential rain and very strong winds it was not summer now. Hoods were up and it was a relentless pull to the top.
We had a few minutes reflection and a minutes silence for Sadie her Dad Jimmy and for the Killin Team Leader Harry Lawrie he had died in a Helicopter crash on a call – out in 1987. For me and Sadie it was a moving moment and very poignant. Sadie was so strong this was her first visit to the Munro but there was little time to stop and sadly just swirling mist the weather was now full on!
My plan was to head back as I had a meeting about filming tomorrow but headed down to the beleach with the group. As it does nature came in with more torrential rain a big gusts and the rocky ground was slippy! It became serious so quickly and we gathered the group. It was a quick briefing on short steps in the wind and being aware of the wind power at times linking together in the gust that were now 40 knots plus! There were bags to sort out Gloves and hats to get out and to try and take breaks out of the wind. There was the constant regrouping in the mist check all are together and all learned something. I was in my shorts but being fat and stocky this is my weather even though I had not been out since I broke my ribs. It was constant check of the map to ensure we were on the right descent simple skills but in poor weather essential.
It became cold the mist was in but I was on familiar territory and we got down to the beleach where we headed down into the Glen out of the wind. The group were all fine and all enjoyed the hill they had some day in all weather. I hope for some it was a good introduction. I left the group after a few hugs and followed the track lower down back to the bottom of the hill at
Ben More Farm. The sun was out and the extra layers off I was soaked but glad we had a moving day with some special folk. The Glen walk was refreshing in the sun the battle from the summit over time to relax in a place of great beauty among the hills I love. At times words fail you there was even a rainbow. It was back to the van a quick change and head up the A82. The road was busy and I had time for a shower before my chat about tomorrow’s filming after a great meal in the 4 Seasons restaurant with Cameron MacNeish Richard Else and Paul Tatershill old pals.
It had been some day lots of emotion and memories and the nature keeping us in our place . I am always amazed by the power of nature and today it was a reminder what and how a day can change . I was glad I had spare gear to put on in the wild weather and hard to believe how cold it was.
Thank you Sadie and the Inverclyde Ramblers for a great day. I hope that all those who came out for there first Munro enjoyed the battle. Your company was what the wild places is all about and that you enjoy further adventures. Sadie thanks for the honour of being with you your Dad Jimmy would be proud and his hankie you waved in the wild wind at the top was was lovely tribute.
This blog is dedicated cared to the crew of the Viscount aircraft that crashed on Ben More in 1973 and to Harry Lawrie the Killin Mountain Rescue Team Leader who was killed on a Rescue in 1987.
Also to all those Mountain Rescue teams and Agencies who go out to assist those in trouble . There are still so many great folk about. Sadly we forget this !
I have plenty of time just now to look back on some classic days . The Old man of Storr was one of these just along the Coast from Lochinver. Its a sea cliff that brings back so many memories.
I have been lucky enough to have climbed it 3 times and had an epic on another occasion with 3 members of the Hong Kong Rescue Team! The language problems and my ability left us on the crux with language difficulties and teaching abseiling without a safety rope for them . It has always been incredible place to be and I have many great memories of this special sea stack just along the coast fin the far North of Scotland. It is a great walk along the coast and the Stack has an interesting descent down the steep cliffs then a swim across to the stack which stands imposingly. At low tide you can miss the first pitch and scramble round the back on to the platform on the second pitch !
I have never been a great rock climber and had a few near epics in the past with 45 metre ropes that left you short on the wild abseil. In the early days without a back up knot with the birds, the exposure and the sea. The fear level rises considerably.
My dog loved the days spent here and always spent the day in the water when the weather allowed swimming with the seals round the Stack! On another occasion the Stack was covered in foam nearly to half way up the stack and yet Jim Morning swam across in a sea of foam while we sat and cried on the cliffs. Even Jim had to abort after the first pitch he was covered in foam, I must find these photos. What a place, what vision Tom Patey had in 1966, read the first ascent account. Carrying a borrowed ladder to the route was such a tale that I read and read again and again.
The route : 75 metre VS 4 Star
The classic and popular sea stack (not to be confused with the Old Man of Storr on Skye!) The First Ascent in 1966 in June by Tom Patey, B. Henderson, P Nunn & B Robertson. Now a 4 star VS.
The Old Man of Stoer has been a classic climb since it was first climbed in 1966 by Tom Patey and friends there is a great story in “One Mans Mountains” of the first ascent.
In his autobiography it offers a glimpse into the mind of Tom Patey, a man whose contributed greatly to modern climbing. He was killed in May 1970, abseiling from a sea stack The Maidens off the north coast of Scotland. He was 38.
People outside the climbing world knew of him as the only man who launched himself into space during the televised climb of the Old Man of Hoy. Inside the climbing fraternity everyone knew of him. It was when studying medicine at Aberdeen University that Tom first showed his talent as an extraordinary climber and started his long series of epic first ascents. He also took part in the four-man 1956 British expedition to climb the 28,800-foot Mustagh Tower, a mountain that many people regarded as unclimbable; they conquered it – Tom, John Hartog, Ian McNaught-Davies and the legendary Manchester plumber Joe Brown
Access notes, It has an unorthodox crossing across a gap and is tidal and wind affected.
Park near the lighthouse and walk along the coast
The Tyrolean Crossing – A Tyrolean traverse is required to access the stack. If one is not in place then a swimmer (preferably a volunteer) is needed in the party. Bring enough rope to leave a Tyrolean in place and carry out the descent abseil (60m ropes advisable)
The Old Man Of Storr Monday 28 July 1968 – This an extract from the RAF Kinloss Diary of the day! This was only Two years after the first ascent!
A party from RAF Kinloss of Gonk Ballantyne, Yeni Harman & George Bruce the Team Leader set out to climb the Old Man Of Stoer, they borrowed a ladder from the Ullapool Youth Hostel to get across to the Stac without getting wet.
They reached the bottom of the climb at 1700, left the ladder in place ready for withdrawal. Bruce decided against climbing, due to steepness, hardness and being incredibly frightened.
Ballantyne and Harman completed the climb having difficulty in places finding the route and being spat on by nesting birds on the ledges. They eventually abseiled off at 2300. The sea by this time was fully in and the ladder was by now 6 feet under water. They decided not to swim back due to man – eating seals who were waiting patiently for the wrong decisions to be made. They spent the night testing Mr Harmans’s new space blanket and a fairly comfortable bivouac. They awoke at 0300 and found that the tide had ebbed enough to allow a crossing using the ladder.
Although only graded Hard Severe then the exposure was frightening , the abseil off even worse, not recommended for anyone with a weak heart. The route was climbed in big boots! (CLIMBED IN BIG BOOTS) There were still wooden wedges in the climb used for protection possibly by the first ascent climbers.
George Bruce – RIP thanks for a great tale
Its a great day out so much fun and the birds will be a bit annoying the exposure is interesting as is the Tyrolean Traverse across the gap and the abseil is interesting. If you get a chance go and enjoy it.
Tidal and wind affected. Park near the lighthouse and walk along the cliff-tops. Scramble down to the platform opposite the base of the stack.
A Tyrolean traverse is required to access the stack. If one is not in place then a swimmer (preferably a volunteer) is needed in the party. Bring enough rope to leave a Tyrolean in place and carry out the descent abseil (60m ropes advisable). (UPDATE 28/8/18 – Tryolean now very frayed and will need renewed. Would reccomend checking tide times as it may now be required to wade/swim across).
At spring low tides and with a small swell it is possible to step/wade across to the base of the stack on the right hand side (facing out). You can scramble around (anti-clockwise) to the top of pitch 2 of the “Ordinary Route”.
The photo above is of two incredible men. John Hinde and Johnnie Lees both in RAF Mountain Rescue. Johnie Lees was a legend who I finally met in 2001 we had a great chat and I will never forget it this was after our Everest trip.
He was a powerful mountaineer a very talented rock climber and Team Leader within RAF Mountain Rescue. Johnie Lees was awarded a George Medal for a rescue in Wales.
On 3 January 1958, Major Hue Robertson, a climber from the Army Mountaineering Association, was climbing Amphitheatre Buttress on Craig yr Ysfa in Snowdonia, when he fell 30 ft fracturing his skull. He lay trapped on a ledge high up the ice-covered cliff. When Flight Sergeant Lees and his party arrived at the peak and lowered themselves down to him it was pitch dark and Robertson had lain delirious in freezing temperatures for six hours. It was obvious that Robertson had severe head injuries and would not survive if the lengthy process of evacuation by stretcher were implemented.
Speed was a matter of life and death. Using a cradle of ropes Lees improvised a Tragsitz harness and with the 14 stone soldier strapped to his back and struggling in delirium, was lowered hundreds of feet into the vertical darkness to the foot of the cliff. The speed and efficiency of the rescue, in bitter conditions, undoubtedly saved Robertson ‘s life. The operation was a triumph of teamwork, and for his part, Lees was awarded the George Medal. Robertson made a full recovery and after obtaining the admired harness from Austria, he presented it to the rescue team.
After the Beinn Eighe Lancaster crash in 1951 , there was great pressure on the RAF and MoD to act. Although Lees had scant knowledge of rescue techniques, his reputation and record as a climber with the RAF Mountaineering Association brought him an invitation to help organise the first training course for the rescue service in Snowdonia, later that year. In 1952, aged 24, he was posted to RAF Valley on Anglesey as Mountain Rescue Team Leader there. It is no exaggeration to say that the entire modern edifice of mountain rescue – both service and civilian – owes its sophistication and rigour to that appointment.
Lees’s excellence at training rescuers was not achieved at the expense of his own climbing career. He qualified as a mountain guide in 1955 and became one of the very few to receive the guiding qualification in winter mountaineering issued by the Association of Scottish Climbing Clubs in the same year.
After retirement in 1985, Lees was made an “honoured guide” by the British Association of Mountain Guides and remained keenly involved in the work of the British Mountaineering Council. For three years he had been chairman of its safety committee and remained a long-term member of its Peak area committee. In 1962 his services to mountain rescue were acknowledged with the award of the British Empire Medal. He also received in his later year’s many awards from within the mountaineering, mountain rescue and guiding world. He received these with his customary wry grace. Sadly he passed away in 2002.
I am so pleased that the winter ascent of K2 was climbed by a Sherpa team. They are a great people and I have been so lucky to met so many over years. I am so privileged having climbed in the Himalayas, India Nepal Pakistan and Tibet over the years. From my earliest days I had huge respect for them and listened to their advice learned about the mountains and how to treat people as you would like to be with respect and an awe.
My trade in the military was in the involved with food. Hence on so on many of my big expeditions I was the so called food expert. I got to work with the Sherpas a lot built up a trust and got to know them on the various expeditions well. We worked with many over the years. Of course the Sherpas are the some of the finest folk in the world . On my earliest trip to the Himalayas we attempted a lightweight alpine ascent of a very tricky mountain Kusum Kanguru. It is by far the hardest of the trekking peaks!
Kusum Kanguru is a mountain in the Khumbu Region of the Himalaya in Nepal. Its name, Kusum Kanguru, means “Three Snow-White Gods” in the Sherpa language, which refers to the triple summit of the mountain. Elevation: 6,367 m First ascent: 1979 Parent range: Himalayas Mountain range: Himalayas, Mahalangur Himal
Our Sirdar who took us into the mountain looked after us so well. We got on as a group and he taught me a lot about the Nepali people the Sherpas. It was a long trek to Base 15 days , there were no roads then and the flight to Lula was too expensive. We got to know our porters so well by the end of the trip. At the end of a hard expedition we helped another big group of porters in a storm coming back over a Pass at 20000 feet. We carried their huge loads with them and for them, shared our dwindling food with them and became great pals. They took us to their village at the end and we got such hospitality and kindness.
It was the same in Pakistan in 1993 on Diran Peak where I organised the food and again learned so much from the locals. Our Sirdar Jabedd became a great pal. We had a mutual respect and that helped. He was very religious, looked after us all spoke about the mountains, religion and the World. He became a good pal, he called me “Mr Heavy” and looked after me throughout the trip. He was a pal of that incredible mountaineer Sandy Allan who he so respected My friend Dan Carrol went back a few years later and was on the way back form a successful summit 0f an 8000 feet peak. The met and Dan gave Jabedd his ice axe telling him it was a present from me.
Over the years and finally Everest in 2001 we had wonderful Sherpas they became again became great pals. I arrived with my pal Willie MacRitchie in Katmandu a week early to collect and repair gear we had bought from a previous expedition. I met our Sirdar Mingma and we got it all patched up in Katmandu and ready for the mountain. We worked closely and this was so helpful in the months to come . This is from my diary:
I was honoured to be on the mountain for the few days alone at ABC with the Sherpas. There was no other people on the mountain everyone else was gone after a big storm. We cleaned the whole area up and the Sherpas went up to the high camp and cleared everything that was left. This was when the other expeditions had long gone. I went up alone to the North Col at 23000 feet alone. The fixed rope was missing in places it was a wild place to be. I was offering to help but they were so worried for me. I could not believe what they brought of the hill. Tents gas bottles and rubbish. They did this unasked but to look after there mountain. They offered me a cut as the empty oxygen bottles had a good recycle value. Of course I declined and was treated as one of them for these few days. A huge honour. To me this was the highlight of my trip.
Over the years few expedition would’ve achieved success without the Sherpas. It is superb to see them taking control of their own mountains and being so rightly acclaimed for who and what they are. The best of the best.
K2 will be a huge leap forward for these wonderful people. They treat the mountains as revered places. Abodes of the Gods they respect the beauty and wildness and so many have lost their lives looking after us. We can learn from them their trust and how they treat family, friends and the wild places.
You may think your fit and strong but these Sherpas are the ultimate mountaineers. it is wonderful to hear of their success on K2.
This second Lockdown is hard going for us all most will have blip. Or lockdown blues. Try to remain upbeat as you can get your daily exercise and think good thoughts .
As the lockdown continues its well worth remembering those who live alone. This second Lockdown is hard going in the depths of winter but think of those who have lost loved ones their jobs and especially those who live in a small flat with no garden or limited space . Yet we are lucky those in the NHS are struggling to keep up with the effect of Covid. Try to remain positive and stay in touch. I have a brother very ill abroad and it’s hard to get news there is no chance of a visit abroad and it is upsetting. Sadly it is similar for many.
What can we do ? I have several folk I stay in touch with and every day I phone an elderly lady who lives in a home. She has no visitors due to Covid has limited hearing and her sight is failing. She is confined to her small room for meals and has no contact apart from the staff and occasional social help. Her family live abroad she is very lonely.
It’s very sad as she did so much for others in her life. Meals on Wheels for many years and a big church goer. Always helping others throughout her 80 odd years. Yet I think she feels abandoned by society at times. Every week I try tondrop her off a few goodies doughnuts chocolate mini pork pies etc. These are the wee extras that she loves. We have not seen each other for months and I pray things change in the future for her.
Maybe with the new vaccines life will improve and though it may never be the same again it will be better? The nights are getting longer but the next few months will be hard. So please stay upbeat, look after those you love. Think of all the young folk struggling with home schooling missing their pals, their clubs and their freedom. Those waiting for operations and medical appointments most on hold.
Try to phone that friend or relative that you know may be struggling and keep going.
Many thanks to all those who are keeping things going in all walks of life.
For all those who know Elma in Crianlarich ( The Grandmother of RAF Mountain Rescue) send her a card or phone her. She would love to hear from you. If you do not have the address I do contact me .
Good news : It is amazing that the second biggest mountain in the World K2 has been climbed in winter. Even better by a local Sherpa team the kindness folk in the world. How many summits claimed by others was success only possible by these great local folk. I hope they all get off the mountain safely. What a tale they will have to tell.
In the great words of Leonard Cohen
“Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack, a crack in everything That’s how the light gets in…”
As the daylight gets longer slowly we must keep positive. Thinking of you all.
Thank you all I had so many replies from the blog on Hill Food some of the favourites mentioned.
In the old days we used to take a few Guinness the night before / not recommended today ? On the hill it was chocolate and the odd sandwich. I remember carrying a can of self heating soup for years Mock Turtle never tasted it though! Nothing healthy. On my big walks it was porridge and soup at night we would have rice and whatever we carried there was little in way of lightweight meals. Macaroni, packet soup mashed potatoes and MOD composite rations. They were mainly tinned stew, beans , sausages tinned fish. Tinned custard and Rice were the highlights of the day. Plus lots of tea ! It was heavy to carry.
Jelly babies, sports mixture sweets, cereal bars, crunchies, nuts, dried fruit. M & M’s dates wine gums, pastilles. Harribos various sweets. Flap jacks various , malt loaf and cake. Bananas and fruit! Nuts raisins peanuts were well liked.
Hot flask cup a soup, mint tea and honey, bovril, coffee, plenty of fluid in winter hot orange ribena.
Mars bars, chicolate, Kendal mint cake, marzipan. Shortbread. Fudge, condensed milk! Boiled eggs (if warm and can be used to eat and heat hands) . Small tubs of Creamed rice or custard . Block of Jelly.
Rusty nail hip flask . Very few mentioned energy drinks and gels (I carry a couple of gels in case though! )
Finally : Have a good breakfast porridge seems very popular with fruit. Drink plenty of fluid before you go and when you return.
If your talking your dog ensure you are carrying some food for the dog!
In winter it is important you eat well and on the hill recently I was asked about food for the hill. In winter with the effect of the weather, the wind and a bit bigger bag, maybe deep snow the old saying ” I mile in winter = 2″ so lots more energy is expended. Add deep snow and a head wind and few places to stop, at times you eat on the move. To those who have never experienced the winter proper here are a few tips.
A great part of a hill day is stopping for a break and having a drink and some food! This is especially true in winter when often it is difficult to have a break and replenish the energy reserves. A little and often is the answer and in winter I on a wild winters day I carry some food handy in the pockets, like jelly babies or a cereal bar. I find that the modern gels and power bars are costly and awful but understand they work for some. Yet I do carry 2 as a backup which I have used.
If I can the day before I go out I try to eat a pasta based meal the night before. Many forget that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and I enjoy my porridge what a great starter slow burning food with a banana and honey. I always carry a hot flask in winter this year its Mint tea and honey, superb and well worth the weight. It is also hard to get the liquid in winter and many carry various high tech drinks and gels but I am old school and drink water or a bottle of hot juice. I also ensure I replenish my fluid loss in the car on the way home and before I go out drink like a camel?
On the hill I will have a few sandwiches, jam or honey, oatcakes and cheese, sweets like jelly babies, cereal bars and fruit. The other day we had homemade cake and it was crazy that on our Big Walks in the 70’s one man “Big Jim” could eat so much chocolate on a big hill day of 11 Munros it makes me ill to think how many bars he could eat? See if you can guess?
The famous Eric Langmuir book Mountain Leadership had a piece on calories used on the hill. Someone has my copy do you have an idea how many calories a hill day can use? 4000 – 6000 calories.
“The number of calories burned hiking depends in part on your body weight. In general, a 160-lb person burns between 430 and 440 calories per hour of hiking. A 200-lb person burns approximately 550 calories per hour of hiking. The more you weigh, the more calories you burn in an hour of hiking.
Backpacker Magazine suggests a calorie estimate based on body weight and the general intensity of the day’s activity. For a strenuous day of backpacking with a “heavy” pack (no weight range specified), they suggest 25 to 30 calories per pound of body weight. Using my 185-pound self as a proxy, that’s 4,625 to 5,550 calories.
As you’ll notice, estimates vary pretty markedly. For the criteria I used (185-pound person backpacking for eight hours with a moderate to heavy load), estimates range from roughly 4,600 calories to more than 6,300 calories.”
Anyway over the years I have got far more interested in hill food and most of the expeditions I was lucky to be on I planned the food like on Everest in 2001 in Tibet. This was a three month trip where the food was vital part of a successful expedition. After all few know that was in the RAF as a Caterer for 37 years!
I wrote a longer piece on my Blog on 2 Feb 2017 it may be worth a read?
Custard doughnuts from Morrison’s when needing a wee sugar boost ,also great incentive for getting my daughter to the top lol.
Partial to a wee bit of sushi.
Pork pie and jelly babies back in the good old sugar days.
Flapjacks and chocolate.
Cheese bars and pepperoni. And occasionally peanut m&ms if i need a sugar hit- they are like rocket fuel!
Tesco Genoa cake!
Pete Greening – A few years ago, one winter, Heavy made me undergo a form of starvation, sold to the unsuspecting masses as the 5+2 Diet. A month or two into it and a friend of mine (winter Mountaineering novice) asked if I would accompany them on a walk up Braeriach, starting from the Sugar Bowl…..a big day! My only food would be a few carrots! My friend did look at them quizzically and questioned my food choice, as surely a few carrots wouldn’t be enough to sustain such a high calorific activity. All went well. It was a great day. The summits were in cloud, which required good nav to stay away from the corniced edges. Suffice to say, we summited, then retraced our steps, down the hill, across the Lairig Ghru and back towards the car park. I had felt good all day. Had managed to keep my charge safe and even teach them a few skills on the way. The carrots had filled my (now tiny) stomach and the car almost in sight. Walking down the wee path that skirts the reindeer fields, I felt the last dregs of energy leave my body (a bit like how a rechargeable battery just stops working) and began to lose control of my legs. They didn’t seem to do as I wanted, and after a few more paces, I couldn’t seem to lift one over a small rock on the path. The toe of my boot caught the rock, forcing me off balance, I stumbled and fell like a sack of spuds, into a heap on the floor. My friend was shocked and aghast. They thought I’d had a heart attack, or something. They had been following behind me and had witnessed the whole thing. Apparently I had begun to stagger all over the path before hitting the ground. And when they got to me, to help me up, I was slurring my words.
After some reassurance (both ways), I was given some chocolate, helped to me feet and made the final 300 metres to the car.
1. Despite the obvious weight loss advantages, winter hill days require huge amounts of calorific energy.
2. Carrots, although healthy, do not provide enough of that energy.
3. Haribo, nuts and chocolate are a much better alternative.
4. Never agree to join Heavy on some hair-brained diet regime.
No real regrets. It was a great day out, in good company. I actually lost quite a bit of weight that season, as did Heavy. The only thing that annoyed me was I put a couple of holes in the knee of my Mountain Equipment G2 mountain pants (expensive mountain wear) when I hit the dirt. (I did advise him not diet Heavy )
Tunnock’s caramel wafer. Get better the colder they are and you can easily unwrap them with dachsteins on!
Cuppa soup in a flask. Oh and Cheddar cheese biscuits!
I also like the primula squeeze cheese which got me thro a very long hill race section once lol and the puréed pouches of baby food – fruit is excellent and no mess with good sugar boost.
Porridge with Nutella and a black coffee to start day, cheese sandwiches for the hill and snacks for the day include oat and cereal bars and a bag of harribos. Fluid is water and a flask of black coffee.
Strawberry jam sarnies
I like to take peanut butter sandwiches as in the summer they don’t go off if I end up being out for a whole day in the heat. I make my own so know all the ingredients are natural. Good source of minerals and vitamins, carbs and fats, made with a touch of honey. Bananas are another must for me too. Always carry water in winter and water filter at all times. Usually a flask of hot sweet coffee too in winter. Homemade shortbread or tablet when out in the hills or long distance walks
Lemon and ginger tea. Even if it loses some of its temperature it still has an incredible warming effect due to the ginger
I also carry my porridge in flapjack form on the hill.. Christmas Cake and cheese together also great energy
I always take a flask for a hot drink but for cold drink a tip is to fill your water bottle with boiling water in the morning. By the time you start drinking it it will have cooled down but not hitting your tummy with ice cold water. Helps me drink enough
Not a great eater when walking, take SIS energy gels and bars with me .
Shortbread, some crispy cereal bars and water. Maybe a bag of Sports Mixture for a sugar rush if required.
Kendal mint cake, sardines and chocolate when i first joined RAF MR. Bloody gawping or what!
Bowl of pasta before I leave the car park. I’m partial to a ploughman sandwich and revels mixed in with mixed nuts
I remember being so hungry on the walk out from A Mhaighean to Sheneval with the late JC and Sean Unwin that I offered Sean a lot of violence if he didn’t give me one of the mars bars he told me he was carrying….never felt so weak in my life…lesson learned.
I used to keep a packet of jelly in the bottom of my hill bag.
A few trialist at Leuchars were grateful of it on more than one occasion.
Only ever used my flask for hot water and carried tea, cup-a-soup and hot choc sachet for variety. Geo Bars, home-made flapjack for snacks and emergency Mars Bars hidden deep in the sack.
Brunch bars and tablet.
Please add any ideas.
I carried a half pound block of marzipan as an emergency ration. I liked marzipan, but was not tempted to eat it short of an emergency. I gave up on Kendal Mint Cake after a bar dissolved in the pocket of my Blacks smock on a very wet day on Dartmoor.
MG “ I got back off an epic 2 day bothy trip on a winter course back in the day, Dave heavy met me with a steaming cup of bachelors cup of soup. Dave said these are great, bean hooked on “cup a soups” ever since.”
Cold sausage sarny, laced in broon sauce, with a hot chocolate to wash it doon!
B Rose “Hip flask with rusty nail”
Mini pork pies and Peanut M & M,s
Manny Gorman “Peanut butter and jam rolls”
John Easton” I don’t know if they are still available, but there was always a block of dried dates in the top of my sac. Palatable, energy filled and the dogs loved them.”
Ham, cheese and jam sarnies………followed by a crunchie !!
In the military its usually the Leaders that get rewarded as that is how the establishment see it. I always thought that any recognition should be to the whole team.
One of these is my old mate Joss Gosling one of the original RAF Kinloss MRT on the Lancaster Crash on Beinn Eighe in 1951. Joss is photo’d holding the new plaque that is now fixed to the propeller below Fuselage Gully. Sadly Joss has passed away in 2018 he was one of the unassuming heroes of Mountain Rescue.
Beinn Eighe in Torridon.
In our small world of RAF Mountain Rescue among the greats Joss was to me a real unassuming troop who typified a team member especially in the early days of Mountain Rescue. Things were so different then.
Joss was not a Team Leader just a troop in the early 50’ s doing his National Service . He was typical of that time where you had to serve in the military as part of National Service . A that time Mountain Rescue was a great escape from the military at weekends in the hills.
Joss was a mountaineer and caver when he joined the RAF Kinloss team in Morayshire a long way from his home in Bristol in England. He had skills that few others had at that time. On the call -out yet he will never admit he was one of the main men, who went high above the “Ugly step” on the ridge even today in winter needs solid winter skills.
These few years in the team changed his life and he like many others roamed Scotland when he joined the Rescue Team. Far from home he travelled all over the Scotland its was a different world then to him and one he loved.
It was a time when the hills were empty, maps were basic as was equipment and the roads were simple! The RAF Teams were in these days at the forefront of Mountain Rescue and Joss and his mates were in the thick of it.
Joss loved the team and those three years with it changed his life! He took part in some epic call outs at the time! Rescue was simple and there were few of any teams about! It involved big stretcher carries long before Mountain Rescue Teams were formed and helicopters be came the normal way for extracting casualties. Keepers,Gillies and mountaineers were the folk who carried out rescues along with the local Police. The RAF Teams camped even in winter and used the odd village hall. The dances after the hills in the remote Highland villages were legendary and the RAF teams became part of the weekend fun in many areas. When the RAF Lancaster crashed on Beinn Eighe in winter of 1951 it took 3 days before the team had an idea where it had crashed. It was full on winter a big one and the gear was simple all ex war department. Joss was one of the team who got high on the mountain and was involved on the recovery of all the 8 crew that took months due to the location and seriousness of the crash. As one who has seen the horrors of such an event this would be a terrible tragedy and the recovery of all the crew was to be with Joss and his pals for all their lives. These were huge 12 hour days in the wildest of weathers.
The sad event and the carrying of all the fatalities over several months from such a remote and dangerous site would have been so tricky and dangerous. I was shown where they located the bodies and how hard the terrain was to evacuate them with simple ropes on very steep snow and ice.
Joss was unusual for the time as he took photos of the team, the conditions, of the crash site and the team that are now his legacy. From these we can pick together the conditions and scale of the call – out.
They are of a tragic incident in a mountain and the huge Corrie that he called a “Cathedral“ The Triple Buttress in Beinn Eighe is a majestic place and Joss’s stories of the tragedy are heartbreaking.
The wreckage was just off the summit and the tales of the incident where so many lessons were learned are now Mountain Rescue History.
I was brought up with some of the stories and read various accounts from others involved.Myself and Joss became good pals when I met him as Team Leader many years later. Like many troops he married a local lassie Annie from Fort William and after bringing his family up in Bristol he retired to Fort William . We built up a true friendship and often met for a chat and a visit. Joss and Annie often met us in a village hall or at are reunions or in my village where his son lives.
Joss told me of another era with huge humility of what he and his mates did all these years ago. His diaries documented the simple gear with such a degree of accuracy it was eye opening. In his later years Joss could not manage the hills but my annual pilgrimage to Beinn Eighe was often brightened by Joss arriving at Kinlochewe to greet us after the hill. He loved this mountain and despite the awful memories of recovering the crew he saw its wild beauty especially in winter in the big Corrie a place of majesty.
A few years ago all the family his sons Ian , Andy and Heather his daughter went up to the crash site with me and a few pals and relative of the crew is was an incredible day.
It was a wild day but Joss met us for a meal in the Hotel afterwards he was now nearly 90. His health and memory was failing yet in the Hotel he rallied and the Hotel treated him as royalty.
Joss had a great visit despite his memory fading and this upset him but what a chat we had at the meal. It was a wonderful two hours together. He was soon back in his youth and away on the mountains he loves in his youth surrounded by his family and friends. Memories came flashing back for him of these hard days on Beinn Eighe yet the beauty of the place was never lost on him . There was no egos he was just with his pals doing their best in these days and it was a privilege to listen to him. We had a great “man hug “and I felt the tears of both of us when I left. Yet what a great few hours we had and after a special day out on the hill with those he loved. Joss worked hard to be there as did his family to bring him from Fort William for the night. It could have been all to difficult and upsetting but Joss and us all loved that day that we will never get again. We are told by others “that we walk in the footsteps of giants” In Joss’s case this is so true rarely have I met such a man and learned so much about these early years in Mountain Rescue. Joss sadly passed away after a short illness yet he left a legacy of photos and his diaries of a time we must never forget. His last trip was as a guest at the dedication of the memorial propeller at RAF Lossiemouth outside the Mountain Rescue Section. The whole family were there and Joss loved the day and I am so pleased he made it. Sadly I saw Joss in Fort William hospital before he passed away he was not well and I knew this would be the last time we would see each other. He recognised me and that cheeky smile was there and we had a great chat. Joss was in hospital in the Belford at Fort William. He passed away surrounded by his family that he loved. I am glad he is out of his pain I will miss his words of wisdom and his kindness. I have become friends with Annie his wife and all the family. I promised him we would put the new plaque on the propeller as soon as the winter is over. This happened the next year. Every time I enter that “Cathedral of Beinn Eighe “I will think of Joss and his mates and those wild days in 1951. My thoughts are with Annie and the family. Two years ago we lost a true wonderful man of great humility and kindness. Joss leaves a huge gap in my life. Thank you Joss for all the stories and insight into another World .In his life he was surrounded by the love of Annie and the family and my thoughts are with you all now we still remain good pals.
That last hug at Kinlochewe meant so much to us both .Joss I still miss you but will always try to get up to your hill and your Corrie every year to remember what you and your mates did and how it changed what we do today.
I have learned so much from you and I always miss that that cheeky smile.
It was interesting that when I was climbing in winter a lot how conditions could change dramatically from day to day. This was especially in the early winter when we would often try to get an early route in. I frequently met the late Andy Nisbett on our travels and we had some laughs. Despite being a top climber Andy was always interested in what we were up to and I often shared information with him of new crags. I suppose we were no threat yet at that time to him yet we had some steady winter climbers. The conditions could change especially true on the easier graded routes. These were the days when often a route was a snowed up rock climb. There was limited chat amongst other climbers as the internet was not about much was word of mouth but so many were secret about what was going on. We travelled every week to a different area as part of our job bumping into many of the climbers of that era. Early on in the year you may see a headtorch in the distance but there was always plenty of room for other climbs. Mostly you were lucky and no one was about and often you ended up taking a rope for a long walk. Guide books in these days were vague have a look at some of the old ones and they basically showed you the line and of you went. In the late 70’s we had a bit of an epic on Mainreachan Buttress in winter on Fuar Tholl after Hamish guide was produced. I always looked into far flung Corries in the summer and dropped into wild corries much to the disgust of some of the folk I was with looking for likely lines. This also was very handy on Call – outs searching these wild places assisting the local teams all over Scotland. Occasionally we did helicopter training and I would show the crews where the new routes were being explored. It gave you a birds eye view of some wild places.
My old pal Mark Sinclair would drag me out midweek to some remote hill usually on the North West arriving in the dark after an Alpine start. He would have seen some new line and I was his belayer. Looking back these were great days but when he and his pal Neil were killed on Lochnagar some of the joy of winter climbing left me. It took me a few years to get my head sorted out. This was especially true on our 14 day winter courses climbing in the Cairngorms, the Ben and Glencoe often with very bold young lads and lassies who were at times fearless. Often I would take them to more remoter parts of the Ben, Glencoe or Cairngorms and show them the Brenva Face and climb some of these rarely climbed routes. This was true winter climbing with few crowds and real route finding awareness. Yet it was in the North West that we had some fun. Looking back how many get a winter route done on Fionaven or Seanna Bhraigh I doubt if you would have any company even today.
The term crag “x” was often used for a newish venue.
I have been speaking to a few pals and some are struggling during this recent Lockdown. Hopefully the vaccinations may help once we get them done. A few weeks ago should have been a great night in my village it was Clavie night. My village becomes alive at the Pictish New Year Celebration.
Thousands are attracted to the Broch for the annual event, which sees a tar-soaked barrel set alight and paraded around the streets to ward off evil spirits for the year ahead. The flaming spectacle of January 11 is led by Clavie King Dan Ralph and the local men who make up the Clavie Crew. Sadly it was cancelled but in the great scheme of things its life just now. I normally meet a lot of folk at this time and enjoy the company.
Its a shame as I missed the folk dropping in, the party and the crowds in the village. I am still very lucky having a beach and forests to walk in . Many are not so lucky. I look at the hills they look superb snow covered and can see Ben Wyvis most days. The days are getting longer but its still bitter cold and I get out every day for my walk I am so lucky. I still speak to my old friend stuck in her sheltered accommodation every day and managed to drop her off some goodies that made her day. She lives in her room eats and sleeps there, her family live abroad and is very lonely. Every time I feel a bit down I think of so many like her just now and wish I could do more. Yet when I get out for a walk and clear the head things seem a lot better.
I am trying to keep busy with the wee blog keeping it going as it seems to be fairly popular.
Keep smiling, look after each other and stay in touch.
I put a photo on my Twitter account about a place a small shelter I visited often in the Cairngorms. It’s a great navigation exercise and many team members I was training in navigation had fun finding it in poor weather especially in winter.
It’s a well kent navigational feature that blends so well with the Rocky moraine.
The El Alamein’s bothy in the Cairngorms location was accidental – intended to be sited at the plateau’s edge just above the gently sloping grassy Coire na Spreidhe (Coire of the Cattle), a mistake in the map reference saw it constructed some distance beneath this coire, on the steep and boulder-strewn slopes of Strath Nethy. This is a lovely part of the Cairngorms with great views of Strath Nethy and Loch Avon. It is a place to sit and enjoy the views and peace away from the industrial Ski area. It is amazing what wild life you see so close to this busy area but in summer and a wild winters night it is usually peaceful and enjoyable.
El Alamein Bothy can be hard to find. Try NJ 0165105358. let me know! Here’s some info
George Mac . “It’s in the vicinity to where the 1010 contour clips the 1000 contour. As you approach from the north just below the 1000 contour is appears as an unusual ‘hump’.”
A small line of tiny (now largely collapsed) never found them cairns lead down towards it, but even on a good day these would be difficult to discern from the other piles of rock which are abundant in this area.
Other incidents influenced matters too. In November 1972, there was the so-called Cairngorm Tragedy when seven children in a school party perished in the winter weather. The subsequent Fatal Accident Inquiry concluded that the existence of Curran Bothy caused the school party to head for it to spend the night, and hence if it had not been there they would not have headed for it and not gone on and perished. There are other arguments against bothies on the highly vulnerable plateau.
A simple shelter now in a sad state of repair.
The plateau bothies, the Curran Bothy and the St Valery were demolished and the El Alamein left to its own devices. Jean’s Hut and the Sinclair Hut have gone,for various reasons. The Fords of Avon bothy on land owned by the RSPB has recently been rebuilt, but not for overnight accommodation. Basically it is an emergency shelter for those marooned while crossing the Lairig and Loaigh. It has been credited with saving several lives over the years. Whatever your views these places were and are part of the history of this place and make a good navigation exercise locating where they were and how they effected this wild area,
A stone is emebedded in the wall of the bothy it reads El Alamein Refuge 1963. It has the badge of the 51 st Highland Division that was thought they built the shelter a similar plaque lies at the former site of the St Valery Refuge. The military trained heavily in this area of the Cairngorms during the war, using the harsh environment as a test for the troops.
This is from Ray Sefton the guru of the Cairngorms – However, I have to make a minor correction to the history of the bothies. They were not built by the 51st Highland Division, but in memory of the Division. They were built by the Artificer Apprentices from HMS Caledonia, Rosyth, led by CSM Jim Curran of the Royal Marines. Jim married a local girl and lived in Aviemore for many years. The metal work for the El Alamein, Curran, St Valery and Fords of Avon were made in the workshops at Rosyth and carried to the sites as part of adventure training exercises and the walls were then built. I think the reason the El Alemain survived is that it was located in Inverness-shire, whereas the others were in Moray or Banffshire. Thanks Ray Sefton!
The plaque for the St Valery Refuge is worth trying to find a what a location it is in and makes an interesting search for a group. You wonder how many stories of nights in these wee bothies in the past. I spent a couple of nights in the 70’s as it was a great area for a night Exercise and a part that few of the Team knew. It would be hard to find in the days before GPS and many times it was very hard work to locate. It is as I said a great place to spot wild life and the many ptarmigan that live in this area are hard to spot especially during the nesting season. Be aware where you are walking as their camouflage is incredible, it is easy to stand on a nesting bird such is their dedication to their young. Please be as careful as you can not to disturb the nesting birds.
This is not a barren wasteland but a place of great beauty and solitude. enjoy it. I hope to get out and visit after Covid restrictions end at long last!
The master of disguise.
From George Mc Ewan – The background to the HD symbol is St Valery was where the original 51st Highland Division was captured by the Germans whilst serving as a rearguard for the British Army pulling out of Dunkirk in 1940. It was reformed and the reborn division’s baptism of fire was at El Alamein in 1942. The Gordon Highlanders who made up one of the main infantry components of the division recruited from around this part of the Highlands. I think that’s the link. My Grandfather served with the 51st during this period and from his diary and the histoRy of the 51st they were mostly based up in the NE and around to Inverness – I’ve not read that they actually trained in the hills. The 51st’s sister division – 52nd Highland Division did train in the Cairngorms – they were being trained up as a mountain warfare division, complete with pack howitzers and mule trains ran by Sikh muleteers. Their first action in 1944 was – part of the division shipped off to the jungles of Burma, the other part took part in the fighting in the flooded coastal areas of Holland! Both a far cry from the Cairngorms. David Gleave close. It’s in the vicinity to where the 1010 contour clips the 1000 contour. As you approach from the north just below the 1000 contour is appears as an unusual ‘hump’.
Thanks for the information.
Comment Jim Fraser “It is in serious need of some TLC. A few years ago I put the door back on and used some aluminium sheet and wire to reinstate some kind of roof. Those were really temporary repairs and we need to be thinking about the choice between allowing it to become a worthless wreck and getting some proper work done on it. The reality is that it was always in the wrong place. Its brother, St Valery, was a victim of the move to remove shelters. Maybe we can do something else, in memorialising with those names, at more appropriate locations and in ways that the Scottish mountaineering community can approve of.”
Many of us are missing the mountains and wild places and I wonder if should continue posting old photos on the blog? I will as it brings back so many great memories of past days. As I am getting older I hope to have many more days on the mountains before my battered body gives up, time now is critical but there are a lot more important things going on.
My Granddaughter had her birthday yesterday she is 7 with her sister they are coping with a lot just now yet showing so much love and coping so well. I feel for them and all those struggling in these difficult times. Many have lost their loved ones lost jobs are worried and lonely so missing the hills is in the big picture not much of a hardship.
Like many of my pals we are all missing the hills but in the scale of things it is a small forfeit when others have lost so much but we still need to do our bit. I will get back into a routine again yet this time I feel its a lot harder. Please continue to stay in contact with those you love, who are lonely and struggling. Do not forget the Foodbanks and those less fortunate than us.
Life is tough just now for everyone but it will get better.
I was working in the ARCC at RAF Kinloss when we had scrambled a Sea King helicopter to the Cairngorms for an injured winter climber. It would we thought be a standard incident but the weather was not great. The weather changed dramatically as the aircraft was in the Corrie and the pilot managed to land the aircraft below the climbs on the moraine by some superb flying. There was no way they would get the helicopter out in that weather so Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team assisted the climber and the aircrew off the hill as the weather got a lot worse. There was a huge dump of snow and conditions were poor though a short walk out was hard going for all. Unfortunately the helicopter would not be moving at least for a few days. We had a problem !
This is how the newspapers described the day. “In February 2006, a Sea King from Lossiemouth became stranded in the Cairngorms during a whiteout. … Nine days later, the stranded Sea King was defrosted and flown out. Heating experts de-iced the helicopter allowing it to fly to Glenmore Lodge, before it was flown to RAF Lossiemouth.
I was also in the Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team and next day we trudged in early to maintain a crash guard for the helicopter. This is our job and over the years we have done a few things like this. There was even more snow that day and I wore snow shoes to get into the Misty Coire. Many others flounderd about but snow shoes were the key that day.
We had to navigate to the abandoned helicopter meeting a few early morning climbers who followed our trail. It’s a tricky area and though only about an hour from the car park many have struggled here in the past. It was past the huge Boulder field and though yellow that day you did not see it till you were right on it. Any tracks were covered by snow and a hard walk in with the boulders and heavy snow.
Looking back it was a surreal period the helicopter became a bit of an highlight to the day for many climbers. There were many visitors at time’s and helped pass a long cold day. We were to be there for several days in the end. Also when we changed shift we had 24 hour cover sometimes handing over in the dark in falling snow it was still hard to find.
It was incredible that when the weather allowed a few days later the engineers defrosted the aircraft and flew it to Glenmore Lodge.
It was a sight that I will never forget as it flew out on a stunning winters day. The Coire of the snows was now back to normal. The big yellow bird had become an attraction to all climbers in the Coire was gone. We had even given some climbers guided tours ! Some say there was even the odd party held there?
Someone put the helicopter up for sale on EBay during its stay on the Corrie. MOD were not happy at the time but we saw the funny side of it. I the end all the crew and the injured climber were safe and the aircraft flew again. It seems that a few nights at over 3000 feet did it little harm.
So when I walk into the Corrie I often tell the tale of the helicopter in the Coire. It’s now a bit of a story for those who remember.
It was the winter of 1984 had been to the Alps on several occasions but this was my first big trip. Canada in winter then was a big proposition nowadays many do it but then it was and felt a huge undertaking. It was in the last week of a 6 week expedition we were now in the most incredible ice arena I had ever seen. I will never forget the first time I saw this cliff was in 1984 and I was in awe of it to me seemed to have me to be a sea of ice. I had never seen anything like it in my forays into winter. There hardly anyone about in winter in Canada then even on the Highway 93 in these days it was winter and climbers were few.
At that time there were under 100 ice climbs in the area, nowadays there are hundreds. It’s a Mecca for ice climbers.
My pals Tom and Mark had read an article in the SMC Journal by an ex pat Scot Bugs McKeith saying there was so much ice in Canada waiting to be climbed. He along with a few locals climbed these incredible pillars of ice with basic ice tools learning the hard way and pushing ice climbing to a new level.
Sadly Bugs was killed not long after he wrote his article about this mecca for ice climbers. The seed was sown in Tom and Mark though how we got the trip together at that time it was incredible.
Alistair ‘Bugs’ McKeith -, Alistair (1945-1978) known as Bugs.
Bugs is probably best known for his early pioneering role in the development of Canadian ice-climbing, but he started off life as one of a small but influential band of Edinburgh-born climbers of the 60s known collectively as ‘The Squirrels’.
His pre-Canada climbing record is impressive: new summer lines in Scotland, early repeats in the Alps as well as new routes in the Dolomites and Mont Blanc and participation of the first ascent of the North Pillar of the Eiger in 1970.
McKeith’s climbing career took a brief rest after this when he joined the British Antarctic Survey, but he put the time to good use to experiment with ice-climbing techniques – a factor which would lead to his innovative and bold approach in North America shortly afterwards.
After travelling and climbing in the Andes and back in the European Alps he returned to Scotland, he became dissatisfied with the ‘smallness’ of the place and moved to Canada. From the early 1970s onwards, McKeith was one of the driving forces behind the development of Canadian ice climbing, importing Scottish know-how to a largely unexploited arena and unsuspecting local climbing community.
The first ascent of Tatakakken Falls was futuristic in the extreme; a thousand feet of Scottish Grade VI ice it was the hardest icefall climbed at the time and the first at its grade. McKeith also made the first ascent of the famous Weeping Wall, off the Jasper-Banff highway. Innovative aid was employed during this ascent, the crux being overcome by the use of etriers hung from Terrordactyl ice axes– a technique which emphasised McKeith’s technical aptitude and willingness to think creatively. With his period of greatest achievement probably still to come, McKeith suffered an untimely death at the age of 33 when he was caught in a cornice collapse while descending Assiniboine having completed a major face climb.
What he had helped start in western Canada, however, was to evolve into a major facet of world climbing activity. Canadian climbers were and still are world leaders in ice climbing.
Standout climbs: 1st British ascent of North America Wall, Yosemite, USA, 1971; 1st winter ascent North Face of Mount Stanley, Canada 1973; 1st ascent Tatakakken Falls (Grade VI), Weeping Wall (V/VI), Canada. What a man, what a time to climb.
This Weeping Wall was the Mecca of ice climbing with the World famous Polar Circus just a few miles away. Two of our group did an early one day ascent of this climb which was incredible at the time.
The Weeping wall It is 5 minutes from the road and just dominates the view and in these days there were exciting abseils of the cliff after a route, nowadays its a lot easier with chains and bolts.
We stayed at Rampart Creek is a Hostel in the wilds just a few minutes from Weeping Wall. This is a wonderful hostel set in a surreal location. It has no running water and all power is by Solar and they have a wee generator. The assistant warden was a lovely lady called Darcy who looked after us so well, she even cut wood for the sauna, what a lady, what hospitality. We had a great night and a couple of young American climbers were the only other people staying. It was an early start as Dan and Dave were after a big route on the Weeping Wall. This mecca for ice climbers forms a huge cliff about 2 hours from Jasper.
Climbers come from all over the world to climb on this incredible cliff. It has two tiers the first about 600 Feet separated from the Upper tier by steep snow and trees.
The only way off this cliff is by abseil of trees and bolts in the wall. There are few bolts on the belays and most are ice screws or the famous V-Thread (also known as the “Abalokov” anchor, named after a Russian climber who popularised the technique) and the ice bollard. In a V-thread two intersecting tunnels are bored into the ice to form a “V” shaped tunnel. A sling or cordelette is then threaded through the V and tied in a loop. The rope is passed through the sling, which remains left behind after use. We got to Rampart Creek after an eventful drive and then settled in for the night, it was a cosy place but so much snow about must make it a hard life to live so far away in the winter. We had some great nights here in the past and I remember cutting ice from the river.
We climbed the easy Snivelling gully to get a feel for the cliff. Then onto other routes. Pure steep ice with gear limited at the time. It was bold climbing for its time. Then the wild abseils of with no back up then on the way of a prussic knot. Crazy but wonderful times.
I have been over in the West in lockdown with. Friend who is in my bubble. We have been enjoying some exceptional weather when the new Lockdown measures were announced last night.
I am near Applecross and we had decided to walk up to Beleach Na Ba yesterday as the road was closed due to snow.
We knew new measures were coming later that day this would be our last day out. The weather was superb but bitter cold with no wind. The road usually busy with the “famous/ infamous NC 500 “ and had the snow gates locked from just outside Applecross.
There is no access from either side of the Beleach just now or will there be for a while. We decided to take advantage of this and wander up the road to the viewpoint at 2000 feet. We were amazed how incredible it was a road walk but into another world .
We entered a winter wonderland initially the road was covered in ice then as we got higher so much snow. To go off the road was murderous the snow was so deep so any plans to do so we’re scuppered we had to follow the road .
Walking of the road the snow was so deep and untouched and covered with animal tracks criss crossing in the snow. The animals were loving it and had the mountains to themselves. No cars or vans just a quite place to be. With incredible views of the sea and the mountains.
The higher we went the deeper the snow on the road but the views were exceptional. It was a day like no other Crystal clear but by now the sun was up giving us some warmth. All we could hear was the crunch of our boots in the snow. It was stunning, we entered the shade at times then it became bitter cold and as we got higher the snow deepened into drifts like frozen waves.
There were miles and miles of untouched snow with the sun making it glisten. Yet no one about bar a couple of locals and a single bike track. I could not believe we were walking on the road in such an incredible day.
From the top it was a pull up we could see Skye and the Islands Rum,Eigg and Jura looked incredible as did the saw toothed Cuillin. The snow amplified the beauty and we sat had lunch in awe of such a day.
It’s hard to believe this was just a road walk from sea level to 2000 feet. Then it was time to descend with Islay the Collie in front all day. She hardly went of the road all day such was the snows depth. We saw a few grouse and deer on our return journey.
We headed into a superb sunset I got a message that lockdown was imminent so we enjoyed every minute of the walk back.
By now Skye was so stunning in the distance. We saw the deer high on the ridge silhouetted against a yellow sky as we descended then they headed down into Applecross it was The West at its best .
The sky turned yellow and was magnificent showing Scotland at its finest. We would now be heading for another lockdown and things would change again🌞
It will be hard but we will see no one apart from a few delivery folk. They are vital for the locals. There will be no travel as such but my friend has so much beauty around her with the Coast at her doorstep. It will be a long month but has to be done. At least we have great memories of a special day at a strange time.
Sadly as we enjoy ourselves and maybe have a moan many folk are dying, the NHS is struggling and we all have to do the right thing. Stay safe and help others by keeping to what we are asked. It is also important to keep your spirits up.
Let’s hope that the vaccination system helps and all our friends and family stay safe and take great care. Please stay in touch with those on their own make that call look after each other and think of those less fortunate .
I will try to keep the blog going living past tales and will be thinking of you all.
I have been over with a friend since lockdown in the West we both live alone and could not travel to see families so we decided to stay at Kalies. It makes a big difference to have some company. There are few people here no one is about and it’s easy to self isolate here.
Yesterday was low key after a lovely New Year night. We are lucky but the wildlife we saw just outside Kalies house was incredible. We saw some sea Eagles soaring above the Loch they are local visitors, there were the Otters, seals and the local deer. Kalie knows her area so well the best places to spot the wild life I am learning so much. You never stop learning.
Kalie started the New year with a swim in Loch Torridon she is a brave lass. I was a wimp and just watched ( excuse got a ear problem just now) that was my excuse. We had a great laugh though.
The weather came and went with some showers but the Torridon hills looked superb. They hills looked plastered with snow with huge dumps over the last few days. The hills are uniformly white with only a Little Rock showing. We can see Beinn Alligin across the Loch when the weather clears . It looks magnificent snow covered.
I can see the West side of Beinn Alligin it reminds me of a big Call out with the Torridon team when I was at RAF Leuchars in Fife. It was March 1986 when a hill party were overdue after a day on Alligin in winter. We had the Wessex Helicopter and as we were dropping of hill parties all over the mountain my mate Jock saw something in the snow. It was a Dachstein mitt a great spot and we located the walkers avalanched here. Sadly one had been killed in a fall on the West Ridge and the other two were badly injured. I doubt if we would have located them without the incredible door from the helicopter.
It is still worth reading the daily avalanche updates and building a picture up of what is going on high in the mountains .
I feel for those stuck in cities alone and missing family. My brother is very ill lives abroad and we can do little to help. Many are a lot worse please think of others not just the hills and wild places who are ill and alone.
I am in Torridon just now the hills are plastered with snow after a bleak morning of rain and sleet. The weather cleared in the afternoon and we had a great wander as we descended the Torridon hills cleared they were plastered with snow. They looked stunning in the afternoon light a “snow nirvana”. We could see most of the great Torridon hills but Liathach Beinn Eighe and Beinn Aligin were the showstoppers. As the light faded we were treated to an incredible change of light add to that the moon hitting Loch Torridon it was a special evening. The temperature dropped suddenly everything froze but what spectacle it was. My memories flashed by of incredible days on this area. The highlight looking back was a winter attempt at all of the Torridon trilogy and the tops. In winter with snow this is a true adventure these mountains become Alpine and can be extremely hard mountain days.
My first attempt at this epic day it was in 1976 it was an early winter and we were at Torridon with the RAF Kinloss MRT staying at the boathouse on the loch shore. I had just completed my first Walk from North to South of Scotland in May of that year and pretty fit. We were going well it was myself Jim Morning and a budding young star Berty Bertwhistle that made up our hill party. That day we started very early on Beinn Eighe on the Black Carls many miss this ridge well worth the effort with its crumbling quartstone then on to the two Munro’s and all the tops. It’s a great day doing this hill alone just doing the Munro’s. When you add in all the tops it’s a wonderful high level alpine walk and scramble. You have to double back on places and at the end descend the steep screes into the Glen into Coire Dubh Mor up onto the screes then a scramble onto the ridge route finding can be tricky and then on to the main ridge. The Liathach ridge in winter is a great day but add on the last Munro top Meall Dearg it’s to me an Alpine day. This can be loose in summer but in good winter conditions it’s truly an magical end of a great hill. We were dropping of the hill heading for Alligin pretty tired heading into the Glen. It’s a big pull onto the Horns of Alligin then up onto the Two Munro’s on Alligin when we got a call on the radio that we were called out. It was to Ben Cruachan for a missing walker. We headed down as fast as we could feeling the days efforts to our land rover in Alligin car park. It was then change a bowl of soup and a long drive to Cruachan. In these days 3 /4 hours we were needed for an early start we did not hang about . I will never forget that drive Jim Morning who was with me on our attempt on the Trilogy was driving the big 4 tonner on these tight roads. We arrived and managed a few hours sleep at the Police station and then we had a 2 day search on some serious ground. Sadly the walker was not located till several years later on the other side of the mountain. Just another day another adventure it seems another life.
As I write this these mountains hold so many great days . On Beinn Eighe The famous Triple Buttress with its 1000 feet climbs. The Lancaster crash in Fuselage Gully. The many trips with relatives and friends to the crash site forever etched in my memory.
There is also the ugly step on the ridge to Sail Mor this stopped a few on the 1951 call out as it was technical winter ground few visit this spot.
The wild remote Corries that few see and exploring every one. Camping high up near the Loch, swimming in the Loch way before “Wild swimming” was an thing. Watching Eagles soar meeting the family of deer and seeing the Lochans shine in the sun. This is Gods country.
Liathach has so many memories of great winter routes hard fought traverses of the mountain in poor conditions and more hidden Corries Coire Na Caime a vast hardly looked at Coire compared with the others that have so many ice climbs in winter. I have wandered in her on several occasions. To me the Northern pinnacles in a winters day that would not be out of place in the Alps. You get a great view of the Am Fasarinen Pinnacles the crux of the main ridge. It was her that one of our team fell here in the 70’s and was saved when the Team Leader Pete Mc Gowan descended after him during a winter traverse. He was very badly injured and a huge carry off the hill in the early days before the helicopters could push it in bad weather. Its a long way from home.
Beinn Alligin is a grand outing there are some wonderful scrambles in the back Coire the via The Great cleft onto the ridge. The Horns of Alligin all great fun and exploring the gullies and ridges and the views to the sea from the summits .
Add in the big forgotten call outs that never made the news with the Local Torridon Team. Big stretcher carry offs from Beinn Eighe. Avalanches on Liathach more huge stretcher carry’s and one of our own who fell from the pinnacles. Finding routes of the hill in the dark. Searching the steep sandstone terraces covered in fresh snow or wet slippy grass. Bringing someone off alive everyone working together exhausted but in tune with life. These are memories.
Meeting Martin Moran the local guide in the past with his clients now sadly gone. He always took time to chat and ask what you were up to. So many adventures that a winters view can conjure up. There are of course the Corbett’s every one a gem well worth the effort but sadly missed for their larger neighbours.
It’s raining again today I doubt there will be many views . Yet this place means so much in any weather thank you Torridon.
I am lucky I am still going keeping well apart from the usual aches and pains.
It’s not easy for many folk just now but I feel some of the anger and frustration on the internet and web does not help. I am lucky locked down on the West coast a wonderful place with a friend. The weather is not great but we manage to get a short soaking every day. Yet I miss my pals the socialising and contact with others. I have a relative far away who is very ill. As a family we can do little for him but be there from a distance. This is so hard.
Many of my friends are missing the hills and wild places. It’s not good but not the end of the World. Many others have lost family, jobs and for others life may not be the same again
What can we do but try to stay positive be kind and caring,lift that phone and call someone you care about. I have an old friend in her 80’s in a home we cannot visit she has to eat in her room now every day. Her hearing is poor her eyesight failing yet we chat daily. Yesterday she heard from no one outside her carers. We can all do our bit to help.
Try to stay positive and hopefully we will be able to give each other a big hug when the time is right.
Thinking of you all lots of love to you and yours .
In 1982 Heavy was posted to RAF Innsworth near Gloucester there was no Mountain Rescue team nearby. It was awful and when we arrived Heavy was told that no dogs were allowed on the station by the Station Warrant Officer. (SWO) He was a wild man. As always Heavy ignored authority and we moved into an accommodation block with others and I slept in the room until the SWO found out. Heavy was back to working in the Catering Office and his boss let me come to work every day. I sat outside a lot and played with all the high ranking officers that lived there, they all liked me and played sticks and things. The SWO was not happy but could not get rid of me. I left him a message in the guardroom when Heavy was orderly Corporal one weekend!
We were saved by joining the Stafford Mountain Rescue Team where his mate Jim Morning was the Team Leader and had many great weekends as Heavy met them in his car at weekends in Wales or the Lakes. It was great to be back with the troops and I made many friends and climbed a lot more at the Peaks and other venues. At times we would meet the “odd jobs worth” on the crag or scrambled about or as I sat by the bags who wanted me on a lead but Heavy just gave them a hard time. It was long drives back at times 0300 in the morning and then straight back to work.
I slept, poor Heavy had to work. We did a few callouts one for an aircraft during the week a Harrier that crashed in Wales and I sniffed the fuel on the ridge in a night search. I had to watch as this was tricky place to be at the crash site and there were many sharp bits of metal, fuel and Heavy kept me away once they found it. The smell of fuel was overpowering to my nose and I was to find this out on many other occasions. I was glad to leave after the casualty had been recovered. We came back to Innsworth as heroes and life got easier, I was now a celebrity on the camp. Heavy upset more people on the camp and within a year we were heading back to Scotland.
I had been back twice with the RAF Stafford Team and what a trip. Once we went to the North West a huge journey and so no other humans, I did some big days, The Fannichs I think 9 Munro’s in a day , The An Teallach hills and Fisherfields and The Beinn Deargs, Seanna Bhraigh hills my Munro book was getting ticked. I was also allowed to go to Stoer and had fun swimming round the Sea Stack with the seals whilst the troops climbed. I also did a East to West of Scotland with Jim Morning,Bob Foreman and
At last we were posted from Innsworth for back to RAF Kinloss but first the RAF MRT Annual Winter Course. The car was packed with me in the passenger seat. The road was blocked on the A9 and we had to go by Braemar it was some drive and Heavy is not a great driver. We arrived at Grantown for the winter Course where Heavy was instructing I was immediately told in no way could I stay in the Centre. Welcome to Scotland!
I was used to being away or working most Christmas periods. In the RAF we had a duty team to cover any call outs. We were usually stationed in Fort William or Newtonmore over the period. It meant we were away from our families a lot. This is like so many of the Emergency Services who cover the festive period. We stayed in the village Halls and Christmas Day was spent cooking for the team. There were no mobile phones in the early days and it often meant a few call via a phone box to our loved ones. Most Christmas days were spent on the hill these were quiet days yet we still had a few mountain incidents. Often the helicopter would come out and visit us on the hill training.
We often had Call outs at this time sadly more often in the later years for vulnerable people.These involved folk suffering from dementia or mental health issues. Never easy to cope with at any time of year far less than the festive period.
It will be hard for many this year as travel restrictions due to Covid have meant many families will not gather this year. There will be many folk alone. Please take time to think of them phone them or get in touch.
So to all who are working in the Hospitals, Police, Fire, Ambulance, RNLI, Coastguard, SAR helicopters Mountain Rescue teams and all other Agencies a safe and Happy Christmas.
It’s never a time to be alone and many will be.Thinking of you all and many thanks for your love and kindness over the years.
Scotland was where my owner loved and we did our first winter climbing course together at Grantown On Spey. The Military said that I was not allowed to be in the Centre, but every night I was in with the troops and I think Heavy got into trouble. I loved the Cairngorms and met so many people, Glenmore Lodge and other Mountain Rescue teams. I loved the winter skills days as I would have fun but it was cold hanging about and I learned to find shelter in the snow. After this we would snow hole it was all new to me a night out in the wild mountains of the Cairngorms. This was all fun and after a long day on the hill we would arrive and dig a snow hole. I would chase the debris all day as the troops dug them.
I loved the snow holing Heavy was scared as he told me the weather could change very quickly and we may not know. I learned quickly as soon as I felt the snow building up outside (the lack of air told me) I would be out and dig the entrance. Over the years we had a few epics and once I found a very young troop who had gone out for a pee in his bare feet and could not get back in as the snow was so icy, I heard him outside while the rest were asleep and woke them up (Lassie would have been proud) I also later on found a lost couple of climbers who had seen the light in our snow hole in the Cairngorms but were scared to come in as they thought I was real Alsatian that bite. I barked when they arrived in the middle of the night and had to wake Heavy up and go outside to bring them in. I loved the snow, this place Scotland with my big feet was ideal for the snow and I was seldom cold. In my first two years I learned so much but Heavy was too busy to train me a search Dog as he was the Deputy Team Leader at RAF Valley in Wales. I was a bit wary at night and kept going in all weathers and this was to be a life saver one day. We did a few rescues it was hard work in the snow this was wild country a step up from Wales.
We stayed at the famous CIC Hut on Ben Nevis, where no dogs are allowed but I was quite and the custodian did not notice till it was too late. I hid under the bed after a hard day on the hill. I did a few snow gullies that year and I was far better soloing than roped up depending on how hard the snow was. I learned to do as I was told and wait till the leader had climbed up. On the way down when it was icy I would follow Heavy’s footprints and on the odd occasions he would cut steps, I got better on snow after a few frights.
I met many Search Dogs in these early days some were a bit snooty but Heavy stood his ground and on the hill we became a formidable pairing. I got very fit and strong and with my winter coat I could handle most weathers better than the humans. He promised me we would get moved to Scotland after Valley and we would do these Munros lots of days like the 14 peaks, big winters and lots of fun. I was a bit disappointed at the time but he had also fallen in love with a lovely woman Vicky and I had competition for his attention. I had not met many women since I was a puppy and I had to get use to this change in my life. I also had a wee girl as well in the house: Yvette Vicky’s lovely daughter she was tiny and we had some fun, she was always dressing me up but so did the troops, it was no problem. I loved them both and I really got looked after and allowed in the front room, but not on the sofa.
It was a fun time for me after a long weekend or even a 4 day grant on the hill I would sleep in the back of the land – rovers and wake up at the bothy. I would get dried after a wet day on the hill then a meal and then sleep or play with any troops that had the energy left. Life was good!
In Wales things were going very well and life was indeed good but poor Heavy had problems his selfish life in the mountains it was a lonely one for his partner. At this time as always the Mountains became all-consuming Vicky was a young beautiful lassie and Yvette such a lovely girl he did not get his priorities right.
At the same time his Mum passed away he was broken hearted. Vicky and Yvette were a great help and I went down with him to Ayr. It was a tragic time his Mum had Leukaemia and the family had not told him. He was heartbroken as his Mum was so important to him. She had hidden it from him as they did in these times, he spoke to her often but she never even said she was ill. On returning to North Wales he was glad he had a family helping him. We spoke a lot then I knew he was hurting. I think all the tragic things he had seen in the hill affected him and he did not grieve.
Things broke down with his relationship, he could not cope and sadly Vicky left with her daughter to go back to Scotland, it was a hard time for all. I had got used to family life and loved them all very much playing with Yvette and her pals was a lovely change from the hills. Heavy was very upset at the time (us dogs worked that out) and the house was very empty. Gone were the easy nights of being pampered by my new friends and Yvette who was only little was so special. We got up to all tricks together and it was as much fun as going on the hills.
Many are scared when they see a big Alsatian but I was very soft and loved kids, I was jumped on dressed up and ridden as a horse. It was just like the troops in the team at the weekend but worse.
During this sad time we got out a lot on the hills and days got longer and harder as the mountains became all-consuming as Heavy tried to get on with life. He hid his grief for his Mum I think it was dealing with so many fatalities in the hills, made him cut out any grief. The hills were now his life and he took great joy on this but he was hiding from his hurt.
I had met his Mum and Dad then later in the year his Dad took ill whilst he was on the Team Leaders Course in the Peak District. He was rock climbing when the Policeman came up to the crag and told him. The troops dropped us at Crewe Station and we got the overnight train to Kilmarnock, the train was a great way to travel for me. We arrived in at 0500 and we walked into Ayr 12 miles away rather than wake anyone up, we were to skint for a taxi. We were a funny sight walking along the main road. It was a hard time and his Dad wanted to see me and we went to hospital where I was allowed in. I knew he was upset when Dad died and when we got back home to Valley when he went to bed I followed him up and slept under the bed. I was never allowed to do this before and did so afterwards. Dogs understand.
We visited Scotland for a Grant with the team at Valley. It was a huge drive 12 hours to Torridon on the West Coast of Scotland. We arrived at Kinlochewe and had a 12 hour day On Beinn Eighe, Liathach and Ben Alligin. This was the Torridon Trilogy a huge day and Heavy was on a mission it was the hardest day I had ever done. The next day we climbed the Cioch Nose at Applecross, I ended up in the Loch due to the midges.
This was the beginning of a 10 days in Scotland and then we moved to Fort William and I did the big 4 Ben Nevis, Carn Dearg Aonach Mor and Aonach Beag, The next day all the Mamore Ridge 11 Munros in a day in these days. The Aonach Eag followed up the famous Clachaig Gully both ways on the same trip. I met him as I finished Clachaig Gully and he took me the other way I did the ridge 3 times that day. There were so many other great hills I loved Scotland. It was such a big place and so few people. It was soon back in Wales and a big rescue the RAF Wessex helicopter had to leave a winchman on the hill in winter during a rescue and we went and helped him off, he had no crampons.
The crewman was wearing flying boots, the aircrew had little kit only basic aircrew gear in these days and the troops had their sharp crampons on and it was even hard for me on the icy snow. There was a bit of carry on and the helicopter came back to get him despite the weather and being told to leave him. It was a tricky and the RAF enquiry was interesting .Heavy getting into trouble for his decisions in support of the crew and giving them mountaineering boots after etc. He was always in a bit of trouble very outspoken even on the hill, at times on a rescue and I knew when to keep out of the way.
We did a big callout on Idwal slabs in the dark when the Team Leader Allister was away the head torch batteries fell apart in the wet a new cheap battery MOD had bought. (Why do humans need torches anyway I have no problem?) He wrote a signal to someone high up and got into trouble and despite the Team Leaders assistance ended up posted to the Deep South at RAF Innsworth near Gloucester. There were no mountains here and I think the system thought they had got rid of us. They thought that was the end of us but it was not too be. Life was to change.
Its worth reading the advice on Mountaineering Scotland to taking your dog on the mountains especially in winter. Certain breeds will be better suited to hill walking than others. Medium sized dogs such as collies, spaniels or Labradors are athletic breeds ideally suited to running all day in the hills. However, with sufficient preparation, any breed of dog can be trained to become a fantastic mountain companion. The weather and your dog | Mountaineering Scotlandwww.mountaineering.scot › hillwalking › taking-the-dog
Well worth a read – Teallach was doing most weekends on the hills every weekend 130 -150 days on the hills annually.
Still looking for photos of Teallach especially in Wales can anyone help.
We all need cheered up I hope this will help? They say “a man’s best friend is his Dog.
This is the tale of a special dog Teallach”.
Introduction: I wrote this in several parts in my blog a few have asked me to put it together with a few more tales too anyone wanting to read. It will take time; I cried at the end, you may also? Every year I was on the hills for on average 130 – 150 days of my 13 years of life. As the wee man (Heavy) said you have to train for the conditions so we were out in some wild situations. Train Hard to mountaineer hard.
On his first Expedition at Braemar only 7 weeks old, no fancy dog bowls just water in camping pan lid.
Chapter 1 – The Early year’s 1978 Wales
“Learning the hard way”
My name is Teallach I was named after a very beautiful mountain on the North West Coast of Scotland (An Teallach). As a very soft Alsatian almost cuddly Alsatian I was very lucky to have spent all of my life on the mountains and wild places. My mother (Dreish) was another Mountain Dog who was a highly proficient and fully trained Search and Rescue Dog in Scotland (SARDA) and Wales. She had won the SARDA Madras Trophy in 1977 for best Novice Search Dog. This was something she never tired of telling me as a pup and she said if I worked hard and had a bit of luck I could too could chose this way of life. Every year I was on the hills for on average 130 – 150 days of my 13 years of life. As the wee man (Heavy) said you have to train for the conditions so wee were out in some wild situations. Train Hard to mountaineer hard.
I was born in Wales after a few weeks where I was bottled fed by Allister’s Haveron the Mountain Rescue Team Leader in RAF Valley North Wales wife Pat. The day I met my new owner a very small loud human, he had a strange name” Heavy” he was introduced to me and the other pups. It was my huge feet that mattered to him when we met and for 12 years we looked after each other.
To be honest I mainly I looked after him!
My Mum (Dreish) had told me he was a good man they had been on the mountains often and he looked after her when her owner was away. My first trip was to the vet for my check up and jabs, I have hated white coats ever since. Then then we went to Scotland Breamar from RAF Valley in North Wales. I was 8 weeks old it was a long, long way! My owner was in Heavy was the Deputy Team Leader of the RAF Valley MRT and had to lead a group in Braemar in Scotland for a week climbing and walking. The vet said it would be okay to go so I travelled in a land rover all the way. I missed my Mum but these humans were kind to me. I travelled in a cardboard climbing boot box a long 10 hour journey. We stopped every 2 hours for me to learn about going to the toilet. The man in the white coat was right as he said it would be good for me to get used to travelling even that as young as that was what I would do every weekend with my owner as he was out most weekends with the team.
Photo – Map Reading at RAF Valley
We arrived in a bothy an old Squash court at Braemar (with lots of new places to explore) and I slept beside Heavy every night waking him for the loo now and again. I had a few accidents and I ate a pair of boots as I stayed with the cook every day I was too young for the hills.
I met all the humans in the team and soon was accepted by them. The local farmer let me meet the sheep and any idea of playing or chasing them was explained to me by the ram. For the rest of my life I gave them a wide berth. I was taught in the mountains you could not chase anything but that was made up later on by the longest walks I have ever had. This to me was a good compromise.
My boss that week took me up my first Munro he carried me in his rucksack up Lochnagar and it was an incredible place. That day it was so big, windy and wild. We saw lots of birds, other animals and things in the heather, but I was impressed that the humans did not chase them either. I was allowed out on a bit of rope called a lead, but I was soon trusted not to need this.
Heavy showed me the big cliffs I felt the wind as he took me to the edge of the great cliffs. He explained on a bad day humans could not see the drop but a dog would feel the wind and have the sense to avoid such places in wild weather. In winter it would be worse as the Cornices would be huge and I was made aware very early of the danger.
I was pretty confused but later on in my life it was to save our lives on more than a few occasions.
He showed me the summit cairn always a place that I would mark by lifting my leg, no matter what the weather and this was now my territory and I learned lots over the next few months. My Mum Dreish was also on the Mountain Rescue team and she gave me some great help but always showed me who was Boss. She could climb most things and that took a bit of effort for me but soon I was climbing better than Heavy (not hard). Wales was a great place to learn with the hills not far away. We would climb mid-week and I would wait for him at the top of the climbs as I got older.
I was taken to work in the Mountain Rescue every day and lay under Heavy’s desk, I learnt to be quite and only growl only when an officer entered the room. I also went down to the Wessex helicopter Flight at RAF Valley in Wales. I got used to the noise of these yellow machines, everyone was kind and soon I was jumping in them on my own and hiding out of the way under the aircraft seats. I could hear the noise of them before the troops on the hill and knew it was a lift home. I was always ready and happy when I heard them it was a free lift. I had to get used to getting winched out was another scary thing but Heavy did not like that either and often I would jump out first to see how high we were off the ground. I was told to sit and wait until a human came and we practiced this everywhere and I got used to it.
The aircrew grew to like me and used to give me food until Heavy stopped them but right up to the end of my life I was always getting the odd snack from some soft centred aircrew person.
At Valley North Wales was great what a place to learn about the hills but we often got involved in many rescues and I had to learn to keep out of the way especially in winter when the humans wore crampons in the winter. They had sharp points and hurt if stood on my paw. I always knew when it was a bad accident, it was different and the team’s attitude changed. When they were carrying someone off the hill I kept well away. In these early winters I got speared a few times by crampons so I was wary after that and kept my distance. I was soon not on a lead and building my hill knowledge, it was getting easier as in Wales as we were training 3 times a month every weekend.
After a year I was a novice had done the 14 peaks in Wales twice in a day! I also knew who the new troops were and slept on their beds when they were at the pub. We stayed in village halls on the floor on mats and sleeping bags I had my own but used others. I was given lots of freedom and loved my days on the hill. Every weekend it would be a new base camp but we also went to England and the Peaks and the Lake District and twice to Scotland every year. On the Mountain Rescue nominal role I was promoted to Senior Aircraft Dog I was now accepted by all.
The rivers on the hills are dangerous I learnt to swim very early not a problem in Wales but in the big rivers in Scotland I became an exponent of the wild water swimming.
I loved it even in the sea; it was said I may have been half Alsatian and half seal! If Heavy went to climb a big route I would go with another party usually on a big hill day and he was happy with that as long as I behaved. I would by now learn how to check the party, if it split up and ensure everyone was there. I spared a few blushes at times when I found the odd troop or lost mountaineer in the mist or bad weather. I knew if someone was there even in the mist and would run off find them and come back and tell my leader. In the end everyone wanted me in their party especially on a bad day; I was a type of doggy insurance for would be mountain leaders!
Comments and photos welcome?
To be continued.
Advice if your going to take your Dog on the mountains from Mountaineering Scotland.
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I sent an old friend who is in a home a small Christmas tree with lights. She is alone and her family abroad, sadly she spends most of her life in her wee room. We speak every day she is such a lovely person that I have known fir years. Typical of her generation (she is over 80 ) and just gets on with her life. She tells me that wee tree had made her so happy she has phoned 3 times reminding me of how special it is to her. Sadly her hearing and eyesight are poor and though she is well cared for I cannot get over to see her due to Covid.
I drop some bits and pieces of every week she is so appreciative. It’s not much but it makes her day.
I like many get great joy from trying to make folks life a bit better.
As someone very wise said “ It’s better to give than receive “ We can all do our bit and know someone we can help. In this uncaring world let’s try to look after those whose life we can make a bit better.
I received a question through the blog that I had been asked before!
“Hi Heavy. Interesting to read your blog on the Canberra wreckage on Carn an-t- Sagairt Mor in the White Mounth area. (Nov 1956 Search for a missing Canberra aircraft and the recovery of 2 Crew. One Of Ray Sunshine’s Seftons first call out. Locals & RAF Leuchars RAF Kinloss on call out . Crew recovered with assistance of a RAF Sycamore Helicopter! Early Rescue/ Recovery in the mountain by Helicopter. Both crew Killed)
I happened to be on this Munro some weeks ago and did indeed see lots of the wreckage of the aircraft. I was in the RAF myself from 1978-2002 and was in the Aircraft Airframe trade and recognised many of the parts of the debris. Whilst I served at Leuchars, I do remember you being the leader of the MRT. A question I would like to ask you – when the Canberra crashed in 1956, I appreciate there wasn’t the resources and equipment to recover the aircraft debris but surely now in modern times there are helicopters like the Chinook for example that can remove all the visible debris on the mountain sides? Or would this be a problematic logistical exercise? In my opinion, the debris is an eyesore on such a beautiful landscape. Regards”
Thanks for the question. All the recent aircraft. To my knowledge have been removed. The Shackleton on Harris in 1990 the Chinook on Mull of Kintyre and the F15’s in the Cairngorms in 2001. I am sure MOD policy is to take them away especially due to Heath and Safety aspects that make modern day aircraft . Many modern aircraft had such a selection of man made fibres that they are still dangerous after the aircraft has crashed.
Previous to this most were left in situ due to location etc. Many are World War Two aircraft. There were few men available at the time to move aircraft. Yet Inverness had a group of Indian Muleteers that went to many crashes and recovered the casualties and anything they could reuse. The crash sites are all covered by the Military Remains Act as like the Anson on Assynt the crew were buried nearby.
The USA F111 that crashed on Skye in 1982 had lots of wreckage. That has not been removed due to the location and steepness of the site. I would write to MOD and ask. I would imagine the cost of removing wreckage would be a huge factor. Interesting comment thanks!
Strange that the Canberra is still there but this was the first time helicopters were used in the mountain’s for SAR at the first time. There is lots of information From the Site Air Crash Sites Scotland
It’s hard to imagine in the early days of Mountain Rescue the simple ways of recalling hill parties of the hill. It was by flares but there were so many parties on the hill that some never saw them due to weather or location. How many did not know till they came off the hill that the missing party had been located. Even in my time that still occurred.
The book Two Star Red by Gwen Moffat has on its cover flares used on a call out they were pretty dramatic if you saw them. This was before my time as when I joined we had I think Pye Bantam radios. They were not great mainly line of sight and were pretty useless in wet or wild weather. They was one between a party of 4 , often it was a nightmare carried in a canvas bag inside your rucksack. We had a base set as well but communications were often poor. The military had radios that were big and cumbersome mostly ex Second World war up to the late 50’s
It was worse for the Search and Rescue Dogs (SARDA) they often worked alone in wild remote Corries in these days. They often did not pick up the messages that the Call out was over till they came of the hill. When I became a Team Leader I would ensure we did not leave till everyone was off the hill. We would move a wagon and try to regain communications.
Nowadays things are so much better I watched the communications improve over the years. Repeater stations were put up in various team areas. In the past we would put a link with a couple of troops on a high point to pass messages. This was never a great job to be given. Thankfully things have improved over the years the RAF teams even used aircraft or helicopters at time’s to get better communications.
Nowadays with excellent phones better communications linked to the Police and helicopters things have moved on.
It must have been amazing to see the flares go up and know the call out was over not so good of you missed them . I am sure the RAF teams had at some time a flare gun but that was long before my time
Changing time’s .
Flares were fired from a flare gun, also known as a Very pistol or signal pistol, is a large-bore handgun that discharges flares.
The flare gun is used to create illumination for improved vision or as a distress signal. A flare gun can be used as a deadly weapon; however, that is not its intended function.
I located a photo the other day of a wild call out on the Cairngorms in the Christmas period in the Braeriach area in 1978. I was out with the RAF Kinloss Team at Tyndrum we were staying in the staff quarters for the Christmas period as normal. We had to have a team available over the festive period. By now I was a fairly experienced party leader. We had a small team out about 12 – 14 of us. We arrived late on the 23 December this was a big winter and we were looking forward to great days. I took a few troops up Central Gully on Ben Lui and then the 4 Munros a hard physical day even then. Another party went climbing in Glencoe and the rest to the Etive Hills Ben Starav was the plan. We always left a troop to cook as our contact with the Rescue Centre then at Pitreavie and the Police. These were simple days as we had no mobile phones, GPS a basic weather forecast based mainly for aircraft and no avalanche service. Kit was simple and always wet for any Call Outs but we were young and loved it. I had a long day but such fun and the cook was a bit worse for wear ( he had a drink) We had an unwritten rule that no one drunk till we were all off the hill. I was not impressed we were hungry and little had been done. The other party arrived back from Glencoe they had a great day doing some great climbing. The cook was very lippy and when our party from the Etive hills had not come back by 1800 I went with another party to see if we could get communications. As I said the communication were poor and we drove down Glen Etive to try and get contact. Later on we got a garbled message that one of the party was tired snow conditions were poor and they were bivying. It is dark by 1600 in mid December and they were okay we would see them in the morning. We had stopped at the last house in the Glen in these days they had I am sure no electricity even then. I have forgotten their names but they were good friends of the team and had given us lots of tea. We left the kids with all our chocolate and would be back at first light. It was snowing heavy again when we got back to our Base by midnight. The cook was in another world nothing was done and I hate to say we had an argument and he ended up with a black eye. Something I was not proud off. Any trouble within the team like that you were in serious trouble with the Team Leader who was not out but would here about it. Anyway we headed to bed for a few hours then headed back to Glen Etive there was even more snow. We were heading up to the hill to help if needed but we saw them at first light . When they arrived we were glad to see them they were cold and hungry but all fine. We stopped in the wee bothy said thanks again and took some treats for their help. In the party was the man in charge and after a brew I updated him on my cook incident. I feared for the worst. Then I was saved by the bell as we got called for a call – out in the Cairngorms.
It was a first light search the drive to Aviemore was not easy. Cairngorm MRT. It had been a wild search in poor conditions. They had located the casualties the night before but it was to late to recover them and we were asked to help. It sounds simple but the weather was wild. We drove into Glen Ennich and set off the weather got worse as you can see from the photo. I was more worried that our Team leader was there and I thought after my problem at Christmas my days with the team were numbered. He just said we will talk later. He and a few troops had been out with Cairngorm the day before the weather was not good. Communications in these days were awful it was a hard winter.
Braeriach Coire Bogha – Cloiche. Glen Einich
2 missing walkers. Avalanched – fatal.
We had a lot of troops and headed for the location carrying two stetchers. RAF Leuchars were there as were our other team member’s who were at home for Christmas, SARDA and the new Sea King helicopters. The casualties were in the gully and we lowered a volunteer ( the Team Leader down) and then we lowered two stretchers down. Looking back the conditions were wild and there was a big chance of Avalanche to us all. There was no Avalanche forecast then .We did the long carry off to our vehicle’s in the Glen it was a somber group that arrived at the land-rovers. It was hard to believe at the time it was the festive season and two families had lost there loved ones. We were soaked, cold and hungry but glad to get off the hill. The drive out the Glen was long we had the two casualties with us never an easy journey.
We got back to our Base and after things were sorted out with the Team leader I was told to behave or else my days in Mountain Rescue were over . Thanks Ray .
Another lesson learned by me. Over the years I was to do many sad incidents over the festive season they were never easy. Always in my thoughts were the families they left behind we also located a lot of injured climbers as this period was a busy one on the hills. I had been to a few avalanches earlier but this was the shape of things to come sadly.
Looking back the descent in poor weather from Braeriach to Glen Feshie in the wrong weather is tricky and can be avalanche prone. I went back several times with Team members and up onto the hill this was in summer and winter. It was surprising how benign this slope can feel but add dumps of snow you can see how easy it is to go off route. Add in darkness and deteriorating conditions its a tricky place as these hills are. Even nowadays with GPS better mapping the Scottish Avalanche Information Service which now gives a good guide in 5 area forecasts along with a lot the more accurate weather forecasts these are tools we must use. Never take all these additions for granted. You still need to make decisions on your route dependant on the conditions you meet. There are rarely no paths in winter!
“I remember it. I was navigating for a SARDA handler an dog. We bivvied on the back of Braeriach when we ran out of daylight. I think Sunshine the (team leader ) was a bit worried as we had no comms.”
Bill Batson RAF MR Team leader.
Nick Sharpe Now a Mountain Guide in Canada
“Quite the job, and my first real experience of climbers succumbing to the white death of an avalanche.”
There is lots happening just now with Covid and us all missing our family and friends. I am so privileged to live by the sea, have forests on my doorstep and easy access to the mountains. I can get out yet I miss folks dropping in fir a cup of tea. Many are not so fortunate.
Sadly we have lost so many great people this year and sadly we cannot celebrate their lives in the usual way. I cannot imagine how hard it must be to lose a loved one and yet not get together to celebrate their lives.
It makes you think on your own mortality. What really matters in life and when we leave we take nothing with us. Many spend their lives buying “stuff”that much will end up in a skip at the end. I have had and still am having a big sort out. I find I am another who had too much “stuff”so I am trying to take most of it to the charity shops.
Let’s not forget those less fortunate than us. My wee village has a food box in the village I donate every week how sad that there are people going hungry lost their jobs and are going to struggle this Christmas.
So as you order loads of “ stuff” on the internet or in the shops have a thought for those less fortunate.
As someone said “it’s better to give than receive” let’s all try to do our bit. You will feel better.
Another great gone – Doug Scott cult hero extreme mountaineer. Yet he was a kind and caring man who did so much for Nepal and its people. population. His love of the country and after so many expeditions to the Himalayas led to his deep connection led to the founding of Community Action Nepal (CAN). This charity is aimed at improving the lives of the Sherpa community living in Nepal. Doug Scott continued to work tirelessly for his charity for over 30 years. During this period he set up 15 schools, 20 health posts and 3 Porter Rescue centres and several Community projects.
This March sadly he was diagnosed with cerebral lymphoma – a type of inoperable brain cancer – and shortly after lockdown he made one last climb up the stairs to raise funds for Community Action Nepal.
One of the first mountaineers to become a media star after his Everest summit that included a bivy from the summit at 8700 metres with no sleeping bag or oxygen, he pushed the then known boundaries. This never changed his attitude, he was a climbers climber.
He is so well thought of by everyone. I think he was most peoples hero with his long hair and John Lennon glasses and headband. He was a huge influence on light weight Alpine Mountaineering in the Himalayas. He and a few others pushed the standard so high as my pal Pete Greening said “Another of my heroes has gone. A man of vision, particularly when it came to climbing and mountaineering. Doug Scott certainly was at the forefront of big wall climbing, alpinism and high altitude mountaineering during the 60s, 70s and 80s. Too many achievements to mention here, but perhaps his best was surviving during a time when high altitude mountaineering was starting to explode on the world stage, as many of his friends didn’t.” His
I met him a few times as he did so many lectures not just to to big venues but to small Highland venues.
I had also met him on the Ben in winter in the early 80’s as we were staying in the CIC hut and he soloed a few routes like the Curtain and Zero gully. He met my dog Teallach at the hut and they got on well with him. He told me he wandered up to Curtain a ice climb where he met my dog. We were on the same route a bit earlier. He past us climbing solo and he came down and Doug and my dog went over to Zero gully with him. We continued up the Ben summit and back to the hut where Teallach and his new mate were already back. Doug had climbed back down checking the dog was okay. He and Teallach wandered back to the hut.
It was the same when doing his talks he was always willing to chat to his audience after a lecture had ended. No matter who you were he was always up for a chat and some advice.
Up and About, this is the first volume of his autobiography, Scott tells his story from his birth in Nottingham during the darkest days of war to the summit of the world. Surviving the unplanned bivouac without oxygen near the summit of Everest widened the range of what and how he would climb in the future. In fact, Scott established more climbs on the high mountains of the world after his ascent of Everest than before. Those climbs will be covered in the second volume of his life and times.
It’s been a sad year for losing great and good folk but like Hamish what a legacy they left. A lot more than the ascent of so many peaks but an example of what you can do and what you can do for others.
His epic on the Ogre with Clive Rowland, Chris Bennington, and the late Mo Antoine is the ultimate survival tale. It’s a must read and shows you an insight into a man who climbed not only many of the Worlds highest peaks but a man with a great humanity.
It was hard to believe it’s December the Torridon hills were snow covered the weather was stunning and my friend Kalie was showing me some new places that I had never visited. It was not the classic Alpine start instead a leisurely wander to Applecross. The NC 500 madness is gone the roads were quite as we passed through Applecross. All the way Kalie was telling me the local tales of this incredible area. This was all missed by me in the past as I had always been chasing hills on my every increasing mountain madness over the years. The journey from Arrina past Sand was stunning the December light Skye, Rhona and many other amazing landmarks came into view. This wee walk was done many years ago by Tom Weir and more recently by David Hayman it’s a wonderful place to wander.
This time last week I was on the Cairngorms after an early start it was bitter cold but today there was no wind, it was clear and for December so warm.
We travelled through Applecross on the Westc Coast its so quiet now and followed the wee road out to the peninsula. There were no other cars about we had the walk to ourselves and what a great wander. We had Islay the collie with us and from the start the path is good the views and changes in scenery exceptional. Kalie explained the children walked from the two villages to School in Applecross in the past. Access is by foot or boat. Sadly no one lives here in Ardbain or Collie Ghillidh now but the walk is full of history and folklore. The path goes by some lovely Silver birch trees and the coastline is stunning. Kalie spotted an otter on our travels. It’s only short walk to each village but it was so warm we just took it easy enjoying the views.
From Visit Applecross “The Applecross Peninsula boasts a variety of habitats that are home to an awe-inspiring range of animals, flora and fauna.”
Along the coastline are rocky shores, sandy beaches, sea caves and sand dunes. Of particular interest is the white ‘coral’ beach at Ard Ban. The ‘coral’ sand is actually the calcareous remains of several species of red seaweed which make up the so called maerl beds. This unusual habitat is only found in 1% of the UK’s inshore waters. Coastal plants of the area include scurvy grasses, oraches, thrift and storkbills.
It was hard to believe it was December Kalie loves this walk and was organised for lunch with her “mat of many colours” Sitting on a coral beach in December and the views of Skye to me it was perfect after a crazy week. We met one other soul on the beach at Ardbain. Even though the tide was in it was still stunning.
We had a wander round the deserted village I think one house is still used as a private holiday home now. It must have been a hard life here.
I was shown the local well hidden near the shore the sea was so still I had a scramble and we followed the other path after lunch to the next village.
You can at low tide follow the coast but we took the path. It was a bit wet but again what a place to be.
Again it was a short wander about 1 k along the coast. Past the natural woodland and down to the next village at Collie Ghillidh.
Sadly the tide was in the beach covered but what a place to be. Yet sad that no one lives anymore here now. It’s only 2 and a half Kilometres from the road but a hard place to live but so beautiful. Skye looked superb as always the sea so still we stopped again and drank it all in.
For all on the wee walk we took our time there was no rush no folk about and the madness and sadness of a busy week forgotten.
We wandered back taking the main track it was warm no wind and such a day . The day ended with a meal in the Applecross Inn lovely local fish despite the Covid Restrictions it was a grand end to the day.
It was then back to the house a stunning drive as the sunset. We stopped I got more pictures the road was quite we were so lucky to have had such a day.
The temperature had dropped but I could not help trying to take it all in but can you? I rush about to much still but needed that weekend off.
How do you finish such a day. We watched the film “Local Hero”’ after “Kalie’s Strictly finals” what a film Local Hero is. We both laughed and laughed that’s what we needed.
Thanks Kalie and Islay for a great day. For reminding me of how little of this country I know.
The coffin route to Applecross. 15 kilometres of walking .
I had a short but enjoyable wander yesterday from near my friends house on the Kenmore / Arrina woodland footpath and Kenmore to Applecross footpath.
At Kenmore there’s a small sign showing the path to Applecross where it leaves the road. There’s a bit of space at the roadside here where you can park. From here there is a sign for the path.
It follows a old track used for many hundreds of years by the locals folk to take their deceased to Applecross for burial. What a journey that must have been as teams of men carried their loved ones to their final resting place. Complete families villages would go it would be a hard journey. One could picture the scene and the effort involved.
Yesterday we saw no one on the track the Torridon peaks were topped with snow making the views even more stunning. The loch flat calm and no bitter wind. The views were ever changing as does the light at this time of year. We had picked a great day. My friend Kalie had got the weather spot on and she knows this walk so well and the local history.
We only walked a third yesterday enjoying the stunning views in great weather. The path is superb but sadly getting very cut up by mountain bikes now as more people discover these incredible places.
There is a headstone on the path no inscription just to remind you that for most years this was the route to Applecross across the hills past hidden lochs and ever changing views.
The history of these trails are part of the history of this place I love. How do we preserve it and stop some of the heavy erosion by mountain bikes ?
Hopefully these places can be preserved and walkers and biker can ensure that they remain part of the history of this area?
We took it easy loving every minute at last I felt I could relax in this wild place.
Thanks to Kalie for showing me this lovely place and Islay the Collie for a fun walk.
We live in such an incredible country how lucky are we! Yet we must preserve this wonderful heritage that future generations can learn from the past.
As always comments welcome.
Both these paths are old coffin routes which were used in time past by burial parties going to Clachan church at Applecross Bay. There are various cairns along the route which indicate where the procession would have rested and possibly drank to the deceased. They are both very long coffin roads, so it is entirely understandable that people would need frequent rests along the way. The Applecross Heritage Centre has a bier in its collection, which was used to carry the coffin.
The coffin route was long the access to Applecross Bay from the north, before the coastal route was developed. The Applecross Landscape Partnership Schemehas plans to repair the route’s wrought iron kissing gates and renovate the stone waymarkers.
Most folk will know I was down in Glencoe saying farewell to Hamish. The morning started with pouring rain and awful weather. I visited my sick friend then headed over to Glencoe were I met many old pals. SARDA Lochaber, Glencoe and many of Hamish’s pals and locals were gathered in the bitter cold. There would be no helicopter today due to the weather Hamish would laugh at that. I was there early layered up for the cold and safely distanced due to Covid met many of the “old and bold” As the time drew near Hamish’s hearse drew near. There was a spontaneous clap as it passed. On top of the coffin was two of his ice axes and a lovely simple piece of Heather. It was so simple and so special.
It was all gone very quickly but poignantly. We shared some tales and the hearse moved on through the village and past the Glencoe MRT Base down the Glen past Hamish’s house and down the A82. Friends and locals braved the weather all with there special memories. Other Mountain Rescue teams were by the road as the hearse travelled on his way to a private family service in Glasgow. The hills were white with snow the weather had cleared as the “great man “ left his stage for his final journey.
I left quickly heading over to the West the rain was incessant but at one point it cleared. I stopped on the high road looking towards Kintail. It was full on winter now the wind was so cold and I had a few minutes.
A herd of deer passed the road into the wild I thought of Hamish free from pain and the life he had lead . What he had done, who he was and the effect on those he met and helped.
I am staying with a friend near Applecross you need friends and family just now. I have had some lovely calls and messages that are so appreciated . We should not be sad on Hamish’s passing.
I enjoy going into the mountains alone after over 40 years of looking after others I love the freedom to go where I want. I can go at my own pace as far as I want and no one but myself to worry about.
I was looking back on a incident that I was involved a while ago. A solo walker left very early from Glasgow area to climb a Munro in February in the West Coast .
He reached the summit of his Munro and did his usual text to his family and stated he was heading down back to his car. The weather came in on his descent and he was in cloud and snow and found had made an 180 degree mistake leaving the summit which took him down into a remote Glen on the West Coast. There are few houses there no phone signal and he managed to get a lift by a passing local to a path that should take him back over the hill.
On his way on the path the weather came in again time was moving and he discovered he had left his gloves in the car. )He only had that pair with him)By now it was getting dark his hands were frozen and unusable when he needed them to use his compass and torch. I was told when he reached the ridge at 3000 ft he could not use his compass or torch and the weather was full on winter conditions.
Having no torch it was now nightfall he was on steep winter ground with cliffs stumbled and fell down the hill. That is the last he remembers. His family phoned the Police when he never called to say he was off the hill and were worried. He had left a route and the local Police located the car. He was never late.
Due to the information a search was started that night and a the local team and SARDA did a search in wild winter conditions. Extra MRT teams were called in for a first light search. The casualty was located in the Glen early next morning about a mile from the road next to the river bank unconscious in a bad way. He was located near the river bank another foot and he would have been in the river. He was wearing dark clothing it was a great spot by the teams going into there search areas.
I thought that day there was little chance of his survival as he had such a poor pulse etc. There was little we could do try to keep him warm and we got a quick helicopter evacuation that helped save his life.He recovered fully and is alive and well after spending time in hospital.
It’s worth looking back and learning from incidents . I feel there are many lessons from this incident. In my view – He was saved as he had a great back up system: his family knew what hill he was on and his route. He always texted or called when possible on the summit and when he was back at the car. He had kept up the system for nearly 200 Munro’s over many years. The family were great as when he never called in they called the Police.
Points to note
As series of small mistakes added to what happened they built up as the day progressed.
Things went wrong when he took the wrong bearing ( always double check your bearing) especially if on your own.
He left his gloves in the vechile easily done always carry a spare pair especially in winter. When you lose your gloves in winter you use the use of your hands it is nearly impossible to navigate or use your torch.
Bright clothing is so effective if your wearing it on a search a Black and Green jacket maybe environmental friendly but hard to spot in a search if your huddled down or injured .
A few mistakes can cost a lot worth a few thoughts.
Ensure whoever you leave your details with understands what your plans are if you change them try to let them know. Go through what they have to do if it all goes wrong. When do they contact the authorities etc.
Guide book times are based on summer conditions if there is heavy snow your times will be way out. Check out weather and avalanche conditions not just fir your day but if possible the days previous. It will give you an idea of what to expect.
A GPS is a great tool but also carry a map and compass and learn how to use them. You are going to need them. Ensure you have your axe and crampons on if you need them. Worth remembering walking poles will not address a fall only your ice axe will if you know what to do.
If the weather gets bad remember the mountains will always be there the secret is to be there with them.
I had written this a few years ago and it was tidied up by a pal for the RAF MRT newsletter, its worth a look?
Forty- eight years ago, I climbed Tower Ridge for the first time. It was September 1972. I was a young lad in the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team in Morayshire, Scotland, a very young nineteen-year old. We had driven through the night and were up at the CIC Hut on Ben Nevis to search for three missing Royal Navy climbers who had not returned from a day out on one of Scotland’s finest ridges.
The RAF Mountain Rescue Service have a particular remit for the search and rescue of military personnel. In any case, for any big searches in these days, Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team called in the assistance of the RAF teams – as at times they still do even today. This was in the days before mobile phones and lightweight VHF communications. I had only been in the Kinloss Team for under a year at the time and the drive down the Great Glen through the night to assist was exciting. I was to have many epics on this road in the years to come. We arrived at the police station in the early hours and were given a brew and a briefing.
The Police and Lochaber MRT had access to a snow-track vehicle in those days. The path to the CIC Hut could be swampy, but with the aid of the snow cat we managed to get fifty searchers to the hut at first light. The three climbers, from HMS Cochrane (Rosyth) had left the CIC hut where they were staying to climb Tower Ridge via the Douglas Boulder. I later found out they were also doing some work on an antenna on the Ben. They were found below the ridge in the basin near Gardh Gully, by the Lochaber Team if I remember rightly. Unfortunately, all were killed, found still roped together after a fall from the ridge, lying in the scree. We all helped to evacuate them to the CIC Hut below the North Face. It took all of us to move them. There were few helicopters those days, and, even though it’s a short carry, it was hard work.
It was a real tragedy, a hard introduction to the world of mountain rescue for a young lad. In those days young members were expected to assist with everything. I helped load a young lad onto the stretcher. Lochaber MRT, as now, was full of incredible characters and a few were ex-RAF who had settled in the area, usually due to falling for a local lassie. They were a hard bunch but looked after you, as did many of our team.
It was one of my first tragedies on the Ben – a place I was to see on many more occasions. Once we had handed the stretchers over to the snow-cat at the CIC Hut, John Hinde was asked by the Police to investigate what may have happened. John Hinde was, even in these days, a legend in mountain rescue. I was asked (no one else fancied it) if I would climb Tower Ridge with John and Michael Rabbit (AKA “Bugs”), both of whom were very experienced mountaineers.
It’s hard to remember everything but it was a wet day, I’d never climbed Tower Ridge before. We more or less climbed up West Gully – not the usual way up the famous ridge. It was wet and greasy and always in my young mind was that three climbers had just been killed on this climb.
Tower Ridge, rated a 2000-foot “Difficult” climb, was first climbed in 1892. It was first descended, not ascended! The first down-climbers were J. E. and B. Hopkins on 3 September 1892. They had ascended as far as the Great Tower the previous day. The first actual ascent was by Norman Collie, Godfrey Solly and J. Collier on 29 March 1894. This is the classic route on the North East face of the Ben, a true alpine day in summer or winter. It remains the most popular climb on the mountain. It has two cruxes: the Great Tower and Tower Gap. It can be excitingin the wind and rain. Never to be underestimated, in my view.As W. H. Murray states,
“Tower Ridge is the pre-eminent example of a mainly moderate route that must be classic by virtue of its big cliff environment, its own great length, its clean sound rock, and the grand scale of its architecture. Whatever more ambitious plans one has on Ben Nevis, Tower Ridge is the first essential climb for the man or women who wants to know the mountain.”
We scrambled up unroped. The gully was loose and wet. I had just climbed Savage Slit in the Cairngorms the week before and felt I was ready for such a long climb. John was wandering all over, looking for signs of the accident. This is where all three had fallen from, roped together. He surmised that they were moving together when someone had slipped. The weather had been fine, yet the rock was greasy and wet, so you needed to take care.
John was a leading light in Mountain Rescue at the time,and very interested in mountain safety. He always analysed the accidents that he went to. He worked very closely with Ben Humble, the SMC Mountain Rescue Statistician at the time, and later became the SMC statistician himself, after Ben passed away. John had noticed that two of the casualties were wearing normal military boots and this may have not helped. They can be slippery on damp rock.
We will never know what exactly happened, but I was a very careful young lad moving along the ridge. It was a long day.
On every bit, even the easy parts, I took my time. I was certainly a bit in awe of the famous Tower Gap, especially as the mist came down. We moved together most of the time along the ridge, John showing the key belays, guarding me on the tricky bits. The Eastern Traverse, just a path in summer, and the Chock stone – then up onto the Great Tower. How tricky it can be there in winter! I learnt a lot that day from two incredible mentors, particularly how easy it is to have a slip or trip. I took extra care all the way, as one would expect after such an introduction to such a special place. I had taken no sleep the night before, and it was a long day for a young lad, yet I kept going, and was even given the rope to carry off – but only after we had climbed to the summit. “Look well to each step” is a great quote, so apt even today.
We were many hours behind the team, which had left to return to camp straight after the casualties were handed over to the police. There was little chat as we headed back to Torlundy to our Land Rover. That is how we dealt with trauma then.Those were the days when few spoke about these things, but, unknown to us, they were buried in the mind. After that call out I developed psoriasis, which was to be with me all my life. I am sure the trauma of these early callouts had something to do with this awful skin disease.
As the day ended, I lagged behind a bit, in my own world after a difficult experience. There was no food, not even a cup of tea, just a three-hour drive back to the base. Gear was very basic in these days and mine was wet, but I was soon asleep in the back of the vehicle. We arrived back at Kinloss late in the evening, very tired. It had been some day.
On my return to work the next day, I was asked by my boss if I had enjoyed my day off. He said that I would be working the next weekend to make up my “time off”!
I have many memories of this climb. Despite this tragic event, for many years I was to climb Tower Ridge with new team members, giving many an introduction to this incredible mountain. I have climbed it over twenty times in summer, yet still always seem to manage to wander off route, even on the most lovely summers day. “Follow the crampon marks” is the best tip. I have managed the classic four Ben ridges in summer in a long day. I’ve also done about ten winter ascents of Tower Ridge. That is a very different proposition. I have waited near the gap for many of the young Troops on their first mountain lead. As the wind howls through the gap it’s imposing. It is, as they say, “only a Diff,” but on a bad day looks horrific. On a few rescues in the past we have climbed down to the gap from the summit ridge. Yet what a climb, what joy you have climbing it, what views, and what a place to be. Another great climb to savour, but never take it for granted, or those you climb with.
I have climbed Tower Ridge on many occasions yet that first time will forever be on my memory .
Over 47 Years ago I first climbed Tower Ridge for the first time I was a young lad 18 years old in the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team. We had driven through the night and were up at the CIC Hut on Ben Nevis to search for 3 missing Naval Climbers who had not returned from a day out on one of Scotland’s finest ridges. The RAF mountain Rescue have a remit for the SAR of military personnel and these were days before mobile phones and great communications. Any big searches in these days Lochaber Mountain Rescue called in assistance of the RAF as at times they still do nowadays. I was only in the Kinloss Team for under a year at the time and the drive through the night to assist was exciting in these days. I was to have many epics on this road on the years to come. As we arrived at the Police station in the early hours we had a brew and waited for first light.
The Police and Lochaber in these days had access to a snow-track vehicle and the path to the CIC Hut in these days could be swamp but we managed to get 50 searchers to the hut at first light. The three climbers from HMS Cochrane (Roysth) had left the CIC hut where they were staying to climb Tower Ridge by the Douglas Boulder. I later found out they were doing some work on the radio in the hut.
They were found below the ridge by the Lochaber Team and we all helped to evacuate them to the CIC Hut. Unfortunately all were killed sadly roped together after a fall from the ridge. It was a hard introduction to the world of mountain Rescue for a young lad. A real tragedy and it took all of us to move them. In these days young members were expected to assist in everything and I helped load a young lad onto the stretcher.
It was on of my first tragedy’s on the Ben a place I was to see many more. Once we had handed them over to the snow-track at the CIC Hut John Hinde was asked by the Police to investigate what may have happened. John Hinde was even in these days a legend in mountain rescue and I was asked if I would climb Tower Ridge with John and Michael Rabbit’s both very experienced mountaineers.
It’s hard to think back but it was a wet day I had never climbed Tower Ridge before and we more or less climbed up West Gully not the usual way up the famous Tower ridge. It was wet and greasy and in my mind was that 3 climbers had been killed on this climb.
We scrambled up unroped it was loose and wet John was wandering all over to where he thought was the accident site was. He was looking for signs of the accident . This is where all three had fallen from roped together. He surmised that they were moving together when someone had slipped. The weather had been fine though yet the rock you needed to take care.
I had just climbed Savage Slit in the Cairngorms the week before and felt I was ready for such a long climb. John Hinde was a leading light in mountain Rescue at the time and very interested in mountain safety. He always analysed accidents that he went too. He worked very closely with Ben Humble the SMC Mountain Rescue Statistician of the time and later became the statistician after Ben passed away. It was a long day and John found on the day before but two of the casualties were wearing normal military boots and this may have not helped as they can be slippy on damp rock. We will never know what exactly happened but I was a very careful young lad moving along the ridge and a bit in awe a the famous gap as the mist came down . I learnt a lot that day from two incredible mentors and how easy it is to have a slip or trip. I took extra care all the way as one would expect after such an introduction to such a special place. I had no sleep and it was a long day for a young lad yet I kept going and even was given the rope to carry off,
Look well to each step” is so great a quote and so apt even today. We were many hours behind the team which left straight after the casualties were handed over to the police. There was little chat as we headed back to Torlundy.
I had the rope to carry and lagged behind a bit in my own world after a difficult day. Then we had a 2 hour journey back to Kinloss. We arrived back at Kinloss late in the evening, really tired and when we arrived back at work next day I was asked by Boss if I had enjoyed my day off?
He said that I was working the weekend to make up my time off?
That winter I was to climb Tower Ridge with the Tom MacDonald it was an incredible day with superb conditions till the weather cleared. We were with the Team Leader and Eric Hughes the officer i/c . There was a delay at the Gap and Pete pushed through we ended taking another three groups with us. By now it was dark, windy and wild. It was a long day but I learned a lot I will never forget this was my first time in winter in the Gap as the dark came along with more heavy snow and the relief of getting up on to the summit. Yet as always the Ben tested us it was a hard walk off.
Looking back the navigation off was not easy in the poor weather it was very late when we got off. Then soaked I was so glad to change and get some food. It had been a long day.
We learned two of our pals had bivied on Observatory ridge that night as the snow got heavier. We were up at crack of dawn I hardly slept.
Then it was wet gear on no sleep as such and as we reached the CIC Hut as dawn was breaking it was a wild day. Heavy snow had fallen we were worried there was no communication all night from our pals and despite no Avalanche Service in these days it was easy to see how dangerous the conditions were. I was given a heavy bag with supposed to be a 500 rope in it. Told to carry minimum gear and get up the hill.
The weather was awful we feared for our boys as we got to the CIC hut I checked the huge bad I was carrying it. I was told to put my gear on the top. I looked inside and it had the pulley gear in it, it was supposed to be a 500 ft rope. I was horrified, then the snow stopped and we saw two figures descending they were our pals. They had abseiled of as daylight came. We walked off after a brew in the hut.
I was to climb Tower ridge most winters some several times on our annual winter course. In the summer it was done with other ridges at times. Yet these first times remain with me. Tower Ridge to me is one of the best climbs in the UK is always interesting.
As we wait for winter to come back my mind goes back to some great winter days and a special trip to Canada. I have so many wonderful memories of Canada and the Rockies from my early trip in 1983 when there were under 100 ice climbs there. My great friends Mark “Cheeky” Sinclair and Tom MacDonald had read Bugs MacKeith’s articles about ice climbing in the Canadian Rockies. It was I think in the SMC Journal and Bugs an expatriate Scottish climber who was living in Canada had written such an article we had to go. He told tales of huge ice falls many unclimbed, few climbers and of adventures on the ice. There was also some tales of incredible climbing taking ice climbing to a new level and so much scope for new climbing. They never mentioned the boldness of the climbing and massive Abseils of cliffs that have rarely in situ gear.
We were hooked and I spent 5 weeks on the best trip of my life in Canada in late February and March 1983. It was a group of six of us that went some top guys like Tom Mac Donald, Mark Cheeky Sinclair and Pete Kay a bear of a man from down South in North Wales, Mark Ritchford a young gun and a baby pilot from New Zealand at RAF Valley , Malcolm Taylor what a crew.
None of us had ever been to Canada and a winter trip was a very serious event. The flight over was exciting we wore everything as we had so much gear, we took the same as we climbed in in Scotland. We hired a car nothing like the hire car nowadays as cash was tight. It was through “Rent a Wreck” real name and could not take 6 of us and gear in one go. It was all we could afford but did the job just. Three headed to Canmore our base near Banff in the Rockies about 2 hours away and three of us went and shopped for food and then hit the city Calagary but that is another story! We had no clue it was a 5 hour return journey in mid- winter. Eventually we all arrived at the Alpine Club Hut at Canmore where we based ourselves for the first week. Money was tight for us all we lived frugally.
This was the ideal place to be and it became our Base for the whole trip as we moved about the key areas, rarely seeing anyone. We had the only guide a simple guide-book with a few routes in it.
We were lucky as staying in the hut was a young climber Guy Lacelle and Chic Scott little did we know how well-known and how incredible people we had met. As I said before there was little known about ice climbing and only a few climbers about Guy and Chic gave us so much information in these early days there were few fixed belays.
There was a lovely place nearby called Grotto Falls and The Junkyard in Canmore we started a shakedown there. Tom and Cheeky had climbed some of the hardest winter climbs in Scotland a good few grade 5 climbs. I was a far more modest climber enjoying grade 3/4 and struggling on the harder grades. I had climbed lead things like the Mirror Direct in the Cairngorms, Green Gully and Comb Gully on Ben Nevis. They were like the introductory pitches on most routes it was frightening. We were astonished at the steepness of the ice and the lack of protection we had in the way of ice gear. We carried 4 screws each and had little faith in them. We had to buy some snargs after the first week on my Access card which I had just got and saved our trip financially.
Next day we drove to Banff for Rogan’s Gully and Cascade Falls is a beautiful 300 metre grade 3 ice climb that probably sees the most ascents of any climb in the Rockies (when it’s in shape). It was a great introduction to ice climbing and the dangers of climbing in the Rockies, where the fear of avalanches is extremely serious. Both routes were an interesting day and we were learning all the time. Descent is by abseiled points and abseils were off trees or ice screws, or ice bollards. There were few fixed belays it made one think and after two days climbing we had to have a rethink as we were running out of abseil tat ! We bought some hollow tubing that was recommended to abseil off later and had some scares watching it bend as we abseiled off, I was first to go as at that time was the lightest.
We felt we were now ready to climb some harder routes and after some advice from Chic Scott and Guy Lacelle we headed to Louise Falls a classic grade 4 climb near the magnificent Château at Lake Louise, this was the first of the steeper lines we climbed and gear was very simple then. We climbed with Chouinard Zero axes and humming bird and a couple of Chacals and even a what a great noise they made on sticky ice. We also used “Terrors” and carried a spare axe in case one broke in the cold, we climbed in some very low temperatures -20 to – 35. As I said we only had a few ice screws about 4 per pair and they were hard work on the steep ice, nowadays you have possibly 12 screws per route and they are so easy to use.
On our feet we had the Classic Salewa Crampons, the Chouinard crampons and Tom had a pair of the new Footfangs crampons. We climbed every day one car 3 pairs all heading off in different areas, long wait in – 20 for lift tired but we got about. Most days were 12 hour days. Every weekend we headed back to the Alpine Hut at Canmore and partied but that is another story. We met many famous climber the late Bill March and Rusty Bale so many others.
We visited so many routes and had so much fun meeting few climbers on route ending up on the Weeping Wall and two of our team did an ascent of the classic Polar Circus in a day, pretty rare then. They also climbed a new route Sacre Bleau with Guy Lacelle who went on to become one of the best ice climbers in the World. I loved Canada and visited many times the last in 2011 how it’s changed. There are so many routes now it’s very busy but will always be a special place in my heart. Maybe get back and get a route in again before my 70 th birthday. I still have contacts in Canada.
It was a great bonus that first trip and led the way to so many trips by pals and helped push the climbing standards of many in RAF Mountain Rescue. It enabled me to climb some great routes back home even with my abilities. To be on Ice that could take ice screws and that may hold a falling climber took a bit of getting used to.
It was a huge learning curb but what a place to learn! We had also invested in the new plastic boots Koflacks and they saved the day on a few occasions in the extreme cold. They were in the early days a white moulded plastic boots with felt inners an incredible improvement on all previous boots.
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. The locals at the time could not believe the temperatures we climbed in as the colder it got the more brittle the ice became. We learned so much and loved Canada and its people, so much I did 4 other trips, yet nothing was like that first trip.
Routes climbed on the first trip – Canmore Junkyard, Rogan’s Gully, Cascade, Grotto Falls, His, Hers, Chantilly Falls, Louise Falls, Professor’s Fall, Takewaka and Whiteman Falls, Mt Kidd Falls, A Bridge to Far, Bow Falls, Grotto Falls, Silk Tassel, Massey’s, Pilsners Pillar, Guinness Gully, Carlsberg Column, Bourgeau Snivelling Gully, Panther Falls, Weeping Wall, Right, Central and Left, Polar Circus. “Sacre Bleau” a new route.
I must get the old slides scanned any idea of the best bit of kit to do it? Mine is out of date. In memory of Mark Sinclair and Guy Lacelle taken too soon.
I wonder what the young guns wood think of our gear wooden axes and basic ice screws when they run up the routes?
Big thanks to Tom MacDonald for giving me the trip of a lifetime – Guinness Gully and the Stout climbed with Mark Sinclair was one of many great climbs. Thank you all.
The Anniversary of Lockerbie is always a Hard Day each year it brings back some awful memories . Today I will be thinking of the families who lost loved ones and all those involved in Emergency Services. Also the people of Lockerbie who did so much for all those involved and still do. Year after year relatives visit and are looked after by the local folk.
Normally I try to get away to the hills on this day, I like to be on my own and the wild places are a place I get peace. It’s the Anniversary of Lockerbie that happened on 21 December today in 1988. Most will know my story but it had and has a huge effect on me and many I love. Sadly with Covid I now cannot. That day 259 souls were killed on the aircraft and 11 local folk. We arrived very early into the incident we saw hell that night.
At the time I was 34 and been in RAF Mountain Rescue for 17 years. In that period I had seen most things that few would ever see in a lifetime. I was the Team leader at RAF Leuchars Mountain Rescue team it was a job I had waited for and was so pleased when I became the Team Leader. It was what I had worked for all my life. Most of the team were young folk many in their early 20’s this was already a superb group of people tried and tested in Scotland’s Mountains.
I felt I was ready for anything sadly there were the constant tragedies in the mountains but also horrific plane crashes. In the end there were also great rescues and we working with the local Mountain Rescue teams all over Scotland and had saved many lives. Most people even in Mountain Rescue had never seen things on a scale it had seemed constant and we moved from area to area helping each team when asked.
Yet Lockerbie with its terrible death toll and trauma will be with me and many others for the rest of my life. It was a terrible period but we had 4 RAF MR Teams and the local teams , SARDA and many from the South England and Wales involved in Mountain Rescue and SARDA. All were helping the Police, Ambulance and Fire Service the many helicopters and so many other Agencies.
It was a huge effort by all there were so many involved and each has a person has a story. Despite it being a tragedy it was the worst terrorist outrage that had occurred in peace time. Yet the best of the Scottish spirit came out. The local folk despite losing their own helped us all so much they have a special place in my heart.
As a Team Leader of a RAF Mountain Rescue team I struggled with trying to look after my team and so many others I knew . This was a huge incident with so much tragedy never seen on such a scale. It took a huge toll on me and effected my life with my partner at the time and the kids. My family and friends had little clue about what had happened. This was common to most of us, the effects of such trauma was rarely I spoken about then. I constantly was thinking about what I saw all the time .
Little was known or spoken about PTSD then folk did not talk but it took a huge toll on so many. You were noted as a weak person of you asked for help. There was little about it especially in the military where the attitude “was get over it “ This is what you are here for.
Yet as I told a that by a very Senior officer in the RAF. I doubt he would ever see what or could understand what we had been through. That did not go down well at the time.I have written at length in my blog of some of what happened it’s still hard reading.
Two year ago I was invited to Cycle to Syracuse a University in the USA that lost 35 students in that tragic night. I met so many relatives of the students on that trip on our 7 day cycle. They showered our small group of 5 cyclist with love and kindness on the journey. We spoke to so many and learned individual stories of those they lost. It was an incredible event
It was an event that after 30 years made such an impact on me. I knew the cycle would hurt physically but I got a terrible bout of Bronchitis that ( two years later I am still trying to clear) I have just had MRI scan this week and awaiting the results.
I knew that this trip would have a huge effect on me emotionally /mentally. Meeting so many relatives was overwhelming and took a huge effect on me every day. Yet I will never forget the words that were spoken to us by so many who had lost so much.
They were all very interested in the huge effect it had on those who were involved in the Emergency Services. Many who still struggle today and who were young folk like many of those who died.If your one of them (every year I hear from someone different whose life was effected ) please get help.
For me it’s a difficult time and most folk who know me know this. I try to deal with it in my own way. Today I cannot get out on the hills due to Covid but I have good pals who are keeping an eye on me.
Please if your loved ones were involved in Lockerbie give them some space but be there if needed.
Thinking of you all at this difficult time.
Thanks to Colin Dorrance who organised the Cycle to Syracuse Team for all his efforts . The rest of the team for their help and to relatives of those who lost their lives you and everyone are in my thoughts.
Over the years I have tried to write about the effect of Lockerbie on my blogs. This is not for highlighting my part but how so many worked and gave so much there are so many unsung folk during this period.
It’s easy to forget incidents but those involved will never forget. Yet there were so many wonderful people who helped us during that terrible period. The local ladies “The Angels of Lockerbie” who fed us 24 hours every day and were there with a cuddle when we all needed it. Then we had to leave and go back to our families for Christmas as if little had happened. I will never forget in the USA being told on our cycle we had brought their loved ones home. The journey was completed, there was no hatred just love and compassion from so many, things I will never forget.
There are now folk out there who can help. Please if your struggling talk to someone.
Try to think today of the great folk involved the families we met in the USA and as a friend said “we all did our best we did our best on these terrible days. “
On the 19 Dec 1954 over 66 years ago Eleven Royal Naval personnel from Royal Naval Air Station Fulmar (Lossiemouth) left to climb Ben Nevis via Coire Leis. They had stayed overnight in the CIC hut. They left the hut where they were staying below the great cliffs off Nevis. The party was made up of 8 men and three girls from the Women’s Royal Naval Service.
They left the hut finding the weather poor and ascended from Coire Leis at 0900 and reached the summit of Ben Nevis at 1300. They left the summit after a 15 minute break; the conditions were very hard snow (neve’ and poor visibility.) The summit plateau is a tricky place to navigate and in winter 1954 the path would be covered with snow. They had intended to retrace their steps back down to the Carn Mor Dearg Arete.
On the descent they had a navigation error about 200 yards from the summit. This error lead them to the cliffs between North East Buttress and the Arete (Brenva Face)
They were not together there was now a party of six ahead and the leader he led them away from the cliffs the others tried to catch up. One of the party behind the leader started glissading, lost control, lost his axe and fell; another member ran after him kicking steps and he lost control and also fell followed by 3 others from the party. In total 5 vanished over the huge cliff now known as the Brenva Face and out of sight.
The Party Leader roped to edge and could see nothing, they then they descended to the Corrie Leis and found all 5 dead below the huge Brenva Face. They had fallen over 1000 feet, what a tragedy and an awful sight they would have seen. They went for help and it would be a long walk there were no mobile phones in these days.
They went to Fort William and raised the alarm with the local Police. The Police called RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team and the team arrived. At first light. The recovery was done by 23 members of RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team, 8 Local Police/ mountaineering Club and 20 naval personnel assisted in recovery. It must have been an arduous recovery and it took 10 hours in very poor weather, drifting snow, gales to recover casualties.
This was a terrible tragedy and one that shocked the whole of the Mountaineering world. Few have nowadays will have ever heard of this disaster and the terrible consequences of this navigation error and the mistake to glissade on such steep ground.
From the RAF Kinloss Archives
The Tragedy of The Royal Naval Party 19th December 1954 on Ben Nevis
A party of 11 Naval Personnel from HMS Fulmar set out at 0800 from the Allt a Mhuilinn to climb Carn Mhor Dearg to Summit of Ben Nevis. The weather conditions were very poor, wind a strong wind and heavy snow. The party left the summit at 1315 to return by same route. Six members of the party kicked steps down the snow slope for 200 yards from the summit – they thought to be the slope leading to the Arete, which they had just ascended. This actually proved to be 30 yards to the North East and lead straight to the cliffs between NE Buttress and the Arête. One member of the group behind started Glissading and passed the first party, he lost control, lost his ice axe and disappeared over the edge, another party member followed running down the slope, kicking steps, he also lost control and disappeared over the edge, 3 other members followed also out of control, over the edge. One member of the survivors roped up to the edge but could not see anything.
The remainder of the party slit into 2, one went back via the tourist route to raise the alarm. The other descended the Carn MOR Dearg Arête, roped up and found their friends all together – dead. (Location of Casualties 41/171713)
The Fort William Police requested the RAF Kinloss Team to assist in the accident and the team was alerted from a training Exercise at Glenmore Lodge at 1530 hours. Due to the weather conditions a large party set of at 0600 to recover the casualties.
Twenty three members of The Kinloss Team and RAF Team Leaders Course assisted by 8 Policemen from Fort William and 20 Royal Naval personnel from Royal Naval Air Station Lossiemouth in the recovery of the casualties on the 20 th Dec 2005. The recovery was lead by one of the survivors of the Tragedy who took the team to the location of the casualties in very poor weather conditions, driving snow and high winds. It took 10 hours to get the casualties down to the British Aluminium Company’s Railway which was used to transport the casualties to Fort William; an awful task
Comments made by the Kinloss Team Leader
“Due to several accidents in this area Doctor Duff, of Fort William has under taken to erect a barrier and a danger notice at the site of the accident” The late John Hinde and the Kinloss team put up the Abseil Posts on Carn Mor Dearg in 1955? (Photo attached)
After this tragedy a line of marker poles were erected to show the line of descent to the Carn Mor Dearg Arete. Abseil posts were put up by RAF Kinloss team and Hamish MacInnes on the descent into Coire Leis and in Coire Leis a small shelter was put in. These were removed recently June 2012 they were in a poor state of repair and are no longer there!
There is a Cairn marking the descent now.
How many know of this sad tale?
Navigation is a key skill especially in winter. You wonder how this tragedy would be shown by today’s media? The Carn Mor Dearg Arête and the descent from Ben Nevis still needs care today. This slope catches the wind and conditions can be very icy in winter. Thankfully fewer accidents occur here but I have been to several in the past.
There are few who know of this incident yet it is an incredible event. This tragic Crash was on 10 th Dec 1942. Near the remote Geal Charn near Beinn Alder.
This crash site is in extremely 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 and now COVID . To visit in a day is a long expedition and care should be taken these are tricky mountains.
This 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.
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.
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 this is 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 for the sweets giro 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 someday.
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 Teallach showing the way.
Yet all do not compare with the story of this crash and the survivor attempt to get help for his crew.
What a story worth a few thoughts “Lest we forget”
It is bitter outside and a bit of snow not the day for a drive to Aberdeen but needs must. In winter it is important you eat well and on the hill recently I was asked about food for the hill. In winter with the effect of the weather, the wind and a bit bigger bag, maybe deep snow the old saying ” I mile in winter = 2″ so lots more energy is expended. Add deep snow and a head wind and few places to stop, at times you eat on the move. To those who have never experienced the winter proper here is a few tips.
A great part of a hill day is stopping for a break and having a drink and some food! This is especially true in winter when often it is difficult to have a break and replenish the energy reserves. A little and often is the answer and in winter I on a wild winters day I carry some food handy in the pockets, like jelly babies or a cereal bar. I find that the modern gels and power bars are costly and awful but understand they work for some.
The most important meal of the day – Breakfast porridge?
If I can the day before I go out I try to eat a pasta based meal the night before. Many forget that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and I enjoy my porridge what a great starter slow burning food with a banana and honey. I always carry a hot flask in winter this year its Mint tea and honey, superb and well worth the weight. It is also hard to get the liquid in winter and many carry various high tech drinks and gels but I am old school and drink water or a bottle of hot juice. I also ensure I replenish my fluid loss in the car on the way home and before I go out drink like a camel?
On the hill I will have a few sandwiches, jam or honey, oatcakes and cheese, sweets like jelly babies, cereal bars and fruit. The other day we had home made cake and it was crazy that on our Big Walks in the 70’s one man “Big Jim” could eat so much chocolate on a big hill day of 11 Munros it makes me ill to think how many bars he could eat? See if you can guess?
The famous Eric Langmuir book Mountain Leadership had a piece on calories used on the hill. Someone has my copy do you have an idea how many calories a hill day can use?
“The number of calories burned hiking depends in part on your body weight. In general, a 160-lb person burns between 430 and 440 calories per hour of hiking. A 200-lb person burns approximately 550 calories per hour of hiking. The more you weigh, the more calories you burn in an hour of hiking.
Backpacker Magazine suggests a calorie estimate based on body weight and the general intensity of the day’s activity. For a strenuous day of backpacking with a “heavy” pack (no weight range specified), they suggest 25 to 30 calories per pound of body weight. Using my 185-pound self as a proxy, that’s 4,625 to 5,550 calories.
As you’ll notice, estimates vary pretty markedly. For the criteria I used (185-pound person backpacking for eight hours with a moderate to heavy load), estimates range from roughly 4,600 calories to more than 6,300 calories.”
Anyway over the years I have got far more interested in hill food and most of the expeditions I was lucky to be on I planned the food like on Everest in 2001 in Tibet. A three month trip where the food was vital part of a successful expedition. After all few know that was in the RAF as a Caterer for 37 years!
I wrote a longer piece on my Blog on 2 Feb 2017 it may be worth a read?
Hill and mountain walkers urged to register for emergency SMS text service Every year I try to pass the message on about this great free service about registering your phone for the Emergency Text Service. It is amazing how few have done it and yet it is so simple and easy.
Helicopters – if you need help do you know how to summon it. By having the emergency Text Service on your phone it may save your life!
Walkers who visit areas with bad mobile phone access can now register with a new service that allows 999 calls to be made via a text message.
Heather Morning, safety adviser with the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, is urging walkers and climbers to register for this service in advance and not to wait for an emergency. She says,
“If you cannot make voice calls, you can now contact the 999 emergency services by SMS text from your mobile phone.
“This is going to be particularly useful for those needing 999 assistance in the hills when mobile reception is poor and there is not enough signal to make a call.”
The emergency SMS service was established originally for deaf, hard-of-hearing and speech-impaired people. It allows users to contact the UK 999 services by sending an SMS text message.
Mountain Rescue Services in the UK are usually coordinated by the police.
The highest rubbish dump in the world. Everest ABC 2001.This was the Mess left at ABC at 21000 feet on Everest in 2001.
All the other expeditions had long gone and I had been up to the North Col at 23000 feet trying to help our Sherpas bring down gear from the high camps that was abandoned and left by some of the huge other Commercial expeditions. Many clean up but a few are cowboys and add a storm or an accident and some people want to do is leave There was no one else on the mountain, it was empty, the final storm of the season had done its worst and all the other expeditions had left. Yet was a wonderful feeling being up in the incredible place with only a few Sherpas all friends, the peace and solitude was back. What a privileged that I was left alone with the Sherpas at the end of the our expedition at Advance Base Camp on the Tibetan side of Everest . This is still very high at 21500 feet as high as many peaks we humans claim to climb. I was waiting for the YAKS to take our kit down and leave the mountain, we had been away for 4 months, it was near the end of the trip. We had stayed on when others had left and had tried to get some more members to the summit but in the end the weather made that impossible. A huge storm had buried the ropes at the high camp and they made the correct decision to come down from 8000 metres. When they left after a day’s rest for Base Camp I was left alone with the Sherpas to tidy up, we had 3 days. Once the storm cleared the place was a a real mess, left by other expeditions. Some of my mates had tried to come back up and help but could not make it the weather and the mountain had taken its toll, they returned to Base Camp.
The Sherpas and I spent 2 days tidying up and took 50 bags of rubbish of this wonderful peak. It cost us additional money to get the rubbish brought down to Base camp by the Yak men but it was worth it. We paid for this ourselves, even though we were short of cash. There is no way you can burn rubbish due to various environmental and religious views so all has to be brought down. It is terrible how people treat this mountain, but I feel we did our bit and left this wonderful place a bit cleaner. What would Mallory and Irvin say of what has happened to this great peak.
This was a great trip we got two to the summit and most got to the high camp and no one was hurt. There were several fatalities during our stay and we made some great friends of all nationalities. We also met many half -wits chasing the dream that it Everest. It was only due to the efforts of the Sherpas lead by Mingma, incredible people and great friends who looked after us all that many get off that mountain alive. Brave, strong and loyal and such wonderful human beings. I was very close to them as Base Camp Manager and they looked after me especially on my trip to the North Coll at the expedition end and on my travels to the North Face and West Ridge. The days spent alone walking into the West Ridge this huge place away from the madding crowds. I met only two crazy climbers waiting below the huge North Face to try the route Alpine Style. There were amazed when I popped up alone at their camp, it was long but incredible trip into that remote place. At the end I sat with Mingma at Advanced Base Camp, we discussed the Mess left by climbers and how anyone can leave such a place in such a state. He was very upset and so was I – Mingma is a world class mountaineer in his own right was one of the finest human beings I have ever met.
Mingma our Sirdar
They had assisted other expeditions on several rescues on the mountain that season. The Sherpas had done well dragging huge amounts of kit left from other trips of the mountain. They would be recycled and the risk they took would bring them some extra cash, much needed. The empty oxygen bottles would be worth a lot on their own. I was offered my cut but declined, they had worked so hard for us and they would not even let me drag some down what remained of the fixed ropes from the North Coll.
This is the photo of our Sirdar Mingma and the boys on our last day at ABC, great people and good friends. I left next day our camp was packed away and the Yaks were nearly ready to go. I had little kit as I had given most of my kit away yet still had a big 6 hour day to get back to Base Camp. The weather was changing and I was struggling heading into the bitter wind, snow and wild weather, I had to keep moving due to my lack of kit. My last views of the North Col were incredible and the lonely wander down back to civilization at Base Camp was a hard day. The rest were ready to leave next day all knackered after nearly 4 months away. It was a special time with special people, we all came back friends and intact, with huge memories.
Great but sad view of the Northern Pinnacles where Boardman and Tasker died.
I will never forget the Solitude of the North Face, the huge walls of ice, the avalanches, the glaciers, the wind and these great people who make it all possible.
The Yak the workhorse of the high mountains.
Today snippets: In the big mountains take things slowly, watch the locals and learn from them.
Take nothing but photos – leave nothing but footprints
Friday, 18 March 1949. Mountain Rescue truck to Glen Nevis Youth Hostel. At 8.00pm Chuck and I left hostel, walked about two and a half miles up Glen Nevis and then climbed to about 3000ft on Sgùrr a’ Mhaim (3601ft) in Mamore Forest. It grew too dark so we turned back.
Saturday, 19 March 1949. Chuck and I with Flight Lieutenant James and Flight Lieutenant Shepherd had a lift in ambulance to Ben Nevis Distillery on Spean Bridge road. Up by Allt a’ Mhuilinn. Met Ridlington and Dave. They climbed South Castle Gully of Carn Dearg and we climbed North Castle Gully. I led. Much step-cutting and a lot of kicking. Steep snow for over 1000ft. Only two rock belays. No cornice. We met Ridlington and Dave at the top. Walk over towards summit of the Ben. At top of No 3 Gully…