This weekend I am down at Fort Williamwith SARDA SCOTLAND on their Annual Assessment. The dogs, handlers and bodies work so hard to get the Dogs and handlers assessed. They had already completed a full days assessment when I arrived at the evening meal. Then they all had a briefing and a if lucky a bit of time before the evening meal. There was a few tired folk last night.
I am amazed by the commitment of all these involved. Training a dog and it’s handler is a very time consuming job. We had some great tales of rescues and finds-by the dogs from all over Scotland. As the President of SARDA Scotland it humbling to see them all again.
Today it’s more of the same this time the Assessments are being held in Glen Nevis.I hope the weather holds for all.I will visit all the areas the dogs are working in.
It’s good to meet up and share a couple of days with them all. A huge thanks to all the Assessors. Committee, dogs,handlers and bodies that have a long day waiting to be found by the dogs.
SARDA Scotland (SCIO) is a Scottish charity which trains dogs and their handlers to search for missing persons.
We are part of Scottish Mountain Rescue. Our dogs and handlers support Mountain Rescue Teams in their search for missing people and the Police in searching for vulnerable missing people. The handlers are all volunteers.
This is a interesting article that I think many of us in the Emergency Agencies who may feel they miss out on a big incident. This happens as family,holidays, sickness and many other things may stop you going out on a shout. I feel many of the feelings are felt by others. Am I wrong?
This is another article inspired by the challenge by someone to put pen to paper.
When I look back at my younger self at 16. I see a teenager who was interested in rugby, girls, music and looking for an escape from a boring job in flat Hull. Normally in a sea port, young men run away to sea. I chose the RAF, with diddly squat ideas about what might happen next.
When I eventually left the RAF 34 years later. I was amazed how this East Riding Yorkshire tyke had found a passion and career in RAF Mountain Rescue and other roles that had given me the opportunity to climb up many lumps, bumps, hills and mountains of the world. Plus, chances to help lost people in the mountains or with the youth work I did, lost in life. However, with all that, I acquired an addiction that I still struggle to understand and manage.
Happily, it isn’t a love of Guinness, pork scratching or red socks.
It’s the wee bit of guilt that you feel that comes about when you have a certain hard won skill set and experience, and you want to be involved in some drama where that expertise is tested. In my early years, you wanted the Rescue Control Centre (RCC) to ring and then hear the Station Tannoy broadcast. ‘MOUNTAIN RESCUE CALL OUT, MOUNTAIN RESCUE CALL OUT. ALL MEMBERS TO ASSEMBLE IMMEDIATELY.’
Forgive me Lord. I remember one quiet call out period when I was at RAF Valley in North Wales, I heard myself suggest placing a tripwire on the narrow part of the ridge on Grib Coch to relieve the boredom.
Looking back, I see, with maturity, that once you view casualties as people, with life’s and stories, and just not, the means of your professional satisfaction you’re almost there in achieving a guilt free conscience.
All that preamble was my way into writing about the Lockerbie air disaster. I was the Team Leader at Valley on the night of the tragedy just before the Christmas grant. That evening, the permanent staff had cooked and served a Christmas Dinner meal for troops and family members, and we had then performed our version of a Christmas Pantomime. The highlight was, the fairy Queen (Jim Groak.) abseiled out – Frank Spencer fashion – out of the roof space into the section.
Then Pittreavie (RCC) rang and the Christmas mood evaporated, with the orders to be on standby to go north. This was the biggy that was a thing of nightmares for thousands, then, still is and will be for future generations. And I felt pissed off.
My angst was that the RCC had told me that Valley MRT is to stay local to cover England and Wales, while other 5 teams will be travelling to Lockerbie. That frustration persisted, even when watching the awful scenes that dominated the television coverage that night. A shrink might diagnose that I had a huge desire to help. But, my help was needed in other ways than I wanted.
Over the years, I’ve heard many stories from troops, especially, Heavy Whalley, Quackers and Alister Haveron about what they experienced, and heard tales of people in the MR community diagnosed and suffering from PTSD symptoms.
My frustration is long gone. It is replaced with a ‘Thank You Lord (Or RCC.) for not sending me that night. You knew best.
Strangely, my addiction to help people now manifests itself in my efforts as a Samaritans listener and with a military veterans charity called F4H (Future4heros.) This combination can be full of drama, happy and sad endings, and still that wee bit of guilt.
Anybody else in the rescue business experience such guilt? Pete Kitkpatrick thank you for allowing me to re publish this.
Comments as always welcome.
Roddy R – “Was frustrated to have missed the Mull of Kintyre Air Disaster while on leave. On reflection, and after speaking with some who were there, I feel I might not have been made of the stuff required to deal with the trauma involved with the post disaster clean up and recovery operation.”
Is there a better back drop to dry your gear than this view of Everest. Everything was still covered in sand even after a good wash, We were in Tibet for 3 months hard living but we had our secret weapon.
Previous trips by friends to the West Ridge of Everest had been extremely hard as the winds and dust get everywhere and the constant noise of the wind during stormy spells makes resting at altitude very hard indeed. Base Camp on any big mountain should be as comfortable as possible, which is not easy to achieve in tents. One of our team had wintered in Antarctica, and he convinced us of the benefits of taking out a substantial Communal Base Tent, hence the idea of the “Shed” was born. He had had two wild trips to the North side of Everest, where the weather and winds from the Tibetan Plateau made life very hard at Base Camp (BC). We had a plan, “The Shed” this was a wooden prefabricated shed made by a local company Robertson’s in Scotland put together by bolts. The shed was transported curtsey of RAF Hercules to Kathmandu and then by vehicle to Everest Base camp at over 17500 feet. This is where the fun started; at altitude everything is very difficult, things have to be taken very slowly. The “Lego Shed” arrived safe and the boys put the shed up the next day. This caused much amusement of all at Base Camp. The politics game had to be played just like in Scotland where problems can arise with a difficult landowner whose land and bothy we use! Some of the top mountaineers said there would be no chance of getting permission to put up the Shed. The Chinese Liaison Officer whose word is final, controlled the Base camp area, after a few drams and the odd bottle he agreed permission to us putting the shed up. This amazed all the other expeditions at Base camp chance of getting permission to put up our shed. Politically we had to purchase a Chinese flag and fly it above our flags; it was game of “hearts and minds” at a cost of a $100 everything has a price
The local Tibetans were amazed when the Shed was up and we were the focal point for most of the expeditions during our stay. The comfort inside was amazing and once the door was shut at night it was a peaceful place. At various times during poor weather and disasters on the mountain, (there were 2 deaths when we were there) we all returned to Base Camp and spent some unbelievable nights in the Shed. It was amazing how the altitude affects the alcohol intake but we had some nights reminiscing of nights in the bothies at home. We were great friends with the Russians and various other expeditions and we had several wild nights with them during the bad weather. It was great to see how well everyone got on; we even had a bothy book to sign. I wonder where it went?
The Shed was an oasis of peace at times during the various epics that occurred on the mountain. Two friends from a Russian and a New Zealand expedition, died high on the mountain and the Shed was used on many occasions to bring people together after such sad events. At the end we were the last people on the mountain as we tried to get one more shot at another summit attempt. The weather was awful and we were lucky to get off the mountain without the loss of any of our team. I was the last of our team down from Advanced Base Camp at 21500 feet. The Sherpas and I brought down 50 Yak Loads of rubbish left by other expeditions at a personal cost of $500, where did the environment levy go. How can people treat such a majestic place in such a way? It reminded me of when we used to go round the popular bothies at the end of winter with the helicopter bringing back rubbish left by similar minded people in my own country. At least we tried and left the place a lot better thanks to our Sherpas and the local Tibetan Yak herders, who transported it, back to Base Camp.
It was decided to give the Shed to the local Tibetans to use as an eye hospital further down the Rongbook Glacier. At the end of the expedition we presented it to one of the local Tibetans’ the first local to reach the summit. This was a fitting end to the “Shed” our Everest Bothy and a long way from these early days at Back Hill of the Bush in Galloway!
Glenelg MRT formed just after I joined RAF MRT over the years I attended many incidents with them. The late Doctor Cathy McInnes helped form the team. The area they cover is vast and described below. Covering some of the wildest country in the UK. In the early days they were and still have so many locals keepers, forestry workers etc in the team.
We often had some good times and a few bonding sessions after incidents. These were great days and I was in awe of some of the characters I met. These were and still are the people you get in Mountain Rescue great folk. Happy 50 th.
Pictured (right) the newly-formed team taking part in one of the first rescues in 1973, clockwise from left, Charlie MacDonald, electrician; Johnny Cameron, Forestry Commission; Ian ‘Goaty’ MacDonald, Forestry Commission; Iain Campbell, Eileanreach Estate; Allan MacAskill, Forestry Commission; Hugh Ian MacLure, Forestry Commission; Willie MacKenzie, postman; Dr Catherine MacInnes, GP; Duncan Cameron, Forestry Commission; and Allan Morrison, Forestry Commission.
Glenelg Mountain Rescue Team
The Glenelg Mountain Rescue Association was originally established in 1973 by the late Dr Catherine MacInnes (the then local G.P.) to cover the Parish of Glenelg. It completed its registration as a charity in 1974. (Scottish charity registration number – SCO 07565)
The Parish takes in the Glenelg peninsula jutting into Loch Duich, then heads east as far as the south side of the Saddle, taking in Arnisdale, and stretching as far south as Loch Morar, taking in Kinlochourn, Barrisdale and Knoydart, an area of approximately 550 square kilometers. Some of the Knoydart peninsula is also covered by our colleagues in the Lochaber MRT because it is such a remote and complex piece of ground. See map
The team was originally made up of shepherds, stalkers, forestry workers, a doctor and people who generally worked outdoors. This is still true but with a mix of mountaineers, roped access workers, boat masters and many other professions. There are normally 20 to 30 members on the team which is a very large percentage of the community considering the Parish has a population of less than 300.
Like the other 25 voluntary teams in Scotland, Glenelg MRT gives free service to the members of the public whom request their assistance. All Scottish Mountain Rescue Teams receive grant aid from the Scottish Government and assistance from major sponsors like the Order of St John. We also rely on charitable donations and bequests from members of the public as well as local and national businesses, in order that we may continue to deliver the service we provide.
Please bear this in mind:
There is no legal requirement for Glenelg MRT members to assist the public in emergencies.
There is no commander ordering them to risk their own safety in extreme weather conditions at often hazardous locations.
They receive no retainer, payment or financial incentives.
They are simply a group of volunteers who provide this service. Any hour, any day, any weather
David Nichols was a man I met through the mountains. He was on Everest with one of my best pals Al McLeod who fell and was killed whilst soling the North Face of the Matterhorn. He ended up a Brigadier in the Marines but Al always spoke highly of him. On that trip to Everest Dave and Al were on the rarely climbed West Ridge route on Everest. They were on the summit attempt on the Horbeinn Colouir when sadly they had to turn back due to deteriorating weather.
When Al was killed a few years later Dave came to the funeral. There was no fuss and he spoke to Al’s family. He helped me at that that awful time. I met him on several occasions after that always chatty and had tine for you. We last met in the Falklands where he was the top man a Brigadier yet he came over and had coffee with my self much to my bosses astonishment. I was sent this by a good friend of his: Thank you Stevan Jackson.
Today would have been David Nicholls’ 74th birthday. David was an extraordinary individual who touched the lives of many people. For those of us in the military mountaineering community, he was a source of inspiration as a climber with a remarkable list of ascents to his name. Beyond his climbing achievements, David was a dear friend, confidante, trusted guide, coach, and mentor to me. His memory continues to be a powerful influence in my life, and I strive to follow his example as a role model. I miss him dearly.
Comments welcome as always.
Peter Weatherhill ex RAF. MRT Leader “Dave was the leader of the 1980 Navy expedition to Phabram. Had the honour to be on the same expedition.”
Bill Batson – ex RAF TeamLeader and Chief Instructor. “A wonderful man. Gone too soon.”
I was given a pair of crampons that never fitted my boots when I started winter climbing in1972. The crampons were heated and adjust to the boots. Mine had been heated and reheated a few times and one broke on my first winter day on the very remote Mullach na Dheiragan near Iron lodge at the back of Kintail. The hill was so icy I wore one crampon all the way to the road. As I found out the crampon broke due to metal fatigue. They had 12 points and huge leather straps that froze up in winter with metal buckles. They were not easy to put on especially on a winters day. In the end I bought pair of in those days state of the art crampons.
It’s amazing how we got up a few routes with bendy boots and these crampons. Nothing hard climbs like the Runnel in Coire Ant Sneachda Red Gully and the Vent in Lochan. Many times the crampons came off in these early days. My next pair I am sure we’re Salewa Adjustable a bit like a Meccano kit. But were a lot better fit as you could adjust them.
My pal on my first trip ice Climbing in Canada bought a pair of Footfangs. They were so good on the steep ice of Canada a huge breakthrough at the time. We were wary of the Ski heel attachment at first but that’s history.
So when you take seconds to put on your flash new crampons have a thought for all the faffing we did on the past.Frozen hands, broken straps and crampons. My dog (Teallach) in the photo below is asleep due to the time even putting on fairly modern crampons. I still have nightmares of helping folks wearing crampons with frozen hands especially if you had more than one inexperienced person with you.
Any memories and photos? Comments welcome.
An early drawing by Bugs Mc Keith on Waterfall Ice in Canada early 80’s. This was a big pull on us going on that early trip to Canada where we were abseiling of piping tubes.( That’s another story)
Be careful the winter is back I travelled down to Ayr yesterday early morning there was fresh snow on tops.on the way back there was heavy snow on the hills and as darkness fell the hills were very white. On my last bit of the journey the Dava Moor was very icy under the snow and wind was moving the snow high up. This will lead to whiteout conditions at times on the mountains. Goggles will be essential.
Do not forget to check the Avalanche and weather reports they are very relevant. Also ice axe, crampons and winter hill bag is essential.
Take care of out as the snow will be on the mountains and lower for a few days. As they say winter is not over yet!
I met Jimmy Marshall on a few occasions and he was already called “the Maisters” we I am sure we had a great night in Fort William after his presentation of the Mountain Culture Award in Fort William. Looking back I wished I had taped his words about the routes, characters and tales of some of his classic routes. In Feb 1960 on the Ben with Robin Smith was his famous cache of new high class routes on Ben Nevis including the Orion Face . We are so lucky that with his partner Robin Smith both of them were also good writers who detailed their climbs and the adventures they both had when putting them up. They have become classics of mountain literature and were first put in the SMC Journals and re published and are a must read for all winter climbers. Below is one of the tributes to Jimmy from the Fort William Mountain Festival. There is a link below that is worth watching.
The very sad news about Jimmy Marshall Passing away is another loss to Mountaineering. What an incredible mountaineer in the Golden Age of Mountaineering. An icon and one whose legacy of breakthrough routes especially on Ben Nevis pushed Scottish winter climbing to a new level. He was held awe by the many small climbing groups who were pushing the standards of the time. What he did with the equipment of that period was incredible. In these days a fall meant serious injury or death. His legacy is in his routes and writing. Another wonderful mountaineer gone . I doubt we will see his likes again?
A tribute from the Fort William mountain Festival.
“Having heard the sad news of the passing of Jimmy Marshall, everyone connected with the Fort William Mountain Festival would like to send their heartfelt condolences to Jimmy’s family, friends and loved ones.
Jimmy won our 2010 Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture for his incredible achievements in Scottish and UK mountaineering.
“Saddened to hear of the passing of “The Maister” Jimmy Marshall. A true legend in the Scottish Climbing community, a trailblazer and one of the greatest climbers of his generation. I never met him, but felt that I knew him somehow as we shared a love of, and climbed in the same cathedral that is the Buachaille.
Over the years, I watched on repeat The Edge video which celebrated 100 Years of Scottish Mountaineering. In his early 60’s he revisited a classic rock climb he established on Slime Wall called Bludgers Revelation with his old climbing partner John McLean. I was in awe of these “old guys” climbing this hard classic route. I always wanted to climb it. Never did.
Now in my 60’s, I can reflect and be in greater awe of just how easy the pair made that climb look, and I am filled with an even greater respect for the man they called The Maister.
I wrote a poem called Old Boots a few years back which mentions Jimmy and other legends. I posted it on a climbing site and his daughter contacted me to say that she loved it. As you can imagine, that was quite something for me.
I’ll think of you Jimmy as I always do, next time I lay hands on that red rhyolite in Glen Coe.” Thank you Bobby
As Bobby says if you can have a look at the Edge on UTube or video it’s classic with a climb by Jimmy Marshall and his friend John McLean.
Every year the RAF Mountain Rescue would hold its Annual Winter Course which ran for two weeks in Scotland. It was based in the Cairngorms and Fort William. In these days there were 6 RAF Teams in the UK each team would send 2 instructors and 2 pupils. In all with a few extra we could have 36 – 40. It was a great but hard two weeks with one day off. Yet it was a huge privilege to chosen for the winter course there were some great instructors and we met so many of the other team members from far and wide.
I went on my first course as a pupil in the 70,s and had a great time. In these days the Northern Corrie’s in the Cairngorms were pretty quiet unlike nowadays. Of course there was no responsibility them for me, it was just getting out and climbing with many of the stars of that era. I found it very hard physically out every day no matter the weather and often getting involved in climbing accidents at the end of day.
As I progressed to a winter leader the responsibility got greater we often climbed a one two one ratio. After a few days of winter skills the new troops were put at some easy gullies for many a big change. It was worrying at times watching them find protection and belays which only come as your skills improve. After a good day out the troops would have to navigate back. Later on some would move onto Hells Lum and a long journey back across the plateau would test most folks.
If the weather or snow was limited we would look at the weather forecast and maybe go bothying. On my first winter course we had a few days into Corrour via a route Brairaich, Cairntoul and Devils Point. From a night in Corrour heading over Ben MacDui and Cairngorm carrying a lot of gear. As they say “ character building” in the early days there was no Avalanche forecasts and the weather information was basic.
After a nights snow hole which was epic at times but that’s another story. Many of the pupils had not done a winter in there area so it was full on learning, there were many eye opening days. Carrying a big bag was hard going every day add in maybe a Callout of which there were many that again opened the eyes of the young team members. At night we had lectures on Area knowledge, Avalanche awareness by The late Blyth Wright, and many other subjects. You were tired by the end of the day getting an appraisal of your efforts if you were a student and getting your gear dried and sorted out for tomorrow.
Go forward and it was the Team Leader at Kinloss that ran the course. In 1989 that was me. The responsibility I really felt as many of the instructors were pushing their grades. In the morning we would after breakfast have a brief and weather and avalanche update. I and a few others would have looked at what the plans for routes for the day would be. This was before Risk Assessments. I always had a good look what the younger leaders were up to as a few times ambition can overtake ability.
I was usually the last off the hill ensuring all were safe like a mother hen. I remember a few epics which we sorted. It would be long waits in car parks or at the top of routes to check everyone was okay. It was a lot easier to do in the Cairngorms where the car park is high. Of course we had our radios and if a wee epic was happening we could go to our military frequency.
The second week was on Ben Nevis and Glencoe and to many of the pupils and newer instructors the Ben is the classic Mountain as are the routes. Often some would stay in the CIC Hut giving a easier walk in.
On one course one of my star pupils from Kinloss who we had spent time training on the Ben was partnered with a young instructor. I had just done a route high on the Ben we watched the weather come in as was forecast. I held a couple near the summit to ensure all was okay as there was a pair of my troops going slowly on Tower Ridge. It’s cold hanging about on the summit then later on just as darkness was falling I heard a radio call.
“ Any Alpine party ( our winter course call sign) we are on Tower Ridge and need a top rope. “ There was a reply before I could get them to go to our military frequency on the radio. The reply “ I would love to but on Braeraich finishing a climb” I knew Lochaber and Glencoe would be about so at least I had some time to sort things out.
I spoke to a very worried instructor he was near the famous Tower Gap and was like many before a bit gripped. His pupil was a great young troop we will call him “Stormy” he had climbed Tower Ridge in summer and winter with me. I spoke to him and asked was he okay. He said he was happy to lead the gap so I said go for it. We would descend to the Gap from the summit just in case . We had done it before and we’re glad to get going. We only had climbing ropes so we added ropes together as we sent a troop down to the gap.
Our hero Stormy was already passed the Gap bringing his Instructor up. All was good and they were both soon at the top. It was then a descent of the hill after a sort out of gear. On the way off the hill I got a call from Lochaber MRT asking if we were okay I was pleased to say yes thanks.
Of course there were many other epics or learning from mistakes. The odd walk out from Creag Mheaghaidh to Roy bridge and Glencoe after climbing ending up in Glen Etive. It was all part of the Mountaineering apprenticeships and valuable lessons were learned.
At the end of a days climbing we often helped the local teams with evacuation of fallen climbers never easy after a long days climbing.
I was glad my few years of running the winter course were accident free and we trained a lot of young team members who became Team Leaders of the future.
I bought my first pair of Koflach in the early 80’s for a ice climbing trip to Canada. What a huge difference they made. Despite temperatures of minus 25 I had no more cold or wet feet. They also had an inner boot which was a great asset at the time. The inner boots were ideal to wear in Bothies and in huts. They were hard to break in you never broke them in they broke in your feet but in my mind they were so worth the cost.
From Scottish Mountaineering Heritage Collection. “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. We are not sure where this pair came from, but Mick Tighe thinks one of his mountain guiding clients donated them – thanks to whoever it was.”This warning was made in 2008 about Koflach boots.
EQUIPMENT WARNING – OLD PLASTIC BOOTS Andy Sallabank, Mountain Instructor, was working with a couple of students in the Cairngorms when the old plastic boots of one of his students literally cracked and fell apart This not the first time I’ve heard of this happening. If you have any doubts about the age or quality of your plastic boots, Andy advises they are put in the freezer overnight and then hit with a hammer the next morning! It’s got to be better than them cracking and falling apart on the back doorstep than half way up the Ben.
I was shocked at the price of mountaineering gear recently as I wandered round the climbing shops . Yet much of the clothing is now a fashion item worn by many in the High Street. Many tell me good gear has always been expensive.
Of course there is lots you can buy on eBay and other sites second hand saving a lot of cash. I WOULD BE WARY of buying second hand ropes or climbing gear unless you knew the history of it.
When I started mountaineering as a very young lad I saved my paper round cash to buy a smock jacket with a map pocket on the front. Everything else I wore was my day to day clothing. I wore shoes on the hills on my Duke of Edinburgh Award later buying Hawkins boots which cost a fortune. I was lucky to join the RAF and get gear from the Mountain Rescue team. Sadly none of it fitted so the slow process of buying gear that fitted. I must have spent thousands of pounds over the years. At least I had dry boots for a Callout after a day on the hill and a long night search or assist if we got back to change and eat.
To winter climb now is so expensive crampons, axes, ropes. Helmet and protection are so costly I wonder how many would be climbers are put of by the costs?
The Classic line “all the gear and no idea spring to mind”. The modern clothing is comfortable so light and warm huge advances have made things better. Yet looking back at the photos in the early days many had little gear. After the Second World War ex military kit was in abundance much was adapted to climbing. Things like vibrame soles made big changes in mountaineering and old MOD crampons helped improve the climbing of that era.
What is the current cost to clothe and equip a winter climber nowadays ? Has anyone got the figures? I used to have a guide but it’s so out of date now.
Is mountaineering becoming a very middle class sport? Has it always been apart from after the war when folk fled from the cities to seek adventure. Our history is full of tales of working class climbers like the Creag Dubh who pushed standards in the 50’s. Will the cost of equipment change things .
Over the last few years I really enjoyed being alone on the hill. My last big day was before winter on the Fannichs. I could go at my own pace, stop when I wanted and admire the views. You see so much more on your own and as like to go into the remoter places were I can stop and look at the corrie and spot the odd climbs.
Safety: I do leave what hill I will be on with a friend I trust and o lots send a text on the summits with an updated time due back. I know my family worry and as I get older I take it a lot easier. As you get older your reactions are not as fast so I take it a lot slower.
Pushing it: I do not have the ambition to do lots as age catches up. If the weather is wild I am a lot more aware of my limitations.
Navigation; if your out alone your navigation has to spot on. Another tip is many older walkers are wearing glasses for the first time. As a specs wearer since very young they are restricting to day the least. Many need them and few carry them. I wonder how many epics/ accident are caused by this ?
Kit : I carry the usual gear plus a bothy bag and all my kit is brightly coloured. It’s far easier to see on the hill and better for photos.
Top Tip: Most of us as we get old still think we can still charge around as we did 40 years ago bear that in mind.
Sadly due to health problems I have not been out this winter. I cannot wait to get better and have a wander.
I don’t have a dog now but I have friends who let me look after them now and again. A great photo came up recently of my Dog Teallach on the South Clunnie in Kintail. A grand outing in summer and even better in winter. When we did it frequently we always did The Saddle and Sgurr Na Sgine. It was early starts and mostly up the Forcan Ridge on the Saddle to start. The Forcan ridge in summer is a great scramble and opens your eyes to this underestimated mountain. There are climbing routes in the Corries and lovely ridges giving unsurpassed views on a good day. In winter it’s majestic wee route and shows what a big mountain it is.
The Saddle is the finest of the Kintail peaks and one of the most magnificent mountains in the Highlands. Its ascent via the Forcan Ridge is a difficult but classic scramble; the scrambling can be avoided if needed and the walk still has fantastic views. The normal walking route takes you onto the far shoulder of the Saddle where nearby there is a big wall. I have been told it is can anyone fill in the gaps?
What a grand hill the Saddle is. When you add these two it gives a classic 9 Munro day in the summer a wonderful experience. My dog did it at least 10 times he loved these hills and to see him in his prime in the photo below brings a tear to my eye. Leaving early was a secret in summer getting on the tops before the heat came up. Even more important in winter where daylight is short. We always took the young troops on these days and it would be a test piece for many. Teallach would check the party regularly going to the back then waiting on the summit getting food from other Munro baggers. He was well trained never chased anything and did a stock test as a young puppy. He knew when to be patient and a had a hill sense that undoubtedly saved my life on a few occasions. You cannot take a dog out in my view on the big mountains unless they are well trained. Looking back he probably did 150 hill days a year including call outs. I doubt there are many other dogs at that time who were out on the hill as much?
I will always have special memories of these days. Kintail and these great hills. There are so many ways up these hills and by only visiting these areas do you see the beauty of these places.
The Saddle – how I enjoy the scrambling never to hard but such fun on the Forcan ridge.
Sgurr na Sgine : ‘peak of the knife’
Sgurr a’Bhac Chaolais : peak of the hollow of the narrows’
Creag nan Damh : ‘peak of the stags’
Sgurr an Lochain : ‘peak of the small loch’
Sgurr an Doire Leathain : ‘peak of the broad oak grove’
Maol Chinn-dearg : ‘bald red head’
Aonach air Chrith : ‘ridge of trembling’
Creag a’Mhaim : ‘rock of the large rounded hill’
Once your past the Saddle and Sgurr na Sgine to me this is some of the best ridge walking in the UK.
Steve Fallon writes “the South Glen Shiel Ridge is a superb range of peaks stretching for 13km in a continuous chain. More peaks lead westwards, ending with The Saddle and its famed north-eastern spur, The Forcan Ridge.” Steve’s website is a great source of information.
So many great days with so many folk I did the South and North Clunnie plus a few others as training for my attempt on the Tranters Round. Of course my trusted companion would be Teallach.
As always comments and photos are welcome.
Reference: SMC App, Scotlands Mountain Ridges – Dan Bailey. The Munro’s SMC publications.
I live in a wonderful small village surrounded by huge beaches wonderful forests and great history. Especially as I get older I appreciate where I live more and more. A favourite walk is along the beach to a the Millie burn then through the forest. It’s well loved by locals visitors and tourists.
It’s a place that so many love : the space the sea the sand to see folk out enjoying nature is a wonderful sight. I often walk to the Millie burn then head back through the forest especially if it’s windy. The trees give shelter on a wild day and you can spot so many birds and even roe deer. Folk of all ages use the forest tracks for walking and bike trails and the Moray Way is nearby. I was shocked at the devastation as I turned to head of the beach at the Millie Burn . You leave the sand dunes and sadly next to the wee ruin the forest tracks have been bulldozed allowing tracked vechiles to gouge out the ground for it looks like building?
This area is very precious the ground is fragile. Just now it looks like a bomb site. The destruction and damage is so sad to see.
I sent some photos to the a group on Facebook and they sent me this reply:
Hello. We agree it’s absolutely terrible. Please be aware that a Stop Work order was placed on the Bothy and adjacent land 23rd February at 12.15 by enforcement @Moray Council. The notice informing the public of this was attached to the Bothy and has mysteriously disappeared. Any further work seen at this location is a criminal offence and should be reported to the police. The landowners are in breach of planning regulations.”
My thoughts – I wonder what will happen often big business wins but if enough folk contact there MP or MSP and councillors maybe things will happen. It’s up to us.
We have fought over the years for “freedom of access” in Scotland and have a unique world respect of what such a small country can achieve. This was done by all political parties working together for the greater good. We all have to do our part for the future generations.
Comments welcome !
The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” John Muir
The Rescue Teams, SARDA and the SAR helicopters and other SAR agencies have been busy this winter and sadly there have been several fatalities. As at 26 Feb there are 3 folk missing on the hills a couple for several weeks. I searched often during some of the bad winters for missing mountaineers. Often we found them after the winter when the snow gives up it’s secrets.
I took many team members out mid week looking for various climbers / walkers it was very hard at times. Yet we had to keep looking just to give the missing persons families some closure. Telling the family we had been out but with no success was always hard.
During a long search I always got very close to friends, relatives and built up a trust with so many. I felt I had to get to know the character of whom we were looking for and what they may have done if things had gone wrong. It’s was hard at times but amazing what you found out about the missing person. To me it helped build an idea including experience of the missing person.
My thoughts are with those families whose loved ones are still missing. Also all the Rescue Teams, SARDA, SAR helicopters police and other agencies. Please stay safe and thank you and your families for your incredible work and there support.
In these troubled days it is heartwarming to see such efforts. Stay safe please.
Highlands and Islands Police Division – “Police in Lochaber are appealing for assistance from the public to trace 33-year-old Kyle Sambrook, who is missing from the West Yorkshire area.
Kyle travelled by car (black Peugeot 208) from West Yorkshire to Glencoe on Saturday 18th February, 2023, arriving in the area at about 1530 hours.
It is believed he was planning to walk and wild camp with his Beagle dog in that area and was intending to climb Buchaille Etive Mor. He was due to return to West Yorkshire on Tuesday 21st February, 2023, however, he failed to return. His vehicle has since been located in the Three Sister’s car park in Glencoe. Kyle has not made contact with anybody since he arrived in Glencoe on Saturday.
Kyle is described as white, 5’8 tall, medium build, ash blond hair short hair, ginger/blond stubble, blue eyes, West Yorkshire accent.
He was believed to be wearing khaki and black Merrel hiking boots, khaiki and black Revolution Wraith outdoor trousers, a dark and light blue hooded Peter Storm waterproof jacket, grey North Face beanie hat. He was carrying a grey and yellow Merrel backpack.
His dog is a medium sized beagle, which is white with brown markings on its back, and it is called Bane. He also had a green two-person tent which he was planning to use.
If you believe you may have seen Kyle and/or his dog whilst walking in the hills, or in the area since Saturday 18th, please contact police on 101, quoting reference number MPR7394840223. Please also check dashcam footage if you have been in this area since Saturday.”
The RAF Mountain Rescue went through many changes since it’s beginning in 1944. Wales had some exceptional climbers like Johnnie Lees who pushed the standards along with several exceptional climbers in South Wales, The Peaks and the Lakes.
In Scotland there were great things happening with the National Service still ongoing. Ian Clough and his mates were climbing all over Scotland pushing there grades. This was not only in summer but in winter. Terry Sullivan also was another star doing an early ascent of the Bat on Ben Nevis. Many routes by the team were climbed on the Ben, Torridon, Skye, Glencoe, up North West on Fionaven and Stac Pollaidh. In these days some of the routes were not reported and many were lost in time sadly. If anyone has any details I would love to see them. Ray Sefton keeps his part very quiet but he has many tales. Later on came Spike Sykes and another group of climbers. Things come and go in the teams as the troops moved on.
Every now and then things change. When I joined in 1972 in RAF MRT there were a lot more hillwalkers in my team at Kinloss.. The climbers were another breed. Yet it was great to climb and a few keen ones.As a youngster we were taken out and shown the ropes. We climbed after work down at the local crag at Cummingston. Also getting away after a days work to Grantown crag and then the Northern Corries with Savage Slit being our classic . Arriving back at times straight to work ( no sleep) We had a few climbers John Hinde and Kas Taylor who you would always have great days with superb folk. Yet they got us really interested in climbing. The seed was sown.
There were a few excellent climbers about pushing the grades. Folk like Pete McGowan who had put a new route on Mount Kenya and had trips to the Himalayas. John Hinde had been on the first British ascent of Denali and Alaska. Lots of the troops had been on Artic Expeditions and to South America Patagonia on Joint Service’s Trips, Spoons Blyth and Bill Skelson and friends in the Himalayas and the Alps. One of the team had been with Patey on Rakaposhi. Geordie Armstrong was on big Himalayan trips. Yet in a few years the numbers of climbers in teams at a good standard improved rapidly .
Down South standards were improving with Gogarth near Hollyhead Lou Costello and others were climbing well. The same was on South Wales, The Lakes and Stafford. The annual Summer Course held in Wales cross fertilised climbers and helped greatly push standards. There was a unique one to one leader client ratio which greatly helped. Team members came back with lots of confidence which led to a great push in standards in summer and winter.
Nowadays we are very blessed with lightweight gear. Yet at times you have to take with you what you can carry. A 500 foot rope is very heavy, it leaves you very limited to carry your personal gear. The TD Gap in Skye is a long walk in and carrying big bags not fun. In the 60’s there were few mountain rescue teams about and the RAF Teams supported the early teams. Imagine the 7- 5 hour drive to get to Skye no bridges in these days and then straight on the hill. The gear would be heavy and its not easy terrain to get to.
It’s amazing how basic things like helmets were not about. A few of the old and bold told me of cutting carpet and putting it in there flat caps.
I did a big Callout at the end of a weekend in Skye for a climber from the In Pin. He had fallen earlier on the day as his Rope was short and had a very serious back injury. There were no mobile phones so his partner went for help. It would take about 5 hours for us to get there.
22 years on Skye The In Pin – We were just leaving after a hard weekend in Skye at Glen Brittle on the Sunday when we got the call. 26 June 1982 Inaccessible Pinnacle: Fallen climber 65 with back injuries , 1000 feet Lower mostly in dark from In Pin to the screes the a long carry off in pouring rain to Glen Brittle.
Narrative – A helicopter managed to lift 6 of us into the Corrie Lagan it was in wild weather and misty. We set with a stretcher, casualty bag, medical kit and one 500 foot rope. As I said add your own climbing gear and personal gear it was a massive weight to carry. The screes were wet and slippy and it was a hard carry up the hill. After a long day on the hill even going up to the In Pin in the dark is not easy especially encumbered with heavy gear.
That great character Gerry Ackroyd team leader Skye was already on scene alone and even Gerry was glad to see us. We quickly packaged the casualty and Terry Moore and Gerry leader were lowered down. His area knowledge is exceptional and he had rushed ahead from his home in Glen brittle, what a man.
Myself and John Beattie lowered the casualty then climbed down. It was awful trying to make sure the stones that were falling did not hit the troops. We did another lower and could we could smell of the cordite as the loose rocks rained down. We were huddled under an overhang it was wet and we were struggling but somehow the adrenaline kicks in and your ready to go.
You still feel vulnerable it was dark very misty and now and we could here more troops from Skye and Kinloss heading up on the radio, We needed them to keep out the way till the rockfall danger passed. They were glad of this advice!
Hard work- getting that stretcher down trying to safeguard the casualty is such hard work. There were only a few of us to carry the stretcher, it was dark, the rocks were slippy and we were tired. The relief of meeting the troops later was a joyous meeting. We had a break the casualty was ok but we were all so tired after a long weekend. In the end we all helped get the stretcher down to Glen brittle soaked but pleased. I fell in the burn at the end which all enjoyed. We got back in the middle of the night stayed at Mc Raes barn and my mind was racing and took time to fall asleep.
Lots of memories but worth a read ? I have had to do several rescues in the past off my climbing gear and climbing ropes. Interesting but at times far easier than waiting in a dangerous area. So when you practice all these wonderful skills think of your most difficult cliff to get a crag fast or injured climber with limited SAR Helicopter support or in bad weather,
In these days of mobile phones and Rescue beacons there is still a handy piece of simple kit that to me is invaluable. Yet there is one thing that I have found to still be a wonderful asset if your in trouble in the hills.
There was an ongoing piece on Facebook about the use of the simple whistle in an emergency. I have always been a great exponent of the whistle. I was shocked how few carry them or knew about the Alpine Distress signal. Many had more information on Personal Locater Beacons and other emergency locators . Yet in my mind the simple whistle is still great simple and cheap kit.
I can state on several occasions in my 40 years in Mountain Rescue we have located a casualty due to a whistle. Please carry one there cheap and effective and my tip is keep blowing!
We had a few occasions where we heard them and we replied. We answered them and then they stopped . It then took a few hours to locate the casualty! Not easy in Skye in mist and poor weather. When we heard the whistle again it was an incredible relief to us all . Skye can be a terrifying place in poor weather on steep loose ground. When looking for someone you need every piece of help. That whistle sound will forever be with me.
The Alpine distress signal was introduced in 1894 on the suggestion of Clinton Thomas Dent and was soon adopted internationally.
The reply to such a signal is given with three successive indications per minute and likewise repeated after one minute of break. Thus it can be confirmed to the person/party in trouble that its distress signal was received.
Another tip: I also located some climbers over the years. We heard the whistles on the crag their partner was injured and these whistles were a great asset in locating them. I and the team always carried a whistle on our harness as well. Top tip.
Many will have read of the recent Callout in Skye Feb 2023. A missing person was located after 3 days in a remote area near Coruisk. He had survived some terrible weather and had bad injuries. He was located by the Skye team who heard his whistle. It was a huge search with so many assets employed. SARDA dogs and Skye, Kintail and RAF Lossiemouth MRT plus Police a great result.
So todays tip carry a whistle it’s a cheap back up.
Please tell someone where your going just in case.
As always Comments welcome.
Yes indeed , it’s a small but essential bit of kit. I remember Andy Craig & I were on the Drumochter hills doing Sgarieanch Mhor & Ben Oodleman, but on going down to the bealach we heard a whistle even in the strong wind and the blizzard! It was 2 young chaps standing with their hoods up & the snow building up the backs of their legs like a pair of penguins. I gave them tea from my giant flask & then we roped them down to the car park. ( They were miles off course from the bealach) The sting in the tale is, I discovered when I got home that I’d left my crampons up there when I was getting the flask out. Grrr!! Never mind, the whistle saved 2 young men. Cheers a’charaid, John.
Yesterday was a wild day terrible winds all night battered my village on the North East coast. I had to travel after giving blood in Elgin in the early afternoon. There were many trees down but as I drove West the weather improved. I was heading to the Mountain Festival in Fort William to listen to the author Mike Dixon and John Cleare give a talk on the wonderful new book on Tom Patey. The talk was hosted by Deziree Wilson who edited this incredible book. What a wonderful insight a legend in Scottish Mountaineering. It was a Brilliant hour thank you all. Patey what a man and not just as a climber, doctor, musician and also his character and a very honest account of some of his failings as we all have.
One Man’s Legacy chronicles the brief but brilliant life of Dr Tom Patey: bard, musician, and one of Scotland’s foremost climbers and mountaineers. His story is one of pioneering ascents and boundless enthusiasm, and his spontaneity, carefree approach and ability to burn the candle at both ends remain legendary, several decades after his untimely death.
Meticulously researched over several years, this definitive biography covers every aspect of Patey?s life in rich detail. Youthful endeavours with the Scouts and early forays on the Aberdeen sea cliffs were the foundation for Patey’s university years, where he established – often solo – many classic summer and winter lines in the Cairngorms, cementing his reputation as a tough, fearless mountaineer with exceptional endurance. A stalwart of 1950s bothy culture, his natural gifts as a musician and raconteur garnered him friends far and wide, and enabled him to transcend social and cultural boundaries with ease. Later, as a Royal Marine and then a highly respected GP, he maintained an insatiable appetite for exploring new terrain both in his native Scotland and further afield, in the Alps, Norway and the Karakoram.
By drawing on Patey’s essays and verses, published collectively in the celebrated One Man’s Mountains, the narrative is imbued with dry wit and gentle satire, and brought to life by unseen images from renowned photographer John Cleare and the Patey family archive. Supported by a foreword from Mick Fowler and first-hand insights from some of the leading climbers of the last century, including Sir Chris Bonington, Joe Brown and Paul Nunn, One Man’s Legacy celebrates a complex, larger-than-life character who rightly deserves his place in mountaineering history.
INSPIRE / RESPECT / PROTECT. The Fort William Mountain Festival welcomes you to the Outdoor Capital of the UK. We hope you find inspiration in our programme and our mountains. We hope you endeavour to love, respect and protect our environment as much as we do
We would like to say a big thank you to our Festival Patron, Dave “Cubby” Cuthbertson, for the use of his stunning photographic images across this website – you can see a lot more of what he has been up to recently at Cubby Images.
Every year we need a team of people to help out on the weekend of the festival, so if you would like to volunteer please drop us an email at email@example.com
It was a great night the exhibition area is so interesting I am looking forward to going back tomorrow to see more. I met so many friends it was heartwarming. It was great to see SARDA Scotland there with their dogs and so many others.
Thanks to Tina and all the organisers volunteers for a great night it was wonderful to meet folk again after these dark COVID days. See you all today for round 2 .
I write this as a big storm is blowing across the mountains. Many will be going out despite the weather thinking winter is over. It was today as a photo I took on Beinn Liath Mhor near Achnashealach not far from Torridon came up on my time line. It is a area I love with wild hills and great mountain paths. Five years ago 2018 when my sister who was very I’ll with cancer called late one night telling me that two men (brothers) and a dog were missing in the mountains near Torridon. I had seen the news the the missing brothers who were from Nairn (a town near my home) they were related to her she was their Aunty. when they never returned home that night an alert was raised. The Police had located the car at Achnasheallach near the small train station usually a busy wee car park for walkers. Sadly like many they had not left any message on what hill they were on. The Police were informed and a big Mountain Rescue incident was started. From where the car was located there are several Munro’s and Corbetts nearby. The usual problem for the initial search teams with limited knowledge of where there are is where to start the search ? Many teams were involved in a search including the Torridon Team, Kintail MRT, Glenelg MRT, RAF Lossiemouth Mountain Rescue Team, and the coastguard helicopter crews. Sadly Alan was located on the initial search after 2 days along with his dog a few days later.
Photo – Torridon MRT taking a break in wild weather photo Torridon MRT.
Sadly both Alan and the dog were dead. The search continued for Neil in poor weather and was as massive search as happens called of after a few days until the weather settled . The teams were out regularly but there was a lot of wild weather and heavy snow. I met the teams as they set of one day the weather was bitter hoping they would locate Neil.
During the time when the teams were not out and Neil was missing I went out alone looking for him the ground was extremely hard. I was searching high up on rock hard neve where a slip would have been serious. I had taken two axes with me and I was glad of there security. I felt very alone: this is an area few venture into the wild backside of the mountain.
I had left very early but it was so cold that wind was artic I struggled even to keep warm when working hard . I searched all day in took an hour to get into the search area and I found nothing and it was hard speaking to my sister who was very upset. I had promised her I would call when off the hill. The weather was clear all day I had a pair of binoculars with me and scanned the hillside and Glen regularly. There was still a great depth of snow in places making it very hard going especially in the glen. I was so glad be off the hill at the end of that day I had felt extremely vulnerable and alone which was strange a thing I had often done before.
Maybe it was an age thing or possibly because I knew the missing brothers? Yet I had brought back friends over many years I knew before who had been taken in the mountains. I got back to the car and felt emotionally drained all the nervous energy of the day had taken its toll on me. I will never forget that day alone on the hill. There was still a huge amount snow about and it would take time for it to thaw and searching continued regularly by the teams.
this is from the papers at the time.
2018 Feb – Neil and Alan Gibson failed to return from a walk in the Achnashellach area of Strathcarron.
The body of Alan, 56, was found on 10 February following extensive searches, and the body of their Pointer dog Archie a few days later. The brothers were from Nairn, though Alan was understood to have been living in County Durham .Neil’s body was discovered 6 weeks later he was 63. This is how it was reported at the time.
‘Worked incredibly hard’
Since February, extensive searches have been ongoing of the Achnashellach area involving members of Torridon Mountain Rescue Team, Kintail MRT, Glenelg MRT, RAF Mountain Rescue Team, SARDA dogs and the coastguard helicopter crews.
Sgt Graham Cameron, of Police Scotland, said: “I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks to all the volunteers and partner search agencies that made tireless efforts to find Neil, Alan and Archie.
“As always, they persevered and worked incredibly hard to battle some difficult and dangerous conditions in the hope of giving their family and friends some closure.
“My thoughts remain with Neil and Alan’s family who have shown such strength and bravery when faced with such a tragedy.”
In the end another tragedy in the mountain’s, things can go wrong very quickly. Please leave a note of where your going with someone you trust it makes the authorities job a lot easier if they have a clue of what your plans are.
Inspector Matt Smith, Police Scotland lead for mountain rescue, said, “Our volunteer and Police Mountain Rescue teams have dealt with a number of tragic incidents in recent weeks. It’s still winter, despite what it may look like further down. I’d urge anyone setting out to plan for all eventualities.”
In recent weeks a number of serious injuries and tragic deaths have occurred on Scotland’s hills and mountains.
Hills are not holding the snow cover they typically do at this time of year, which may lead to a false sense of security for walkers. However, significant patches of snow and ice still cover the hills and are often unavoidable. These patches aren’t visible from your starting point and are likely to occur as you approach the summit.
Walkers need to be prepared for winter conditions before setting out. 🎿 Wear good winter boots suitable for weather conditions. ❄️ Put crampons on your boots to help prevent injury. 🪓 Carry an ice axe and be prepared for extreme winter weather. 🕓 Let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be home. ⛔ Don’t be afraid to turn back if conditions get too difficult.
Inspector Matt Smith, Police Scotland lead for mountain rescue, said, “Our volunteer and Police Mountain Rescue teams have dealt with a number of tragic incidents in recent weeks. It’s still winter, despite what it may look like further down. I’d urge anyone setting out to plan for all eventualities.”
Yesterday there was a program on radio Scotland on the maintenance of mountain paths on the Munro’s and who should play for them. The Question was that those who use the paths should pay for there upkeep.
The usual questions came out should locals and visitors pay to climb the Munros? Should local Government pay? Things were mentioned like a tourist tax. It was a reasonable discussion with various thoughts by many being viewed. In these days of severe austerity there is limited money about. Some how we need to find a solution.
The program reckoned that it will take 30 million pounds to get the paths fixed. In these days of austerity I doubt there will be little funding about now or in the near future.
Mountaineering Scotland have received £100000 towards path work recently. This money is been raised from the sale of the Scottish Mountaineering Trust ( SMT) guide books. I was honoured to serve as a Trustee for several years and we always tried to give cash for path work. This is a great help but the need is massive.
What can be done?
In my view it is not just walkers and climbers that need to help but also Mountain bikers who use many of the paths and tracks. Maybe it’s time both parties ( mountaineering and Cycling) got together and had a joint plan for the future? I asked about this before but got no joy. You may know someone who has the ears of those who run these organisations?
I see so much branded clothing about on the hills surely a small bit of the profit could go to the path maintenance?
Mountain Bikes – again a huge industry what about helping with path repairs it’s massive and growing. The use of mountain paths has increased by bikers.
Sponsored walks/ Charity walks – many organisations are raising so much from sponsored walks up Ben Nevis and many other popular mountains. This is a great thing but surely they should also give a small payment to the area for path repairs? The organisations who organised these walks should surely be helping especially for big groups?
There are some great organisations doing their best The John Muir Trust on Blaven on Skye on Ben Nevis and the Cairngorms and many others. My own local hill not a Munro Ben Rinnes has the “ Friends of Ben Rinnes” does so much for the upkeep of the path and the car park which has a collection box at the main path.
I have used the mountains for 60 years and seen the very limited path use increase. The wear and tare to the paths by the increased in walkers and in places bikes. Path works is extremely hard and physical and it’s incredible how many volunteer to assist. The improvement is incredible but can all change due to heavy rain on eroded paths or constant footfall.
The primary object of the Trust is to promote and support health, education and recreation in the mountains of Scotland and elsewhere. It fosters knowledge of the mountain geography, biology and weather, protects the mountain amenities and access, and also promotes the skills to walk and climb safely in the mountains.
Like all charities, the activities of the Trust are bounded by Government legislation. Any grants made by the Trust must be for charitable purposes. This means, for example, that we can’t support expeditions unless they have a clear scientific, educational or other charitable purpose. Likewise, no grant can be made for the improvement of premises which are not generally available to the mountaineering community.
Activities of the trust
The Trust makes grants to organisations and individuals for projects that meet the objectives of the Trust. By far the largest area of expenditure has been in supporting footpath repair. Extensive and continuing support is given to Mountaineering Scotland for core funding. Large donations have also been made to land purchase appeals by conservation bodies.
The Trust is keen to encourage the safe participation in mountaineering, and so support is given to training courses – especially those aimed at young people – such as those subsidised by the Jonathan Conville Memorial Trust.
Smaller grants have been made to other organisations e.g. to Clubs for renovation of huts.
Expedition grants have been made where there are clear scientific or educational objectives.
The trust is responsible for the administration of the legacy known as Mrs Snart’s Bequest, which is solely for assisting mountains safety.
As well as providing grant, the Trust owns the Scottish Mountaineering Trust (Publications) Limited, which publishes books associated with the Scottish mountains.
Income of the trust
The Trust’s revenue is derived from two main sources:
Publishing guidebooks and other books on behalf of the Scottish Mountaineering Club and other books about the Scottish mountains. The Trust’s publication activity is carried on by a wholly owned subsidiary company, Scottish Mountaineering Trust (Publications) Limited. The whole operating surplus of the company is covenanted to the Trust.
Donations and Bequests. These are always most welcome and can be of any amount. If a donation is made to us without any conditions it will go into the general fund. If you would like to discuss specifics in connection with a donation then please do contact us. Any donation can be kept confidential, if so wished.
Trustees are appointed by the Scottish Mountaineering Club and normally serve for a period of three years. The Chairman is normally the immediate Past-President of the Scottish Mountaineering Club and serves for a period of two years. Additional to the Trustees, there is a Secretary and a Treasurer who are nonvoting officers.
Where the money goes
Below are shown the totals of the grants and loans made by the Trust in its major areas of activity in the period 1990-2019.Footpath Construction and Maintenance£486,000Funding for Mountaineering Scotland£235,000Land Purchase£68,500Mountaineering Education and Training£36,000Mountain Rescue Equipment and Facilities£74,000Support of Expeditions£34,500Renovation of Club Huts£315,000Other£321,000TOTAL£1,570,000
Many years ago in 1984 after I had just come back from a wonderful month ice climbing in Canada. I was with my mate Mark Sinclair “ Cheeky” he invited me out on what he said was a “wee route called Resurrection. It was on the Fannichs biggest hill Sgurr Mor. We had re read the magnificent Cold Climbs and the out of the way ice routes in the North West always had my attention. The Fannichs are only an hour and a half drive from my Base at Kinloss in Morayshire. Mark and myself were always in for an early start and we left at 0400 and started the walk in at 0600. The forecast was good and there was a road that supported the hydro for a few miles walking mins in neutral before we hit the open moor. We were pretty fit Mark a bit ahead and me with my new tape recorder playing in the earphones. As the daylight came the East Face looked huge. There was large amount of debris in the Coire floor but the snow was frozen. To me it looked a very intimidating face and we only had the photo from Cold Climbs as a guide. Mark was never put off and started climbing as quickly as he could.
In these days it was not climbed that often it’s a bit of a walk in and away from the madding crowds. Yet it’s position and finishing on the summit of Sgurr Mor made it of great interest to me. Mark said it was a three star Grade 3 but had an Alpine feel to it. He talked me into it and what a day we had. I found it very scary at that time not great belays. It’s an open face with an interesting icicle start. I was climbing well for me at that time and Mark had said it was like the Brenva Face on the Ben. It was alpine once on the route but we hit some soft snow in the middle of the route. This is normally the easiest part but I had kept a few warthogs that I got in on the grass that made me feel happier. Nowadays gear is so much better. Mark had said we would not need them but I had a couple and one is still hopefully there battered into a crack and we could not get it out.
Mark was such a talented climber always in control and as he said we have to keep going think of the view. I was thinking of the Corrie floor at the time. We made it to the top and sat in the sun, no wind and the whole of Scotland on view. Mark said “ right it’s the Geala buttress next time wee man”but that’s another story.
In Cold climbs it was graded 5 but mark said his mates reckoned it would be good a three. Anyway what a day I unfortunately never got any photos I think Mark did. Sadly I never got to see them as Mark and Neil were killed on Lochnagar and are sadly missed. I will never forget that final traverse below the huge cornice looking for a break in it. Mark’s grinning face oozing confidence at every belay making me laugh as well despite the situation.
Resurrection- East Face of Sgurr Mor A three star route at Grade 3. UKC “A bold face route in a remote situation.” 1500 feet. First ascent J.MacKenzie and D. Butterfield March 1980
I was on Sgurr Mor as my last day I had on the hill late last year. I was sitting on my own no one was about and looking at the climbing on the Geala Buttress. My thoughts went back to that day with Mark. A runner stopped and we had great chat he had climbed here many years ago in winter. We chatted for a while and I left watching him running well onto the other Munro’s. These hills are magical like so many memories. Who needs photos?
Reference – Cold Climbs & SMC Northern Highlands Central. The essay in Cold Climbs is a great ead. Photo – Cornices on Sgurr Mor the Fannichs P.Greening to me a classic photo.
When you look at most big mountain searches often little is said about SARDA. For many years they have been a great asset in the world of Mountain Rescue. Hamish McInnes and a few others helped bring the dogs use in Scotland especially for avalanches things have moved on since these early days.
A brief history of Search and Rescue Dogs
The use of dogs for search purposes goes back many years. In the 17th century, dogs were used to break trails in deep snow in Switzerland, and, apparently, records reveal that a dog named Barry saved 40 lives during his lifetime. During the first world war, dogs were used in the London blitz to locate buried casualties. Search dogs have also been used in disaster situations such as the Lockerbie tragedy in December 1988.
The Search and Rescue Dog Association in Scotland was conceived in 1965 by Hamish MacInnes, one of Scotland’s foremost mountaineers and mountain rescue experts. Hamish MacInnes paid a visit to an avalanche dog training course in Switzerland in the early 1960’s and immediately recognised the possibilities in Scotland.
From these early days SARDA has emerged into a UK wide organisation. I first was introduced in the early 70.’s and was amazed at there dedication. In these days they often worked alone and I would meet them on call outs all over Scotland.
When I became a Team leader I insisted that we would not leave the hill until all the dogs and handlers were accounted for. We opened our Base Camps ( Village Halls) to them for brews and soup and got to know each other. Over the years things have moved on yet those who have search dogs are the same type of folk.
It takes years of hard training to train the Search Dogs and it is amazing to watch them in action. The commitment is incredible by the handlers and trainers. Also those who work as “bodies” casualties for the dogs to find is incredible. They are a true family within SAR and I am hoping to get out soon when my health improves.
Lockerbie. – This is when the dogs from all over the UK worked for months in the aftermath. I believe there were 45 dogs and there handlers were there. I met many who dealt with trauma on a scale well beyond anyone’s experience. They like many were unsung heroes and heroines and years later many still struggle from the tragedy they shared.
Every week SARDA is out not just for Mountaineers but vulnerable people and assist the community in many ways. SARDA has come a long way since the 60’s. We are so lucky to have this great asset. It would not exist without the efforts of all involved. We must never forget the support of families.
SARDA relies on fundraising and if you can it would be great if you could donate to SARDA to assist in their work.
I have the honour to be the President of SARDA Scotland and hopefully when my health improves will be able to assist a bit more. Thank you and your families for all you do.
When your out climbing this winter with all the great gear about from ice axes to crampons , harnesses, ice screws, rock protection, superb clothing etc. Get your guide book out and look at the dates of the first ascents and the Boldness of the past. Mixed winter climbing has always a huge part of our history and still is. This winter there has been so many incredible routes climbed by those at the forefront of climbing. Every year the standards improve.
The photo below was from the RAF KInloss Mountain Rescue Albums of Ian Spike Sykes on Alladins Lamp in the Cairngorms. Spike is climbing with a rope round his waist, no crampons on snow covered rock the photo is about Mid 60’s. It always allured me as it had a great atmospheric and in black and white makes it even more stunning. I love the frosted rock and how it looks like Spike is caressing the rock. No harness then just a Tarbuck knot round his waist. To me it’s a classic photo. Winter climbing was bold in these and early days just read the guide books and see the dates of the first ascents.
Sadly in pushing the standards in the early years with simple gear there were some tragedies. Ice axes breaking as they were used as belays but improving equipment and several gifted mountaineers pushed on. Names like W.H.Murray, Robin Smith, Jimmy Marshall, Tom Patey, Hamish MacInness and so many others they were in small pockets all over Scotland. How much do we owe them? Even in my early years we knew most of the winter climbers about it was a smaller world then. I even carried a spare terror as picks broke often. We had few ice screws then and a fall would be fatal. I remember doing Hadrians wall on Ben Nevis with 4 ice screws in total and leaving my spare Terror as a runner half way up the route!
In 1959, sixteen-year-old Ian ‘Spike’ Sykes left school and, after a short period of work at Leeds University, joined the RAF. Already a keen climber, he signed up on the promise of excitement and adventure and was posted to the remote RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team in the north of Scotland. It was the beginning of a journey which would see him involved in some of the most legendary call-outs in Scottish mountain rescue history, including the 1963 New Year tragedy on the Isle of Skye. In the Shadow of Ben Nevis tells Spike’s story from growing up in Leeds in the aftermath of the Second World War, to his time with the RAF during the cold war. After leaving the RAF, he remained an active member of the Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team and was involved in the first lower down the north face of Ben Nevis – an epic 1,500-foot descent to rescue stricken climbers in the middle of winter. Following a two-and-a-half-year stint on Antarctica with the British Antarctic Survey, he returned to the Highlands and opened the first Nevisport shop with his close friend Ian ‘Suds’ Sutherland. Together, they brought Sunday trading to Fort William and were one of a small number of shops to revolutionise outdoor retail in the UK. Later, he was a key player in the development of the Nevis Range ski area. Over many years, and against all odds, the project became a reality and a great success. Recounted within these pages are a great many lively tales of adventures and mishaps, told with immediacy and charm. With a foreword by legendary Scottish mountaineer Hamish MacInnes, a close friend of Spike’s, In the Shadow of Ben Nevis is a must-read for anyone with an interest in Scottish mountaineering and mountain rescue.
This book tells of the life and experiences of a unique character and should appeal to anyone with a spirit of adventure. – Stu Gallagher, Alpine Club One man in his time plays many parts.’ This is certainly true of Spike, and this autobiography takes us through them – RAF MRT member in the primitive pre-helicopter days, outdoor instructor, FIDS ‘gash man’, entrepreneur, Lochaber MRT member, and throughout it all a climber whose experience ranges from hitch-hiking and barn-dossing as an impoverished teenager to helicopter drops into exotic locations. Not a typical climbing autobiography – and all the better for it. — R T Richardson, former president of the Scottish Mountaineering Club
Suffice to say, In The Shadow… is a rattling good yarn, and that’s before you even get on to Sykes’s life-saving work with the Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team and his climbing adventures in the Alps, the Yukon and elsewhere. – Roger Cox, The Scotsman This book is a good read about a man and his life of adventure in the mountains and out of them. – Nick Carter, Alpha Mountaineering It recounts many lively tales of adventure and mishap. — Eilidh Davies, Highland News
His stories of epic mountain rescues before the age of helicopter assistance, good communications, organised rescue teams and enforced drink driving laws are riveting. – Dave McLeod, Blogspot Hats off to Ian Sykes for a terrific read. Very highly recommended. — Ullapool News
About the Author
Ian ‘Spike’ Sykes was born and raised in Leeds during the Second World War. A climber since his youth, he joined the RAF at sixteen, working on the Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team in the Scottish Highlands during a number of dramatic rescues. After leaving the RAF he worked with the British Antarctic Survey on the southern polar ice cap, where he ran a dog team and worked as a guide for the Survey’s field scientists. Back in Scotland, Spike and Ian Sutherland identified an opportunity for a climbing and outdoor equipment shop in the Highlands, and the first Nevisport shop was born. Both remained as members of the Lochaber Mountain Rescue, the UK’s busiest team. Spike was also instrumental in the development of the ski area at Nevis Range on Aonach Mor, where he stayed on as managing director for twelve years. He is currently a director of Nevis Range, which is now also internationally renowned as a mountain biking centre.Spike was awarded an MBE in 1990 for services to sport and mountain rescue, and in 2011 he received the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture. His first book, Cry Argentina (978-1-846248-71-9), a semi-fictional account of the build-up to the invasion of South Georgia in the Falklands War, was published in 2013. In the Shadow of Ben Nevis is his second book. Spike lives in Fort William with his partner Gay, and has a daughter Eilidh.
A insight into the past I really enjoyed this book well worth a read .
To me the book Cold Climbs was a wonderful insight into Winter climbing and still is with great writing on the history of these great climbs. What’s your favourite winter route? I wonder if I will get another done when I get fit.
I keep remembering the odd problem in the Mountain Rescue Team that younger members got involved in. I must confess that in my younger days I was part of it. “High Jinks”or just daftness?
The 1972 – RAF Kinloss Church Bell incident.
Myself and my pal Tom Mac used to climb the church roof at Kinloss and try and get the church bell. Of course we never managed it but late at night we would ring it and keep the RAF Police on their toes. We left the Mountain Rescue tool bag below the church and it was confiscated as evidence by the Police. Lucky we were protected at the time by George Bruce the team Leader who had a great way of “sorting” things out. The things you do.
I was brought up in MRT with old tales of the National Service Team members. The things they did: There was the Cannon incident that ended up at RAF Kinloss. A cannon was relocated by team members back to their base. It became a enquiry but was resolved when it “returned “in the middle of the night to its owners. This is one of them 😕
The Battle of Ballachulish.
One weekend whilst at Fort William, a party which had been out on the hill in the Ballachulish area and were driving back to the Fort when they noticed a house at the side of the road with a garden full of gnomes and knick-nacks.
What attracted the troops attention, was a miniature brass cannon in pride of place in the middle of the garden. What a trophy for our briefing room, they thought !
Later that night when they returned from a dance at Onich, they spirited this cannon away in the back of the land rover and back to Kinloss. Back at base on reading in the press how heartbroken the owner was at losing her prized possession, remorse set in – not a very common response at Kinloss. It was decided to return the cannon the next weekend, but to marked the occasion, one of the troops had a brass plaque made stating ” This cannon was captured at the battle of Ballachulish “, which was duly affixed to the cannon.
However, on the very friday night that we were about to set off to return the cannon, the RAF police were tipped off and searched the vehicles. It was a fair cop. It was explained that the cannon was about to be returned, so this was allowed to take place. The snatch team then appeared in front of the Station commander to get the customary “responsibility” lecture and their wrists slapped, emerging with fewer shekels than they entered with.
Unfortunately, the local police were then invited to search our briefing room and subsequently removed most of our trophies to solve all the outstanding cases from the last few years – much to the glee of our local snowdrops ! We had to keep a low profile for a wee while after that – again !
The Goat incident; At RAF Valley in North Wales when I was the full time Deputy Team Leader. The troops used to take our team mascot Rhinog the goat out at weekends. I was sent to MT to drop a troop of to collect a vechile for the weekend. Rhinog the goat was in the back of my wagon and the MT Warrant officer hated the team was still in his office and went mad at me about the goat travelling in the Land Rover. I was told to report to the MT section at 0800 on Monday for a formal bollocking.
I worried all weekend had to find my best uniform and wait in the corridor for the Officer in charge to arrive. Eventually after 15 minutes this man arrived he looked familiar. He was Geordie Armstrong an ex Kinloss troop who had got a commission. I was marched in and Geordie recognised me. He was with Brummie Stokes and Bronco Lane who summited Everest in 1976.Geordie was a member of that trip and supported the expedition with big carries to the South Col.
Geordie sent the Warrant officer for tea and Geordie had a big catch up with me. He was so interested in our Winter walk from West – East Scotland in 1978. Also he told me of some great days climbing in Scotland making wooden wedges to fit as chalks. I never got into trouble and the Warrant officer was told to calm down. I had met a hero of mine.
1976 Everest – John, and Bronco both jumped at the chance when they were offered places on a climb of Everest. On May 14 1976, Bronco and Brummie found themselves at Camp 6 on the slopes of Everest and ready to climb the southwest face the following morning. In spite of a severe storm that blew up overnight, both men were determined to continue the climb, and the next morning they set off as planned.
They reached the summit by mid-afternoon but the conditions were horrendous, and the snow was swirling around as they were buffeted by winds. They immediately set off to descend, but on their way down the storm intensified and they were left unable to see anything due to white-out conditions. There was no alternative but to make an improvised camp for the night and see if the morning brought better conditions.
They scraped a foxhole in the snow and bunkered down for an extremely uncomfortable night. The temperature dropped to minus 20˚ centigrade and the wind added to the chill factor. They took turns in hitting each other to ensure neither went to sleep, fearing that if they did they would not wake up. Brummie’s vision was fading due to snow blindness and he could not open the tap on their last canister of oxygen. Bronco took off his mitten to open the tap, thereby saving their lives, but his fingers suffered frostbite and eventually they had to be amputated. Both men also lost their toes to frostbite. Sadly Brummie passed away in 2016!
The Kylesku Bridge – is one that I won’t forget. Some of troops were out midweek climbing Sea Stacks . Bridge jumping had just started. I got a call from the police to say the boys were Bridge jumping from the nearly completed bridge. It was a big thing at the time as the Valley team in Wales were leading the way then. The boys got a bollocking on there return.
Towing a skier on the camp – two of the troops were caught by the RAF police towing one of the troops on skis behind the wagon. Again I got a bollocking and also told that the driver was wearing an earring.
The Beard Brigade – in the early 90’s one f the troops came back from an Artic Expedition with a huge beard. He managed to keep it for years saying he had frostbite. A few others in the team followed suit and for nearly two years they convinced the powers that be that Mountain Rescue were allowed beards. Anyway they found out and that was another interview for me as Team leader.
So many crazy things the team members did my final one was we all wore Green Peace-badges. It was noticed on a Tv interview by a high ranked. We were taken to the RAF police along with Mick Anderson a winch man on the helicopter flight. He had given us them. He told us to say nothing he would speak for us.
We were getting read the riot act by a Senior officer. When Mick smoking his pipe said “what have got against Whales. We lowly folk were told to leave as Mick fought our case. He became a hero to us after that.
The 1957 SMC Journal “ 25 December 1956 – Group of 5 benighted in a blizzard on plateau after climbing South Castle Gully Ben Nevis ( Carn Dearg) Survivor got down to Fort William on 26 th December. Rescue party held up by blizzard on first day. Four others all located dead next day. Kinloss MRT , Lochaber JMCS and Police Co – operated in Rescue operations.
I found this old mountain Safety document produced in 1957 “The Price Paid” by the Chief Constable of Inverness-hire. It’s a tragic tale yet all these years later we can still learn from it. Note there were no mobile phones, GPS and Rescue was down by the Police, local climbers and clubs and the RAF Teams. There were limited weather forecast’s available non specific to mountain weather or SAR Helicopters in these early days.
Factual Police Summary of Tragedy on Ben Nevis.
“Five young men from England 19 to 21 years of age,arrived in Fort William on 22 December 1956 to climb Ben Nevis over the Christmas period. The following day the reached the head of the Allt – a – Mhuillinn where they established their base camp and remained that night.
I’ll equipped for such a task, without food and with no idea of the time- their only watch having stopped- they set out to climb Ben Nevis via the South Castle Gully.
Due to most unfavourable weather and ground conditions, their progress was slow and the early darkness had fallen by the time they had reached the summit of the Carn Dearg Peak.
Weather conditions, in sub – zero temperatures had become appalling and in the words of the only survivor “they were completely lost” With their ice axes they dug a shallow hole in the frozen snow and without nourishment of any kind or adequate clothing, attempted to shelter on that exposed peak from the violence of the blizzard then raging.
Exposure and exhaustion had a quick and telling effect on their physical resistance and the condition of two of them became critical. With the first light of dawn one of them began to descend in a desperate bid to summon help and arrived at Fort William Police station shortly after 1100 on Christmas morning after in a state of almost complete collapse. After giving what information he could he was immediately removed and detained in Fort William hospital for treatment.
The advance Police party, under hazardous conditions made a courageous and sustained attempt to locate the four young men. The leader was only able to reach and search Carn Dearg summit.This he did in failing darkness and in a blizzard which forced him to crawl in his hand and knees. The search has to be abandoned. Next day three frozen bodies were found covered over with drifting snow in the shallow dug – out referred to previously. There is no doubt they died on Christmas morning after their companion had left for help. The fourth man died in a final and desperate effort to escape a similar fate. His body was located 500 feet below.
The cause of this accident resulting in such tragedy, such as grief to relatives and incalculable risk to rescue person leaves no room for conjecture.”
The article ends with advice.
Training – Winter mountaineering is a craft that needs constant training and fitness.
Never underestimate the weather – easier now with the good forecasts available.
Plan your trip and leave word where your going with someone you trust. This is so relevant even today.
Remember winter days are shorter for daylight.
Carry enough food and the basics whistle torch map compass.
I am sure if my memory is correct there was a very small tin bivy hut near the summit of Carn Dearg but in winter it was always hard to find covered in snow. I think it was donated by the People paper ? It’s long gone has anyone got a photo of it ?
It is worth mentioning that on my early winter climbing forays on the Ben I climbed many of the routes on this part of the mountain. On one wild day after climbing Nordwand we had a big epic getting off the mountain. It is not easy in bad weather there are crags and cornices to avoid even today. I have also searched this neglected area of Ben Nevis it’s a tricky area where a slip could be very serious. We located a young winter Walker here lost in this area and survived three nights in his bivy bag. That was one of my best outcomes on a search.
Photo below is possibly one of the earliest photos of avalanche probing on Ben Nevis by RAF Kinloss MRT using home made probs from Gas piping made by workshops. I found an old probe many years ago in the summer in that area that was similar.
Ray Sefton (Sunshine) was and still is one of the best people I have met. He joined the RAF in 1956 when National Service was still going. The RAF Mountain Rescue Teams were full of characters, many who were excellent climbers from civy street. He was involved in so many incidents all over Scotland and has a huge area knowledge of the walking and climbing areas. He was one of my early Team Leaders at Kinloss. He seemed to know everyone involved in Mountain Rescue at that time.
Sunshine was part of a hard core bunch of climbers including Ian Clough that climbed new routes on Ben Nevis. They in his own words were “a bunch of bandits” but hard guys. They formed a big part of Mountain Rescue in the early days and working with the new era of helicopters learning all the time.
Many years ago I heard Sunshine have a great chat in Aviemore. He was talking about not just the Rescues but the history of the Cairngorms, the bothies many now gone and many local stories that make this wilderness unique. It was an eye opener time what tales.
I have known Ray since I was a crazy youth in the Kinloss team. 1977 he was my Team Leader and mentor and despite more than a few disciplinary problems by me in my early days in Iran we have always got on so well. He taught me so much and sorted me and a few others on several occasions. Once during the Great Blizzards of 1978 when he had so much going on he handled it in his own calm way. The roads were closed and we rescued lots of folk stuck on the Rannoch Moor and the A9 There was also a helicopter going down on the Laggan road. This we had to walk in to it from Tulloch in waist deep snow and climbers missing on Creag Mheagaidh. Then trains got stuck up North that we had to assist.
For a week I was stuck with the Team in Inverness with 12 helicopters I was at RAF Buchan at the time and Sunshine got me a lift back in a helicopter. I got back to a rollocking from my Boss. Luckily Sunshine sent a signal to sort it out. How he managed to remember that I could be in trouble in all the things that were going on. That is his measure of what is going on.
I got to know his wife Myrtle a local beauty who he met at Glenmore Lodge in the late 50’s (some things do not change) she used to regularly come on the hill with me. Ray preferred a more leisurely day! Myrtle and myself did some huge hills day including the Big 7/6 Braeriach – Cairngorm plus Carn A Mhain in really poor weather and I hope she does not mind me saying that was not a spring chicken then! We could hardly keep up with her and Myrtle joined us on many an adventure once her children grown up. I will never forget setting of in the rain a dark getting across the Braeraich plateau and down to Devils point and then Corrour bothy. I had a broken ankle pinned a plate and had one boot and a running shoe on. It was still raining I was all for going home over the Larig Gru but not Myrtle up went on to the plateau.
She also has a unique knowledge of the Cairngorms based on a life where with her family she studied wild life on Ben Mac Dui for many summers, what a lady. Again I was
On that talk many years a ago we were given a chat about the early call outs in the Cairngorms. Ray started with the Baird and Barrie call-out of New Year 1928 two men from Glasgow University who set out to explore the Cairngorms during the Christmas holidays.
The story is well told in the book aptly named “the Black Cloud” A sad but interesting read and may put you off mountaineering for life! They set off from Whitewells in Glen Feshie where Myrtle was brought up and still loves dearly. Ray had some wonderful photos of the search parties that went out in 1928, local keepers Ghillies and the Police incredible days. I had never seen such early shots of mountain Rescue and it was a wonderful night in the Rothiemurcus Tennis club. We were taken back in time and how similar to that early story in 1928 were some of the recent Cairngorm tragedies.
How things repeat themselves. Many years later in 1978 myself Ray and the RAF teams and the Cairngorm Team were bringing two other fatalities of from the Coire Bogha – cloiche on Braeraich in wild weather. Again I was in trouble after a Christmas escapade but Ray said get up that hill and we will sort it out.
From my diary “ we lowered Ray into the gully on a single rope it was very dangerous but Sunshine coped with it in his own low key way.” The avalanche risk was extreme but we brought the climbers home.
Over the years I became his Team Leader at Kinloss where Ray was now Officer in charge he kept me right on many occasions. He was wise council and helped us on many big searches with his incredible area knowledge. He was so well thought of by the hierarchy at Kinloss and was always firefighting on our behalf.
After he left the team he digitalised all the photos from the Kinloss photo albums. We now have a unique record of the Team call-outs and training from 1944 – to 2007 a great insight into the past. Few teams have this history on tap.
Ray is still on the go on his electric bike cycling most days and still taking visitors for his unique tours of Rothiemurcus. I left the RAF in 2007 and I had a few pounds to spend on Resettlement. I hired Ray to take me on one of his tours of Rothiemurcus. I sat on the front of the land rover and opened 18 gates on that day. His knowledge was exceptional and his insight into the forest and animals was unique.
I learned so much from Ray he introduced me to Hamish and many other characters. He is still well thought of throughout Scotland.
Hw wrote a great article on his days in the RAF which is attached below.
The Way it was Ray Sefton
I was posted to Kinloss in 1956 as a fresh faced 17 year old straight from training. The journey from RAF Yatesbury in Wiltshire took 30 hours and as the old steam train trundled through the windswept Drumochter Pass and on over the Dava Moor I pondered what I would do with my life so far from home, family and friends. On arrival at Kinloss I was sent to work as a radar mechanic in the Radio Servicing Flight. I soon became bored and with little work to do and stacks of people around I thought I would look for something challenging to do in my spare time. Having heard of the famous Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team, I thought that maybe I would give it a try. The old hands at work warned me off and said they were a bunch of hard men and ruffians. However, being young and impressionable, off I trotted to see the Team Leader. In my young eyes, he seemed ancient at all of 48 years old. He took me into his office and closed the door and gave me a brief on the team. He then ran his finger down the manning board and proceeded to advise me of who I should steer clear. “Don’t go near Smith he is a bully, Parkin is a bad influence, Thompson will lead you astray. Almost all of his team had a problem. My next big step was to draw my kit; a framed Bergan rucksack, a pair of nailed Tricouniboots (no crampons), a set of windproofs, a second pair of working blue trousers, socks, mitts, a wooden ice axe and a sleeping bag were just about it.
On down to the notorious Hut 5, an Ops Wing billet, in the middle of Eng Wing accommodation, its secluded position meant it never got inspected. On entering the hut I was greeted by three of the scruffiest airmen I had ever seen, nobody spoke. The hut was filthy, with broken beds and a few holes in the floor and a number of cracked windows. They were seated around a red hot stove, making toast and beans with the remains of the week ends rations. I found a bed space and settled in. Still nobody spoke to me, strange bunch of guys are these thought I. Sometime later I heard then talking about me. “Don’t like his smile, must be a cheeky bastard, soon sort him out”, said one. Already I had began to think that I had made a mistake. Later they deigned to ask me my name. “Ray Sefton”. I replied. I was then told that everybody in the team had a nickname, and with myself not possessing one, they would see to it. Hence ‘SUNSHINE” was to be my nickname, taken from RAY OF SUNSHINE’. Bright boys aye. Try and imagine if you will what Kinloss was like in those days. The base was full of discontented National Servicemen with no money, who hated regulars because we were paid substantially more.
The “troops” were billeted in wooden huts with 28 men in each. In each hut there was a pot bellied stove that worked on coke which was on ration. The trick of lighting the stove was to chop up a chair and throw a 7 pound tin of floor polish on it. When the chairs ran out we used to pinch one from another hut. When the coke ran out we used to raid the coke compound in the dead of night. Occasionally we got caught and the system meted out retribution. The new fangled television had just arrived and we could get BBC 1. Almost all the roads north and west of Inverness were single track and consequently, we used to lose a fair amount of wagons in crashes. Unit Inquiries were always convened and some of the stories we concocted to get us out of trouble were truly amazing.
At this time there were no organised civilian teams in Scotland and the RAF did most of the search and rescues. In Fort William, the Lochaber boys (JMC of Scotland) used to help us a lot on the Ben. Alsoyoung Hamish Maclnnes and his gang used to appear pretty fast. He was lurking around the Fort and Glencoe at this time, putting up new routes. In those days any person on the hill would offer us their help on a rescue. Helicopters were not available for civilian rescues.
Briefings were very interesting, here you were allocated a party, your route was given and you had to have a route plan made out by the end of briefing. Little instruction was given on other aspects of MR, although techniques were practised at nearby cliffs on Wednesday afternoons.
A party was normally four people. The wireless operator carried the radio which worked on HF, weighed 28 lbs and had a nine footaerial. If you upset the team leader, you carried the wretched thing for six weeks and it seldom worked. However, we got wise and if our course didn’t go near the team leader, we sometimes hid the radio behind a boulder on the way out and collected it on the way back. Additionally, the party carried a 1 inch Very pistol, cartridges and some thunderflashesfor signalling with. The illuminators were good for getting off the hill at night and it was not unknown for the thunderflashes to be used for fishing. The other bods carried a tiny rucksack which contained a spare pair of socks, mitts, a spare jumper, slings and scran – a sensible size rucksack. The MT fleet was almost the same size. The ambulance however, was similar to an aircraft crash ambulance and the sigs truck was a 1 ton Austin which could do 70 mph once you got it going. Sadly, MT support was lousyand the team were lucky if it went out with one Bedford and a SWB Landrover. New “troops” didn’t get to sit in the Landrover, you had to be in the team about a year to get that privilege. Health and safety wasn’t a problem; We loaded the Bedford with the kit plus 20 jerrycans of petrol, the “troops” all climbed in and smoked and sang or played cards, all the way to base.
My first exercise was at Inverailort (not the castle). I was a real towny having been brought up in London I had hardly seen a hill, let alone climbed one. The usual ploy was to leave Kinloss at 1300hrs on Saturday, stop at the Rendezvous cafe at Inverness for tea and cakes, and then stock up with a loaf of bread and some makings to last until we got to base in the early evening.
Base camp was nearly always in tents because we didn’t have any funds to pay for a bothy. On Sunday I was sent on the hill with three “troops”. The planned course was about 15 miIes. Shortly after I left the road, I was lagging and these stalwarts got further and further ahead. There was absolutely no communication between us. Eventually they waited, but as soon as I caught up they were off. So the ‘pondlife’ plodded on getting more and more knackered. By the end of the day I was literally on my knees. 0n arrival in base, I just crawled into my sleeping bag and fell asleep, missing dinner. The next thing I felt was a kick. Come on novice, eat up and get washing up done. We packed up base and started the long journey back to Kinloss on Sunday evening arriving at 0200hrs. Shortly after leaving base I started to get cramp, a thing I had never experienced. I was squealing like a pig and the “troops” were wetting themselves with laughter. All the way back I thought that MR was not my scene and had every intention of handing my kit in. Next morning I hobbled in to work with large blisters on both feet and still in a near state of collapse. Everybody was laughing at me, there was no sympathy, because I had been warned about these hooligans. Any thought of packing in disappeared because this youth needed to save face. Thereafter things gradually improved and I am still here 37 years later.
Social life at this time was brilliant. The troops could attract the local girls like a magnet. There was usually a good Ceilidh or dance on in the villages. We never dressed up, just arrived in hill kit and boots and no charge was made to get in. We took our boots off and danced in our socks until the wee smaIlhours. Even though we didn’t have any money, it was fun. Aviemore with the “Comrades Hall” and ‘Village Hall” and Fort William with “K KCamerons” and the “ Bracksie” were particularly memorable.
Aviemore was a tiny railway junction and there was a dirt track from Coylumbridge to Glenmore where the road ended. We used to drive to Glenmore, put the trucks in four wheel drive and drive across the beach to a suitable campsite. Base was quickly established, pick up the girls from the Glenmore Lodge and then head for the dance.
After a good nights social we were like zombies on the hill. To get to Ben Macdhui or Loch Avon in those days was a major expedition, especially in winter. Fort William was another tremendous place. The team camped at Achintee for ten days each Christmas, and on New Years eve the Fort was first footed in style. Everywhere was open house where fine songs were sung and tales were told. At 5 am we used to meet up in MacBraynes Buses Canteen for a couple of hours and party around the Fort for the rest of the day, providing of course that there were no CaII Outs. Now, MacBraynes is a name to be conjured with; It was said that God gave man the earth, and MacBraynes the Western Highlands, fortunately for us he put clippies on the buses. They were lovely girls and we got to know them really welI, which was good news when we wanted to go climbing on the Ben.
In those far off days troops didn’t own cars and MT had no flexibility. Our mode of transport was to hitch to Inverness and catch the MacBraynes bus to the Fort. Again, MR never paid, unless the inspector got on. Inevitably marriages took place, and as I remember, four of the “troops’ married clippies in a short space of tine. This perk all changed when MacBraynes went onto one man operation. My first Call Out occurred one Novembers night in 1956. A Canberra aircraft on route from Kinloss to RAF Bassingbourne had gone missing. A bang followed by a flash had been seen in the hills above Braemar. The team deployed in various states of sobriety because we had just spent the evening in the Eagle in Forres. We made Braemar in the early hours and started a search at first light. The wreckage was spotted and the bodies of the crew were recovered by a Sycamore helicopter from Leuchars. I helped to remove the bodies from the helicopter and to my young mind this was a terrible sight. I watched the way the “troops” handled the situation and very quickly learned to live with these sights which were to become all too frequent over the ensuing years.
Christmas saw my first big ‘job’. Four young lads from Yorkshire were lost somewhere on the Ben. Three were found on CarnDearg and had succumbed to hypothermia. The fourth had fallen over Castle Ridge and was recovered later. In January a couple on their honeymoon had an accident in Twisting Gully, on Stob Coire Nan Lochain. We were calIed out around midnight and arrived in Glencoe around 5am. The body of the girl was found at midday and its recovery was started down to the road. The recovery was proving difficult and stopped as the light faded. The tired “troops” returned to their tents in the GIen. At first light we were off again, picked up the stretcher, and dragged it over the ridge by Gear Aonach and down the Lost Valley. Two days to accomplish what would take 2 or 3 hours now. A lot of the CaIl Outs were on the Ben, and some of the runs to the Fort were frightening. I think the governors on the Bedfords had been doctored. The record run was 1 hr 58 mins, for the 98 miles to the Aluminium Works. Then a race developed to the CIC hut from the distillery as there was no Torlundy track. Find the casualty and another race for the Bogey on the old Aluminium Works railway to save the last two miles of carrying. The bogey was just like you see on a Buster Keaton movie. It was not unheard of for some “troops” to fly off at the first bend. Then we hit the “Jacobite” or “NevisBank” for some stress counselling. That is the way MR has always worked.
Shortly after I joined the team, I was moved to MR, (full time) to service the useless radios. Unfortunately, I then became the scapegoat for the radios not working and started to take a lot of flak. We had thirty of these old war time radios and I hadn’t a clue about fixing them. My method of servicing was easy. Change all the valves and connectors and if that didn’t work, send it back to the maintenance unit, knowing that we would never get it back. Very shortly, we only had six left. Luck was on our side. Another waggon left the road and was a write-off. Some bright spark decided this would be the end of the radios as well. Within seconds the radios were taken from the truck and bashed against a boulder, never to work again and the remains slung into the wreckage. Very quickly, new radios were obtained. Unfortunately, they were just as heavy but at least they did work.
In the Spring of 1957 the team at RAF West Freugh was disbanded and the “troops” posted to other teams. One day two airmen arrived at Kinloss. They were obviously experienced MR “troops” because they were wearing the illegal aircrew shirt with their uniforms this was our trademark at that time. They started to unpack, one hung his pitons, hammer and etriers on his locker and the place went quiet. The other produced a Banjo. ” Whats your name”? somebody asked. “Ian Clough” was the reply. ” Got a nickname”? “no”. Your names ” Dangle” from now on. The other was christened “Lonnie” after the great skiffle player of that time.
At Easter the team were in Fort William. Dangle offered to take me up Observatory Ridge. It was a lovely day and we sauntered up to the CIC Hut where we wasted a lot of time drinking tea and chatting with the world. We started the route at about 2pm and after about 300 feet we soon ran into difficulty on the ice. As daylight ran out we moved onto the easier part of “Zero” gully and proceeded to chop steps for about 400 feet. We arrived back at base at 2 am to find the team on standby. They were not best pleased, having missed the pub. I skulked off to my sleeping bag having had a tremendous day. Dangle got a severe tuning from the Team Leader! Little did we know that this was to be the first of many “epics” that Dangle and the team were to have as the team put up many new routes on “The Big Bad Ben”. Ian Clough went on to become one of the finest climbers of his era.
So, when you’re poncing around in your colour co-ordinated kit, with your GPS in your hand, and your chocks and friends on your climbing harness, calling up a “yellow bird” on your Motorola radio, remember me, the ” Has Been”. Oh, and when you are about to pass a derogatory remark about an old member being a boring old f_ remember that you to will be a “Has Been” quicker than you think they too, like me, are entitled to tell stories and recount epics about the way it was. To all my friends out there
I went to a wonderful Burns night. There were song, poems and music. We were met by a piper at the door which led to the atmosphere. I was born in Ayr which is Burn’s country. Sadly my voice does not allow me to sing but it was so enjoyable. There was a Ukrainian family who were staying on the village. They came and enjoyed the night but what a sad time they are having it puts life in perspective. One of the poems is one I love. When I was down South at Innsworth for 2 years I tried to come back to Scotland monthly. I always drove through the night. I found going back heartbreaking this is why I love this song and it’s words.
My Heart’s in the Highlands..
My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart’s in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.
Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North,
The birth-place of Valour, the country of Worth ;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.
Farewell to the mountains, high-cover’d with snow,
Farewell to the straths and green vallies below;
Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods,
Farewell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods.
My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
Pete McGowan was an ex RAF MRT team leader. Pete was an amazing guy and he sorted out the “RAF Kinloss Team ” in the mid 70’s. What a leader and some task master, he was known throughout Mountain Rescue for his huge days all over the UK and came with a big reputation.
It was an incredible commitment to stay with the team three full weekends training a month ( friday night to late Sunday night, sometimes early Monday morning . What a leader he was and some task master, he had a huge purge when he took over the team and we were left with under 20 team member’s. I was one of the lucky ones who got kept about 20 left or were binned. He changed the team and the priority was becoming all competent mountaineers.
Pete was a huge influence on the team a true leader. He drive you on and gave you so much trust in what you did. Pete was also the Cyprus team leader when one of the young stars was killed Ian McKinnon as a block hit him on a ledge descending from Mt Kenya. To lose a young man in his prime a really effected everyone. A lot of the team wanted to go home. In my mind incredible strong leadership.
Once the enquiry was over Pete led several groups to the true summit of Kenya Neilson at 17022 feet a true mountaineers mountain. He also put up a hard grade 6 they named the route after Ian McKinnon The MacKinnon Couloir with local guide and climber Phil Snyder.
To me hearing the stories from those who were there he lead from the front. If you have any information on this climb please get in touch.
“By his outstanding qualities of leadership and organising ability he brought the Cyprus team to a high level of proficiency. In a recent training expedition to Mount Kenya during which a team member fell and was fatally injured. FS McGowan restored the morale of the team by his personal example of self discipline, courage and determination.
Ian had to be buried on the mountain as it was in such a dangerous area. This tested the team to the full in so many ways. Several expeditions have visited his grave and agree about the dangerous situation it is in.
He came to RAF Kinloss as Team leader a few years later to bring several young stars like Jim Morning and Terry Moore. This pushed our standards especially on climbing summer and winter. It had a huge effect on those who were left. I climbed a lot more and had a great day on Winter in Tower Ridge with Pete which I will never forget. He took us to great areas like the North West and we had huge days on the wild cliffs of Fionaven. Winter traverse of An Teallach including a route onto the ridge all the team were on the mountain pushing there own standards.
His techniques day were amazing as the team leader at RAF Valley he did huge lowers of the sea cliffs at Gogarth and the big cliffs in Wales. He took Mountain Rescue into another era. I learned a lot during his time as leader some of it you could use in future years. He gave responsibility to many of us and trusted our decisions. It was so hard and so committing but the learning was incredible. He had a good way of talking to you and making you feel confident. He took us all over Scotland we climbed so much and learned about the different area. This was great for area knowledge and confidence in working in wild weather wherever we were.
Before Pete arrived at Kinloss he was on a RAFMA expedition to the Himalayas to the very difficult Dhaulagiri 1V in 1974. As they set out huge blocks of ice fell from the icefall. Two Sherpas were killed and two injured sadly one died during the night the other was taken to Katmandu by rescue helicopter. A very tragic expedition which ended after the accident. It was a miracle that more were not killed. Such is the price we can play for attempting these incredible mountains.
Pete after his spell at RAF Kinloss retired in the late 70’ he built a new career as a Ranger in the Peak District. I often met him on his big walks and at Re unions. He is still on the hills with his mate Tom Taylor what a pair they are.
What a man, what wild days and no time for anything else, but we all learned so much. Especially me.
I was very fortunate to meet so many great mentors in RAF Mountain Rescue. John Hinde was one who helped me a lot and gave me so much of the history of the Mountain Rescue Service. John was a superb mountaineer. Many never knew John was a big part of the first British ascent of Denali in 1962 there is a great account in the John Hinde Diaries a blog by his daughter. A great read. He had climbed all over the world including Dhaulagiri in the Himalayas.
John was still in the RAF Kinloss Team when I joined in 1972. He took me to Skye on an early attempt at Sgurr na Gillian on Skye in winter. We aborted near the summit as John’s frostbite on his feet from Denali were causing problems and were frozen.On the descent he told us a wee part of the story Alaska was a different place then. John was a wonderful story teller and we used to be enthralled by his tales of epics from the past 40 years. He was an ex Team Leader then but so happy to pass on his knowledge to all.
John was the Scottish Mountain Rescue Stats officer for many years. His knowledge was outstanding and he gave me a huge interest in what happens. He did so much through his knowledge for Mountain Safety and through his work the Archive of these years is very well documented. He also helped build the old abseil posts into Coire Leis (Ben Nevis) now gone with the Kinloss team and Hamish after a few accidents. https://diariesofjohnhinde.wordpress.com/about/
June 2012 – Ben Nevis Abseil Posts Removed
The eight abseil posts leading down from the Carn Mor Dearg arête into Coire Leis on the north side of Ben Nevis have been removed. The majority of the poles had fallen into disrepair and were unsafe to use. The highest abseil post provided a useful navigation aid and is to be replaced by a two metre high cairn that will be constructed in the same style as the other navigation cairns which currently exist across the summit plateau. This cairn will mark the top of the obvious descent line into Coire Leis in poor visibility. The cairn will be constructed by the landowners – The John Muir Trust. The cairn is in place from the end of July 2012 and will be located at Grid Reference NN 17078 71000
Tower Ridge – After a tragic job on Ben Nevis on 1972 when 3 Navy climbers fell on Tower ridge. After we got the casualties to the CIC hut I was volunteered to climb the route with John and two others.I had never climbed the ridge before it was a scary, wet day. John did a drawing of where he thought the climbers had fallen from. I found it pretty intimidating at 20 years old but John looked after us all day, It was a day I will never forget. I was amazed looking back why John took me but I learned so much on that tragic day.
When John retired we met him all over Scotland where he worked for the,Moray Sea school and Outward Bound Locheil many folk have great stories about this new part of his life.
He introduced so many to the mountains, gave them a love of the hills and wild places. He continued doing the Stats officer for Scottish mountain Rescue. I was on the Executive for 20 years often we worked late into the night before a big meeting John would stop the flow to tell us another great story.
John was a member of the SMC and my local club the Moray Mountaineering Club (MMC) He was extremely well thought off. He was always passing on his information on the wild places to younger members especially in the MMC .
I last saw John on 2001 heading across the Cairngorm plateau with a huge bag. We had just finished a route on Hells Lum. We had a great chat and then he was off. He was in his 70’s then and made a big impression on my young group. He was full of plans and his heart burned for these mountains. There was little he did not know about these Glen’s and Bothies he stravaiged all over and is regularly talked about to this day (2023)
Lots more written by John’s Daughter Fiona through www. John Hindes Diaries great reading. There is also lots of John stories in Two star red and book on RAF Mountain Rescue in the early days by Gwen Moffat.
Any photos stories please add them all are welcome .
It’s fun looking back and seeing the old i photos of some of the characters. I was so lucky to meet so many that had an influence on my life over the years.
George lead the team through his wit and leadership. I met him as my first team leader he stuck up for me often giving my bosses a hard time for me being out on Rescues. It was great to have him as back up of things went wrong.
I was extremely lucky he took me under his wing and taught me so much early on in my mountaineering career. Often getting a hard time from some of the old and bold of that time.
He seemed to know everyone and shared with me so many aspects of life. He made big bonds with the Keepers and Ghillies in most estates. He also knew how to deal with the landowners and the big bosses in the military. He spoke openly and told the truth after a epic. George was great at letting you into the conservation with the leading lights of the day. He was a pals with Bill Brooker, Fred Harper, Eric Langmuir, Ben Humble, Hamish McInness and so many others all over Scotland. As a tee totaler he did not need alcohol and his wit was legendary. I was so proud when I was asked to be a pall bearer for him when he passed away. He had spoken privately that he had cancer to a few of us. He said when how long did he have left would he see his beloved Rangers win the European cup the Consultant said sadly not. He passed away a few weeks later.
George rarely spoke about his exploits but he was a key man during the Cairngorm tragedy in 1971 helping direct the helicopter into the plateau in appalling weather by walking in front ! He spoke to all the same way. His famous story of taking some Air Marshal out on the hill and he forgot his bag. It was full on winter. George replied” The Mountains have no respect for rank go and get your bag” you can pay for the coffee while we wait for you.
He was a brilliant speaker all off the cuff. He was an early “Billy Connelly “for quick replies and was never short of words. He was a Physical Training Instructor but smoked at lot. He became a very proficient parachute instructor but his skills were in Mountain Rescue. He became a Mountain Rescue Team Leader and was great at getting information from survivors of an accident and thought out of the box on rescues. It was the way he made folks feel comfortable that they opened up to him a rare skill.
He made pals everywhere no matter who or what they did and when he left the service he became a key man in the Pentland where he introduced many to the outdoors.
Leadership I feel is learning from folk like George. He would laugh at some of the ways we teach it now. He possessed so many skills. Communication he could talk to anyone. Humour always there too bring humour into a tale.
Learning from the past and mistakes made and being honest about it. He was despite being a small man had a strong character if you messed with him you were sorted out.
I often think of George and his stories.
We were talking about searches it was for a Ghillie who went missing. As normal the Police and local Team leader briefed us and we were given basic information. George them spoke to his workmates who said he would have a Garron with him ( a Highland pony for taking stags of the hill. George went out in a land rover and saw a Garron on its own by the track. The Ghillie was injured not far from it. George got him sorted and took him back where he recovered. His thinking was always get the story first hand many things get missed in the initial rush to search areas. A lesson I never forgot !
The Nest of Fannichs : One of two houses that stood at the head of Loch Fannaich. Cabuie Lodge was demolished, it was feared that it would be flooded when the Hydro enlarged the loch. The Nest was lost to a gas explosion and fire about 1989. It was a classic Mountain bothy in a wild area.
I had been at the bothy a few times the first supporting an early Team Leaders course in 1973 ? When I met them coming of the hill they were exhausted and they were all very fit. Another time we met Hamish Brown and his dog overnight. I also had winter climbed in the Geala Buttress and night stopped at the bothy after an epic day. There were few about in these days we had the huge cliff to ourselves and a basic guide. The scope was immense for winter climbing. It’s great to hear that this wild place with a huge walk in is getting climbed on again. (Jan 2023)
North – South walk: Where were you 46 years ago in 1976 we were young and had a plan, we used our leave (holiday time) for the full year nearly ? We lived on packet soup l, porridge and some compo rations. It was a North to South of Scotland basic kit and lots of pain. Diary extract:
Day 5 May 13 1976 – The winter is not over !
Route. Loch Droma bothy – The Fannichs Beinn Liathach Mhor Fannaich, Sgurr Mor ,Meall Gorm, An Coileanchan, Meall Gorm, Meall A’ Chrasgaidh, Sgurr Na Chlach Geala Sgurr nan Each – The bothy the Nest of Fannichs.
We were glad to leave the damp wet bothy and head for another big hill day we had planned to climb as many of the Fannichs as possible. It was away early, the tea and porridge a ritual. The snow was down to the road and we had a day planned for the high peaks of the Fanniachs.
This range of peak contains 9 Munros and most lie on the A835 road to Ullapool. It is a route do lightweight and in later years I did it in its entirety on at least on 12 occasions , twice in winter a long 16 hour day!
It was a classic training day for stamina for the newer team member’s. Not today though with a big bag and poor weather we would see what happens? The main ridge is fairly continuous with outliers and the final two are separated by a big beleach of 550 metres. It was a big pull out of the bothy up the broad snowed up slopes and onto the main ridge a big pull in the winter weather. Our wet gear and feet were a worry as we were wearing the standard Curlies very basic boots and three pairs of socks to try to keep them dry and warm but no chance.
We were soon on the summit of Beinn Liathach Mhor Fannaich. This is a good viewpoint but not today and now in cloud onto the big summit of Sgurr Mor with its very steep ridge and in the bad weather it was not easy to find the summit cairn perched close to the edge of the cliff. We had thought of picking this up on the way back but the weather was worrying and better to get it done and if the weather improves skirt it in the way back! This is a tricky place on a winter day not the place to slip with the snow and was very icy covered with the fresh snow.
This is an impressive hill and stands proud with its summit like at times a big Alpine peak. There was little shelter so we kept moving on out to the far two Munros Meall Gorm, An Coileanchan. It sounds , simple but a long walk out into wind and wild weather. We were left with a dilemma, should we leave our bags on the beleach but the fresh snow made it an easy decision to make, No! It was then back along the ridge climbing Meal Gorm again ( does that count as another Munro) with the odd views of Loch Fannich below. We were back over Sgurr Mor the weather made any attempt at skirting it impossible and then out onto Meall A’ Chrasgaidh and back to the beleach and the Sgurr Nan Clach Geala and its huge buttress breaking through the and giving us great views.
That day we saw the mighty An Teallach and the Fisherfield wilderness more remote Munros and of course the previous days Beinn Dearg hills and then the days to come with the great glens mountains sneaking a view, The final peak of the day is Sgurr Nan Each and the wild descent to the Nest of Fannichs bothy. There was no way in the conditions we could do anymore hills 6-7 Munros was enough for today, the weather was wild and we just wanted of the hill and into the bothy. It was comforting to get out of the wind on to the Mountain Bothies Association bothy known as the “Nest of Fannaich ” situated on Sgùrr nan Each’s lower south-west slopes by the loch which a great help when climbing mountains in this area. (This bothy was burnt down in 1989 and never replaced)
loved the name “Nest” and it was great to get out of the wind at last and get the fire going with the dry bogwood left by previous visitors and some dry wood by the Fannich Estate. On arrival we got changed and then the process of fire on, stove on and food on the go tea and soup were wonderful and then the evening meal.
What a classic bothy I had stayed here before and it was in an incredible situation a classic bothy . We were soon sorted and pretty tired with two hard days, we slept well as the weather again picked up and the snow turned to rain. I was always amazed as how Jim my companion coped on arrival each night he was amazing and so organised everything was packed neatly everything in its place and me and Paul lived completely the opposite and Paul was definitely worse than me.
By now our characters were showing: Jim the driving force, Paul low key head down and getting stronger very day me just chugging along. My knee was hurting every day and I was getting left a bit behind. We saw huge herds of deer every day and no one, the hills and bothies were so quite this was a specail time in our lives. Each day we got more hill aware, the showers the weather we started to know when the changes were coming in weather. We became I feel at one with our surroundings a unique period in my 60 odd years on the hill. We had a huge river to cross next day I was worried as it snowed all night.
The ruins at the Nest of Fannichs.
These were great days you met some characters in these Bothies. A few hill walkers but there was a lot of exploration going on in the early 70’s on these winter cliffs. Sitting in the bothy listening to the tales of climbers was interesting and fired my love for these places. Climbing was not so busy then there were some great characters about and I loved exploring these wild Corries and often getting in an easier route. Yet on a big new cliff like the Geala buttress was hugely exciting and testing.
Comments as always welcome as are any photos of this Lost bothy.
Hamish during and before COVID used to send me little stories of past days to me me most are in that wonderful book above. I know how much he enjoyed talking about these days. His memory had recovered and he would produce a photo from his office. He always had a unique tale that he could tell you about. It was not always about Rescues or the expeditions but the many local characters he had met over his long life.
One that stood out was a photo of Hamish in the back of a yellow Wessex SAR helicopter. He had found a place to unwind only accessible by boat near Diabeg on Loch Torridon. He had his mates Joe Brown, Mo Anthoine to w help build a bothy on some land he had received permission from the land owner to put his wee bothy up. Most items were taken in by boat but as only Hamish could do the furniture was “ taken i by a overloaded “Bumble bee” a Wessex helicopter. It’s a great tale told with others in his W the back on a rocking chair with headphones on on that crazy day. The crew helped him and other unload from the only flat piece of land nearby. His tales of getting building items from Applecross with the locals by boat and raft is a great tale on its own. I wonder if any of the SAR crew are about and remember these crazy days. Of course Hamish had a bit of an epic with planning authorities it’s all in his book and the local characters who helped him.
The story in the book is so visual and another side of Hamish that few knew. A cabin by the sea is chapter 27 of his book and explains in detail the help he had. It was an honour to be told these tales by the great man how I and so many others miss him.
Hamish had a way of getting things done,he had so many contacts and I will dig out my pieces he sent me.
I would love to hear from the helicopter crews and anyone involved in this wee tale. Just to read Hamish’s account makes me laugh. Is there a finer way to be remembered?
Dan Bailey UKC –
A giant of the mid 20th Century of similar stature to Brown and Bonington, though arguably with a legacy more wide-reaching and diverse than either, Hamish MacInnes was a polymath who’s practical inventiveness heavily influenced the development of the modern technical ice axe, and gave the rescue world the lightweight, folding MacInnes Stretcher, iterations of which are still in production.
For many years the head of Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team, he is credited with kick-starting a modern rescue service in Scotland, and with setting up the Search and Rescue Dogs Association (SARDA). An interest in avalanches, then poorly understood in the UK, led to his involvement in establishing what’s now known as the Scottish Avalanche Information Service. Anyone who’s either worked in mountain rescue, or needed their services, clearly owes something to MacInnes.
The Tragsitz was used widely in the Alps and Jonnie Lees was a exponent of it. The finest achievement of Lees’s career – for which he became the only man to be awarded the George Medal for a cliff rescue – was the night rescue of Major Hugh Robertson, from a ledge on the Snowdonia cliff Craig yr Ysfa in January 1958.This was after taking a climber with serious head injuries of a crag in Wales ( Lees therefore improvised a sit-harness out of a coiled rope, the 14-stone soldier was hoisted on to his back, and the two were lowered – Robertson delirious and clawing at Lees’s face – into the vertical darkness and down to ground. The rescue, in bitter and savage conditions, undoubtedly saved Robertson’s life. Its aftermath saw considerable technical developments in mountain rescue, notably the introduction of the continental Tragsitz.
I have lots of memories of the dreaded Tragsitz. As a wee skinny lad I would have to take one of the bigger folk in the Mountain rescue team down a steep cliff. This was usually done training at Longhaven sea cliffs. My back was always sore after it and landing on ledges was awful. I felt I had limited balance and if folks were not there to help you at the bf end of a lower you both fell over. It battered your shoulders and I was so glad when we got rid of them. From then on it was a simple crag snatch for a fallen climber so much easier but still could be tricky.
The Tragsitz designed for taking casualties storm steep rock faces whilst strapped to rescuer’s back. Mainly orange waterproof material with brown nylon and faded red leather straps and metal buckles.
Do you have any stories of the Tragsitz or photos ?
Yesterday I did a wee bit of filming with Dave and Claire McLeod. The weather held for us and we got a few shots and a wee video done.The drive down was okay apart from Inverness which seems to have its own climate and heavy snow.
I went down the night before due to the weather forecast and stayed in Onich. The hills when they cleared had plenty of snow and I stopped a few times.
Yesterday we met for coffee and headed up the Glen. Dave was with his wife Claire and they make a formidable team.All went well the light changing and views of the Mamores and Waterslide ever changing.
We were above Scimitar buttress the ground frozen an a few groups of kids on Outdoor bound courses were about. Good to see them out and about. We had a good chat got the filming done before the weather broke. I have in the past done a few searches on this area and you forget how huge it is. Steep and craggy not the place to slip.
Dave did not remember but we were both spoke at the Dundee Film Festival in 2008 alongside Rheinold Messner. Thomas Humar and a few others. Hallowed company .
Dave had his drone up at the end and we heard the helicopter flying there was a few Rescues on today in Glencoe and Ben Nevis.I have some great memories of rock climbing at Polldubh in early summer before the midges come. Dave has done several extreme projects over the years he is a world class athlete with no ego.
The forecast was for wild weather so I hard back about 1400 stoping to see friend’s in Newtonmore. There was lots of snow high on the hills but the roads were clear. I did not stay long as a weather warning came in and headed home. The roads were okay but I got battered on the last few miles home. It was a long day I think Claire was worried about my cough but it was okay and great to meet them again.
It’s great to met such folk easy to chat to both with immense knowledge of scotland and the Uk. Just to get out among such god folk is a tonic and I met Donald Watt ex Team Leader of Lochaber MRT and Norah his lovely wife. Sadly I had little time to catch up but will be back . Thanks Dave and Claire for a fun morning.
From Daves website:
“ I am a professional all-round climber based in the highlands of Scotland. I’ve been climbing for 27 years and have climbed 8C boulders, 9a sport climbs, E11 trad, XII,12 mixed and 8b+ free solo. I’m best known for my first ascents of routes such as Rhapsody, the world’s first E11 trad route, Anubis VII,12 one of the world’s hardest mixed climbs and Echo Wall on Ben Nevis. As well as my FAs in Scotland, I’ve climbed numerous hard big walls around the world such as Project Fear (400m 8c) on the north face of Cima Ovest, Paciencia (900m 8a) Eiger North Face, Disco 2000 (400m 8a+, Blamman, Norway).
I’m also known for my writing on training and improvement in climbing. I hold an undergraduate degree in Sports Science and Physiology, an MSc in Sport and Exercise Science and an MSc in Human Nutrition. I’ve been blogging and vlogging for 15 years and my two books 9 out of 10 climbers make the same mistakes and Make or break are among the best selling titles worldwide on training and injury prevention in climbing. When I’m not climbing I spend my time studying and writing about sports science and nutrition, or with my wife Claire and daughter Freida. I occasionally make mountain films as well.
To keep up with what I’m writing or climbing, please do follow me on social media and subscribe to my newsletter in which I discuss interesting new science in climbing, training ideas and upcoming events.”
It’s great to read of folk climbing enjoying the winter. There is lots of snow falling over the next few days. Please be careful and read the weather and Avalanche Reports.
Things have moved on over the years the weather reports and the Scottish Avalanche Service Information (SAIS). They are free to use and especially the SAIS a lot of folk worked very hard to get the service established.
Over the years I was at many tragic avalanches we knew little in those days. I worked hard to gain knowledge and support the early days of Avalanche Awareness courses at Glenmore Lodge. I had a few near misses in these days. Luck was on my side I think. In the early 80’s we had a great day on North Buttress on the Buachaille in Glencoe.
Sixth sense: on that day in Glencoe we encountered heavy snow the forecasts were not so accurate then. If I remember there was an avalanche update on a board as you set of on the hill. I never felt happy but pushed on staying roped up to the summit in deep snow: Hindsight says we should have abseiled off.
On the summit we were tired the weather was poor and on these days the descent was by Coire Tullaich. At the start of the descent was not happy there was so much wind slab about and had a bit of a battle to convince the others not to drop into the corrie. Instead I convinced them to descended along the ridge and then into Glen Etive a lot longer but in my mind safer. I had done a few searches here. It was a Sunday night we held the team up from getting home as it took a lot longer to get off the hill. At least we were down.
Better safe , than sorry : That day when we got down we were tired after two good days climbing. Then we were told we were needed to assist a local team in the North. A big drive and a night search followed. Next day we located the climber he had been avalanched and was sadly killed. It was the start of a sad few winters.
There is some great advice about reference staying safe in the winter. My advice do a Avalanche course it’s well worth the cost
A great read as well it was a great insight into Scottish Avalanche Conditions.
The role of many voluntary agencies has changed over the years. In my field in the early 70’s the majority of incidents were for mountaineers in trouble on the hills and wild places. I saw things change over the years to where nearly 40% were for looking for “ vulnerable people”
Vulnerable people – these can range from sadly the changes in society over the years. Many are for elderly folk with Alzheimer’s and other problems to sadly suicide attempts by all generations. It’s an awful time to be in need of help as the resources are so overstretched that most Health boards cannot cope. Add to that the pressures of living today in a society that seems at times to have lost its values.
I have over my time been to many incidents and helped changed the way we looked for missing folk. Its a different state of mind and many illnesses need a different approach to searching. This is where the Police, Mountain Rescue, SARDA and other Agencies like the SAR helicopters, Coastguards and lifeboats are extremely valuable.
Attitudes have changed a lot over the years and when someone goes missing in a small village or town the local involvement is massive. Many now have ageing relatives and can see how their problems can cause great worry.
In my early days as Team Leader I took my young Mountain Rescue Team members to an old folks home to see the problems they coped with. To many it was an eye opener and an insight into what used to be a hidden world. After that visit most realised that these folk could be there Mum and Dad and slowly attitudes changed.
Sadly in these troubled times suicides are I am sure on the rise? Mental Health can effect all ages and to me is a ticking time bomb as there is not the funding to deal with it. Money is tight, the NHS is struggling and mental health like most things is lacking in staff and finances.
It’s heartbreaking to recover people from Suicides. Being s mountaineer you understand the risks and but for the grace of god it could be you. Yet in my view there is nothing worse than finding a suicide victim who has taken their own lives. It is such a sad thing a cry for help that has been missed.
As I get older you see how age, health and life changing events make you see things very differently. At least folk are talking about mental health.
Teams and voluntary Agencies should not be forgotten dealing with these new incidents. Many have set up help but much needs to be done to ensure the care is there.
It’s worth mentioning that a few of my friends really strong folk have struggled with health and getting older. It’s tragic to see folk that were so strong become this shell of a person. It’s not easy to keep smiling as your health deteriorates and things look black. Yet even a short walk in the fresh air helps as does chatting to someone you trust.
Many of us spent years looking after others people we never knew on the mountains. Please look after each other. If you have contacts with Agencies that can help please add them below: As always comments welcome.
The Wellbeing Framework should be considered as a tool to use when developing local, and national, resilience and support “packages” for use across volunteer responder organisations. It aims to encourage and support a holistic approach to team member wellbeing. The Wellbeing Framework might be an opportunity to get the team thinking themselves about risk and protective factors and impacts on self, family, and employment for example. Some ideas on how to start the conversations within the team are on the supplementary sheet on this page along with thoughts on supporting potentially traumatic events. Links to some wellbeing videos are also on this page and can be used to start conversations.
Membership of a voluntary responder team should be a rewarding and fulfilling experience. Indeed, it can be seen to tick all five of the commonly referred to “Five ways to Wellbeing” – Connect, Be Active, Keep Learning, Give, and Take Notice. But, across the world, it is recognised that within volunteer (and full time) responder organisations this wellbeing and good mental health can be challenged by some of the tasks that team members can be exposed to, and this in turn has potential impacts on family, employment, the team, and life outside of volunteering. The SMR Wellbeing Framework aims to take a holistic approach to volunteer responder wellbeing and resilience. This expands on previous initiatives, such as Trauma Risk Management (TRiM) training, which are more suited to post-event intervention/support, and for various reasons, and from experience, have not been easily adopted in volunteer organisations such as mountain rescue. Looking after wellbeing should be seen as just as important as other training that goes to help protect the physical health and safety of members. Teams should manage all activities taking account of both the risks to both physical and mental health and well being of team members.
It’s so necessary we learn from the past and look to a better future for who give so much.
I was so lucky travelling all over Scotland meeting so many characters from all Mountain Rescue Teams. It was great to meet so many characters especially as a young lad. Many like Hamish McInnes, Big Ian Nicholson, Walter and Willie Elliot from Glencoe were already well known mountaineers and characters. Yet on Call outs we all worked together. It was the same with Lochaber MRT where many ex RAF had settled down.
Our nearest teams Cairngorm, Glenmore Lodge, Braemar and Aberdeen were often calling the RAF Teams to assist on big Rescues. These were the days of the Glenmore Mafia a group of incredible mountaineers. These teams had huge characters as well but in bad weather it was strange how you rarely saw a face under the goggles and balaclavas in wild weather.
Yet it was always the locals that were key players. Estate workers, local mountaineers and the local Police made it a unique period.
Travelling about in the far North of Scotland we met so many of the local folk. From Skye, Kintail, Assynt , Torridon and Dundonnald . Areas with a small population covering huge remote mountains.
There were and still are so many characters in Mountain Rescue. Various things like the Killin Team Leader was killed when the Wessex helicopter crashed on Ben More on a Callout. That night and the day after we had a special bond with the Killin Team.
There were so many folk great memories of Braemar MRT who were so kind when I lost two great pals climbing on Lochnagar Mark and Neil. The team was so kind and caring to me and others.
You build up a trust with folks hard won at times as at you are only visitors in their area. Yet over the years we build friendships.
I had a great relationship with SARDA and seeing them work on the hill in terrible conditions mostly alone used to worry me. They were also great as the had lots of female handlers this was at a time when there were few in the teams.
Lots of teams had fathers and sons in there ranks. This was a great asset as most like Ryan and his Dad were Torridon trained. We must never forget the families who supported their loved ones. Nowadays it is often mentioned but I spoke to a few wife’s who worried as their loved ones when out on a rescue.
I was very fortunate to meet so many great mentors in RAF Mountain Rescue. John Hinde was one who helped me a lot and gave me so much of the history of our Service.
Various Team Leaders also were real characters and you learn from most of them. Also one never forgets the team members you share so much with them over the years. Many become lifetime friend’s the mountains are a great place to learn about not just mountaineering but life.
There are so many characters to mention. Folk like Peter Cliff, Donald Watt, Terry Cornfield. So many others like Team members in every team: real characters who never seek the limelight but are true unselfish folk.
Nowadays there are still many characters about in every team from Galloway to the Hebrides. They all rely on local support and fundraising not easy in these austere days.
It’s the same with the SAR helicopters there are so many characters all over UK each with a tale to tell. It’s the same with the Police who are responsible for missing mountaineers and others. They also have a long history of supporting the teams.
I cannot thank you all enough and it’s great to see the changes in Mountain Rescue today. It’s even better to see how many young folk we made a difference to over the years. Many became Team Leaders others great unassuming Team members. The mountains give you that bond that in many stays with you for life. So look after those young folk they are the leaders of tomorrow never take anything for granted.
A pal asked me recently if when I am feeling better would fancy going snow holing this winter? It brought back so many memories some good some bad of some wild nights in the Cairngorms and Ben Nevis.
In those days snow holing was a big thing. Groups would be out in the various snow hole sites in the Cairngorms.
With big bags with shovels attached heading for the familiar sites in the Cairngorms Snow holes are built in areas where snow collects and on one call – they were searched for a pal bog mine and his partner that were missing. It was a terribly hard 3 day Callout and dug down to over 3 meters to find a snow holes where we thought they were,
Sadly they were not there but had perished above the Goat Track on the plateau. It was during the great blizzards and we will never know what happened. I think they were in a snow hole and they tried to make it to safety when a huge storm came in.
Snow build up : The first thing to remember that the snow holes are built in areas where the snow builds up. It does not need much wind either to move the snow about especially on the Cairngorm plateau. The amount of snow that can move about even in a short time is considerable.
You cannot see how the winds are moving snow especially on the plateau when inside a snow hole.
Once inside your snow hole the weather and out of the wind it is easy to become complacent on the weather outside. Here are a few thoughts:
Many folk including Glenmore lodge has used snow holes since 1948 and the sites in the Cairngorm plateau for survival training courses and are often used for consistency of the drifting snow even in the leanest of winters.
It was in this wild places that I learned to snow hole. On our annual two week winter course the first night was spent on the plateau digging snow holes. To me this was a recipe for a disaster, the Plateau in winter can be so serious.
When I took over as the Senior Instructor of the winter course I would arrange that the snow -holing was done later in the course . We would do it in two groups on different days. This would manage it better to lessen the impact on the snow hole sites. It would also ensure that for a few inexperienced teams’ members who came from the then six RAF Mountain Rescue Teams that their first look at a Scottish winter was not on the first night on the hostile Cairngorm plateau.
Tales from the snow holes:
I once had a dog called Teallach, (the softest long-haired Alsatian you could ever meet) he finished his Munros in 1985 and he had only twelve left for his second time around, when he unfortunately passed away. He had a life of adventures he was with me as a pup on ever adventure in the mountains . He loved winter where he knew when the snow was coming as his coat changed.
He was pretty hard core but what a companion, he was so loyal and easy going and he never let me down. These were incredible times when I was spending at least 150 days on the hills each year and Teallach was getting out even more as he was the ideal hill companion.
I spent many years snow-holing over 30 winters mainly in the Cairngorms it was the thing to do in the 70/80/90/2000 ‘s and was still part of the syllabus of Mountain Training programmes.
As RAF Mountain Rescue we would have an annual winter course which was 14 days winter mountaineering in Scotland. It was a great experience with a unique one to one ratio of pupil and instructor. The six teams and two overseas teams at one time would send pupils and instructors and over 40 plus would attend. The experience of pupils would be varied and some of the pupils had never worn crampons or ice axes? This was their first taste of winter but we were very lucky to have all our own extremely talented instructors. The course would be based at the superb Grantown On Spey Centre home of the RAF PTI cadre who took leave and left us to their incredible facilities. Their bosses though wondered what they would come back to?
History / The first day started with a few lectures, kit check and then off we went with huge bags to do winter skills then walk up on to the Cairngorm plateau to the snow hole sites. It may sounds easy but it is not, big bags are hard work and the arctic plateau in February is not the place to make mistakes.
We always did a bit on basic skills with the ice axe and crampons and headed up to get sorted and pick a good site. If we were lucky we may find a snow hole already dug.
I had a secret weapon my dog Teallach who joined in the fun but was aware all the time where we were. The troops always enjoyed the experience but that was because most had no clue of the dangers.
The snow hole sites are usually the lee slopes high up and sheltered and can be very busy in winter. After the usual hard work and a hole can be built in 2 hours. It is hard work and you have to make sure all your kit is well-marked and away from all the snow you are moving. A ski pole or avalanche probe was ideal for this.
Big shovels and decent saws can make the job easier. If organised you can soon you can be sorted and have a great night. We usually went out for a night navigating exercise on the plateau a very interesting adventure and a key skill. Over the years we worked out that good insulation was the key to a comfortable night.
Top tip: We always marked our snow hole with an avalanche pole or ski pole at night with a light stick and joined each hole together with ropes. I once was making a brew when crashing through my roof came a well-known instructor much to our amusement. His name is withheld for my book!
A candle and a spacious area to live in makes living and cooking easier and is also a guide to how much air is available for breathing.
My dog Teallach was even better than a canary in a mine as soon as the entrance started to block he was out clearing the entrance.
Top tip: You have to keep checking that you have fresh air in the snow hole at all times. I have so many stories of epics it is no wonder I never slept in a snow hole I was always prepared for the unexpected.
Movement of wind blown snow: During the night on many occasions the wind would move the snow and we would have to get out and dig ourselves out!
Keep an eye on each other: One night on the Cairngorm Plateau after the usual few drams in our snow hole, we all drifted back to our own holes. Just as we were falling asleep, I heard a noise outside and thinking that it was a raid on our whisky store, sent Teallach out to chase them off. Even though Teallach was a big softy, in the dark and around the snow hole, he must have looked fearsome. Imagine my consternation the about an hour later, when I went out and found two climbers curled up and shivering. They had left their sacks below Hells Lum Crag and the weather had changed drastically and could not find them. They had staggered back onto the plateau and were in a bad way. They had seen our light from the snow hole in a break in the weather and they thought they were safe. They made their way to safety only to be met by a huge dog, who would not let them in the snow hole. I brought them in, gave them a brew and walked them off in the morning, meeting Cairngorm MRT, who was coming to look for our “lost” friends. (Another confession) I was reminded of this story by a photo I put up on social media.
Be aware of what is happening outside! You can be unaware of the weather outside and it is not easy when in the shelter of the snow hole to make your inexperienced friends aware of how wild things can get.The wind changes all the time and the entrance can get easily blocked. Get ready inside the snow hole if its blowing heavily as when you get out life can get difficult!
Points – Check the weather forecast and be aware that snow will move during the night in the form of spindrift and can easily block an entrance.
Put all Gear not being used in a safe place away from where you are digging, mark it as it could be covered by snow fairly quickly.
Wear as little as possible when digging it is hard work.
Try to keep dry as possible. Use good shovels and kit.
Check that there is enough snow to dig a snow-hole if planning to stay a night! Use an avalanche probe to check depth and mark roof! The bigger the better, if in a big group link snow holes.
Make the ceilings as smooth as possible to stop drips. A gortex Bivy bag will keep you dry inside your sleeping bag and good sleeping insulation is very important!
Keep air circulating:
Remember when cooking you need air make sure the snow hole is well ventilated at all times! Link snow holes by a rope that way you will ensure that if you have to move out quickly you can reach the other snow holes.
When inside the snow hole it is easy to forget where you are remember the wind and temperature are static inside and a big storm could be brewing outside. If going out especially in the night tell someone and wear your kit.
Nearly a disaster :One of ours a young lad went out in inner boots and could not get back in another went out in bare feet and fell down the slope . THE SNOW HAD FROZEN AND WAS TOO STEEP TO GET IN WITHOUT BOOTS AND AN AXE!
Only the dogs barking woke us,they was lucky. He was an officer so maybe that possibly explains it.
It is worth carrying a pee bottle to save you going out at night! Always tell someone you are going out, if you have to!
Leave nothing outside apart from Skis bring everything in and be ready to move in the event of a problem!
Have all your kit really handy right beside you.
What do you do if you need the loo, you do it and carry it out see the Mountaineering Scotland’s advice on this!
YOU MUST REMEMBER THAT WHEN YOU LEAVE THE SITE YOU MUST LEAVE NOTHING BUT FOOTPRINTS! Even your POO must be taken out.
There are many more tips. Read Martin Moran’s wonderful Scotland’s winter mountains a classic.
Finally – in a trip to Edinburgh about 6 years ago with 4 well qualified mountaineers one a guide they all said that they all had some incredible serious nights snow holing in the Cairngorms.
Finally be ready for what the weather is doing outside. Get prepared for the worse weather.
I got asked on a few occasions when asked what was the Corporate issue to the RAF Mountain Rescue Teams. This was from a few filmmakers who were reacting a few Call-outs. They were amazed that most folk wore their own gear.
Ron Hill tracksters we’re very popular in the 80’s & 90’s. The troops were in these days very individual this was shown in many ways especially hill gear. On formal inspections we wore the big boots, breeches and jumpers with red socks. It was to keep the powers that be happy. I remember on an inspection at RAF Leuchars in Fife we got a call out and it was a job in the far North to Ben Hope. Immediately the inspection gear was ditched and our own gear used.
Nowadays it’s all great gear that we fought for over the years. Slowly improving things for the better. The gear is far superior now as is the equipment but when I look back how different it was.
Beinn Dearg is a big classic mountain in the North of Scotland it is the highest mountain North of the Inverness Ullapool road. It holds its lofty position and is often climbed with the other 3 Munro’s in Summer. Thecharder folk climb Seanna Bhraigh as well . The second peak, remote Cona Mheall, is on the opposite side of impressively rocky and wild Coire Ghranda whilst Meall nan Ceapraichean and Eididh nan Clach Geala can extend the route to give a grand traverse with spectacular views across towards Assynt. These are grand hills with superb viewpoints and lochans.
Yet to me on its own Beinn Dearg is a big mountain easily recognised from views from other hills and from the road and from Ullapool is one to savour .
It looks fairly dome shaped from the distance and benign but it has cliffs all the way along the most popular way in from Inverael. In winter they can hold some classic ice routes.
Beinn Dearg: a mountain in the Inverlael area of the Highlands of Scotland. It is most frequently climbed by following the River Lael up Gleann na Sguaib. There is parking at the main road till the end of the forestry track just of the main road it can be cycled to the stalkers path (about 3 k) which then follows the stalkers path glen to the bealach, which is about a kilometre north of the summit. From here it’s a steady pull to the summit . At 1,084 metres it’s a big hill translation. There is a “Famine wall” which stops short of the summit. The summit can be hard to locate in Winter under snow.
This is another to me neglected mountain often I have climbed it usually with Mountain Rescue pals on training and on a few call outs. I had a great long day just after my operations on my own a few years back in deep snow.
It is a huge mountain from the Inverlael side. The path lets you see the hidden Hydro that helps powers the nearby Ullapool and the never ending stalkers path takes past the climbs where the late Doctor Tom Patey and his pals explored in the 60’s. Tom was a local Doctor in Ullapool and often climbed solo here. There are many great routes here the classic Emerald Gully a winter route that is well known. We climbed a few gullies round here in the 70’ when we started ice climbing it is a magnificent setting.
There are a few classic climbs like Emerald Gully and Penguin Gully not to be underestimated and scope for much more.
As the path steepens there is a big Boulder field near the beleach that can be tricky in deep snow that takes you to the Beleach where you can enjoy the views of Coire Ghranda on its South East Side. This is now wild country and there is a huge cliff that only the brave visit. I snow-holed here with a pal in winter leaving early to winter climb in this wild Corrie. The approach from the Aultguish side is a long slog. Yet it takes you into another world.
From the Beleach there is a big wall the Famine wall. It was built during a terrible Famine in Scotland one can only imagine the effort needed to build this wall. There are Famine walls all over and I have written about them. You would think things would be much better 200 years later but we have “Food Banks” now. Very sad.
The wall does not take you to the summit but veers away West. The summit is only a small cairn hard to find on a winters day.
Many go on to do several of the nearby hills. Cona Meall Meal na Caeprachian, Edidh Nan Glach Geala. This is wonderful country full of wildness and incredible views. I ask anyone to name all the hills from this summit its magnificent.
There is another way in to the mountain from the end of Loch Glasgarnoch it’s wild land and can be boggy with a big river crossing.
It takes you into Loch Coire Ghranda one of the finest Corries in Scotland. It is well worth the long walk in as it is a place of solitude and remoteness.
I did several call outs here there have been a few bad avalanches and several times folk have walked off from the summit the wrong way. This is especially in Coire Ghranda a hard place to get communications and a long walk back to your car. If you make a mistake.
I had one really hard day in winter a few years ago in deep snow. We had broken a trail leaving the path for Beinn Dearg. It was a one early winters day doing a one point 1 kilometre an hour. I was with Dan Carrol who had just summited Everest. We had been followed at a distance by a solo climber. He kept his distance and we broke the path in. On getting back to Ullapool fairly tired we got a call to help Dundonnell MRT as a climber was struggling in the Beinn Dearg area. We were pretty tired but the weather was good and we drove to start of the forestry track. We were dreading an all night search and our area to search was up to the Beleach of Ben Dearg. The weather cleared and the helicopter was sent to search. We stopped regularly as we were tired. Our previous footprints were gone and it was hellish hard. We were scanning the hills looking for torchlightv. I saw something high and bright a small dot on the ridge. It must be him we got hold of the helicopter by radio and gave him a rough location.
The wind was gone and then I saw the light it was the moon sneaking over the ridge .
The helicopter called and said “ the light is the moon we do not have the fuel to go there.” I felt a right plonker as the Glen was now floodlight by the moon.
This was all we needed as we prepared for a long night on the hill. An hour later the missing Walker was located tired and a bit lost but okay and flown back to Rescue control. He had underestimated the snow depth and got caught by the weather.
I lived with my “Moon Rescue” for a few years. We got back in time to Ullapool for a late pint and our dinner.
Timings : It easy to underestimate your hill time in deep snow. It takes so long even though we had snow shoes on it was hard work.
Lots of snow about be careful.
Dundonnell Mountain Rescue Team (DMRT) operate in a vast area of rugged and remote mountainous country. The team of around 35 volunteers is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to help anyone in difficulty on the hills, mountains or crags in an area spanning more than 2,600 square miles.
The sad but not unexpected sad news that Hamish had passed away yesterday.
There will be much written by many in the Mountaineering world who climbed with Hamish over the years. His exploits are legendary and so impressive.
Hamish climbed all over the World yet his passion was Scotland this was his playground, his work place. He wrote so many books of his exploits they like his films are a part of his huge legacy.
Hamish climbed all over the World yet his passion was Scotland this was his playground, his work place. He wrote so many books of his exploits they like his films are a part of his huge legacy.
In the early days of Mountain Rescue he was a true pioneer and formed the Glencoe MR Team. They were a great group of top mountaineers called “The Glencoe Mafia” and added to the many local characters, keepers and shepherds they were a team in the true tradition of Mountain Rescue. I was so lucky to meet Hamish and work with him on so many occasions. In these early days he worked with many of the RAF teams who were in at the forefront of Mountain Rescue in the early years .
Hamish in addition to being a first class mountaineer used his engineering background to make lightweight stretchers and ice axes. He designed new techniques for technical rescue all tested in Glencoe. Yet most of all he was a true mountaineer. He was also an innovative inventor who made breakthroughs in the design of ice axes that changed the face of mountaineering. Yet he was still part of of a small Mountain Rescue team in Glencoe this World class mountaineer was one of us.
I got to know Hamish well over the years. I was in the corner of the room at his house as a young lad as he talked about Rescues and other tales. I worked with him on the hill was amazed at his endurance and how he never seemed to feel the cold. He was ice cool in any drama and such a mountaineer. I got to know him better as I became Team Leader of the RAF Teams at Leuchars and Kinloss . He was full of advice and yet he listened to you and shared his knowledge. He had a wild sense of humour, very dry and unique.
He had so many contacts within the military he could get anything done. This was very helpful. Hamish also helped set up the Mountain Rescue Committee and he got things done and ensured the teams had a voice. He highlighted the costs of Mountain Rescue and the work of unpaid Team members to the Police and fought our corner on many occasions. He also handled the politics of Mountain Rescue advising on so many occasions.
He worked with the helicopters all the time improving systems and was a friend of so many aircrew where he was the man they trusted on a Rescue. He had many other contacts in the Special forces and had access to so many state of the art gear that he used on searches or training. He helped the RAF teams a lot in many ways always there when our future was threatened he had the ear of many politicians over the years. If you had the problem Hamish was the man.
I think and I am proud to say we became good pals and I dropped in often to see him in his house in Glencoe. He had an incredible memory. He could produce at any time a picture of some first ascent or of a famous climber on an expedition he was part off.
Hamish stories were incredible and when he took ill a few years ago I was honoured to be part of his network that he spoke to. These were terrible time’s for Hamish and his recent film shows how grim it was for him.
Amazingly Hamish recovered he regained his memory by re reading his many books. I visited him and the stories kept coming back. Listening to Hamish he would drop the names of the famous into the conversation as if it was a normal occurrence . Chris (Bonnington) Clint ( Eastwood) Shaun ( Connery)were regular as was Michael ( Palin)and so many others.
On his recovery he had many visits from his pals. He seemed so happy so well looked after by his local carers who he sang praises of, they looked after him so well and he was fighting back to health. He had just celebrated his big birthday( 90 ) recently and despite Covid on his birthday he was surrounded by his Glencoe pals in the garden. He was overjoyed with a special day.
I saw him recently he was still on fine form. I think he knew we would not meet again. He asked-me if I could sort out a fly past from the Coast guards. He was missing seeing his pals in the helicopters. (Over to your Bristows Helicopters.) My last words were take care as he sat by Tom Pateys desk amongst the pictures of the mountains he loved.
I will miss his lengthy chats on the phone, the huge emails, the visits to his house his incredible memory, his stories, his dry humour, his advice but also his true friendship. Hamish did so much for so many especially those in trouble on the mountains.
There will be so many stories and tales of this incredible man but to me he was “our Hamish” I feel we so honoured to have been a small part of the story. Rest in peace Hamish you were one of the finest men I have ever met. How many lives did you save how many folk are indebted to you? We will never know but what a life , what adventures, what vision. What a man.
There was also a side that many did not see his care for the relatives after a tragedy on the hills was something few knew about. Hamish the man of iron had a heart of gold.
It’s so easy now to pick up a climbing guide or a Munros / Corbett book and plan your day. You can even get waypoints and all the latest information on your hill day or climb. The internet is full of blogs, advice about hill days. It’s great to see how things have moved on GPS and maps on phones etc have made life A lot easier.
I wonder how many still get the maps out and ponder over them looking at their planned route? To me I got to understand the maps and their make up. Years ago the Bothies most of the remoter ones had secret locations now you can find them through the internet and books. The early 1 inch to mile lacked a lot of detail, crags were hard to see yet to me they were a pathway to a new world. The one inch to the mile (1:63,360) range of maps started being replaced with the 1:50000 range in 1969. The metrication of Admiralty Charts began in 1967 as part of a modernisation programme.
I have great memories of my early days of hill bashing. There were hardly any guides to the hills and a lot fewer paths. The SMC had their District Guides full of detail and hidden information about climbing routes many in new areas. Giving little away but for those that looked so many hidden gems.
On my first Big Walk in 1976 the North – South we poured over our route in the Briefing Room at Kinloss in the Mountain Rescue Section. It had a huge space we moved the chairs and got all the maps out. The planning was fun and we wanted no support apart from food drop offs in a few areas. Ages was spent on fabloning maps to waterproof them for these trips.
We were young and invincible or so we thought. We sent food parcels to keepers and Bothies that the team used. How we got to know Scotland planning that trip. I had completed my Munro’s just before (Number 146)!but the planning was a thing we did every weekend as we moved all over Scotland chasing summits. I never believed that one day I would visit all these places that as a young 12 year old were way out out of my imagination.
I developed a plan, bought my maps and asked others for good ways up hills. All this practice definitely gave you skills to work out your day especially when the weather comes in unexpectedly? It was so handy in big searches in the Mountain Rescue for many years all over Scotland. When we returned from a weekend we would have a briefing and asked what hills we climbed and routes we did. You learned so much from this. A lot of folk have no clue what climb they have been on or what route climbed. It all helped you add to your area knowledge and understanding of the geography of this lovely country.
Introducing new folk on the hill in my option most are fit enough but getting to grips with navigation was and is a key skill. We would plan the day in early days using using only the maps inch to the mile then for times and distance. Add in wind and weather what your carrying, group size etc and things can change drastically. It to me is still a skill worth using.
I started reading maps about Galloway and I loved reading the hill and area names. “The awful hand” Nick of the Dungeon and the Silver Flow in Galloway always entranced my imagination. Tales of the bogs taking forestry vechiles due the nature of the ground all added to my. love of the area. The more I walked and climbed all over Scotland the more interesting names, tales I came across were enlightening.
Later I got to love the classic Gaelic names in my early days many were Anglified before the rise of use of the Gaelic Language. This is a blog on its own and so pleasing to see the re-emergence of the Gaelic culture and language.
What map has the most Munro’s on it?
There are specialised maps for many areas: Glencoe, Ben Nevis, Skye, Torridon and others.
I always think about my Mum even more so just now. A few days ago was the day of Women who Inspire my Mum is without doubt the lady I was always inspired by her.
It has been many years since I lost my Mother, she died of Leukaemia an awful disease which she kept away from most of the family, she did not want to worry us. That was typical of her and off her generation. It was only at the end I was told she was very ill. I was at RAF Valley in North Wales in a job as full time Mountain Rescue Deputy Team Leader and was living with my partner and her young daughter.
As we all are at that time in life I was caught up with my career, I was selfish in my life and very driven. I had always phoned Mum every week but she never told me she was ill until the last few days of her life when I was summoned home. I was shocked when I was called home as she was dying and to see her so frail and yet so strong in mind and still very beautiful.
My life in Mountain Rescue had led me to see many tragedies close up and be unaffected by them. I think I never really felt the effect of this great loss at the time as I was hardened by what I had seen in the mountains. It is a terrible thing to admit that I seemed to cut myself off at the time from the hurt and pain of her death.
Even when I had to go back home straight to work after the funeral to North Wales and my partner and friend’s tried to console me I was very hard to deal with.
I think it was my way, to man up and not show the hurt I felt. I did get a few days to talk to my Mum at the end, we had a few chats even though she was very ill and I told her about my life in Wales, my new love and plans. She said as long as I was happy so was she.
Mum was the finest person I have ever met, she was so caring. She gave me along with my Dad a great chance in life and my love for the outdoors. She was the one who dealt with the five children a huge Manse the poor wages and a big house to heat and look after. The love we had been incredible and the adventures we had were life enduring. Long days on the hills, in Arran, Galloway and the Highlands a love of sport and she was an avid Ayr United fan both home and away! She loved the tennis and how she would have loved to see Andy Murray in his prime. She would have been so proud of Andy Murray and his brother in the tennis world and I believe she watches them in heaven.
She did not have long with the grandchildren but they were her joy, how she would love to see how they have all done in life. Money was always tight in a big family she would give away her last penny.
My Dad was a minister old style he visited his people the needy, the sick and the dying every night, we rarely saw him. Mum brought us all up and the work she did for the Church was incredible. At the end Mum was very upset that she felt that she could leave us nothing in the way of material possessions but she gave us all so many life skills I can never repay her.
These last few days were very special and I will never forget carrying her to the bathroom and helping her near the end. She was so frail but so clear in what she said to me. To her I was still the “wild child” of the family but she looked after me and was always there for me.
To m is such a loss in my life I feel it and still miss her and my Dad. It was such a pity as we all progressed in life we could have made her life so much better for them but it was not to be but what a legacy they gave us all.
Nowadays I worry as all many children are interested in is the financial legacy they may inherit and Mum and Dad are packed off to an Old Folk’s home and left. We have so much to learn about looking after out elderly folk maybe Covid will make us all rethink how we respect and look after our loved ones.
I also got my love flowers and got that from my Mum so every few weeks I buy some or pick them and they always remind me of her. I have her deep love of the wild places and still feel her with me when out and about, what would she have made of today’s world, I wonder?
Today is a special day but our parents are special always. My advice is never put off for another day what you can do today in showing your appreciation for them, they are not here forever
Treat every day as Mother’s Day and tell them you love them. This year there will be many who cannot visit our Mums yet those who can we must speak to them and use technology for those far way to be with them. Many of us who are lucky enough to have Mothers that are still about and with us.
I was speaking to a friend who was at a funeral recently where a son had fallen out with his mother and he had not spoken to her for over a year she died suddenly. How tragic is that?
As I write I am so glad to have had such a lovely Mother and feel very proud of her and wish she was still with me. When I am in trouble she is always there for me. How she would have loved to see how we all are, I am sure she does.
In my early days in the RAF Mountain Rescue we got a weather forecast from the local RAF MET office. It was handy but mainly designed mainly for aircraft flying. It came in at weekends by our High Frequency radios at times a very unpredictable service. It was a job we all had to do and get a weather forecast for the weekend or call out. Often it said visibility poor in hill fog. The Rescue co ordination centres had the forecasts and their call signs Edinburgh Rescue and later Kinloss Rescue were a familiar alarm clock for many of our teams.
Sometimes the forecast was way out as in 1978 “ the great blizzards “ a huge storm came in unexpected. I was a young party leader in the team. We were on the Mamores when the blizzard struck. Instead of coming straight of the hill we went to the summit and crawled back along the ridge. There was no other way off but onto the corrie where we were again lucky as the whole slope avalanched we were chest deep.
We had to put chains on to get down Glen Nevis and arrived back to Fort William finding some of the others had epics to on Aonach Mor. By now Ray Sefton who was the team Leader was at the Police station and cars and people were stuck all over Scotland. Once he had collected his team and we were all accounted for.We were sent to the Rannoch Moor with Glencoe MRT and rescued over 50 motorists many children and old people with no kit. Cars were buried and we had to dig them out using the big 4 tonners as refuges to transport the people to the land-rovers and safety. We had stoves on in the wagons trying to heat up the people. This was in the days before the roads had gates on them to stop motorists driving into danger. It could and should have been a disaster but for the efforts of the Police and teams. Next day we nearly lost a helicopter near Tulloch the Rescue Control Centre had lost communications with the aircraft. This caused incredible worry as all the helicopters were very busy on rescues all over Scotland and the weather was still wild. It was very worrying as we were set off to find it and help the crew. We managed to drive past Roybridge and then set off in waist deep snow in places We had permission to use any houses for shelter if needed as there were a few holiday homes just passed Tulloch. It was crazy we kept swapping leads due to the depth of snow and after 2 hours we heard the noise of the helicopter and it had a wee snag and was sorted and gave us a lift back. We were so glad to see them. Six people died. This was the worst blizzard in the area since 1955. At Glasgow 17 cm of snow was the heaviest fall there since 1947; near Aviemore the level snow depth was around 66 cm.
This is an extract by Squadron Leader Bill Campbell, AFC who I was later to work with at Lockerbie. Bill was part of a huge helicopter force that saved so many lives over this period. What great people, to land in Aviemore High Street and the A9 is a thing I will never forget. What a bunch of guys.
Library Reference Number: 202
The Blizzards Of 1978 Scottish Saltire Branch, ACA.
We had had a couple of met warnings of the imminent arrival of North-Easterly Severe Gale Force 9 increasing to Storm Force 10, which meant winds of 35-40 knots gusting to 50-60 continuing till at least midday Sunday. We got a taste of the weather to come when we were scrambled, late in the afternoon, to an exhausted member of an RAF Regiment training expedition who had collapsed at Faindouran Lodge in Glen Avon in the Cairngorms, a most inaccessible place in the conditions with knee-deep powdery snow being blown by a strong north-easterly wind at 2500 feet. We got back to base after dark, put the aircraft to bed and noted in the log ‘Rotten Weather’. In our absence another met warning had arrived – ‘snow and sleet overnight with moderate to heavy falls with drifting’. We kept ourselves briefed throughout the evening as weather forecasts became more ominous. Finally at 23:30, just before going to bed, I phoned the Rescue Co-ordination Centre (RCC) at RAF Pitreavie Castle to check if there was anything in the wind for tomorrow. They replied that they had just been called by Northern Constabulary at Inverness asking for a helicopter to be at their landing site as soon as possible after first light, and warning that it could be used all day on a number of incidents.
These incidents lasted several days and tested the crews to the full.
Operation Whiteout’, as it became known in the RAF, was not stood down till Friday 3rd February, when Northern Constabulary issued statistics for the operation:
372 people evacuated from hostile situations
390 checks on isolated homes
215 food deliveries
12 fuel supply missions
10 medical supplies drops
10 priority animal fodder drops
682 messages logged by the police
305 hours of helicopter flying (the RAF made it 329)
Continuous daylight flying by Shackletons over 3 day
It was after this Snow gates were put on the A9 and A82. Over the years things got better but yet a few times the forecast caught us out. Nowadays it’s hard to believe that we can get hourly weather updates and forecasts for each hills. We really are spoiled for choice.
The Scottish Avalanche information Service (SAIS) The Scottish Avalanche Project began in 1988 as an avalanche forecasting service funded by the Scottish Sports Council and operating in 2 areas, Glencoe and the North Cairngorms. This ran for 2 winters, with the addition in 1989-90 of Lochaber and a weekend pilot scheme on Lochnagar. Nowadays it runs to 5 areas and is Government funded. Many of us worked hard to get funding for the Avalanche information Service never take it for granted.
Avalanches can happen wherever there is snow…
The growing popularity of winter climbing and hill-walking, along with the growth of interest in ski touring and off-piste skiing, means that more people than ever are at risk and sadly each year people are injured or die as a result of avalanche in the Scottish mountains.
Many of these accidents would have been avoidable, given greater awareness of the hazards.
Nowadays we have Apps on our phones and so much information available please use them.
This weekend I went Weat for the first time this winter. The drive over was spectacular and with lots of fresh snow on the hill and the sun this was Scotland at its best. I left early from Burghead due to a cancelled medical appointment. The road was clear and quiet and I stopped often just to stop and stare at the majestic surroundings. I felt like a tourist but looking at the stunning blue skies and snow plastered ridges.
The drop down to Kinlochewe and the mighty Slioch is heartwarming to see. Is it one of the best views about? The build up begins for me as you see Beinn Eighe and the Black Carl’s ridge a great way up to this huge mountain. Well worth the effort.
I stopped marvelling at the views the mighty Liathach always a favourite to see again plastered with snow.The main ridge itself looking Alpine with its snow arête. There were no cars in the car park unusual it was a Friday and not much ice about.
Again I stopped and enjoyed every minute wishing I was up on these hills. In past I spent wonderful days in this area in summer and winter. It’s also holds a lot of memories of hard Callouts in these hills far Corries.
As I drove round past Torridon across Loch Torridon Ben Alligin comes into view another majestic mountain. Round Loch Torridon to Sheildaig more views and the tight road to Arrina is a special place. I arrived and was greeted by Islay Kalies collie and enjoyed a cup of tea outside with views of Diabeg in the sun. It was great to be here again.
The weather was planned to be good so next day we had a day planned. I had not been out since my health issues and would take it easy. The Coffin Trail – This is a beautiful trail taking you along the old coffin road that was used by local communities to transport their dead to the Clachan Church in Applecross. Along this route you can still see the cairns where the bearers would have rested the coffin beside the long path. There are some very rough sections along this trail where great care is needed especially in wetter conditions and at the water crossings where there are no bridges. On the way you will also pass Loch Gaineamhach, Loch a’ Bealaich, and Loch Bhraighaig. This trail is quite remote so a good level of self-sufficiency is required, as well as appropriate footwear and warm layers. The trail is eroded in places by mountain bikes and I wonder what may happen in the future with the heavy erosion of an historic path.
Kalie took it easy with never stopped often I coughed a lot but felt okay. I really enjoyed the wander no rush, no plan just wander up as far as we wanted. We only walked about 10 and half Kilometres but it was the first time this winter and going height I enjoyed it. There was no wind, crunchy snow, icy path in places but perfect walking with frequent stops.
We had about 4 hours out and as we approached the car we saw two sea eagles soaring above us what a end to our walk. I was well wrapped up all day but the sun was out. Due to my medical problem I feel the cold a lot more and at last the sun was warming me and a lovely change.
It’s hard to describe how I felt after feeling the sun on the face. I loved my wander not much by others standards but such a joy to be out in the wild again with great company. The wild places don’t have help when life gets hard.
In the early days of winter climbing walking climbing axes were all wooden. As climbing in winter pushed standards some of the gear was extremely limited. There were only a few top climbers climbing at the highest grades. It was a period where the leader could not fall. There was a huge increase in winter climbing standards especially in Scotland. Classic lines on Scotlands mountains were being climbed one of the pmost famous was Zero Gully on Ben Nevis.
During February 1957, Hamish, Tom Patey and Graeme Nicol made the first winter ascent of Zero Gully on Ben Nevis. Hamish and Tom shared leads overcoming ice overhangs on the lower part of the gully using ice-pegs. A few top climbers of that era were after that route and it was to become a test piece like many others.
Ben Nevis – 10 April 1958 Missing climbers 3 located at the foot of Zero Gully ( Ben Nevis ) Belay failed and axe belay recovered broken. Recovery Party included RAF Kinloss MRT, Hamish McInnes and Tom Patey. Kinloss MRT archives. The wooden axes belay that failed was one of many of that period. Hamish worked on a metal ice axe that would be more robust.
. From the new Wonderful book by Mike Dixon on Tom Patey. “By February 1957, the unclimbed but named gullies of Point Five and Zero were in the sights of all the top Scottish climbers and, more worryingly for the Scots, many of the leading performers south of the border. The problem was finding the gullies in climbable condition: unconsolidated powder on the plateau can blow down the two chutes, enveloping climbers in hissing spindrift and making progress almost impossible. Nowadays, thanks to the tag ‘Probably the most famous ice gully in the world,’ Point Five attracts climbers from all over the globe, and there can be a continuous line of ropes from bottom to top on a busy day. Zero, although technically easier, has a reputation for being more serious due to its poorer belays. “
This was a letter I came across dated 8 April 1957
From the Air Ministry – Whitehall Gardens London
To RAF Mountain Rescue Teams Kinloss, Valley, Leuchars, St. Athan, Topcliffe, Nicosia. Harpur Hill.
Subject – Ice Axes.
An ice axe broken through normal use at RAF Valley has recently been the subject of an investigation. This has shown that the moisture content of the broken shaft was appreciably below the normal( 7% as compared with the normal 12 – 16 % )
It is possible that this is due to incorrect storage at the Maintenance Unit and this will be investigated. All ice axes held by Mountain Rescue Teams however are to be inspected and tested before further use. They should not, in future be kept in a heated store but should be kept out of doors , under cover, or indoors with adequate ventilation and no heating.
The shafts in future are to be dressed with raw linseed oil and not boiled linseed oil as at present. AP3172 will be amended in due course.
In the 1950s the RAF had thousands of wooden ice axes. The method I have been told of testing at RAF Kinloss was to put them across a curbstone and stand and spring on them. I was informed they would sometimes break up to 5 axes before we got an axe that didn’t break.
Axes have changed so much over the years much of it to the early climbers and innovative climbers like Hamish and others.
Wasn’t that called a Massey. I saw a film clip of a dog sledge going down a crevasse at the axe held the sled and dog team that were suspended in the crevasse. Bet I have one somewhere. Davy Walker.