We are very lucky to have such good weather forecasting, which advised us of what was to come yesterday. The country battoned down and has seemed to cope with some of the worst winds for many years. The winds were recorded at the summit of Cairngorm were 165 mph. It was bad enough in Burghead at sea level where a bit of decorative wood from the top of my Bay window blew off. If it had hit someone it would have killed them thank God, it just missed me as I walked out of the house. The winds were not that bad with us but still very wild.
This weather took me back to 20 Jan 1984, the weather forecasts were very basic and I had the Friday off and along with a young friend Pam Ayres we had decided to walk in that day to Hells Lum Crag in the Cairngorms, we had planned to snow hole for the night, and climb the Classic Deep Cut Chimney. Pam was on the night shift on the Thursday but had to work late on an aircraft and was so tired when I picked him up, he slept all the way to the Cairngorms. The weather was superb and as we sorted out huge bags Pam said he was not up to it, he was really tired and had the start of flu. This was very unusual as he was a very driven young man, we had climbed some great routes that winter and I was just back from Canada, It was bitter cold so rather than waste the day we had a coffee and went and climbed a great wee waterfall at Creagh Dubh called “Wee Wee!” This change of plan I think saved our lives. During the climb the weather changed as we came of it was a blizzard and we decided to meet and stay with the RAF Kinloss Rescue Team that were staying in Newtonmore for the weekend. It took the Kinloss Team 4 Hours to get to Newtonmore such was the weather, Newtonmore was a blizzard when they arrived and the winds were wild.Next day we dug the wagons out and heard the forecast winds were crazy, we mostly drove to the Cairngorms to try to go for a walk but were stopped at Glenmore as the road was blocked. We all took refuge in the Glenmore cafe and all we could see about 500 feet above was a wall of spindrift an incredible sight. We then got told by the Police that 3 students were missing in Corrie Lochan one had made it down to the Car Park and said his friends had got tried to make it to Jeans hut an hour walk from the car park when they were caught in the weather, they tried to bivouac but had no chance the winds were recorded at over 100 mph. They all tried to get back and only one made it and went for help. The police got the road cleared and Cairngorm Kinloss/ Leuchars and Glenmore Lodge found the three all dead about 15 minutes from the car park. I was there when we recovered them three young people killed so near home what a tragedy. I kept thinking if me and Pam had been in Hell’s Lum deep in Loch Avon would we have survived?
It was an awful start to a crazy weekend and a huge shock to us all! We then heard that there were over 30 others missing, including a good friend Paul Rogers who was an instructor at the Joint Services Mountaineering Centre at Ballahullish in Glencoe. He was missing with another companion who was on a course. As the day developed all the missing turned up so many had epics all over the mountains but Paul was still missing with his companion. Paul was a very accomplished mountaineer and we were sure they would be okay. After three days of searching some of it in terrible weather, though one day was superb yet we never found anything. The search was called of on the fourth day. The next day Paul and his partner were found fittingly by their friends from the Military Outdoor centre near the top of the Goat Track so near from safety, unfortunately they were both dead. The weather had improved and their shovel was found in the Corrie floor . The recovery was done with Pauls pals and a few of our troops that got called on to help! They all would never fogey that day! It was huge shock to us all that a man of Paul’s capabilities had been caught out, he was one of the strongest mountaineers about. No one could have survived in that weather, we were checking out snow holes on the plateau which were covered by 20 – 30 foot drifts in places, incredible. I was on the plateau digging into snow holes some covered by 20 feet of snow and had an epic when the roof collapsed. There were over 50 -60 searchers from the RAF teams, 30 – 40 from Cairngorm , Glenmore, Lochaber three helicopters and 6 rescue dogs. Add to the JMTC staff and member’s of the SAS who knew Paul plus many more of hills pals from all over. Teams spent over 2000 hours looking for Paul and his companion a huge operation all in vain. We even lost a search dog Rocky which spent all night just below the Cornice after being blown of the ridge, he survived and was found by Jimmy Simpson his relived handler, hungry but okay. Teams got avalanched on the search and we were very lucky we all got away with searching in such weather with no Mountain Rescue casualties. It was a huge learning curb for me and one that taught me so much. How small the Mountain world was and how many came to help from all over to look for Paul and his partner. I regularly take friends to visit Paul’s grave, it is a huge reminder how the hard the mountains can be.
Todays tip; Use all the weather forecasts, blogs, avalanche reports etc to get an idea of whats happening with the weather and conditions, current and past to give you a could idea of what weather you will find on the mountains. Worth Knowing?If such a tragedy can happen to him an outstandingly powerful mountaineer we must always be prepared for the unexpected that nature may throw at you !