I have just been speaking to a good friend who is coming up on the RAF Mountain Rescue Winter Course which is held in Scotland over 10 days starting this weekend. This is an annual course which has a huge history. It was started in the early 50’s after the Lancaster crash in Beinn Eighe in Torridon which crashed into the Triple Buttress killing all the crew. It crashed in winter and the tale of the recovery of all the casualties is an incredible story on its own. Only a few of the team had the skill or equipment to reach the crash site high on the mountain. After this an enquiry called for the RAF teams to be better equipped and trained and a winter skills course and summer climbing rock course has been held annually ever since. The first winter course was run by the famous Johnnie Lees an early mountain guide who was the Team Leader at Valley in North Wales. After this the teams were at the forefront of rescue in the UK for many years. I had the privilege to meet Johnnie on a couple of occasions what a man. He is sadly no longer with us and when we last met when I came back from Everest in 2001 we had a great chat. He was a man who had no time for rank in the Mountains it was experience and abilities that mattered. That was not easy to do in the early 50’s but he changed the system and left a great deal that help build Mountain Rescue as it is today in the UK, Johnnie Lees left some legacy. He was outspoken and a very skilful climber and was still climbing in his 70’s, a great man. He was awarded a George Medal for his efforts during a rescue in North Wales on Craig Yr Ysfa on Amphitheatre Buttress where he used the Tragsitz on a big cliff. This was the first time it had been used in the UK. He was a legend in the RAF MRT circles and one of my heroes.
I ran the RAF Winter course when I was the Team Leader at RAF Kinloss and when their was a thaw and little snow we still found lots to do. I think this may happen again this year but winter can comeback in a few days. The early days are spent on basic skills essential to safe winter mountaineering, ice axe breaking, use of crampons, snow belays, movement on snow etc. There is also winter climbing and snow-holing and of course a winter lowers and other rescue skills. It is a busy time and used to frazzle my brain as we could have up to 40 attending of various skills and talents. The snow holing phase used to be at the beginning of the 10 days and we had some near epics in crazy weather as I remember. The good lord looked after me then, I can remember visually being last of the Ben as a few of the troops were having the odd epic as they cut there teeth on some of the classics, scary times when you were in charge, but great days. As I said before you have to watch if you are in the gully’s when they are this thin and always watch for rockfall. The few climbs that are there may be busy with people who are trying to climb what little is left. Watch out! Worth remembering.
The RAF Winter Course have a safe trip.