Ben Nevis – Tower Ridge A tragedy – 40 years ago.

Tower Ridge and the famous Gap.

40 Years ago I climbed Tower Ridge for the first time I was a young lad in the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team. We had driven through the night and were up at the CIC Hut on Ben Nevis to search for 3 missing Naval Climbers who had not returned form a day out on one of Scotland’s finest ridges. The RAF mountain Rescue have a remit for the SAR of military personnel and these were days before mobile phones and great communications.   Any big searches in these days Lochaber Mountain Rescue called in assistance of the RAF as at times they still do nowadays. I was only in the Kinloss Team for under a year at the time and the drive through the night to assist was exciting in these days. I was to have many epics on this road on the years to come.  The Police and Lochaber in these days had access to a snow-track  vehicle and the path to the CIC Hut in these days could be  swamp but we managed to get 50 searchers to the hut at first light. The three climbers from HMS Cochrane  (Roysth) had left the CIC hut where they were staying to climb Tower Ridge by the Douglas Boulder. They were found below the ridge by the Lochaber Team and we all helped to evacuate them to the CIC Hut. Unfortunately all were killed .still roped together after a fall from the ridge. It was a hard introduction to the world of mountain Rescue for a young lad.   It  was on of my first tragedy’s on the Ben a place I was to see many more. Once we had handed them over to the snow-track  at the CIC Hut John Hinde was asked by the Police to investigate what may have happened and I was asked if I would climb Tower Ridge with John and  Michael Rabbit’s  both very experienced mountaineers.

The legendary John Hinde BEM.


the what he thought was the accident site and where all three had fallen from roped together. He surmised that they were moving together when someone had slipped. The weather had been fine I had just climbed Savage Slit in the Cairngorms the week before and felt I was ready for such a long climb. John Hinde was a leading light in mountain Rescue at the time and very interested in mountain safety. He always analysed accidents that he went too. He worked very closely with Ben Humble the SMC Mountain Rescue Statistician of the time and later became the statistician after Ben passed away. It was a long day and John found on the day before but two of the casualties were wearing normal military boots and this may have not helped as they can be slippy on damp rock. We will never know what exactly happened but I was a very careful young lad moving along the ridge and a bit in awe a the famous gap as the mist came down . I learnt a lot that day from two incredible mentors and how easy it is to have a slip or trip. I took extra care all the way as one would expect after such an introduction to such a special place. “Look well to each step” is so great a quote and so apt even today. We were many hours behind the team which left straight after the casualties were handed over to the police. There was little chat as we headed back to Torlundy I was given the rope and lagged behind a bit in my own world after a difficult day. We arrived back  at Kinloss late in the evening, really tired and when we arrived back at work next day I was asked by Boss if I had enjoyed my day off? He said that I was working the weekend  to make up my time off?

Sometimes you cannot even start to explain?

About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
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