At the end of September in 1982 I was in Skye with the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue team. The weather had not been great but we had a good weekend. The ridge in the wet can be pretty tricky and interesting especially for newer team members. Skye is a climbing mecca but you have to be careful with loose rock, it is an alpine environment and not the place to be in a dark or wild night,no matter how experienced. It all changes in the mist as they say. We had a good but short day on Sgurr a’ Mhadaidh and Sgurr a’ Ghreadaidh as we had a long drive back to Kinloss – 5 hours away. We were getting ready to leave about 1600 in the afternoon when we got a call that there has been an accident on the ridge on the In Pin Sgurr Dearg. A climber has somehow come off his rope when abseiling off and fallen he was lying injured below the In Pin. The weather by now is very poor with rain and a helicopter would try to get us as high as possible. Cloud base was about 2000 feet not so good for flying. The helicopter from RAF Lossiemouth was coming in. It could only take 8 of us and we only had a little time to grab we needed. What do you take ? When you add up, a stretcher, ropes, Casualty bag and climbing gear, lighting plus our own kit. life can be hard! Add to this being on the hill for two days before it is lucky the adrenalin kicks in and you get some energy. I had done a few serious jobs on the ridge at night, I was not looking forward to it at all!
The helicopter did well and got us into Coire Lagan by now it was dark and very wet and very windy, they dropped us at the wee loch. The injured climber had been up on the ridge since one o clock and we had to get up to the base of the In pin as quick as possible. There were no mobile phones then and you had first to get off the ridge to a phone for help, it all takes time. By now it was pitch dark, slippy and wet, we sent Terry Moore with the casualty bag up the hill ahead as we moved as quick as we could up the awful screes and then onto the ridge. Gerry Ackroyd the Skye Team Leader was at the scene with a few of the injured climbers companions. He also had rushed up the hill from his house at Glenbrittle alone with limited kit whilst his team and Kinloss assembled. He also had been working on the ridge all weekend. Gerry is a real character, a mountain rescue legend,a prickly Yorkshireman, he takes no prisoners but if you are in trouble on the ridge he is the man to be with. What an area the Skye team has the finest and most difficult area in Scotland. Skye rescues rarely gets into the papers and they often deal with very serious incidents. The injured climber was very cold and in a pretty bad way when we got there, we could not hang about. Gerry had done what he could and the weather was getting worse and there was no chance of a helicopter. We had to get moving, Gerry a veteran of the ridge, (he guides it for living) was on the stretcher along with Terry and myself and John Beattie lowered them down.
Thank goodness Gerry was there his incredible knowledge kept us right all that long night. By now it was misty,very wet and everything looked the same but Gerry kept us right. The rest went ahead to sort out belays. The Skye ridge at night in the dark,wet and mist is an awful place to be and the stones were crashing down. The stretcher and team had to be kept out-of-the-way as we descended bringing the ropes with us to stop the stone fall. Even as careful as we were it was all so loose and the smell of cordite was in the air all night, with crashing rocks. I had given my helmet to the casualty as the stretcher head guard was very basic, felt very vulnerable on the descent.
We only had one 500 foot rope with us ,we could not carry any more? One rope for a lower incredible nowadays as you always use at least 2 in training but as I said before with all the kit we had we could not carry any more. It took 3 big lowers to get down to the awful screes, where we were met by the rest of Skye and the Kinloss Team. It was a mercy no one was hurt, we had the odd cut hand and knees on the rock and the backside of my breeches were worn through, I am not a great down climber.It was a huge haul down, it rained and rained and the stretcher as usual got heavier and heavier. We all took turns, falling and stumbling in the dark, no chance of a helicopter that night. We eventually we got him off and to hospital where he recovered. At the end I walked straight into burn in the dark and ended up waist deep in water, at least it gained a laugh after a crazy night. It was back to Mac Rea’s barn at Glenbrittle by now it was the middle of the night but after a dram we slept the sleep of the just. To Gerry it was just another job on the ridge to me and the team it was a huge learning curb! I had just arrived back from 4 years in Wales, welcome back to Scotland!