Progression of winter mountaineering – a chat to the Annual RAF Winter Course at Grantown on Spey.

It was great to have a quiet day sort the kit out and watch the rugby – how did we win that? I enjoyed it all and then spent most of the day, where it snowed a little then the sun came out preparing for a chat to the RAF Winter Course at Grantown On Spey. This course has a huge history and was developed after the 1951 Lancaster Crash on Beinn Eighe in Torridon. The RAF Teams realised that they needed to develop their winter skills of all the teams and every year each team sends pupils and instructors for a ten-day spell of intensive training in Scotland. I was very lucky to attend my first course in 1974 and learned so much from the training.  What a time that was  extremely physical with at times in the second week 6 routes in a day in the Northern Corries as you were so fit and keen to learn. Then onto Ben Nevis for some classic climbs Tower Ridge and Green Gully and Meagaidgh for Staghorn Direct big walk in and a tired young man at the end of it. This was all done with very basic kit – leading the Mirror Direct with MacInnes Massey and bendy boots was bonkers!  After this I must have attended 25 courses and 4 as the Chief instructor. In my time there were 6 RAF Mountain Rescue teams  and I would have nearly 40 people to look after. It was a worrying time for me as at times we had everyone out snow-holing on the plateau with all the implications of weather, individual experience, and the impact to the environment and to my nerves which were shot by the end of it. The emphases was on winter skills very similar to the Mountain Leadership Winter Training Course and then the second week on winter climbing and Rescue skills. I was very lucky to have “few epics which make experience” add in a few near misses at times but all went as well as one could expect. Mountaineering in winter and training is never risk free but  due to the guys and girls around me and its unique one to one instructor/pupil relationship, we produced and still do some sound mountaineers. Long may it continue.

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I will not  miss the long waits at the top of the Ben waiting for some young troops to finish one of these massive routes. Or the epic adventures on the Cairngorm plateau navigation “for ones life” at the end of a long day on Hells Lum.  These were great days add in some incredible mountaineering days, superb routes in all weathers, the vagaries of Scottish winter and incredible people” these were definitely the days of my life” The winter course usually came in the middle of call-out season and was a busy period for me and the team and we usually assisted on a few call-outs as well as we toured the country!

I am often asked “how do you gain experience? ” One way is by going out in the mountains with good people where you learn so much from others and those who have come before you. I am looking forward to Tuesday night and a short time with these special people.  Now to get that lecture finished!


RAF Mountain Rescue Winter Course - The early days - look at the kit early 50's!

RAF Mountain Rescue Winter Course – The early days – look at the kit early 50’s!

Winter Climbing – the joys/ the pain – the emotions!.

¨Walk in, too hot, too cold
  Too much kit, to little.
¨Gear up, hot aches, hanging about.
  Snow, spindrift, bitter wind.
  Clear Skies. Happiness.
¨Good ice ,poor ice,  good protection.
¨No protection, good belay, No belay!
¨Moving, climbing, hooking, torquing.
  Thrutching, scrapping.
  Hot aches, fear, relief.
¨Cornice, no cornice, belay.
¨At the top, relieved. Joy.

Walk off, stories, memories!

With apologies to the Quest!


About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer when body slows, loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Aircraft incidents, Equipment, Friends, Lectures, mountain safety, Poems, Scottish winter climbing.. Bookmark the permalink.

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