Summary of the Conclusions of Ben Humbles report on Mountain Accidents 1925 – 45. How to reduce accidents and the Media and the Mountains!

Incidents1925 -1945 TotalInvolved Fatalities
90 106 45

This is a precis of a survey of the late Ben Humbles Survey on Mountain Accidents from the period 1925 – 1945 . It is an incredible piece of work and shows the early days of Rescue in Scotland when the Scottish Mountaineering Club, climbers and locals were heavily involved in Rescue. It was the norm for climbers to assist in Rescues and at times parties of experienced climbers were sent from Glasgow and Edinburgh on a regular basis.

This is from the final summary:

In pre – war times First aid post were maintained at Glen Brittle, Fort William and Clachaig in Glencoe more than half the accidents in the survey occurred in these areas. The rest were fairly widely dispersed and a reasonable inference from the available statistics  would be that there is little need for post elsewhere?

In the climbing season there are usually sufficient climbers in Glen Brittle to carry out any necessary rescues. As regards Glencoe and Ben Nevis in pre – war times a call for help usually came in to the Glasgow/ Edinburgh officials of the club (Scottish Mountaineering Club) SMC who had the task of getting together the rescue parties!  Ben also states it is good to see that the Fort William folk themselves at last getting to know the mountains which have meant so much to the town. The recently formed Lochaber Mountaineering Club now  a section of the JMCS has already been tested and not found wanting in rescue operations. This allows the Glasgow officials  of the SMC will heave a sigh of relief!  The early days of the foundation of Lochaber MRT. (See my blog 13 August 2013 on the formation of Lochaber MRT.)

Rescue on Ben Nevis at the CIC Hut bed from hut used as a stretcher.

Rescue on Ben Nevis at the CIC Hut the bed from hut used as a stretcher. Lochaber MR collection.

Nowadays there will be climbing parties in Glencoe almost every weekend throughout the year. For a Saturday or Sunday search or rescue there need no difficulty to get a party together but for mid-week days it will not be easy, when most people are unable to get away from work. Now that all the younger climbing clubs are co operating and full details of the available transport  and personnel are listed , this difficulty may be overcome?  Imagine the Climbing clubs doing this today and the problems they would face over Insurance etc?

Ben Humble is this Survey has a real go at the press, remember this was written in 1947

” In pre – war times owing chiefly to the sensational way the press treat mountaineering the general public get a warped idea of the sport of mountaineering! He then quotes from an article in the Daily Herald of an incident in Glencoe that was sensationalized beyond all recognition of what really happened!  After this and similar accidents articles and letters would follow condemning climbing as too dangerous! Some even suggested restrictions including the closure of Ben Nevis in winter! (Some things do not change?) Work was done with the press and a saner voice was heard about Mountain Safety, get fit for the hills: then go and enjoy them. Ben stated that the Statistics proved beyond all doubt that it is much safer to be a climber than a pedestrian, a cyclist or a motorist. Ben also states that over half the accidents could have been avoided had those involved taken more precautions  and fitted themselves for the hills?

Ben finished with the fact that in the coming years greater numbers than ever will flock to our hills. He states that it is good that various organisations are offering training in mountain craft and the mountaineering clubs are co – operating. It is hoped that newcomers to our sport will take advantage of these opportunities and that unnecessary hill accidents will be reduced. Education, Education, Education!

Ben Humble was a true man of vision! So much of this survey is still relevant today! The SMC Journals are a wonderful piece of Scottish Mountaineering History and has some unique articles and it is a huge source of reference. The early days of Mountain Rescue are well documented and it hold the Statistics of Mountain accidents that are invaluable for research and education.  This is the only source of  Accident Statistics from the early days as far as I know? The journal is published annually well worth a read, it is due out soon and has so many new climbs and great articles inside.

This is from the SMC Website

The SMC was founded in 1889. One of its founders, Joseph Gibson Stott, argued for the presence of a Club Journal, in which information about the Scottish hills could be conveniently recorded and circulated. It seems amazing now, in its 111th year, that Stott had a hard time convincing a pilot meeting of its viability and even desirability.

The arguments against were mainly that Scotland was too small to be able to provide more than a few numbers of the Journal, while Stott maintained (for the first time he believed) that there were at least 300 mountains in Scotland whose height exceeded 3,000 feet. Luckily for us, Stott won the day and became its first Editor, the first of 12 to date, counting the current incumbent.

Of interest to readers may be the fact that in those far-off days before word processing on fast computers, the Journal was published three times a year, in January, May and September. This continued until 1918, when the harsh economies of the First World War imposed a reduction to two issues per year. From 1942 onwards, the Journal was published annually.

Stott emigrated to New Zealand, having published seven numbers, the task being taken over by William Douglas in 1892. A lover of the hills, and equally sympathetic to walkers and mountaineers, Douglas (after whom the Douglas Boulder on Ben Nevis is named) continued as Editor for nearly 18 years, producing 53 issues. It was during his reign that the Axes and Rope logo of the Club first appeared on the cover of the Journal, in January 1898.

One very important project carried out by Douglas was the publication, in the Journal, of the first SMC Guide Book. This ran from 1901 to 1907 and was the precursor of the now familiar and popular series of separately published SMC Guides Douglas handed over the Journal to Frank Sidney Goggs who began in 1910 and maintained its publication through the difficult war years before retiring in 1920. Douglas had passed on to Goggs the early embargoes on both foreign articles and poetry, restrictions which have long been lifted, though the Journal continues to emphasise both its Scottish content and its insistence on a high standard of mountain poetry.

Out soon the SMC Journal!


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 Articles, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, SAR, SMC/SMT, Views Mountaineering. Bookmark the permalink.

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