We had just got back from the epic night on Ben Starav in Glen Etive when one of our hill parties had bivouacked overnight it had been a long 24 hours It as mentioned been a sleepless night for most of us and we got back to Tyndrum and had breakfast when the village Policeman arrived at the door. There was no mobile phones in these days and it was usually a local bobbie who came and got you. There was a huge call out going on in the Cairngorms two walkers were missing from a walk on Braeriach on Christmas eve, they were missing overnight and we were needed. Cairngorm and SARDA were out searching and needed assistance Leuchars were at Braemar and the new Seaking helicopter went to pick up 13 of the Team and flew them to Glenmore after winching 4 of them into a wild Garbh Coire to carry out a search. This is fairly remote area and wild place to be. Our Team Leader who lives in Aviemore Ray Sunshine Sefton was off for the holiday break and came straight over to Glenmore Lodge. The rest of the team was briefed and were flown into the other Corries,on Braeraich the weather was wild. By late afternoon one of the walkers was found avalanched an incredible find by Cairngorm MRT and SARDA unfortunately he was dead and the other found after a probe search about 15 feet. This was a double tragedy at Christmas. More team member’s were flown in along with Ray Sefton to assist the Cairngorm Team and it was hard work in the dark. It was according to the team great flying in cruelly wild conditions. It was now very dangerous conditions and after 300 feet of lowering the correct decision was to leave the casualties and return in the morning. They had a long walk out in deep snow to Glen Feshie and transport for a bumpy drive down the glen/ It had been a wild day the team had still to get the remaining vehicles to Aviemore and set up a Base Camp.
It was a Combined RAF Mountain Rescue Team that left early next morning after a long drive up Glen Einich, the weather was too wild for the helicopters. We were all still soaked the gear and had little time to dry and I remember as we climbed up to the Coire Bogha- cloiche our gear froze on us. Ray Sefton our Team Leader found the spot where the casualties were and lowered a few of us into the gully and recovered our sad burdens. This is never easy but at least we had found them and they would be recovered to their families, what a sad end to a days winter mountaineering. You just get on with what you have to do and do your best in the conditions, you switch off and do it. Everything was hard to do with the wind and spindrift It was great navigation by Ray to take us exactly to where they lay the spot in a typically wild day Cairngorm day. It took a long time to get the bodies down on the stretchers on the the steep ground and into the Glen. It seemed an endless walk out to the land rovers in the sleet and rain with two heavy stretchers. The Einech track was endless as we drove out a thaw was now on and the river crossings were wild and extremely interesting.There were over 25 of us and we were exhausted on the way out all feeling the efforts of a sad few days. We handed over the bodies to the Police in Aviemore for the awful job of reuniting them with their grief stricken families. We were soon back trying to dry our kit and getting ready for the next epic in a long Christmas New Year period.
It was a hugely complex incident with the Sea king being used in real wild winter conditions. The dropping Team member’s in these wild Braeraich Corries like the Garbh Corrie was different. This was a bit different from the normal searches in the Northern Corries and I vowed too get to know these rarely visited places and get the vital area knowledge that was so necessary in winter. To be dropped in these complex places in winter with a young group of team member was a huge responsibly and a big learning curb. It was also a huge introduction to the possibilities of the new Sea King helicopter in winter to drop search parties in these remote Corries. It took time to get used to the increased down draft by this powerful helicopter and how incredible the crews were in these conditions, anything it seemed was now possible. We take it all for granted nowadays but many lessons were learned during these incidents. The early days of the Sea King and the crews, incredible people, amazing machines.
Finally a huge lesson on the safety of the Team and your hill party is always paramount at all times.It is hard to remember that in the heat and adrenaline of a big call out. Many will be amazed that the casualties were left overnight bit this had to be done and when we relocated them there was more avalanche debris all over. In the dark and in an unfamiliar Corrie in a wild storm is not the place to be moving slowly. There was nothing else at that time could be done for them and we had to leave them for our own safety. Decision like that are hard bur correct great decisions by Molly Porter who I am sure was the Cairngorm Team Leader at the time and our own Ray Sefton.
Be aware that after the stormy weather we have just had there may be areas of slab and snow about. Add to this a descent in the dark in unfamiliar terrain or in wild weather and you can have a problem.
Be safe out there and learn from the past!