Epic on Creag Meagaidh part 2 . March 1997

A party of 3 training in wild weather from the RAF Kinloss Team had a problem when the leader walked was blown through a Cornice on Creag Meagaidh. The other two in the group were relatively inexperienced and were left on the plateau to wonder what had happened and to get themselves off the hill. The wind was gusting to 60 – 70 mph and total white out above 2500. We got a broken message by phone that help was needed. It was about 1600 on a March night in 1997 and so began the longest two hours of my life.

The radios in the Mountain Rescue Control wagon were going like my head non – stop. Dan and Rusty had gone off at great speed in wild weather try to assist our hill – party. There was lots to do the helicopter was air-born from RAF Lossiemouth and as always were pulling out all the stops to help us. I wondered about their safety as the weather was a bad as I ever remember it.  I had called in all our team members from RAF Kinloss that were having a weekend off and we had another 20 arriving in a few hours/ Leuchars MRT had also arrived and I was just giving them area to search when another incident came in. It was that Lochaber MRT had been diverted to a hill nearby Beinn a’ Chaorainn in Glen Spean where two walkers were reported missing?

Incredibly just as the helicopter was arriving on scene our two team member’s arrived down in the Glen, they were both okay but had a real fight for life to get off the plateau. They had both aged and had done a great job to get off safely in these conditions.  I must admit I shed a tear when I saw them and then the leader who had fallen through the cornice walked off to another of our party above the A86. I was so happy as we all were, I was fearing for the worst result but someone up there was looking after us . The Helicopter headed straight for Beinn A Chourainn where we were re-tasked to assist.  It was a quick turn round the tale would come later but you could see on their strained faces that this day had taken its toll.

Incredibly we drove down to the new Control Point the helicopter was already on scene and located the two walkers. They were both killed in a fall of over 1000 feet, they had been attempting to lead a large party of 8 in a white out and gale force winds when they went through the huge cornice North of the notorious Centre top and the scene of many accidents. How the helicopter did that recovery I will never know as the teams would have had epics in these conditions.  We all knew this hill well and had been to many rescues on it in these conditions it would have been wild and extremely dangerous, what a job by Rescue 137.

Great effort by the crew of Rescue 137 what a legacy they will leave us with.

Great effort by the crew of Rescue 137 what a legacy they will leave us with. Photo Richard Bale!


When things calmed down we got the story. They had walked into the incredible Corrie of Creag Meagaidh and they were unlike me on another nearby hill out of most of the wind. They decided to climb up Easy Gully to the plateau where they were met by incredible winds and white out.  The Leader fell through a cornice whilst trying to navigate off, he fell some considerable distance , suffering severe bruising and abrasions. He climbed back up to the plateau, he had lost his radio in the fall and tried to locate his party. In the meantime they had struggled off as there was no way they could assist him and get help. In the end it we were very lucky unlike the unfortunate walkers on the nearby Beinn A Chaorainn.

We all learned many great lessons from this near disaster for our team. Yes we have to train in all weathers to be able to cope with any situations but we are not invincible and must bare this in mind when training.  Some Mountain Rescuers have this bravado that it will never happen to them, I used to be one of them. Yet we have to learn how to cope with such weather but at times common sense has to prevail. When out on the hill as rescue party more than one radio per party is needed and this did help us get the provision for more radios and phones this was 1997 remember.  Always be ready when you come out of a gully in wild weather to be ready to navigate as if it is blowing such a gale on the top time and conditions will not let you  “faff”about!  Navigation is so important and all in the party must be able to navigate. Roping up in a white is well worth thinking about, pointless not using a rope if you a carrying it, few of us ever do this? Sometimes you may even have to abseil back down the route due to weather conditions. Goggles are an essential piece of winter mountaineering equipment and on this day definitely helped the two on the plateau get off safely as did there navigational skills and self – control. (I have since learned that one of the in -experienced members in the Rescue Team was a winter ML at the time and this undoubtedly made a big difference. Qualifications are a great way of improving your knowledge in the mountains but holding it together after a near disaster is never easy despite your experience or qualification, he did superbly and I wished I had known that at the time.)

This is from the man who did the “Cornice walk”

“The helmet came in handy, glad I kept that on. Ice axe leash stopped me dropping axe and helped me climb back up to plateaux. Belated thanks to all Troops involved, D Flight crew and Belford A&E. Oh, and wee Ed for driving me home via Ft Bill Mc Ds”


No one is invincible nature rules always. If you have an epic do not wait tell someone if it is all going wrong better embarrassment than  a tragedy.

Any views?


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 Enviroment, Equipment, Family, Friends, Gear, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering, Weather. Bookmark the permalink.

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