Dog Tales from the back of a Landrover – Part 6 Wild Cairngorm Days, Balbeggie aircraft crash and a big storm.

Creag Dubh

Creag Dubh

]983/84 were  really hard years it was another big winter after another Heavy went to Canada ice climbing for a month so I was looks after by the team. When he came back he was wild about climbing ice and I had some long cold days as he chased classic ice routes especially in the North West. We also had a lot of call outs and I met a few lucky climbers who literally fell at our feet as we walked into a climb. One fell at our feet on Ben Nevis from the climb Bob Run, he survived but did not next year when he went missing in Glen Feshie solo walking and was found weeks after a big search.


Wild days in the winter

Wild days in the winter

I also had another big aircraft crash at Balbeggie near Dundee a group of 6 Curlers from Switzerland crashed near Balbeggie in November 1983. It was an all-night search in heavy mist with the Tayside, Leuchars and Kinloss Teams and the SARDA dogs.  The aircraft had 6 on board when it went missing. We found it in the morning with   4 alive and two unfortunately dead, we found one of them away from the crash site. I was amazed that we found them alive it was a real shocker for me. It was only small hills but the thick mist meant that the helicopter was of little use, it was a long search and again a huge learning curb for me.

1983 The Balbeggie crash near Dundee 4 survivors after an all night search.

1983 The Balbeggie crash near Dundee 4 survivors after an all night search.

The Cairngorms continued to catch many out and we had some long hard call – outs, searching Strath Nethy was never a favourite. I also got my paws speared by crampons on a big search on the Plateau and a big cut meant there was a bit of blood before heavy noticed. We were half way down Coire Dohmain at the time; I learnt to keep my distance when the crampons were on.  The new team members were the worst and he stood on my paw in a white out and no one heard my barking! In these days you would meet many of the Glenmore Lodge “names” and many became friends of mine, I was definitely moving in the right crowd, We would bump into them on a Mountaineering Assessment a very serious affair in bad weather navigating along the plateau and at times they would have a chat and those getting assessed would see the human side! Then we would bumble of into the weather with me in front picking a route. I was always glad to see familiar things like spot height 1141 a big cairn on the end of the plateau but even here you can have a problem getting home, big Cornices.  I knew the familiar places where we thought we could relax after a wild day out, where we thought we were safe. The team went out in these conditions to give the new Team member’s experience of the wildest of weather and it took a lot of looking after each other to get safely off the hill. I was often by now moving up and down the hill party when it got spread out but when the weather got bad we were very close and looked after each other. I got to know the Cairngorms well as even during the week after work we would go and maybe do a winter climb in the dark when the crowds had left. I  now had a light stick on me for the dark it was not for me but for Heavy to see where I was. I would meet them coming off. I knew the Goat Track descent well and could pick a line up the rocks even when the snow was rock hard. Climbers would be amazed to see me as they picked their way down this steep ground.

I loved the Cairngorms but one weekend was to be the one that shocked me forever. This was a terrible time as the big winds hit us in January 1984 I was heading with Heavy for a couple of days at Hell’s Lum a winter cliff in the Cairngorms with a young troop. Heavy had the Friday off the weather was magic, the forecast said so and we were going to make the most of it.. Heavy’s mate Pam had just finished a night shift at RAF Kinloss and was too tired to walk in so at the car park we changed our mind after I had a huge meal. This would normally mean we would be staying out all night. We went to climb at Newtonmore on Creag Dubh a small ice fall called “Oui Oui”  would be there. It was a fairly short and easy day but a big storm came in and we had some fun as the wind blasted us on the way off. It snowed like mad and I met them at the top of the climb and we had a real struggle in big winds and snow back to the car and then  off to the Village Hall at Newtonmore, where the team were staying. We just got into the Hall and the roads were blocking with snow the RAF Kinloss Team took hours to get there with tales of a wild drive. It was a quiet night in the Braeraich Pub as we expected to have problems getting out on Saturday.

If we had walked in to the heart of the Cairngorms we would have had a serious night at Hell’s Lum, I was so glad we had not gone.

Were we lucky or was it fate?

This was to be a terrible weekend.  One of the worst I would ever experience!

About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Aircraft incidents, Articles, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering, Weather. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Dog Tales from the back of a Landrover – Part 6 Wild Cairngorm Days, Balbeggie aircraft crash and a big storm.

  1. gpcox says:

    You are too skilled to answer that question, aren’t you. I believe your training and brains got all of you out.


  2. heavywhalley says:

    Also a bit of luck!


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