1976 May – RAF Kinloss MRT – North to South Traverse of the Highlands.
The aim – This was a mountaineering expedition from the most Northerly Mountain in Scotland Ben Hope to the most Southerly Ben Lomond. The route was planned to cover 270 miles. Climb 42 Munros and ascend a total of 70,000 feet.
The Team was all from RAF Kinloss MRT Heavy Whalley , Jim Morning , Paul Burns all were young SAC ‘s (a very low rank in the RAF) and only allowed to go after great arguing with the powers that be and gaining authorisation by the RAF Kinloss Team Leader Pete Mac Gowan. (Normally military expeditions were led by an officer or SNCO ) The planning was done an orgy of maps joining and tracing other walks in the past and done in the dark winter nights or at weekends. Food was planned and food caches set up with the help of Keepers and Village Halls and friends of the team. The RAF Team would meet us at weekend training Exercises and re supply us, well that was the plan.
Day 1 Sunday 9 th May – a long drive up to Tongue in the far North of Scotland the night before it took 4 hours and then we were dropped off at Ben Hope the most Northerly Mountain in Scotland. The ascent was from North of the Broch of Dun Dornagil.
In 1976 it was not as it is today a big path but an easy ascent by small waterfall and then along the fine ridge with its big cliffs to the West. It has great viewpoints and its splendid isolation makes it a lovely peak to climb. Today was not for hanging around as one does the weather was fine and though we carried 4 days food in our sacks we still carried all the up and down? The views are great the magic Ben Loyal looks and is a great day out and the landscape is wild in every aspect, the views to the sea and the huge moors make this a place to stop and drink it all in. In these days we must have been daft and it was rush, rush rush. I was lucky enough to enjoy this peak on many occasions and even to run up this peak several times along with other peaks all in one day. I also climbed this peak by various ways including by a gully in winter on the big cliffs and great ways up but not easy access a bit of a walk in and the a grand but serious scramble from the North a long walk in that gives a different aspect to this fine peak. You can miss the scramble by a gully but it is still a grand outing and worthy of an ascent?
We had no idea what we were taking on this was our first walk, we were very fit and wanted no support on the walk. We had set up food caches in lodges and bothies and were carrying very basic gear as this was 1976. The maps were inch to the mile and pretty basic in these days. From here we were heading to Merkland Lodge via the Corbett Ben Hee ( the fairy hill) After Ben More it was along the road and along the Estate Road past some incredible places and names Gobernuisgach Lodge and then on to Beleach Nam Meirleach the robbers path and onto Ben Hee an amazing hill with some big cliffs worth having a look at. This would be great mountain bike ground today as the road cuts across some wild places. It was rough walking I bet there is a good path now but we were soon on the top \nd the weather was fine it was then down to the Lodge at West Merkland to see the keeper who met us with a big dram and a great bothy an enjoyable day and despite the hill bag weight about 40 lbs it was not too bad. We were all going fine and had and enjoyed a great introduction.
The day’s distance was 21 miles and 5437 feet of ascent, we took our time it was about 8 hours there was no rush! Tomorrow was another day.