Skye Mountain Accident – the findings

Climbing Guides death in Skye the inquiry a few thoughts .

I love the Island of Skye dearly and have introduced many to the wild and special place. It is to me unique in the hearts of mountaineers in the UK and in winter a place easily comparable with the Alps. In my days as a young party leader in the RAF mountain Rescue  and then the RAF Team leader Skye tested me every time I went out many times with extremely inexperienced companions. Skye involved some of the hardest call outs I have ever been on and the local Skye Team hold my up most respect. To be in Skye on a Call out especially in winter was a wild experience and tested me and many of my companions to the full. If you add in poor weather and snow conditions it can be a very difficult undertaking. I did about 10 winter call outs in Skye in my career and every one was an eye opener. I had my share of epics as you do and in winter this is a place like no other in the UK . The  BBC website carried the following sad summary by the local Sheriff of this  tragedy of an accident in early winter 1972  in Skye in the mountains .
Skye in winter an incredible wild place to be.

Skye in winter an incredible wild place to be.

I have just read the Sheriffs summing up of a tragedy in the Isle of Skye  on December 27  two years ago. This was when a local guide fell whilst guiding a client on the Cullin Mountains. The client with very limited experience managed to get down from very serious winter terrain and summon help. Unfortunately she had no map and it took two days for Rescue teams  to locate the Guide who had unfortunately had  died in the fall.
This is the Sheriffs summing up

A sheriff has suggested that mountain guides require regulation after a fatal accident on Skye in 2012.

His findings are linked to the BBC website and the judgement

Graham Paterson, a 60-year-old experienced guide, fell while leading a client with no previous experience of hillwalking in a Scottish winter.

After several attempts, the woman managed to descend and raise the alarm.

But because she had no map to allow her to give rescuers a grid reference, it was two days after the accident before Mr Paterson’s body was found.

Sheriff Derek Pyle said the incident highlighted the need for guides’ clients to be adequately equipped and be given prior information on where to find a safe route off a hill.

He said guided walking and climbing parties should have more than one person with the know-how and equipment to get safely down off a mountain or hill.

Mr Paterson, from Carbost, Skye, and a guide with 20 years experience, died from his injuries before rescuers could reach him in the Cuillin mountains.

In his newly-published determination,

Sheriff Pyle said he understood the risks walkers and climbers were prepared to take as he was a keen walker himself.

However, he said the badly-injured Mr Paterson was the only person on the day out with the knowledge and the equipment to deal with an accident during the trip.

The sheriff said it was for policy-makers to find a way to regulate mountain guide businesses.

‘Loved his job’

Mr Paterson fell during a walk in Coire na Banachdich on 27 December 2012.

Sheriff Pyle said Mr Paterson’s client, Ildiko Kerek, who was a keen hillwalker from Bristol, would not have survived the night on her own.

A fatal accident inquiry had earlier heard how Ms Kerek had no map or food and endured a difficult descent because she was unfamiliar with the terrain.

When she did eventually manage to raise the alarm she could not give rescuers a grid reference and instead described the terrain where Mr Paterson had fallen.

After searches, the guide was found dead on 29 December.

In his determination, Sheriff Pyle said: “Mr Paterson, I can surmise, loved his job.

“I have no reason to think that he set out with the aim of causing his client to be faced with unnecessary risks.

“I have however concluded that he made errors of judgment. That ought to be the extent of the criticism which he now receives.

“I did not have the benefit of hearing from Mrs Paterson. There is, however, a reference in the papers before me that it is some comfort to her that he died on the mountains he loved.”

The sheriff added: “Whether one ventures or not into the hills of Scotland, it is easy to sympathise with that sentiment. I give my condolences to her and her family for their loss.


There will be various opinions on what happened and even the findings of the Sheriff. We can we all learn from this but please ember that a local guide died and the loss to his family and friends is still very raw. On every accident we should learn from them and I would advise all those who venture into the mountains to read this report.

Skye a wild but magnificent place no matter how experienced you are.

Skye a wild but magnificent place no matter how experienced you are.


Mountain Training UK Briefing Note for its Providers and Association members regarding:

Produced 19/12/14

Fatal Accident Inquiry by Sheriff Principal Derek C W Pyle into the death of Graham Greig Paterson who died in Coire na Banachdich, Cuillin Mountains in late December 2012.

The Fatal Accident Inquiry into the death of Graham Paterson, who died on Coire na Banachdich in December has just concluded. The Sheriff’s determination was given on 4th December 2014 and published here on 15th December.

Mountain Training UK recognises the risks involved in participating in walking, mountaineering and climbing activities and the potentially serious consequences that can result from any accident. Our sincere sympathies go to Mr. Paterson’s wife and family for their loss whilst also acknowledging the harrowing experience of his client.

The Sheriff made two recommendations, which can be summarized as:

  • Ensure that those acting as “mountain guides” are properly qualified and equipped to provide a commercial service for adults.
  • Inform the public of the importance of party members being equipped to deal with the possibility of an accident occurring to the leading member of the party.

The terms ‘Guide’, ‘Instructor’ and ‘Leader’ have specific meaning with regard to mountaineering qualifications. Each one defines a particular range of activities that an individual has demonstrated competence in. Summer and winter are also key words in defining the scope of qualifications with the latter requiring further assessment in a range of additional competences. Mr Paterson had begun the process of registering for the first level of summer qualification for leading in the mountains, the Mountain Leader Award, but he did not hold any qualification issued by Mountain Training. Our qualification system is clearly illustrated here.

Regarding the need for qualification, Mountain Training’s aim is to educate and train people in walking, climbing and mountaineering activities and over a fifty year period we have developed a hierarchy of mountaineering leader and instructor qualifications which we strongly recommend to all those interested in leadership (voluntary or professional) and to those seeking to engage leaders, instructors and guides. Our qualifications are the result of considerable deliberation on the range of skills needed to operate competently and safely in the mountains. Mountain Training’s qualifications are the benchmarks for those who work with the public and are recognised as such by government and across the adventure activity sector.

Our Fifth Edition of the ‘National Guidelines for Climbing and Walking Leaders‘ gives general advice on safety management systems and the operational scope of each qualification. We support the Health and Safety Executive’s view that there are several ways for activity leaders to demonstrate their competence. We believe that our qualifications, the supporting professional associations and their continuing professional development (CPD) processes contribute to a largely self-regulated sector which is generally acknowledged to be “safe”. We have actively contributed to the development of accreditation systems, both statutory (AALA) and sector-led (AAIAC) and expect to launch a further system of ‘Adventuremark’ accreditation for ‘micro-providers’ through our Mountain Training Association in 2015.

Regarding the importance of party members being well equipped, and well informed, the Sheriff’s account of this incident is a salutary reminder to all leaders to consider carefully how much to involve all participants. It has been the custom and practice of our leaders over the last fifty years to work alone, as often as not with a single client, and all to great effect; whether that be achieving a particular objective or intense training in a particular skill. Nevertheless this incident reminds everyone that roles can be reversed and in that case the more informed and better equipped the participants are then the greater the chance of a successful outcome should an accident occur. Similarly, we encourage an incremental introduction to mountaineering with venues and locations being selected to suit the skills, abilities and aspirations of the party and have recently developed accredited Hill and Mountain Skills courses, which provide a good introduction to these skills.

Owen Hayward, Chair. Mountain Training UK

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.
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