It is hard to believe that on one of my early call outs in 1974 in March on Ben Nevis I was on a tragic search at night for a young couple who had wandered into 5 finger Gully on Ben Nevis. I was given a tilly to search with and was in the Gully when a then well-known Lochaber Team Member Willie Anderson who saw it took it off me as I was really struggling on the steep ground, took it off me and threw it away.
I was worried about how I would explain that to my Team Leader? I have been there on several other occasions in 5 finger Gully and never found it and apologise for leaving litter on the hill. I wonder what future Mountaineering archaeologists will make of a Tilly in 5 finger gully. After that I purchased a decent head torch as the issue one was pretty poor. In Mountain Rescue you do a lot of Rescues and train at night a head torch is essential and there have been a few disasters on this piece of gear over the years.
At RAF Valley in North Wales during a time when money was tight late 70’s MOD in its wisdom bought cheap batteries for our head torches that fell apart on a night rescue high on the Idwal Slabs. I was the Deputy Team Leader at the time and sent of a powerful signal to the powers that be about the procurement of such rubbish. That was the last signal I was to send for a time as it ruffled so many in the Supply Branch at the time but we got descent batteries after that. The marvellous improvement in head torches and lighting for personal and Rescue use is incredible. Tales of climbers climbing in a wild winter night with a torch in their teeth as they climbed some of the big routes in the ebbing light and moonlight are legend. We have learned much from Caving and the head torch has improved dramatically over the years as has the battery life.
After seeing the recent pictures of Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team on call outs this winter with their powerful headlights is a huge improvement from the early days. Each rescuer is in their own world of snow and a pool of light it is surreal and impressive. I try to keep up with all the changes and the costs of some of these head torches are incredible some are over £300.
I have tried so many the famous “Sharks Eye” with 6 heavy batteries that lasted about 2 hours was incredible but it was hand-held and not much use when searching very steep ground. We also did some test with Hamish MacIness and a huge Military Searchlight in Glencoe millions of Candle power how many remember that night?
A head torch is a vital addition to a winter hill bag and I always carry a spare so often I have had to give mine away to some poor or stupid person who does not carry one or has not checked it for some time and the batteries are flat. Always check your head torch and ensure it is working. Try walking at night and see how tricky it is, imagine that without one?