From Tilly lamps to head – torches.

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.

The Tilly Lamp

The Tilly Lamp

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.

Petzal Zoom - a work horse in the 1990's

Petzal Zoom – a work horse in the 1990’s

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.

Cairngorm MRT in action with the Sea King great Team work in wild conditions.

Cairngorm MRT in action with the Sea King great Team work in wild conditions.

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.

Cairngorm MRT - photo

Cairngorm MRT – photo

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?

1980 Pile wonder torch - photo Scottish Mountain Heritage Collection.

1980 Pile wonder torch – photo Scottish Mountain Heritage Collection.

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?

So many headtorches now on the market make sure you have one handy and spare batteries!

So many head teacher now on the market make sure you have one handy and spare batteries!


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 Equipment, Gear, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Views Mountaineering. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to From Tilly lamps to head – torches.

  1. I never thought about headtorches (headflashlights) revolutionizing search and rescue. I can’t imagine trying to scale down a cliff with a flash light between their teeth. The problem still must be difficult because the batteries have such a short life. Changing batteries would not be easy under such conditions.
    My family was rescued from a canoeing accident. My husband had saved a man in our group from drowning. He almost lost his life in the process. It is a Long story…. I was never so grateful for the emergency services for saving the day. They got us out of precarious situation.

    Years ago my husband and I had a flat tire on a busy narrow dark highway. Many country roads here do not have a shoulder to pull over on. He found a dirt tiny precarious spot to semi pull off on and tried to change a tire. Everything that could go wrong did. It was torrential rains. We had just bought the car and did not transfer our emergency kit, before we made that long drive. We had no neon reflector vest, flash light and the tire jack kept sinking in the mud. He found a board to place under the jack in the ditch. He changed the tire in the dark. I was terrified because no one could see us on the side of the road. I was praying the whole time. I said never again will I be so stupid and careless. We were very lucky. Every year we restock and check our emergency supplies. I always stock up on Batteries as well. One can never be well enough prepared.

    It is great that you bring these things to future hikers attention. It could save someones life.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My first long winter trip was done with a hand torch. I was only walking in those days, and had plenty batteries – but bloody cold hands. The Petzl Zooms were, as you say, the bees knees through the ’90s but, with their heavy, expensive batteries, have been vastly outstripped by the choice of headtorches today. Like you, though, I now carry two. Changing batteries in the dark (and in bad weather) is no fun.

    Liked by 1 person

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