“The kit on the outside and the equipment may have changed.
Underneath the heart and soul of the troops remains the same.”
W.MacRitchie MBE RAFLossiemouth MR Team Leader.
In the military you meet some people as in life and Mountain Rescue you meet so many who remain great friends. I met a very young Willie Mac Richie ( Willie Mac) as a Leading Aircraftman (LAC) at RAF Leuchars in the mid 80’s. He was a very young lad from a Lewis croft who had just joined up into the big world that was the RAF. He arrived straight from training to the RAF Leuchars in Fife with big wide eyes and was in these days a smoker! He decided that Mountain Rescue may be the place to be after talking to his work mates most who were in the Mountain Rescue Team. Willie worked in General Engineering in workshops with many of the Mountain Rescue Stars of the day. AIister Haveron a former Team Leader and Graham Stamp (Stampy) of the North Face of the Eiger fame had sent him to visit the team and see if it was for him, he was soon on his first weekend. It was his destiny.
I am sure I took Willie on his first day we went to Ben Nevis and scrambled Castle Ridge, Willie gave up smoking after that and after the walk in. The day was interesting as the other young star with us “Fieldmouse” just arrived from RAF Leeming had decided to storm up the crux chimney and fell off. He was well held by me lucky boy and the day went on to be a good one we went over the Ben showing a tired Willie the great North Face and the team member’s climbing on many other routes. We added in Carn Mor Dearg Arete and Willie poor man was tired and after that day but loved it. Willie was soon hooked on mountains and was soon one of the strongest natural mountaineers on the team. He has a natural gait that makes all he does effortless and this was to stand him in good stead.
He was some man on the hill one of the few naturals and easily moved fast through the training within the team. He took to every skill and with his easy going Island ways he never got wound up and was noticed early on as a man of great potential and a possible Team Leader of the future. We must have done something right!
Now Willie is from Lewis and such an easy-going man he could be in the cast for “Para Handy” He speaks the Gaelic and has a great way with people, he quickly settled in and much of the skills learned in Harris were key to his progress. He was soon a main man in the Team and moved up the ladder and found climbing with ropes a bit strange after looking after his sheep in Harris. He became a Party Leader in a young incredibly fit Team at RAF Leuchars and was one of the top men on many call -outs. This was some team many young, keen and incredibly fit and it had a tremendous team spirit learned on the hard mountains of Glencoe, the Ben and many other great peaks. There was so much going every weekend that life just passed so quickly and I with Willie was part of the team at the Lockerbie Disaster that tested us to the core. . If there was a fast party going off in the helicopter Willie was the man and never let us down, He then moved to RAF Leeming as Deputy Team Leader, where he was an incredible asset. We went on many expeditions together and poor Willie shared a tent with me on many occasions and was a power at altitude and as always powerful mountaineer. On our first expedition to the Himalayas in 1990 it was a great trip with no porter support above Base Camp. We were attempting Kusung Kangaru one of the hardest trekking peaks in the world. It was 2 moths of adventure and wild days and I never forget bringing our only piece of fixed line off an ice ridge down when Willie dropped the rope on me. Then we had an open bivy at 17000 feet a cold night but what a man.
Over the years we had some fun in the UK and abroad we shared a tent on the trip to Pakistan in 1993 on Diran Peak and Willie just missed out in the summit due to illness in his part and remained until the summit team arrived safely and then descended the North Face. Willie was a key man on this trip and as always shunned any publicity. Dan Carrol another MRT legend and team leader said Willie was the most thoughtful mountaineer he had ever met and missed out on a few summits in the high peaks to ensure safety came first, especially of his mates.
Diran is a Mountain in the Karakoram range in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. This 7,266-metre (23,839 ft) pyramid shaped mountain lies to the east of Rakaposhi (7,788m). Diran was first climbed in 1968 by three Austrians.
Willie became a Team Leader and a member of the successful Everest North Ridge Team in 2001. Willie and I went out for week before the main expedition and bought most the SAS Expedition gear who had climbed Everest the year before . On the way down South from Scotland it was the Foot and Mouth outbreak and the fires of burning animals were an awful site as we drove the gear down to London. It was a worrying time but we got away from a tragic event. We arrived in Kathmandu and met our Sherpas and we were soon busy fixing all the gear tents, stoves etc. We made great friends with our small group of Sherpas helped made the expedition successful later on. We also met up with our Russian climber friends who we met later on in the mountains these were great days. Most of the gear we had bought was damaged Tents with no floors, stoves, sleeping bags etc were soon sorted as the Sherpas had all the contacts and soon sewing machines and various other items were fixed and the gear was as good as new. Willie was incredible his skills with people and in helping get it all done in time for the team arriving. What a week that was as good as any I had in my life.
This trip to Everest has been well told and it was a group of 12 member’s of RAF Mountain Rescue who climbed Everest from Tibet in 2001. We had our week in Katmandu sorting out gear and then the 14 day acclimatization trek in Annapurna a great trip. Willie was a lucky man on this trip as he was avalanched high on a training trip and walked away. What a tragedy that could have been, see photo below, look and you can see Willies footprints !
Willie and Jim were the second summit team and when Dan and Rusty summited and moved down they moved up to the High camp at 8000 metres. Jim was very ill during the night and there was no other decision but to descend. It was an epic but Willie was incredible (he will hate me for this) and along with Jim’s great strength of survival got down to the North Col unaided and to our doctor. The main man was Willie as others passed by and we started a rescue Willie got Jim down to the North Col with a huge effort. Jim recovered and incredibly and walked the whole way back to Base over the next few days, it was a worrying time. The weather changed and despite a few more attempts we only got the two on the summit. The great thing was we all came back with all our fingers and toes and all still mates. At this time people were dying on this huge hill who did not have the teamwork we had, a lesson in life for us all.
We also had a key piece of kit on our expedition “Willies Shed” which we built at Base Camp after several bribes to the Chinese Base Camp Manager. Willie was the man who worked with Robertson’s of Elgin pre – expedition on the build and the Shed was our Base for the next 3 months. In the end we gave it to the locals Tibetans to be used as an eye hospital, what a great idea!
What a place of sanctuary out of the wind and sand!
Sanctuary at the wild weather at 17500 feet.
After Everest Willie was the Deputy Team Leader at RAF Kinloss and the last Team Leader of the RAF Kinloss prior to the move to RAF Lossiemouth. Looking from the outside it would not be an easy time but Willie was the man to lead the Team through these difficult times. The RAF had massive changes, redundancies detachments to many trouble spots yet despite losing so many experienced leaders the team always came up to every challenge. It would not be easy meeting all the manning,rules and legislation that are involved in the modern RAF and yet achieving a functioning team and one that can still operate in the wildest conditions in the UK. Over the last few years the RAF team has still been part of the incredible Scottish Mountain Rescue Organisation. It has been at most of the major incidents and avalanches and done well and the Team has stayed so professional and the safety record is outstanding. Until you run a Team few will realise the massive responsibility that the Team Leader has for the safety of his team. In my days I worried myself sick at times and I had a huge experience pool to assist me. RAF Teams do not have an area like Cairngorm of Lochaber they can go anywhere at anytime to assist the local team and the area knowledge needed is hard to acheive but Willie and the team have done incredibly. These are incredible times for all involved and the big changes that are part of living in the modern world. The Team will be looked after by Scouse and Mick I hear and I wish them well through this hard winter.
Willie will not be happy about this blog but at least the kids and his family will see a lot more of him now and the great thing he is staying in the area and may go back to the team after a short break. You deserve it my great friend, enjoy the break and when I get fit we can maybe get a day out together on the hills.
Thanks for all you did Willie and its is a long way from that day on Castle ridge all these years ago!
What does the future bring ?