Dogs tails from the back of a Landover .
I wrote this in several parts in a previous blog but a few have asked me to put it together – anyone wanting to read it it will take time, I cried at the end!
My name is Teallach I was named after a very beautiful mountain on the West Coast of Scotland (An Teallach) As a very soft Alsatian almost cuddly Alsatian I was very lucky to have spent all of my life on the mountains and wild places. My mother (Dreish) was another Mountain Dog who was a highly proficient and fully trained Search and Rescue Dog in Scotland (SARDA) and Wales. She had won the SARDA Madras Trophy in 1977 for best Novice Search Dog. This was something she never tired of telling us if we worked hard and had a bit of luck we could we too could chose this way of life. After a few weeks where I was bottled fed by Allister’s wife Pat I met my owner a very small loud human, he had a strange name” Heavy” he was introduced to me and the other pups but it was my huge feet that mattered and for 12 years we looked after each other. Mainly I looked after him!
My first trip was to the vet for my check up and jabs, I hated white coats ever since and then we went to Scotland from RAF Valley in North Wales. I was 8 weeks old! My owner was in Mountain Rescue and had to lead a group in Braemar in Scotland for a week climbing and walking. I travelled in a land rover all the way, I missed my Mum but these humans were kind to me. I travelled in land rover in a box a long 10 hour journey with stops every 2 hours for me to learn about going to the toilet. The man in the white coat said it would be good for me to get used to travelling as young as that was what I would do every week.
We arrived in a bothy an old house (with lots of new places to explore) and I slept beside Heavy every night walking him for the loo now and again. I had a few accidents and I ate a pair of boots as I stayed with the cook every day I too young for the hills. I met all the humans in the team and soon was accepted. The local farmer let me meet the sheep and any idea of playing or chasing them was explained to me by the ram. For the rest of my life I gave them a wide berth. In the mountains you could not chase anything but that was made up later on by the longest walks I have ever had.
My boss that week took me up my first Munro he carried me in his rucksack up Lochnagar and it was an incredible place, it was so big, windy and wild. We saw lots of birds but and things in the heather, but I was impressed that the humans did not chase them either. I was allowed out on a bit of rope called a lead, but I was soon trusted not to need this. Heavy showed me the big cliffs I felt the wind as he took me to the edge of the great cliffs. He explained on a bad day humans could not see the drop but a dog would feel the wind and have the sense to avoid such places in wild weather. I was pretty confused but later on in my life it was to save our lives on a few occasions.
He showed me the summit cairn always a place that I would mark by lifting my leg, no matter what the weather and this was now my territory and I learned lots over the next few months. My Mum Dreish was also on the Mountain Rescue team and she gave me some great help but always showed me who was Boss. She could climb most things and that took a bit of effort for me but soon I was climbing better than Heavy (not hard) I would wait for him at the top of the climbs as I got older. I was taken to work in the Mountain Rescue every day and lay under Heavy’s desk, I learnt to be quite and only growl only when an officer entered the room. I also went down to the helicopter Flight at RAF Valley In Wales and got used to the noise of these yellow machines, everyone was kind and soon I was jumping in them on my own and hiding out of the way under the seats. I could hear them before the troops on the hill and knew it was a lift home, so I was always ready and happy when I heard them. Getting winched out was another scary thing but Heavy did not like that either and often I would jump out first to see how high we were off the ground. I was told to sit and wait until a human came and we practice this everywhere and I got used to it. The aircrew liked me and used to give me food until Heavy stopped them but right up to the end of my life I was always getting the odd snack from some soft centred person. Wales was great but we often got involved in many rescues and I had to keep out of the way especially in winter when the humans wore crampons. I always knew when it was a bad accident, it was different and the team’s attitude changed. When they were carrying someone off the hill I kept well away. In winter I got speared a few times by crampons so I was wary after that and kept my distance. I was soon not on a lead and building my hill knowledge, it was getting easier as in Wales as we were training 2-3 times a month every weekend. After a year I was a novice had done the 14 peaks twice in a day! I also knew who the new troops were and slept on their beds when they were at the pub, I was given lots of freedom and loved my days on the hill. Every weekend it would be a new base camp but we also went to England and the Peaks and the Lake District and twice to Scotland. I learnt to swim very early not a problem in Wales but in the big rivers in Scotland I became an exponent of the ” wild water”. I loved it even in the sea ; I may have been half Alsatian and half seal! If Heavy went to climb a big route I would go with another party usually on a big hill day and he was happy with that as long as I behaved. I would by now learned to check the party, if it split up and ensure everyone was there. I spared a few blushes at times when I found the odd troop or lost mountaineer in the mist or bad weather. I knew if someone was there even in the mist and would run off find them and come back and tell my leader. In the end everyone wanted me in their party especially on a bad day; I was a type of doggy insurance for would be leaders!
Scotland was where my owner loved and we did the winter Course together at Grantown On Spey, I was not allowed to be in the Centre, but every night I was in with the troops and I think Heavy got into trouble. I loved the Cairngorms and met so many people, Glenmore Lodge and other Mountain Rescue teams. I loved the skills day as I would have fun but it was cold and I learned to find shelter in the snow. We did a few rescues it was hard work in the snow this was wild country. We stayed at the CIC Hut on Ben Nevis, where no dogs are allowed but I was quite and the custodian did not notice till it was too late, I hid under the bed after a hard day on the hill. I did a few gullies that year and I was far better soloing than roped up depending on how hard the snow was. I learned to do as I was told and wait till the leader had climbed up. On the way down when it was icy I would follow Heavy’s footprints and on the odd occasions he would cut steps, I got better on snow after a few frights. I loved the snow- holing Heavy was scared as he told me the weather could change very quick and we may not know. I learned quickly as soon as I felt the snow building up outside (the lack of air told me) I would be out and dig the entrance. Over the years we had a few epics and once I found a very young troop who had gone out for a pee in his bare feet and could not get back in as the snow was so icy, I heard him outside while the rest were asleep and woke them up (lassie would have been proud) I loved the snow and this place Scotland with my big feet were ideal for the snow and I was seldom cold. In my first two years I learned so much but Heavy was too busy to train me a search Dog as he was the Deputy Team Leader at RAF Valley.. I met many Search Dogs in these early days some were a bit snooty but Heavy stood his ground and on the hill we became a formidable pairing. I got very fit and strong and with my winter coat I could handle most weathers better than the humans. He promised me we would get moved to Scotland after Valley and we would do these Munros lots of days like the 14 peaks, big winters and lots of fun. I was a bit disappointed at the time but he had also fallen in love with a woman and I had competition for his attention. I had not met many women since I was a puppy and I had to get use to this change in my life. I also had a wee girl as well in the house: Yvette she was tiny and we had some fun, she was always dressing me up but so did the troops, it was no problem. I loved them both and I really got looked after and allowed in the front room, but not on the sofa.
It was a fun time after a long weekend or even a 4 day grant on the hill I would sleep in the back of the land – rovers and wake up at the bothy. I would get dried after a wet day on the hill then a meal and then sleep or play with any troops that had the energy left.
Life was good!
In Wales things were going very well and life was indeed good but poor Heavy had problems his selfish life in the mountains was a lonely one for his partner and sadly she left with her daughter to go back to Scotland, it was a hard time for all. I had got used to family life and loved them al very much playing with Yvette and her pals was a lovely change from the hills. Heavy was very upset at the time (us dogs worked that out) and the house was very empty. Gone were the easy nights of being pampered by my new friends and Yvette who was only little was special. We got up to all tricks together and it was as much fun as going on the hills.
Many are scared when they see a big Alsatian but I was very soft and loved kids, I was jumped on dressed up and ridden as a horse, it was just like the troops at the weekend. During this sad time we got out a lot on the hills and days got longer and harder as the mountains became all consuming. We visited Scotland for a Grant and had a 12 hour day On Beinn Eighe, Liathach and Alligin and next day we climbed the Cioch Nose, I ended up in the Loch due to the midges. This was 10 days in Scotland and then we moved to Fort William and I did the big 4 and next day all the Mamore Ridge 9 Munros in a day. The Aonach Eag followed both ways on the same trip and other great hills I loved Scotland. It was such a big place and so few people. Back in a big rescue in Wales the RAF Wessex helicopter had to leave a winchman on the hill in winter during a rescue and we went and helped him off, he had no crampons. The crewman was wearing flying boots, the aircrew had little kit only basic aircrew gear in these days and the troops had their sharp crampons on and it was even hard for me on the icy snow. There was a bit of carry on and the helicopter came back to get him despite the weather and being told to leave him. It was a tricky and the RAF enquiry was interesting .Heavy getting into trouble for his decisions in support of the crew and giving them mountaineering boots etc. He was always in a bit of trouble very outspoken even on the hill, at times on a rescue and I knew when to keep out of the way. He did a big callout on Idwal slabs in the dark when the head torch batteries fell apart in the wet a new cheap battery MOD had bought. Why do humans need torches anyway I have no problem? He wrote a signal to someone high up and got into trouble and despite the Team Leaders assistance ended up posted to the Deep South at RAF Innsworth near Gloucester. I think the powers that be thought that was the end of us but it was not to be. At the same time his Mum passed away and Dad took ill whilst he was on the Team Leaders Course in the Peak District. He was climbing when the Policeman came up to the crag and told him. The troops dropped us at Crewe Station and we got the overnight train to Kilmarnock, the train was a great way to travel for me. We arrived in at 0500 and we walked into Ayr 12 miles away rather than wake anyone up, we were to skint for a taxi. We were a funny sight walking along the main road. It was a hard time and his Dad wanted to see me and we went to hospital where I was allowed in. I knew he was upset when Dad died and when we got back home to Valley when he went to bed I followed him up and slept under the bed. I was never allowed to do this before and did so afterwards.
In 1982Heavy was posted to RAF Innsworth near Gloucester it was awful and when we arrived Heavy was told that no dogs were allowed on the station by the Station Warrant Officer. (SWO) He was a wild man. As always Heavy ignored authority and we moved into an accommodation block with others and I slept in the room until the SWO found out. Heavy was back to working in the Catering Office and his boss let me come to work every day. I sat outside a lot and played with all the high ranking officers that lived there, they all liked me and played sticks and things. The SWO was not happy but could not get rid of me. I left him a message in the guardroom when Heavy was orderly Corporal one weekend! We were saved by joining the Stafford Mountain Rescue Team and had many great weekends as Heavy met them in his car at weekends in Wales or the Lakes. It was great to be back with the troops and I made many friends and climbed a lot more at the Peaks and other venues. At times we would meet the “odd jobs worth” on the crag or scrambled about or as I sat by the bags who wanted me on a lead but Heavy just gave them a hard time. It was long drives back at times 0300 in the morning and then straight back to work.
I slept, poor Heavy had to work. We did a few callouts one for an aircraft during the week a Harrier that crashed in Wales and I sniffed the fuel on the ridge in a night search. I had to watch as this was tricky place to be at the crash site and there were many sharp bits of metal, fuel and Heavy kept me away once they found it. The smell of fuel was overpowering to my nose and I was to find this out on many other occasions. I was glad to leave after the casualty had been recovered. We came back to Innsworth as heroes and life got easier, I was now a celebrity on the camp. Heavy upset more people on the camp and within a year we were heading back to Scotland. I had been back twice with the Stafford Team and what a trip. Once we went to the North West a huge journey and so no other humans, I did some big days, The Fannichs I think 9 Munroe’s in a day , The An Teallach hills and Fisherfields and The Beinn Deargs, Seanna Bhraigh hills my Munro book was getting ticked. I was also allowed to go to Stoer and had fun swimming round the Sea Stack with the seals whilst the troops climbed. We were posted from Innsworth for the RAF Annual Winter Course the car was packed with me in the passenger seat. The road was blocked on the A9 and we had to go by Braemar it was some drive and Heavy is not a great driver. We arrived at Grantown for the winter Course where Heavy was instructing I was immediately told in no way could I stay in the Centre – Welcome to Scotland!
It was great we were back in Scotland and straight on 2 weeks on the annual RAF Mountain Rescue Winter Course. The Course was split into two parts the first at Grantown on Spey at the PTI Outdoor Centre for 3 days then we split into 2 groups one stayed and the other went to Ben Nevis. Grantown was funs though I was banned Anne and the Chef let me come in once the Boss left and after a day on the hill this was ideal, nice and warm after a day on the hill. The first 3 days of the winter course was hard, there were over 40 on the course many were new team members from the 6 RAF Teams. The entire Course in these days learned and refreshed on basic winter skills and had an overnight stop in a snow hole, it was exciting stuff. I loved the digging holes and spent the day chasing snow thrown by the troops. We would also go for night navigation from the snow hole. This was where I could show them at the end of the walk where the snow hole was despite how bad the weather. Some of the new troops were pretty worried about this, but most of the time it went well. A few injuries occurred and there was always a call – out when some climber fell of a route in the Cairngorms and we were there to help. The troops worked very hard and usually me and heavy found a route for the stretcher to be carried out. It was hard work but great after the training was over as we could go climbing or in poor weather bothying. I got to know the Cairngorms well and only had one near epic when I went over a small cornice at Windy Gap, I never did that again for a while. Heavy was not impressed as he nearly followed me! I learned to cope with the wild weather whilst the team was training and would curl up into a ball as the new troops learned simple things like putting on crampons, this could be a slow business.
The Fort William phase on the Winter Course was great and Ben Nevis was special and we stayed at the famous CIC Hut I was allowed to climb the easy gullies but when they did a big route I would go for a walk with some of the course who were tired and needed an easy day. I met some of the greats of climbing at the time Cubby, The Brat, Doug Scott to name a few and most were okay, if not I marked their bags! I was also not allowed to stay in the CIC hut but I did hiding under the beds if the nasty custodian was about in the end he was okay to me. Many were shocked when I emerged from one of the gullies and I was getting pretty good at finding 4 gully or a way off the Ben. We had a great course and got very fit and Heavy was back in the Catering Office but on the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team and I stayed in the old hut where the team lived. The Team Leader Kas Taylor liked me so I stayed under his desk and the hut was that old that when it snowed the spindrift would come into the office through holes in the wall. I could be covered in spindrift and it was like being on the hill. Most days though I sat outside watching the world go by and getting lots of cuddles from the girls in stores. The hills were great and even when Heavy went climbing, I would go and on an early day on Fionaven up in the North West he was climbing a big route and left me most of the day. They were late off and I worried but got them down to their bags and the torches when I heard him shout. Heavy will never admit that. Scotland was magic and I loved it Heavy was doing his Munros again and trying to get me round them, now that would a great thing for me to do.
My Stafford MRT mates were doing a big walk In May 1982 from East to West and Heavy was supposed to be on it but he could not get the time off as he was in his new job at RAF Kinloss. It was huge walk of 23 days and I went on it and loved it what a trip with lots of Munros. The boys looked after me it was non-stop but I went well and learned so much. Jim Morning led the walk and he was a big softie looking after me. After the long walk I had 76 Munros walked about 400 miles and climbed 100000 feet of ascent. Pete Ross wrote this about me “Pete Ross –
“Don’t mind admitting this brings a lump to my throat. He was a wonderful dog who melted the hardest of hearts; he made me chuckle so many times on that walk his antics and sheer unrestrained enthusiasm; especially when I was on my chinstrap. Jim doted on Teallach during that trip Magic days. Marvellous times I owe a lot to Jim. His ‘snippets’ of information were invaluable. 350 miles 100,000
feet of ascent and 76 Munros. We were machines in those days. Teallach and I used to wax lyrical
about Sir Walter Scott’s Waverly novels and the relevance of Keynesian economics 🙂 . Jim doted over Teallach throughout that trip. Great days, with amazing character
My feet were pretty battered after this walk but I had built up a huge stamina for the hill, my route finding in bad weather was impressive “up always up “was the motto and the river crossings in bad weather and swollen rivers became a new skill.
Heavy was now trying hard to climb Classic Rock and we had some great days though I was only 3 I was in my prime. On Eagle ridge on Lochnagar I was left below the route. Heavy was having his usual epic and shouting a lot and I thought I would investigate and ended up having a minor epic on the cliff, Heavy was not impressed as I popped up above him near the top of the route. We had great days in the Cairngorms biving at Loch Etcheacan and meeting and climbing Talisman. I pinched a few of Glenmore Lodge’s sandwiches that were lying about near our bags. In winter I loved the Northern Corries but got into another bit of trouble when I was up high near Pygmy Ridge looking for Heavy. Glenmore Lodge were on an assessment and I arrived high in the Corrie. I was lowered down, I did not need recued and Fred Harper at the Lodge at the time said that I could be banned from the Corrie. It was only a joke but I was very upset.
From that day for a while I was tied up if Heavy was climbing as no one could look after me. Many got a fright when they arrived at a route to see a dog and the rucksacks covered in snow. Heavy was getting cocky and would leave his bag at the bottom of the climb. One day He was with a new troop and when they got to the top Heavy’s map blew away, it was a blizzard and black as hell. They told me that they started walking the wrong way heading for MacDui! Heavy noticed it was all going wrong and managed to find the tops of the Northern Corries. I heard him calling and managed to pull the belay off and drag the two bags up near the Goat Track where we met a worried Heavy. I was a cold hero and Heavy learned not be so cocky and that his belay was poor. The poor lad with him never climbed again! I came back from my Big Walk from West to East of Scotland very fit and strong. I loved the Scottish Hills but the call -outs were pretty hard. I got to love some places and we went to Skye a lot in late Sept 1982 we had a wild weekend I had been over the back end of the Skye Ridge and had a long Saturday on the Dubhs Ridge, with a scary abseil for a dog, a long lower really. On the Sunday we were on Blaven and that meant I only had a couple of Munros left to do in Skye. My paws got fairly battered after the rough ridge and we were getting ready to leave for the long drive back to RAF Kinloss it was a wet day and I was glad to be leaving. The Police arrived and said there was a climber who had fallen whilst abseiling of the In Pin in Skye. In those days there were no mobile phones and if an accident happened and it took several hours to get help. It was about 1600 and the team had to grab enough kit to get someone off the ridge. I went with them and the helicopter arrived and took us into the Corrie, it was wet and windy and a bit of an epic getting in. After that it was a big haul up the screes and rocks, loose and slippy where we met the Skye Team Leader Gerry Ackroyd below the In Pin. He is the local guide and like Heavy can take a bit of getting used to but he was pretty good to me. The poor casualty was very cold and wet and. there were only 8 of us it was hard work to get a stretcher up there and the ropes. Gerry told me to keep out of the way and they soon had the casualty on the Stretcher and lowered him off. It was dark wet and cold and I had to wait with Heavy and John Beattie and lower the casualty off. It was horrible the stones were crashing about but after 2 big lowers we got down to the screes. I had to wait while Heavy and John scrambled down then follow them down. Everyone was worried about loose rocks but I was careful. It was a long night we met the Skye Team in the Corrie and had a long wet carry out to Glenbrittle. By now I had been to a few aircraft crashes by now as this was Heavy’s job with the RAF Mountain Rescue and was aware how dangerous they were, with all the sharp metal and fuel about. For a dog this is a very wild place to be and the smell of fuel is overpowering. I was in the helicopter that flew into StrathConon for a USA F111 aircraft that crashed both of the crew got out safely, pretty unusual as most we went to there were no survivors. The F111 has a capsule like the space shuttle ejects the whole canopy of the aircraft which should come down in a parachute over land or in the sea. This was what the RAF MR Teams are for and we have to pull out all the stops. This was where I was usually handy with the team as they could use me on the crash site as a guard dog? At least I looked the part? The team had to ensure that the security of the crash site was kept until the investigation Board arrived. The team were there for a few days and it was a great place to be but I was glad when we left, the constant night shifts on the hill were hard going even for a dog. A few months later in the depths of winter in December, we got a report of another F111 missing in Skye. Heavy had just finished a 12 hour shift at work and was sorting his kit out for the weekend when we got the call in the MRT block a helicopter was inbound from RAF Lossiemouth a few miles away and would be with us in 15 minutes, it would take Heavy plus 5 others. This was December 1982 and the weather was horrendous.
Now Skye is a wild place to be and the last callout a few months before had shown me how tricky it is but in the wet but in a wild winter night, with fresh snow, it would be taxing. The flight over was awful we were low level and poor Heavy who hates flying was up in the front, we went by Achnasheen and had to land on due to the snow and wait for the heavy shower to go through. We got battered by the weather tried to pick up some of Skye Team at Elgol but nearly hit some wires and the only place to land was by the sea near Camusronary bothy. Heavy has written about that night in his Blog but I will never forget getting told to swim the river it was deep and then work our way up onto the hill Stron Na Stri to find the crash site. I picked a line up the hill it was snowing really steep, wet grass with big crags and after a few hours located the crash. Heavy tied me up as the wreckage was everywhere and we spent the night out on the hill till nearly midday next day. We were frozen, soaked, it was a long night and I was really hungry, even I was cold! It was not until midday that the troops came to take over from us; we had no sleep and were exhausted. The weather had brightened up by the time the team arrived to take over. Both crew sadly were killed instantly so there was little we could do but after the other crash at StrathConnon we were sure we would find them alive. I spent a week with Heavy and the American Investigation Team at the crash site at the scene, travelling in every day it was not an easy week. We stayed in the Broadford Hotel in Skye and I had a room with Heavy every night and ate like a king. I grew up that week.
The winter to come was a real epic, big snows and a lot of searches with the Kinloss Team, the worst weather was on Ben Nevis looking for two Irish climbers. It was a wild search in some of the worst weather I had been out in, the Teams searched for days and I made friends with some of the SARDA Dogs and even Jimmy Simpson the Policeman and his “War Dog” Rocky got to like me. I think I proved my value in the wild conditions and I was pretty aware of the Cornices and heavy Avalanche slopes that we searched. This was one of the few times that we did not find anyone and Heavy and me would go back a few times later in the year and search the Ben looking for them. I got to know a few of the wild places “ 5 Finger Gully “ and the hidden Coires of the Ben, it is a huge place. It was all part of my training getting out every weekend meant that I felt was at one with the mountains! I met many of the Characters in Mountain Rescue and got to know the real guys in the other teams. The poor Irish boys we were looking for were not found till late that summer, months after they went missing, they had been buried under a huge amount of snow. Most nights after the hill I went to the pub and feel asleep listening to the troops talking the usual rubbish after a few drinks but we were always up for the hill the next day.
We stayed in the local Village Halls every weekend and even camped at times. I loved the camping but in winter it could be pretty rough. In the Village Halls we slept on the floor om mats by now I had my own mat and sleeping bag, I was part of the team, this was my 3rd winter, I was gaining experience and even getting a bit cocky, not a thing to be in Scotland in winter!
]983/84 were really hard years it was another big winter after another Heavy went to Canada ice climbing for a month so I was looked after by the team. When he came back he was wild about climbing ice and I had some long cold days as he chased classic ice routes especially in the North West. We also had a lot of callouts and I met a few lucky climbers who literally fell at our feet as we walked into a climb. One climber did exactly that fell at our feet on Ben Nevis from the climb Bob Run. He survived a huge fall of 1000 feet but did not next year when he went missing in Glen Feshie solo walking and was found weeks after a big search.
I also had another big aircraft crash at Balbeggie near Dundee a group of 6 Curlers from Switzerland crashed near Balbeggie in November 1983. It was an all-night search in heavy mist with the Tayside, Leuchars and Kinloss Teams and the SARDA dogs. The aircraft had 6 on board when it went missing. We found it in the morning with 4 alive and two unfortunately dead, we found one of them away from the crash site. I was amazed that we found them alive it was a real shocker for me. It was only small hills but the thick mist meant that the helicopter was of little use, it was a long search and again a huge learning curb for me.
The Cairngorms continued to catch many out and we had some long hard call – outs, searching Strath Nethy was never a favourite. I also got my paws speared by crampons on a big search on the Plateau and a big cut meant there was a bit of blood before heavy noticed. We were half way down Coire Dohmain at the time; I learnt to keep my distance when the crampons were on. The new team members were the worst and he stood on my paw in a white out and no one heard my barking! In these days you would meet many of the Glenmore Lodge “names” and many became friends of mine, I was definitely moving in the right crowd, We would bump into them on a Mountaineering Assessment a very serious affair in bad weather navigating along the plateau and at times they would have a chat and those getting assessed would see the human side! Then we would bumble of into the weather with me in front picking a route. I was always glad to see familiar things like spot height 1141 a big cairn on the end of the plateau but even here you can have a problem getting home, big Cornices. I knew the familiar places where we thought we could relax after a wild day out, where we thought we were safe. The team went out in these conditions to give the new Team member’s experience of the wildest of weather and it took a lot of looking after each other to get safely off the hill. I was often by now moving up and down the hill party when it got spread out but when the weather got bad we were very close and looked after each other. I got to know the Cairngorms well as even during the week after work we would go and maybe does a winter climb in the dark when the crowds had left. I now had a light stick on me for the dark it was not for me but for Heavy to see where I was. I would meet them coming off. I knew the Goat Track descent well and could pick a line up the rocks even when the snow was rock hard. Climbers would be amazed to see me as they picked there way down this steep ground.
I loved the Cairngorms but one weekend was to be the one that shocked me forever. This was a terrible time as the big winds hit us in January 1984 I was heading with Heavy for a couple of days at Hell’s Lum a winter cliff in the Cairngorms with a young troop. Heavy had the Friday off the weather was magic, the forecast said so and we were going to make the most of it. Heavy’s mate Pam had just finished a night shift at RAF Kinloss and was too tired to walk in so at the car park we changed our mind after I had a huge meal. This would normally mean we would be staying out all night. We went to climb at Newtonmore on Creag Dubh a small ice fall called “Oui Oui” would be there. It was a fairly short and easy day but a big storm came in and we had some fun as the wind and heavy snow blasted us on the way off. It snowed like mad and I met them at the top of the climb and we had a real struggle in big winds and snow back to the car and then off to the Village Hall at Newtonmore, where the team were staying. We just got into the Hall and the roads were blocking with snow the RAF Kinloss Team took hours to get there with tales of a wild drive. It was a quiet night in the Braeriach Pub as we expected to have problems getting out on Saturday.
If we had walked in to the heart of the Cairngorms we would have had a serious night at Hell’s Lum, I was so glad we had not gone. With hindsight we may have died? This was in the days of basic weather forecast and were we lucky or was it fate?
This was to be a terrible weekend. One of the worst I would ever experience!
On the Saturday the weather was that bad we were stuck at Glenmore the road was blocked and ended up hiding in the Squirrel café and we walked from there due to the weather and the road being blocked. We managed the summit of the local Castle Hill but we had to crawl to the summit. I already was doing that but to see heavy as well was unusual. We could see nothing all day and though it was an easy hill and we were exhausted, the wind and the snow were full on. The depth was incredible and all took turns getting us home. The spindrift was incredible on the hill and even from the road you could not see the hill. It was a wall of spindrift rarely seen . The main road and the railway line was closed and on that Saturday night we heard that there were over 30 missing on the hill. Next day were told to get up to the Cairngorm Car park as a party from Heriot Watt University had a problem and one survivor had got down to the Car Park saying his friends were in big trouble. They were planning an overnight camp at Coire An Lochan and the weather caught them out. We never expected what we came across. We got up to the Cairngorm Car Park as we were asked to help and we met with some of Glenmore Lodge and Cairngorm Team. It was light hearted at first we never expected what we found and so near safety of the road. The tragedy we came across Heavy has written about before in his Blog it was awful to experience. 15 minutes from the Car Park, three young lives were lost. I could not fathom how they had died so close to the road? They were so near safety but the weather had got them. There would have been little chance in the winds and the weather of that weekend. I was kept away by the troops as they put them on the stretchers and it was a solemn carry back to the car park. The short stretcher carry was very hard work and everyone was very upset. Where they had died I had walked down many times and it was so hard to believe that in such a beautiful place nature can kill. Then we went to Glenmore Lodge and told that we would be needed tomorrow. It was a very subdued night in Newtonmore unlike after a sad incident the team unwinds with a drink. Heavy was very upset unlike him and one of the Glenmore boys had a word with him, even these hard men had felt the sadness of the day. I am sure he felt that could have been us! How would we have coped with the big Storm at Hells Lum and we would have made our way off the plateau to the same Corrie where the students died?
There was little time to mourn as we found out that one of Heavy’s friends was missing, the mountains then were a small place and most who worked in them knew each other. Paul Rodgers was an Army Instructor based in Glencoe who was out with an experienced student Bill on the same weekend. He was on a two day expedition that included a snow hole and they had not returned. Heavy knew Paul well and he had stayed with us when he gave a lecture to the team at Kinloss. He had always met us climbing in Glencoe and the Ben and on sunny days at The Etive Slabs, Polldubh in Glen Nevis. What followed was a huge search Heavy has covered it in his Blog and John Allen in his book “Cairngorm John”. It was a huge search of about 100 people, many teams and lots of search dogs and so many of Scotland’s top mountaineers came and helped. The weather at times was awful and even Rocky Jimmy Simpson’s amazing dog was blown over a Cornice and spent the night under a it and survived. Rocky had my respect , Heavy called him “War Dog” Dog and got away with it. He was covered in ice when he was found but so hard like his owner, it was another lesson to me about the mountains in winter. We were searching the gullies at times and got avalanched several times until Heavy pulled us out and back onto the plateau. The snow and the wind was incredible and all the teams said it was very serious conditions. I had never seen such wild conditions early on in the search. Every day we were battered by the wind and it takes it out of you even a dog and the teams were pretty exhausted. We had one day of good weather when we were flown onto the snow hole sites on the plateau, Paul had planned to snow hole and we dug down over 25 feet to find old snow holes. It was a hard day digging but I hate to say I enjoyed it especially when Heavy as the smallest was put in a deep hole over 20 feet down by Paul Moore’s a Guide as his safety man. He was pulled out as the roof collapsed on him deep underground ,at times you had to laugh a bit. Most of the team slid down the Ski area on shovels it sounds strange but we needed that break after such hard times. I ran along beside and it was so surreal after such a week? There was no sign at all of Paul or Bill.. After several days the search was called off Heavy was heartbroken, he pleaded for the search to continue. Pete Cliff the Leader of Cairngorm Team who was to be a great friend as did Ray Sefton one of the RAF Team Leaders explained the rational. The Teams were exhausted and we had few places left to search we had done our best but this is the hardest decision ever to be made by the Police and the Teams, we had no sign of them. He went off to speak to his Military friends who were going back out next day. It was fitting that they found Paul and Bill just above the Goat Track; we had walked by this area often in the search but the weather was impossible. At times we were fighting for our own lives. The wind had changed some snow moved and a shovel was found below. Paul was found by his friends and a few MRT assisted in a sad recovery. We heard the news on the way home, we were exhausted it had been a terrible 6 days with in the Cairngorm’s alone 5 mountain fatalities.
Heavy always went straight into work when he arrived back as we had been away for several days, he was working in the Catering Office at the time. The butcher gave me a huge bone as a well done. Heavy got “ did you enjoy your skive” from a Boss and he was very lucky that statement was still in the air when heavy walked away saying it was a good friend we were looking for and he would speak tomorrow about his stupid comment! In the military this is not what you say to a Boss but so deserved, Heavy’s career was over again?
It is amazing some people’s lack of thought at times. There was so much to take in but to get home to the fire and comfort of the house was great to be out of the wind and away from the snow. Heavy told me we were still going out on the hill next weekend!
That winter was a long one and life changed as Heavy got promoted and posted to RAF Leuchars he was still in trade and was in charge of the Catering Office but would join the Leuchars MRT. Now I had met the Leuchars guys on many occasions and was looking forward to the move. Heavy was a bit unsure and we got a great send off from Kinloss. Kinloss and Leuchars was a bit like Rangers and Celtic in these days. We lived in St Andrews for a while but soon moved into a shared house in Dairsie and had a great time. Heavy was sharing with two mates Paul and Pete and it was a fun house a bit like the Young Ones. RAF Leuchars camp was very busy as it had very noisy planes on it but we soon settled in and I stayed at Heavy’s work during the day. They had the Wessex helicopter and they were great and made my life easy with lifts to and from the hills. The aircrew were great and many became good mates and looked after me. I knew my place and was soon on board and hidden under the seats as soon as I got on board. They came out with us and stayed overnights on many occasions I was the guard for the yellow helicopter, these were great days. They had lots of Exercises this was the Cold War and the camp played games and on one marines attacked our office it was an old armoury and were shocked when they took out the door to find me and Heavy there to greet them. I had to kid on I was a real Alsatian and they did not come in I was a hero again.
The troops made me feel at home and we climbed a lot at night and I had great adventures at Dunkeld rock climbing and the local cliffs at Glen Clova I got lots of new hills in great for my Munro gathering and met lots of new people. We met Kinloss a lot and I made good friend with Al MacLeod who used to take me running after a long hill day, he was a real hill man. We dealt with a lot more callouts and even when out at the weekend or rock climbing we seemed to get more call outs. We went to Glencoe a lot and I got to know this wild place, I met more Mountain Rescue characters and even visited Hamish Mc Innes house in Glencoe and the Old and Bold from Lochaber.
We had some great trips to Skye and Heavy took me on a two day traverse of the ridge, we had a some epics and after it I had only had one more Munro to do on Skye the In Pin. I had fallen off on another attempt with Heavy as we tried the longer side. On the day we did it he never told me, we climbed all day in Corrie Laggan and I would wander about on the ledges. I could get up the first pitch Of Cioch Direct and meet climbers at the crux by a cheeky ledge Heavy knew. Later that day we went up the long haul to the In Pin and along with three of Heavy’s great mates, I got up it. It was a great night but I was told that I howled a bit as we went up the short side. A very bemused walker on the ridge alone was freaked out by my howling on the ridge it was an amazing day though but one I did not want to repeat. Heavy abseiled of with me on the way down and I was glad it was all over. I had a big swim and a great walk off at the end of a long day for me. I went straight in the sea at Glen Brittle!
At this time we had the odd weekend off and troops from Kinloss and Leuchars joined together on their weekend off to have a “Bad Boys weekend” Heavy had decided to try to become a Team Leader and needed to push his climbing for the assessment. These weekends were a group of the best climbers in the teams who went out and climbed without the restrictions of the RAF team. We had some great weekend’s big climbs in Glencoe Ben Nevis and the Etive Slabs. I loved these weekends I would get some great days sunbathing whilst the boys climbed some amazing routes. I have sunbathed below Titans Wall on Ben Nevis, how many have chased stones below Shibboleth and scrambled up to the top of the Etive Slabs. I met even more of the great Scottish climbers these were great days. At night there would be beach parties with big fires in Appin and other places meeting many of the locals, what magic days and I loved the summer after such a hard winter. I was enjoying Leuchars. I am now 6 years old in human years and as Heavy says in my prime, I am now settled at RAF Leuchars in Fife and loving the team, the hill days were great and I was ticking of lots of Munros. A few times I did the same hills like the Mamore Ridge 11 Munros then and a great hill day for the young troops and we had some magic days, We had a few big call outs some were very sad and yet we went to some great places. A plane crashed in the Isle Of Barra and we were flown in to help. We were on the hill down Cairndow near Arrochar and doing a funny day of Ben Lomond, Beinn an lochan and Beinn Bhuide, lots of travelling but lots of height in between. We had done two Munros and stopped at the Base Camp for some soup the HF radio was busy and this was again before mobile phones. Heavy asked the cook what was going on as this radio monitors the Military helicopters. He said it was an incident at Barrow in Furness we listened and it was a plane missing in Barra. We were not far and we soon had a Navy helicopter outside and 8 of us flew off. Now a few troops were not so happy that I was going but next minute I was on the aircraft. Now the Navy are a wee bit different with animals but Heavy was up front speaking to the crew and I was okay. The mist was down and we had to sneak in to the beach in heavy mist on Barra where we met some locals who took us to the crash site. It was some great flying by the Navy that day. It was a busy few hours and then we were told to have a crash guard overnight and the troops were in the local Hotel. You will have guessed who did the biggest stint crash guard but was rewarded with a huge meal made by the Hotel. Next day I was in a room with Heavy and well looked after for a few days. It was an amazing trip and we made some great friends with the locals. We had no transport but some Nuns looked after us and even drove us around in there pick up crazy days.
Life was good and then Heavy met a lovely lassie Dianne, she looked after me and did not even complain about my hairs all over the car and the house. I got new dog bowls and a new bed life got pretty easy and even better she liked the hills. She even got on with the guys in the team and we had some great fun and I was not even jealous!
There was one terrible tragedy at this time as I said we were especially friendly with the helicopter crew’s .In February 1985 we had a great weekend at Bridge Of Orchy it was a special weekend for weather and everyone was climbing apart from me and a few others after winter Munros. On the way home the Wessex helicopter buzzed our convoy. Mick Anderson was the winchman on board and a great friend, he always looked after me. The troops called him grumpy Mick and he always smoked a pipe but we did lots of hills together on his time off, he was also a team member. The team was asked to help in the search for a fallen walker. As we neared Ben More near Criaanlarich the helicopter which had a few of the local Killin Mrt hit the mountain. It was a terrible night and the outcome was the Killin Team Leader was killed. Ian the other local Policemen on board was very badly injured as was Mick our winchman. The tale of that night has been written about by Heavy and others. Next day in the daylight there was little left of the helicopter and we had a hard week on the mountain working with investigation Board. During that very sad period I made many friends especially in the local Killin team. We even straight after crash located the fallen walker sadly another fatality. The local people from Crainlarich brought the team food and even me tins of dog food and biscuits, I was amazed by their care despite losing their local Policeman. I was shocked that this helicopter crashing I like everyone else thought we in SAR were invincible, it was a sad reminder. The next morning Heavy and I flew into the crash site and it was a tricky time but we got on with it though it was hard.
Heavy did the Team Leaders Course down in Wales, the Team and Dianne looked after me and still got looked after a weekend the troops were great to me. I was spoiled when Heavy was away but loved my weekends out. Heavy passed the Course amazingly and was very happy and all he had to do was behave and wait for a team. Things were looking good when until he had been told he was posted to Ascension Island and I could not go but I was to stay and be looked after; he would be away for 6 months. I was a bit upset but that is life in the RAF. Anyway Heavy had two days to go before he was posted and he played football for his work and broke his ankle it was a bad break a pin and plate put in. The only good thing was he was not posted away and had to stay in UK. He was a pain and a terrible patient but I got lots of walks. Amazingly after 6 weeks the plaster was off and he went out to Arran with the Team on a Grant. I was out with troops and met him on Cir Mor with one training shoe and one boot on limping about. This went on for over a year and in the winter he could only get one boot on at times. I just kept doing huge days with the troops and getting fitter and stronger, we swam in the sea to help his ankle but it kept swelling until he got the metalwork taken out of his ankle. I was lucky I had few injuries but that winter I walked over a Cornice on Creag Mheaghaidh in a wild storm. I went over 1000 feet but luckily the snow was soft. Heavy was amazed I was okay, he thought I was going to die, I was getting over-confident. I stopped Cornice walking after that.
Heavy had to get fit they call it medically upgraded, he should not have been even out on the hill but if he did not get sorted and fit he would not get a team. The hill days got longer, I found I was repeating Munros but it was great and Heavy was limping along and getting not far off finishing them life was good. On the Social scene the Team was great and they had wild parties at RAF Leuchars that I sat outside when they got a bit noisy getting lots of attention from the girls, what a place Leuchars was. Team members would take me out for a day on the hill for the company and even I would go running I was used to that after running after the wagon down some of the Highland Glens after a day on the hill!
These days of getting Heavy Hill fit again were some of the best of my life, we went to many remote bothies usually with new troops and always had fun nights. Many were amazed after a a long day at work and 2-3 hour drive to Base Camp to spend part of the night walking into bothies but I loved it, We would soon have a fire on and Heavy and I would go for a wander and find the buried coal and food, dropped off by our friends in the helicopter. We would meet some great people and I would get that close to fire my fur would start singe. In winter we would get the house on some of the great huts like the Ossian Youth Hostel and there I did go on fire when I crawled under the stove and it got a bit warm. I would always find wood especially at Sheneval near An Teallach one my favourite bothys and after swimming the river would be given a huge piece to drag up. It was here we met some unsavoury characters and it was on a winter round of the Fisherfield 6 a huge day. We had been on the go for over 15 hours and one of the party was struggling, in truth we all were, it was deep snow and lots of navigation. He was left with the two others in the party for the long haul in the Glen back to the bothy. Heavy and I went ahead to get a fire on and sort out food and check the river. The river was very high and in the pitch dark scary. We left my light stick at bank near the shallowest bit for the rest to follow. When we arrived at the bothy there was a large group of 12 who had taken over the hut. They were pretty drunk and told Heavy that they had booked the hut and there was no room, Heavy said rubbish and one of his party was exhausted and they would make room. Now the wee man was very annoyed we brushed passed them and Heavy went upstairs and starting throwing their gear downy the stairs. “There is now” he said and then I was told to stay and growl while Heavy went to help the rest across the river. It was a quiet bothy when they got in and a couple came up and apologised. I continued to growl.
I was always taken out when Heavy went climbing and loved the days with the troops and it got better and better. I got out even more during the week with troops who could not make the weekend and was averaging about 220 hill days a year. It was not always hard days we had great chilled days with Heavy’s lassie Dianne doing Munros she was very keen and even bothying and she was enjoying it. The New Year before Heavy was given a Team we were in Glencoe and always got a big callout at that time of year. Glencoe were very busy and a climber had broken his leg in Broad Gully on Stob Coire Nam Lochan it was an all-night job on New Year’s night. It involved a long carry off with the teams and we got met by Hamish with beer for the troops at the end about 0300 in the morning. The next day we were in 5 finger Gully helping Lochaber on Ben Nevis, the weather this time was wild but it was another long night but great companionship in that wild place. The land rover was rocking in the wind when we arrived in Glen Nevis and I jumped out and Heavy and the troops did not want to leave it. The avalanche conditions were very high but the God’s were looking after us as always.
In 1987 Heavy was given the RAF Leuchars MR Team it was big appointment for him and they were a great bunch. I only had one problem with one troop who enjoyed being nasty to me during my time and that was sorted out by a big frying pan by Heavy before he took over. He never gave me a hard time again! Heavy was very happy but wanted the team to know the areas we got the nasty call –outs in, the wild Corries and difficult locations. The Team then were pushed into a lot more climbing and getting to know these places in Glencoe, Ben Nevis, The Cairngorms and the North West. We also hammered our local area hills and we rarely took a break. In these days we would get people in the RAF volunteering to join a Team many with no mountaineering experience. A few in the RAF thought this would be a good skive or a way to get a posting! They were shocked but the 3 weeks we had them most proved to be sound people and came back to the Team. I was kept busy being out in the hills regularly and even a midweek bothy and night wander. I always knew a new Troop and had my work cut out helping looking after them. It was never easy but some were very strong and most looked after me sharing their lunch and food with me on the hill. It was usually on the midweek trip to Culra Bothy near Ben Alder and we would go after a day’s work, we became friends. We drove in a fair way Mr Oswald was a great keeper on the Estate and would climb the 6 Munros after a night in the bothy; we had many great nights and made a few good mountaineers out of this testing time. It would be a long two days, even for me the final weekend would include a big hill day, one of the classics, the Mamores, Fannichs, Ben Lawyers or Kintail Hills. It would be a full on weekend the next day a Sunday a classic climb like Tower Ridge, or a Glencoe Classic, or even into the Cairngorms massive days and great memories. The reasoning that if the troops coped they would handle long call outs and gain the stamina needed to do our job. I was always on the big hill day and got to know these hills so well.
Heavy’s lassie had moved to Aberdeen for a new job and he hardly saw her. He was at the stage where he thought that he needed to be out every weekend, never take a break even though he had such a great Deputy and strong young Leaders We never had a moment but what a team we had we were ready for anything and we needed to be as we were to find out. .
1988 It was another hard winter with the team dealing with many calls – outs. We did everything all over Scotland and the young team responded so well. Heavy was very busy, we had a few nasty call outs in Glencoe and also did some work with the Navy Sea King Helicopter at Prestwick at Gannet. We all knew our way round these wild corries a bit better and did some steep searches even on 4 legs. I went down with Heavy to Prestwick and we had some fun with the naval aircrew and they became great friends, most of them had beards but lovely people and once they got used to me they were fine. We also did a few more Plane Crashes in the Borders a USA F111. We met some very high ranking USA Military people who were flown in after we had sorted it out. They were impressed but not with our communications and gave us a huge mobile phone that they moved some satellites for it too work and that was 1988. I was in the Control with Heavy when it was getting sorted out and when he spoke to us again he realised we had a GPO Line in the wagon. Heavy had arranged that on any incidents that he called a magic number and they grabbed a line from the nearest pole and ran it into our tent or control point; We also had many visitors and great days with the members of the Hong Kong Civil Aid Team who worked with us most years. We had some adventures with them and also some fun days of the hill. We also had lots of visitors to the MRT Section and on the annual Inspection as it does everything gest tidied up. When the great man arrived the Team is all smart and completely different from normal. Heavy was running about daft and the Station Commander who did not really like me wanted me tied up for the great event. As always Heavy let me sit outside watching. It is said that when they arrived in a cavalcade that a USA President would have been impressed by I walked up to the staff car as he walked out and had a pee on the tyre. The troops were sniggering, the CO not impressed at all and for a while Heavy was a marked man ( as always) I became a legend overnight!
Things were going so well but Heavy had not a break for about a year and if he did it was away on an Expedition and I had a holiday but still got out with the team. The team goes out Christmas and New Year and it was a busy time for weather and the odd call – out. Heavy was taking time off for the first time a few days off and was getting things sorted out. He and Dianne had split up but were still friends and then out of the blue his Life changed. It all happened at once as it does.
We got the call that a Jumbo Jet had crashed near the Borders, This was real nightmare. He had a major turmoil going that day on in his life as a person he loved dearly had arrived from down South and they were planning to get together. It was a very complicated tale and Heavy will tell you about it. She had just arrived of the train and been in the house for two hours when Lockerbie occurred. . Heavy had to go straight down brief the Team and then sort out his personal life and travel down after the Team.
We were a hour behind the team had a Police escort and us in Heavy’s Old car from the door of his house and as we drove down the closed motorway we could see the fires in the distance. It was hell for a few days I was kept out of the way the first night but after that I went out with the team Heavy went out on his own and came back in bits to see what was going on . I will never forget those few days, the smells and scenes would like everyone stay with us forever. I had been to many aircraft crashes but nothing ever like this. The civilian MRT and many Search Dogs were there for days and weeks after it is a tale that has been written about so often. As always in this turmoil the locals were great we stayed in the local High School and were fed by the WRVS, I was fed as well every day, but after 3 days we were glad to leave. Heavy was exhausted but he did not go home. His personal life would have to at the Mountain Rescue Section be on hold as he wrote the reports of the tragedy that had to be done immediately. As he wrote through the night so many troops came in and chatted. These were hard men yet they were in bits at what they had seen. It was going to be a very difficult Christmas for us all.
After Lockerbie there were massive reports to be done and this was before the Team as always went out for the Festive period how could we be festive after what had happened. The Team was all over the news and Heavy was getting pressured by the media and the military. For the first time the World’s Media was there at the scene and it was hectic it was early days of satellite technology. As I said when we arrived back the Station Commander met us with some beer as we arrived back. We were now the flavour of the month on the Station but everyone found it so hard to get on with life. The troops went home to families and a few could not cope, what could you say after what they had seen and found solace with each other. Lucky we had only one day at work and everyone was asking questions. We were all looking forward to a break away from the pressure and the hills where we could sort out our heads. As a dog I could see the changes in the troops. Normally we will get about 12 who stay out over Christmas that year we had over 20 and the complete team came out over the period. Many of the team came back and forwards and there was much coming and going and trying to get to grips with it all. Most l found it hard to cope, the troops had a wild night in Kingussie where we were staying and Heavy looked after them all. We were so lucky that the village looked after us even the local Policeman Jimmy Simpson the SARDA man made sure we were okay. Next day Heavy and I went for run out to Ben MacDui just him and me, it was great to clear the head. It was bitter day and we did not stop we got some looks as we ran over the ridge in trainers when many were in full winter kit. The troops met us on the way back Heavy was really tired as the days without sleep had taken so much out of him. That night the team looked after Heavy and his great mate Al MacLeod was sent over to look after him from Kinloss who were at Fort William. You found who your true friends were.
Life changed after that and Heavy has written about it in depth so I will leave it there. He changed a lot and became very aggressive, grumpy, upset and he was exhausted and ill and had problems for a long time to come. In addition but great for me he and Vicky got together in amongst all this tragedy and I met a young Stephen Vicky’s young son who I really took to. I remembered Yvette from Wales. The small house at Dairsie was soon full of kids and it was a great time for me. I got really looked after a few new rules but what fun I had with the kids. Yvette bought a cat into the house Clova and it used to take the micky out of me, Clova knew that it was protected in the house that was her environment. She would regularly wait till I fell asleep then run across my back or in front of me, but I would get her back and pinch her food and I got to like it. When we got outside it was different matter and we had some fun together but if I got too pushy I was rewarded by a swipe across my nose!
After the New Year we had a visit for the whole Team by Military Psychiatrist’s. a group of 6 arrived at the Team HQ and Heavy got a real grilling, I was under the desk at the time! Then the Team had a joint briefing and many were upset that Heavy had asked for help for the Team. This was the early days of PTSD and in the much good came out of it. These were very early days and we were all learning how to cope.
It took a long time for Heavy to recover but he did and had a break from the hills and some family time. He did become very ill but the Team carried him after he went sick and the kids and his partner did their best but this was a tricky time. I still went out with the team but we had some great days as a family on the hills. On our local Munros Mayar and Dreish we got off a bit late Stephen was very young and on the way back I did my unusual of climbing a deer fence but got my Carabineer caught in the wire at the top. I was hanging upside down Stephen was crying as he thought I had it but Yvette and Heavy climbed up and sorted it out. I got told to make sure the Carabineer was locked when not in use. I also got into trouble as if I had no water in my bowl would find the nearest toilet and if clean I would drink out of it with my Carabineer clanging in the bowl. I was getting domesticated and so was Heavy.
Life went on the call outs kept coming and the Team was immense, what they had been through made them a special group. We had an aircraft crash near St Abbs Head when a Jaguar flew into the sea Cliffs and that involved a abseil down cliffs that were on fire. The team coped with everything and we had some incredible hill days. After Heavy got fit again we managed “Tranter Round” a big day in 22 and half hours, just Heavy and me. We had tried it twice before but this time managed it. It was just the two of us together and what a day it was.
I was getting a bit older and feeling the pace a bit but really strong once I was on the hill, we went all over the place and ventured into the North Of Scotland a lot. It was long drives but so worth it to get these great hills and the team loved it. The Mountain Rescue courses were still being run and we even ran the Team Leaders Course at Leuchars. Then Heavy found out he may be posted to RAF Kinloss as Team Leader!
By now it was 1989 and we hoped for a quiet time in the team but there was no chance of that in winter. Straight after New Year we had a spate of Call –outs and then a near disaster when the Sea King crashed on the big Corrie on Creagh Meaghaidh. Amazingly no one was killed and the Team was heavily involved and we feared the worst at first. The helicopter was full of the “Old and Bold “from Lochaber MRT and as we flew in to the scene and could not believe that no one was hurt. We also knew the aircrew and the film crew well that were on board it was a very personal call –out. After everyone was flown away I was on crash guard duties for a few days as both Kinloss and Leuchars MRT shared the crash guard duties. It had to be guarded at night as well so I was at the site for a few days. To see the big helicopter lying on its side was a big shock, but we still flew in and out with the team to replace the troops but not me. I was fed at the site and slept with the troops at the tent. We had a few visitors and then the Investigation Team arrived with the Crash and smash boys and we handed the site over to them. I was glad to get away after a few days. I had proved my worth as the odd journalist and local climbers arrived for a look. They would see me and think I was a guard dog.
In June there was a strange callout for a skier on Braeraich in June in the Cairngorms, who was killed in a big fall and a few weeks later Heavy’s great mate Al Macleod was killed whilst soling the North Face of the Matterhorn. The team was going out to Braemar for the weekend when the Police stopped the convoy and Heavy had to go to the phone and get the sad news. When we arrived Heavy at the village Hall told the team Al was a big mate of mine as well and we had done some great days together especially after long hill days. He was leaving the RAF and had worked for Heavy for the last few months he was in the RAF in the Leuchars MRT. He was an incredible mountaineer and man. Always smiling the women loved him, that evening Heavy went to see Al folks he took me as we had been before Al had taken us a few times when we were at Kinloss and I stopped with Al after our sneaky days out. Al’s family lived in Blairgowerie and Heavy organised the funeral, it was an awful time. Al as many do had no Insurance in the Alps for climbing and he and a great officer who was with Heavy pulled the strings to get Al Home. The Team had a Wake at Leuchars where many came from all over it was a very sad night. We left the troops early to celebrate Al’s life, Heavy had a hard time explaining to young Yvette that Al had been killed as just before he had left he had signed her autograph book before he went. Most of the team had thought they were indestructible and invincible and this was a huge shock to them and the system. Al had been the man Heavy called after Lockerbie it hit us both very hard; running on the hill was never the same again without my big mate. I was getting a bit older now and starting to slow down.
The team went back into the normal routine of training and call – outs but Al death had made many think of what they were doing. Al had pushed big routes in the Alps in in the Himalayas just missing out on the summit of Everest by the West Ridge. He had not long returned from Shiviling where he summited and told us that RAF MR could achieve so much more on a purely RAF MR expedition. Heavy had taken him ice climbing to Canada where they had so much fun and I loved the tales, he would pop by the wee house in Dairsie when he was bouldering nearby and always brighten the day with his tales and huge smile. Life had to go on though and RAF Kinloss beckoned..
Now it was not till late October 1989 that we moved to RAF Kinloss in Morayshire and it was hard leaving the troops. Heavy was taking over as the Mountain Rescue Team Leader of the Kinloss Team. We had a great farewell party at the Kingshouse Hotel in Glencoe. Amazingly the lassies were invited to it so we had a real party. It was a special night in the Hotel with Big Ian Nicholson the mine host looking after us. While Heavy was in the Hotel I was camping outside with some of the troops but it was a great night. The helicopter popped in and nearly took the tents out. After that it was a move to Kinloss. Now before in our moves it had been easy box stuff up and head off, now with the family it was so difficult. Old friends John and Mary helped and we had moved into a lovely tented house at Rafford till Heavy and Vicky found a house. I was in the last of 3 long journeys from Leuchars to Kinloss, it was snowing and very late and we had a full van and me and my mate Clova the cat. It was mayhem as Clova escaped her box in the van and was driving me nuts in the back. There was no room to move for me I was the last thing to leave Leuchars and for a moment thought they were leaving me.
We soon all settled down at the new house at Rafford and Heavy had a different Team at Kinloss to handle. There were many of the” Old and Bold” it took time but I was happy watching the World go by outside the old section at RAF Kinloss. It was straight into winter when we arrived and Heavy ensuring things were done his way caused a few problems but he was looked after by “Man Mountain Dan” his Deputy. The call outs started straight away and s came thick and fast. It was hard winter was I getting older but still the troops dragged me out. Heavy would give me a break on the big searches and the odd day off. The troops wanted me as I was still a good navigator. The Mountain Rescue section at RAF Kinloss was very old and had holes in the wall and it was even worse in the winter as the now came inside under the war built wooden huts. It was like an old bothy but what character. We had a few great call – outs in this time. At times where we found several casualties and one a 15 year old boy on the Ben a huge 3 day search was a great result. They were asked if they could keep going the Rescue Teams were buzzing especially after such a long search. We had been away for over a week on call –outs and Heavy asked the team if they would continue and of course they did. This caused lots of problems for the wives and partners who hardly saw their families during this period. I was on the hill exhausted like everyone when the young lad was found. The cheers resounded round the Ben by everyone it was a special moment what a bunch.
Kinloss was a great place to be a slower pace with the Nimrod aircraft and most lunchtime many of the team would have lunch in the MR section and plan their hill day. At the end of the winter on the 30 May a lovely day for weather at lunchtime the phone rang and it was our control that a plane had crashed. It was amazing within 15 minutes we were in a Sea King helicopter heading for the Isle of Harris the weather was magnificent and as we flew so fast it was really busy on the aircraft. Heavy was up front and on the way they had reports of a Shackelton Aircraft with 10 on board had crashed. It was the only bit of mist on the Island as we arrived. It was a mini hell, the safety beacons were all going off and all the crew were dead. It was like a battlefield again, I was used to it by now as was Heavy and the team. We were there for 4 days it was a sad time, we worked with the Investigation Board and I did crash guard as usual and the team worked so hard. The aircraft had come from the neighbouring Station at Lossiemouth and the tragedy was very raw. The Kinloss team had been flown in by helicopter, Hercules and a small jet the rest drove the long way. We flew back ahead of the aircraft bringing the 10 bodies to Lossiemouth and landed in our Hercules aircraft from there. We drove through the station most were out to see their comrades returned but we received a few grateful thanks.
We arrived back to Kinloss and heavy was busy with the media and the reports, it had been a hard few days and a sad welcome to RAF Kinloss.
I was getting old by now I was over 10 and as they say had some “paper round” my body was as one would expect beginning to show my age. I was not allowed to jump over fences any more or jump out of the 4 tonner. I still managed big days though but was very sore at the end of a day. I began to sleep even more not easy as home with Stephen and the cat on my case but I saw a lot more of them. The team had a plane crash just of the Station a Canberra aircraft crashed killing one of the crew but the team were there to help get the other aircrew out with their spinal boards. Heavy was running the Call outs and was on Control most of the time and I stayed with him. Meeting more God’s of Mountain Rescue I discovered that I was pretty well known in Mountain Rescue . The Team had two Search Dogs now and we made friends, they even had a case made for them to travel in the land rovers!
Heavy went away for a long period to the Himalayas and for the first time I stayed at home and was looked after by the family and was I looked after very well, he was away for 7 weeks. When he came back I went out and had a hard winter, the cold really hit me, my joints were very stiff. We had lots of visits to the men in white coats, lots of pills and potions but you cannot stop aging. I loved our walks with the kids, swimming was great for me and I would be in the sea every day not matter what the weather and still jumping off the rocks into the sea the kids loved it. We often went to Cummingston our local sea cliff and I loved the summer and the sun whilst the kids and team climbed. I had always loved the water.
Gradually I got worse and my back legs started to fail, I could not get up easy; I was in great pain but never showed it. Heavy had to put me in the car and weekends were spent with the cook at Base Camp but it was great to be with the troops. I wanted to go and would know when the weekend was and was always in the land rover waiting to go. My last hill was the local Ben Rinnes with the kids and after that it got a lot worse with my arthritis really affecting me. In the end going to the toilet was not easy and getting up after it was worse, I just lay about and slept a lot more, the pain was worse and I even growled a bit when Heavy lifted me, but it was the pain that made me do it.
My life got pretty bad and there was little to be done, the man in the white coat said so. Heavy did not tell anyone but he did the right thing and we had a great wander down to Cummingston our local sea cliff he carried me down the path to the sea. We had a look at the sea and the cliffs I had loved for many years, it was hard but I knew my time had come. After that we went to the vets and I had one of the few cuddles from him and then slept dreaming about the hills and all my friends and the kids. I was a proud dog but had lost my dignity and it was definitely the correct thing to do and I was asleep in seconds. We still can teach humans a thing or to even in death.
The last thing I saw was Heavy’s tears and all and then he had to go tell Vicky, Yvette, Steven the team. There were few dry eyes that day.
What a dog, what a life. (This last piece was written in tears!)