Some interesting books and thoughts on Mountain Rescue!

I have been busy again with this week lectures and my first is at Glenmore Lodge to celebrate 50 years since the Scottish Mountain Rescue Committee was formed. I wrote a bit in yesterdays blog about this but the changes since 1965 have been huge. It is now a completely different system than the early days. We followed in the Footsteps of Giants:

The Characters.

I joined Mountain Rescue in 1971 and many call this “the Golden Years Of Mountain Rescue”. I was very lucky I learned from some of the best.  The RAF was lucky as we had full time MRT leaders who were trained specifically for the job I learnt so much of these people. John Hinde, Ray Sefton, Pete Mac Gowan and many more.  One of my heroes Hamish MacInnes was the Team Leader of the Glencoe Team and I met him on many occasions. He wrote a graphic book of his early years in Mountain Rescue. You can still get this on various websites and is some read. Hamish has seen it and done it all. There were so many others about  John Duff over in Braemar, Molly Porter in Cairngorm, Peter Cliff later on. Donald Watt, Terry Cornfield in Lochaber, Billy Stitt at Killin and so many more. It was great to meet and learn from these people all so different in so many ways.


Call – out – In my mind a magic book.

The Helicopter.

The arrival of the helicopter was a huge change in these early years and it is amazing when you see these photos of those days it would be an exciting time for concerned. It to me brings any worries about the new SAR Helicopter into perspective. How it changed the world of SAR but remember it had very limited night flying ability unlike now. Those were brave people learning as they worked in a hostile environment and we have so much to thank them for. Fuel dumps were set up all over the Highlands and these were simple and hard work but gave the helicopter more flexibility in the years to come. It is also hard to believe that the crews had basic military gear, the winch man had few first aid skills in these early days. Also the crew all wore flying boots in all kinds of ground which in the winter on hard neve ice where they could be operating it took years to get them the correct gear. We take all this for granted nowadays.

1956 Sycamore on Cairn Sgaigort Mor

1956 Sycamore on Cairn Sgaigort Mor – for the  Canberra Crash.

Scottish Mountain Rescue Teams

They all have so many differences in areas but all doing the same job in a unique way. Each Team has its own responsibility and yet all are unpaid  volunteers. The commitment over the years is incredible not just of those who are in the Teams but the support of families and friends which makes it all work. How many unpaid hours over the years what value the Goverment get for their recent financial assistance to Mountain Rescue? £330000 Annually?  Could they do more?

2015 mr logo

Mountain Rescue Teams in Scotland Year Formed
Aberdeen 1966
Arran 1964
Arrochar 1978
Assynt 1976
Borders SAR 1963
Braemar 1965
Cairngorm 1963
Dundonnell 1972
Galloway 1975
Glencoe 1961
Glenelg 1973
Glenmore Lodge 1972
Hebrides 2010
Killin 1967
Kintail 1965
Lochaber 1969
Lomond 1967
Moffat 1969
Oban 2001
Ochils 1971
Police Scotland Grampian MRT 1960
Police Scotland Strathclyde  MRT 1975
Police Scotland Tayside  MRT 1971
RAF Lossiemouth 2012  (founded as RAF Kinloss in 1944. 1944
Scottish Cave Rescue Organisation 1966
Skye MRT 1962
Tayside MRT 1976
Torridon MRT 1971
Tweed Valley MRT 1969


SARDA 1965
RAF Leuchars 1956 – disbanded 2013 – Thanks to Bob Sharp for this information.


Late 78 call - out

Late 78 call – out.


There were huge changes in gear and Mountaineering  equipment things became much lighter and better quality. Improvements in technical gear, ropes axes crampons, rock and ice protection and clothing took Mountaineering to another level. With it came an increase in incidents from about 40 in 1965  – to roughly 440 plus in 2013! How do you equate this with the numbers out in the Mountains and wild places in these days of Healthy living  and Goverment policy to get people out and about. Add to this the numbers who are fitter in the older population and maybe the people who are enjoying the wild places nowadays. The increase is hard to judge.   So many were now getting about and enjoying the better transport and the hills were getting busier.  The numbers increasing on the hills can be seen just in this small snap shot of those who have registered completing the Munros  and we must remember that so many do not register!

  • 1901 – 1970 – 96 Munroists
  • 1970 – 1980 – 211 – (115)
  • 1980 – 1990 – 721 – (510)
  • 1990 – 2000 – 2310 – (1800)

2000 – 2015 –  5831 – (3481)

2012 raf sretcher

Training – This explosion in new equipment and gear also involved Mountain Rescue r Stretchers  early improvements were made and again Hamish was at the fore with his split lightweight stretchers a revolution using new metals and engineering ideas. Many teams now ran training days on many subjects and most teams took on Annual First Aid Training which in the end was adapted for Mountain and outdoor users over the years. Nowadays there are many Courses some run by the Scottish Mountain Rescue from Casualty Care, Cliff Rescue, Search Planning and their own Avalanche Course.

A huge move from those early days but a lot more time involved by the teams to keep up there skills?

1950 Donald Duff Lochaber

1950 Donald Duff Lochaber

1965 Hamish stretcher early days

1965 Hamish stretcher early days

Ropes and Technical Devices  for adapted Mountain Rescue

Improvements in ropes lighter and stronger were taken from the climbing world. Special long ropes some over 1000 feet were made for use on Ben Nevis, Lochnagar and other big cliffs, especially for Rescue and skills and techniques were adapted from abroad.  Belay and abseiling devices were also adapted from Caving and mountaineering for Mountain rescue, huge changes were occurring.  It became rare of the simple ways of lowering casualties which are still handy even today. Local Guides/ instructors are at times used by teams to teach technical skills.

1969 - Big lower on Lochnagar in winter.

1969 – Big lower on Lochnagar in winter.


In the early days it was very hard to recall teams from the hill. The Famous Mountain Rescue Book Two Star Red was the emergency Flare used to summon help and the title of Gwen Moffat’s book about the RAF Mountain Rescue in the UK. It is a classic of the time when life was fairly hard if you had an accident on the hills. Equipment was simple as were communications when a casualty was located!

Two Star Red - A great insight to the ear;y years of Mountain Rescue.

Two Star Red – A great insight to the ear;y years of Mountain Rescue.


very pistol-001


Recall from the hill for Search parties was done at times by Very Pistol the only way to communicate.- were used by the military teams and were heavy and expensive it took many years to get radios  that were efficient on the mountains in the wild weather and conditions they had to work in. They were also hugely expensive and to issue 30 teams with radios costs hundreds of thousands.  In essence latterly Mountain Rescue wanted each person on the teams to have a radio ( safety point) but that is so expensive and it depends on area and funds available. Teams were usually helped by the local Police in this area but as radios need updating regularly it will be interesting to see how this works with one Police Force? Teams nowadays have great communications with repeaters on various black spots and the use of mobile and Satellite phones have changed communications for ever. All these new pieces of gear are expensive and teams budgets have grown so much from the early days.





1987 alone hamish hvy

To be continued – Must get out for a walk


A Bobby on Ben MacDui

A Bobby on Ben MacDui another great book about Rescue.

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 Books, Friends, Mountain rescue, SAR, SMC/SMT, Views Mountaineering. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Some interesting books and thoughts on Mountain Rescue!

  1. Excellent Post once again Heavy. I left Kinloss just as your Golden Age was starting , never the less I fully enjoyed my time in KMRT and met so many of the then mountaineering greats , like Hamish , Dougal Haston , Tom Patie , plus the good and great from GlenMore Lodge,{including the present Mrs B who I met at the Lodge,:o))) }, not forgetting the legends from RAFMRT many of whom you have named in this post , but there were many more …Fantastic times …Like you…. I loved it. My only regret was that I did not stay longer at Kinloss and play my part in your Golden Age, Cheers Tony

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bob Knapper says:

    Superb piece Heavy, it brought back many memories of the early seventies. These days I’m under strict orders to carry my SPOT as the boss tends to worry when I’m staying in bothies or wild camping. See you @ Newtonmore pal.

    Liked by 1 person

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