Today I travel to the Braemar Mountain Rescue Association Dinner at Balmoral where I am saying a few words after the meal. The weather is now winter and it may be an interesting drive across to Braemar. Yesterday I was working on a tiny piece of the history of the team and this is the second small part of the history of this great team who cover the Cairngorms. The tale is well told in the book below which the team has produced to celebrate the history of the team.
As I mentioned in yesterdays Blog the team was started many years before by the keepers, local Police and climbers and there is a huge ethos of helping others in distress the Mountains over many years. I covered up to the early 70, s from now on the team is by now far better equipped than the early years. They now have some incredible transport gone are the hill pony’s or Garrons and now they have Land rovers and other tracked vehicles which they need in these huge wild hills.
“HRH The Duke of Edinburgh kindly accepted a new Landrover on the Braemat Teams behalf recently at Balmoral. The Landrover was partly funded by the Order of St John Scotland, who support Scottish Mountain Rescue by helping to fund many vehicles and team bases. Our thanks to the Order and to our Patron a great patron of Mountain Rescue.”
Braemar have been at the forefront of vehicle use in Mountain Rescue since the inception of the Teams. They use a fleet of four Land Rover Defenders, which are split between the Braemar MRT and Police Scotland MRT. The land rovers are used all year round and, depending on the snow cover, will take them at times very close to the casualty, which speeds up the rescue process immensely. It also means the casualty is so much closer to a warm environment and they will not be expected to continue further than necessary, on foot, when they are already exhausted.
The team use tracked all terrain vehicles to continue to give us close access to the mountains in winter. These include two Kassbohrer personnel carriers, road going versions of the piste bashers that you see in the ski areas. One is now over twenty years old and still giving good service. A second was purchased in 2003. These machines, given the right conditions have been to the top of Ben Macdui, Scotland’s second highest mountain, and into the Corrie of Lochnagar. Being able to get into these areas with a machine can mean the difference between life and death, not only for a casualty, but for the rescue team too. They have been used as a mobile ‘bothy’ on many occasions, by many people and teams, during some horrendous winter storms over the years.
Other machines they have, are a Glen Almond all terrain vehicle which is capable of carrying heavy loads onto the top of a mountain under almost any conditions. We also have two Ski Bikes which are also used for fast response checks of areas but are limited to getting good snow cover to be effective. You can only imagine the thoughts of the Keepers and others in the early days seeing all the equipment that the team know has.
The kit is important but it is the people that make the team and if you read the history of the team and the incredible variances of call -outs the team area involved in. They cover the huge Cairngorms with Aberdeen, Tayside, Cairngorm and with help at times from the RAF Team at Lossiemouth and SARDA.
I came into Mountain Rescue in the early 70’s and travelled all over Scotland with the RAF Kinloss and RAF Leuchars Mountain Rescue Teams. I was involved in so many Call – outs and worked with the Braemar team on many occasions. We did some huge searches together many I have written about in my Blog, epic days where staying alive in the crazy conditions was paramount. This was before mobile phones and GPS and at times basic gear. Few know that Braemar were at Lockerbie after the tragedy in 1988 that was Christmas that many of us will never forget and such is the measure of the team I only found this out recently. One of the most difficult was the Rescue of Jacquie Greaves who was found alive after a 3 day search in the wildest of weather in 1994. The RAF Kinloss team were carrying a video that we used for training, when we found her. MOD in its wisdom released it and there was a huge debate about this in Mountain Rescue circles. We were slated by many in and out side the system. What many forget was that all that winter we had been recovering fatalities and to find someone alive was a great event for everyone. To find someone alive after 3 days in that wild winter was incredible for everyone. I will never forget the support that Braemar gave us after this event. Their Base for Rescues and storage of equipment was by now an incredible place and you should be complimented on the design and facilities, It was long overdue and a place to run a big incident from and speak to the relatives in privacy. It was the model for many teams in the future.
The call – outs came thick and fast and there were some huge lowers on single ropes of the wild cliffs of Lochnagar. Many of these were epic call – outs some that lasted days and are incredible tales of endurance and bravery. These tested the team to the full but the tales are so well told by those whom were there at the time. The effort and the expertise of the team operating and training in these conditions is incredible. There were a few near calls for the team and a few outside Mountaineering think that today technology will sort everything in SAR. It is a great help but will never rescue people on its own and without the team being there in typical cairngorms weather conditions many casualties would not survive. I worked very closely with Graham Gibb the Team Leader in my period on many Rescues and we had many great success and a few sad ones but we I feel worked well together and pooled ideas and experiences. I got to know so many characters, great people many who you met on a wild day on the hill and would never recognise in the street without a balaclava or ice crusted face. They helped the RAF on many occasions especially the ” The Braemar Panzer Core” who drove the tracked vehicles and saved us many miles of wild walk outs in winter. Thanks to Beano RIP and John especially after our epic at Loch Etcheacan. (See my Blog for more info)
The 90’s were at times very sad days they called this period in Mountain Rescue ” The Black Winters” and I lost several great friends. Two of my best pals Mark Sinclair and Neil Main were killed on Lochnagar on 16 March 1995. Mark had served with me in RAF Kinloss Team in the 80’s and I had been on several expeditions with him, he was my best friend and Neil his pal was a strong and powerful mountaineer and a real character. It was a terrible time for Marks and Neil’s family but I will never forget the kindness and care given by the Braemar Team. The support was immense when we all needed it and I will never forget the kindness by so many of the Mountain Rescue Family. For the first time in my life I took a few months out of Rescue such was the sadness that was in my heart. I had just handed over the team and became a team member again after my spell as Team Leader at RAF Kinloss was over. This was great and I was back out on the hill again and not coordinating, from “Hero to Zero” we call it . We had many more epics Glenshee in 1999 epic weather and a 3 day search that I will never forget. Days of the body getting battered by non – stop winds typical Cairngorm weather and searches. Many with great success.
The Braemar team have moved on with the great assistance by the helicopters has improved over the years from those simple machines of the 60’s and 70’s. Many of the team were there in the early days of the Sycamore, Wessex, Sea King and now the new Bristows helicopter. One of the first uses of the helicopter a Sycamore at the Canberra crash on Carn An – t Sagairt Mor in 1956.
Changed days indeed but whatever aircraft Lochnagar on a dark and stormy night in a helicopter is not for the faint hearted and one I do not miss!. In 2001 I missed the USA F15 Call -out in the Cairngorms where the team were very busy for several months and heard all about the team’s response and huge efforts during this tricky time as I now better than most how difficult working with the military can be at times like these.
The team continues to carry out its job in these wild mountains in a hugely professional way. To many you are a great example on how to run a team with the Police and the locals working so well together. Your combined experience, in-depth training,skills and history have been hard-won and some great individuals have made huge influences over the years. The strength though is the team, the men, woman (and dogs) that make this such a special group to belong to. It is an amazing history you have you are unsung heroes all of you but even more so you are part of a unique Mountain Rescue Family. I know this from what you gave to me and my friends in these dark days when I lost my pals on Lochnagar.
In Mountain Rescue we are so lucky we are supported by family. and friends who without their love and care we could never do this at times difficult job. They sit and wait for us at home as we go out on these wild call – outs and pray for our safe return. Few outside the Mountain Rescue Family can imagine their thoughts at times and the worry that many have. We at times miss birthdays,social events, parties and other important family events due to a Call – out and it does at times effect relationships and especially our children.. Yet finding someone alive and bringing them off the hill is an incredible experience that we have had the privilege to be part of.
These are dark days just now with tragedy all over the world yet in every part of this incredible land we have people like you all willing to help others. There are still so many good people about and we must never forget it in these sad days. Mountain Rescue has changing beyond all recognition from the days of the Tractor, trailer and coal shovels on Beinn A ‘ Bhuird in 1965 . We now have a highly trained team with so many different skills, equipment and training. It has been a privileged to work with Braemar Team in the past and I am sure the future for the team is going to be busy. Mountain Rescue is not just about wild Rescues in Mountains and we all acknowledge the changes that the teams copes with. Nowadays one-third of incidents are now non – mountaineering assisting the Police in rural searches for vulnerable people. The team have risen to the challenge and at the forefront of this type of incident and lead the way in many new techniques and skills. You are a huge part of the local emergency planning in times of extreme weather and as the task of Mountain Rescue devolves so will this team.
“The kit on the outside and the equipment may have changed.
Underneath the heart and soul of the team remains the same”
Thank you Braemar Mountain Rescue for all you have done for those in trouble in the wild Cairngorms. You have a special place in my heart and have a great party and a safe winter and successful next 50 years.
Your friend Heavy