This is an interesting day on our winter walk!
Day 16 – 11/11/77 on our West to East walk of Scotland. Jim Morning, Terry Moore and myself are on day 16 of a wild walk in November, limited daylight, no GPS, simple kit and no mobile phones this was 1977.
The Route – Beinn Na Lap, 935 metres. Munro 241, Beinn Eibhinn 1100 Metres Munro 47 ” Delightful Hill” . Aonach Beag , 1114 Metres Munro 38 “Little Hill” Geal Charn 1132 Metres Munro 26 ” White Hill” and Carn Dearg. 1034 Metres Munro 98 “Red Hill” Weather gales and heavy snow forecast in late morning.
Access to the Ossian Youth Hostel achieved after a hard day previously , it is usually closed in winter but my great friend Tom Rigg (RIP) the warden had not let us down and the key was where he said it would be. There was coal and lots of food so we ate a great meal and toasted Tom with a dram he left us. The fire was on it was a big stove and the gear was soon steaming,what a bonus from the other days.. The weather was very worrying as I listened on my wee radio. I was really struggling with my knee in the deep snow Jim and Terry are still going well but the constant pressure of the bad weather was taking a toll. Concentration had to be full on not just on the tops but a walk off the wrong ridge or over a Cornice could be fatal. We were still very fit and strong but the reserves were being hit dramatically. The rivers were never easy and very full we were crossing many in the dark and getting soaked at times. I knew what was coming in the next hills and was very wary. These are even more remote mountains and the Beinn Alder Hills are very serious and a long way out. The boys wanted to do Beinn Na Lap one of the easiest Munros and then head on for 4 more big mountains to Culra bothy a big day in wild weather. It was an eraly start up at 0500 and then away by 0600.We left the bags and more or less ran up Beinn Na Lap the weather was okay, it was great to be light weight and then pushed on for the 4 Munros in the hinterland between Loch Laggan and Loch Ericht. Beinn Eibhinn. Aonach Beag , Geal Charn and Carn Dearg. I had done these hills before a few times they were new to Jim and Terry there was no way we would not be doing them. It was a bit of journey to the first Munro and getting the bags on again was not easy after being light and free! It was a plod to Beinn Eibhinn and along the graceful ridge to Aonach Beag, then the weather hit us. We had been away very early but it was after 1500 on this top and we still had two big Munros to do.
As the snow hammered down we were back in a white void and tricky navigation got us along the ridge to our third Munro Geal Charn and its big Cornices. This is place I was avalanched of its Southern Spur Lancet Edge in 1972 surviving a big fall and walking away from it a bit battered and bruised. We had huge problems locating the Northern Spur which gains access to our final Munro Carn Dearg. The summit plateau of Geal Charn is a featureless and not to be underestimated, three times we went to the point where we were sure that our ridge was but there was just a big Cornice. Jim and Terry great navigators Glenmore Lodge trained paced it again and again. In the end time was ticking away, the weather was worse, heavy snow and then someone said “You have been here before you must remember it?” It was dark now and enough was enough I went over the edge, (I am sure it was me) and we were spot on our ridge with a huge Cornice and with my background of being avalanched I just wanted out of there fast. We reached the beleach it was dark now and yet the boys wanted the last hill Carn Dearg and dragged me along and then an awful descent in wild weather to the wonderful Culra Bothy and safety.
Fire on, clothes changed and nerves shattered; along with my battered body it was 2100 and very late! We had really pushed the boat out I felt and all the way I was thinking of the Corrour Tragedy in 1951 where a group died in the beleach on the way to the bothy. We were lucky and someone I feel was looking after us. I learned a lot that day. We had in my mind pushed it too far and just got away with it.
Learning points – Planning: To little time for 5 Munros in November day light and in wild weather forecast and still pushing it. We thought we were invincible then!
Navigation, navigation, navigation – Thank God we were by now pretty good and by having to navigate most days were pretty good at it. I wonder if I could cope nowadays? We all checked every difficult navigation leg.
Fitness: Played a big part in keeping us going but also made us reckless at times.
It was nothing like this tale though: There is an amazing story of a Vickers Wellington 10/12/1942 that crashed south eastern flank of Geal Charn One crew member survived in mid winter and went for help – what a story that few have heard.
The crew, from B Flight of No.20 OTU, were on a day navigation training flight from RAF Lossiemouth on 10 /12/1942 . The planned route was from base to a point some 30 miles east of Peterhead – Crieff – Friockheim, near Arbroath – Maud, near Peterhead – base. At some point the aircraft deviated from this route and at about 15:00 while heading in an easterly to north easterly direction (some 40 miles off course) flew into Leacann na Brathan on the south eastern flank of Geal-charn which at the time was snow covered and enveloped in blizzard conditions.
The only survivor of the crash, Sgt Underwood, after checking for signs of life from his crew made his way off the mountain and arrived at Corrour Lodge in a very poor state. He was taken in and the next day transferred to hospital in Fort William.
After the aircraft had failed to return from its exercise a search was organised but nothing was found before the report of the rear gunner reaching Corrour and help was received. The rest of the crew died in the crash.
F/O James William Heck (25), Pilot, RAAF.
Sgt Maurice Hutt (21), Obs. / Bomb Aimer, RAFVR.
Sgt William Ernest Riley (22), Navigator, RAF.
Sgt Joseph Towers (25), Navigator, RAFVR.
Sgt James Hemmings, W/Op / Air Gnr., RAFVR.
Following the recovery of the bodies of those who had been killed the task of clearing the site was given to No.56 Maintenance Unit at Inverness. They inspected the wreck and decided to abandon it until the spring of 1943 before any work could begin. The recovery operation eventually began in July 1943 with a camp being established some distance from the site, assistance was rendered by army personnel of the 52nd Division, Scottish Command. They provided 25 pack mules and a 3 ton lorry. With these most of the wreckage was removed from the site, but today a reasonable amount still remains. Some tale! What a film this story would make and few have knowledge of this story, it was hidden in the tragedy of the war. I bet there is still a few who would know the tale, the keepers from Corrour would have been involved as would the Beinn Alder Estate any information would be gratefully accepted. I had planned to go up on the 70 th Anniversary but was ill for two years. I will make a point of going up on the 75 th Anniversary in 2017 god willing!
The Corrour tragedy on 29 -31 December 1951. Five members of the Glencoe Mountaineering Club form Glasgow decided to spend New Year at Ben Alder bothy. All were fairly well-known mountaineers at that time. I spoke to Hamish McInness many years ago about this tragedy and he knew some of them as mountaineering was a small sport then. They had planned to get the train to from Glasgow to Corrour Station near Loch Ossian a lonely but beautiful place to the North of Rannoch Moor. They arrived after the afternoon train and got a lift from a lorry to Corrour Lodge at the end of the loch. After a meal cooked in the woods they set off for Ben Alder Cottage some 11 kilometres away over a high pass at 2030 hours. They were carrying large packs with 3-4 days food as the bothy at Ben Alder Cottage is very basic. After about 4 kilometres the party became tired and 3 decided to bivouac in the lee of a river at about 500 metres. The other 2 pushed on and tried to cross the beleach W.S.W of Ben Alder but due to deep snow they also bivouacked.
They woke at 0600 and with the wind now and a gale blowing behind them tried again to reach the beleach, they turned back and met the others at 0915 near a small lochan. The weather was so bad that they found it difficult to pack their kit. They all then tried to head back to Loch Ossian only a short distance away. The wind was in their faces and weather were extremely wild, winds over 80 -100 mph recorded across Scotland; one by one they succumbed to exposure and died. The only Survivor was the wife of one of the fatalities who reached Corrour Lodge where the local keeper and the SMC were staying and mounted a rescue party. Nothing could be done; it was a terrible tragedy and rocked mountaineering in Scotland for many years. They must have had such a hard time dealing with such a tragedy. There is an account of this in the book the Black Cloud (L.D.S. Thomson) and the SMC journal Vol 25 No 143. It must be noted that some of the accounts are taken from the survivor who had lost her husband and will still in a state of shock even a few weeks after the incident. Weather forecast in 1951 was very vague and exposure was unheard of in those days. In the same SMC Journal Doctor Donald Duff a pioneer of Scottish Mountain Rescue wrote an article on Exposure Tragedies, much is still relevant today. Last year 2013 in the same area a solo walker was found after a big search, this is wild country and in winter a hard place to be.
We had one big day before a break at Dalwhinnie all night it snowed even more and the bothy was covered outside in snow in the morning. There was the estate track that in three hours that would take us to Dalwhinnie but that was not the option we headed out into the “White Room” again to Beinn Alder and Beinn Bheoil big hills with very tricky navigation on the summit plateau with huge Cornices. This is as wild as the Cairngorm plateau and remoter we would have to be on our toes.
Compelling stuff as usual Heavy
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Thanks Mark – hope to get out for a walk soon with you !