I was given a load of old RAF Mountaineering Journals the RAFMA Annual Journal of 1979 was one and I had written a piece on the RAF Valley Mrt where I was Deputy Team Leader for three years. It was a huge learning curb for me and I got to love Wales very much North Wales from Ogwen and Llanberris. This was my first full – time tour in Mountain Rescue and I learned so much from it. I admit I was a bit wild, the odd battle and upset and very Scottish in attitude to the Mountains, my first day out was the 14 peaks, next day was Tremadoc on Merlin Direct and Creag Dubh Wall with Jock Cameron ( where is he ow)? Great days in the cafe before and after the hills, the Milk Bar at Betws, Cobbies and Bethesda ” The Douglas Arms” Eric’s cafe at Tremadoc a regular haunt as always and of course the lovely Welsh girls!
I have to thank Al Haveron and the Valley team and some of the characters from the St Athan, Stafford Leeming, Ogwen, Llanberris Teams and SARDA. I met many great pals, Pete Kay, Jock Cameron, Stan Owen, Mick Hernon, Dave Booth, Pib, Nige Hughes, Eric Joyce, Pete Winn, Quackers, Tomcat to name a few. Lots of learning for me that was invaluable in the years to come.
This is what I wrote ” The big event of the year was the Jaguar crash in November 1979 on Ben Lui where the RAF Valley team were flown in to assist in a massive 3 day search. This was a huge search at the time with RAF Kinloss, Leuchars. Valley, Killin, Lomond, SARDA in wild winter conditions. I was on the Cyfrwy Arete on Cader Idris when we got the call – out with Valley Mrt and we had to get back to RAF Valley very quickly for a Hercules aircraft to take the team plus Search Dog Dreish to Scotland. ( When Colin Pibworth a famous RAF MR troop called me on the radio ” Call -out Scotland I thought it was a joke He had to repeat it twice!!!
We were restricted to what we took one hill bag, ice axe and crampons ,one box of composite rations and a few spare clothes. We were away for 5 days with no drying facilities. We flew into Prestwick then the Navy took us to Crainlarich where the Search was controlled from. We learned so much on that incident and the need to be able to work on steep ground in wild winter conditions was invaluable. ( I have written about this call – out in detail on a previous blog) We had lots of call -outs in Wales 4 in one day in Idwal helping Ogwen and some night lowers on the Idwal slabs and Snowdon kept us on our toes. Great working with our own Wessex helicopter at RAF Valley and the local Mountain Rescue Teams at Ogwen, Llanberis and SARDA.
The team sent a a couple of troops and instructors on the Annual winter Course in Scotland and they managed some great routes, Tower ridge on Ben Nevis , Twisting Gully, Crowberry Gully in Glencoe and the classics in the Cairngorms, Red Gully, the Runnel and the Vent. Great knowledge and experience again plus a few call -outs kept everyone very busy!
There was some great winter conditions in Wales and some of us climbed nearly every day on the ice routes in the Black Ladders, Idwal and in the Pass. I was out with team members and rare repeats were done and what a place to be few big walk ins roadside ice was the name of the game. So many new lines were climbed at the time and what a winter we had. We met Joe Brown on a few occasions climbing that winter and he was amazed to see Teallach at the top of the routes on the Devils Kitchen. Wales was a sociable place.
It was a great summer with lots of classic climbing Pete Kay climbing Dream for the third time this year at Gogarth and with Jock Cameron ticking Hard Rock Routes. The rest of us are more than happy with the Classics and enjoying great long days and even climbing after work in the Pass and at Holyhead and Gogarth. I am even getting near finishing my Classic Rock in Wales and even been terrified at Gogarth, not bad for a Munro bagger!
The local Welsh hills have been great and the 14 peaks now done often all the team now done them in a day( The Scottish influence) and many other big days in the Peaks the Lakes and Scotland. I took a group in winter to Seana Bhraig a remote Munro in Scotland in the far North for a 5 day winter climbing trip we managed a few new routes and a wild time. The troops were not impressed with the lack of social at night but what a trip.
Two troops are of to the Himalayas Stan Owen and Pete Kay, then Stan is posted a great man and fell – runner coming 10 th in the Ben Nevis race this year. Stan is now with Dave Booth a veteran of many Welsh races and well-known on the running scene in Wales. This is great for the team and will help us in the future when we plan to organise our own trips to the Himalayas.
The team is off to Mount Rainer in the USA – 14 Team members and had fun until the volcano erupted but that is another story!
Myself and Dave Booth completed a South – North Of Scotland with three others from Kinloss and Stafford climbing 65 Munros in 18 days a great wander in Scotland. It was hard going but wonderful exhausting days.
The Annual Snowdon Bike Race was won again by the RAF Valley team – Alaister Haveron, Dave Booth and Stan Owen beat the record by 19 minutes and the time of 1 hour 56 minutes for Crib Goch, Snowdon and Lliwedd and back to Pen Y Pass raising over £500 for charity was another great event.
Wales continues to keep us busy and we love the area and the easy access, the climbing is on our doorstep and with Gogarth just a short drive away we live in some place. We travel often to the Peaks, Lakes South Wales and even now run mini expeditions gaining the newer member’s experience to Scotland, Skye is now on the cards! The team is going well and we have some up and coming stars, if in North Wales pop in and see us!
Looking back nearly 35 years it was a great time and how wild I was I. Yet I had to stand my ground with a few but in the end it was a huge part of my life and some great friendships. The social scene was great as was the old section at Valley now disused and of course my time with Vicky and Yvette and neighbours the Booths and the Kays all in the team. I lost my Mum and Dad in the three years I was in Wales and never spent the time I should have with them or my family Vicky and Yvette how good is hindsight? Pete Kay took me down to Lighthouse Arete as soon as I got back off the train and we climbed lighthouse Arete. A hanging belay on the underwater first pitch and Pete with no helmet covering his head with a guide book. I got my magic companion my dog Teallach who looked after me over the years. Yet looking back on this short insight from an old journal what a few years and how incredible these days were. The great hills and climbs in Wales. arriving at Base and getting a climb done in the long summer nights and the great hill days and sporting scrambles in the Welsh scramble guides still scare me to this day!
Look after those you love they are not here for ever and you can never recover the time lost.
Footnote 6 August 1980
It is with deep regret that I must report the tragic death of Mick Hernon on 29 July 1980 was killed whilst descending the Pic Badile after ascending the West Face. Mick was a well-loved man by the RAF Team and an ex member of the Stafford Mountain Rescue Team. Mick was at RAF Valley when killed in the Alps and climbed with us often. A sad day for us all Mick left a young wife and two young children.
This was one of my first times I had lost a close pal in the hills and Mick’s family were with him on a RAFMA Meet where Mick training for a Himalayan Expedition. It was a tragic time made worse as Mick had limited Insurance for an accident in the mountains at the time. The funeral at Stafford was a sad affair and one that took a long time to come to terms with. Mick at the time was an outstanding climber and climbed with many of the top climbers of the day in North Wales. We all still miss him!
I would appreciate a photo of Mick if anyone has one!