A sad Tale of the Sandeman Memorial at Kintail. A tragic day on the Kintail Mountains. Can we learn from such tragedies even so long ago?

It is amazing how little you know about the local hills you love  and their tales and mysteries when in an area. I was out this weekend at Kintail with the Moray Mountaineering Club staying at Morvich. On the way there in bad weather I had to visit to the Memorial to a young climber who died in January 1960 on these mountains. I never knew it existed until I got an email from the late John Hinde’s daughter Fiona about the memorial and the search her Dad was involved in.   It is amazing that I have been there on so many occasions in the past place and have parked there on so many occasions when doing these great hills. I parked the car and wandered up to it in the rain, it is only a couple of minutes walk. It is in a lovely situation with great views and even today in the rain with fresh snow on the tops and the view over to Loch Clunnie is marvellous. The plaque now needs a clean and I will do it next time and it tells the  sad tale of a young life lost in the mountains many years ago in Jamuary 1960. The local newsletter “Glenmorrison Matters” has a great article on it on the web and I have done some research on the story within my Mountain Rescue archives. The search even today would be a Mountain Rescue search organisers nightmare as the casualty was located so far away from where he was last seen. It was a tragic loss of a young 19 year old for his family and how he was missed by his party on the hill. There are still many occasions when a party member has fallen behind on the hill and the party continues oblivious to their need? A lesson to us all all these years later? How many have done this in the past and not been so punished.


1960 Map Sandeman Memorial Kintail 1960

1960 Map Sandeman Memorial Kintail 1960

This from the initial report –  RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Report A – Date 4 Jan 1960

Sandeman Memorial Kintail 1960

Sandeman Memorial Kintail 1960

Nature of Incident: Civilian hillwalker missing north of Loch Cluannie

Time MRT Alerted; 0730 4/1/1960 – Authority alerting; NRCC & Inverness Police

Team left station 4/1/60  time 0810 Team arrived in search area 4 /1/60 at 1040

Areas searched:  4 th Jan 1960 – Allt Coire a’ Chait ridge and outcrops between Coire a’ Chait and the Munro Sgurr nan Conbhairean 1109 metres.

5 Jan 1960 – Eastern Face  Sgurr nan Conbhairean.

Duration of Search – 2 days. Type of Search – Sweep search. Weather conditions: Clear with showers at first, worsening later with high winds and driving snow.

Composition of Rescue party 21 RAF MRT- Police & civilians.

Equipment used: Two three ton trucks – 2 Land rovers. Composite rations and binoculars.


John Sandeman was one of a group of about twenty Edinburgh University students who had come up to Glenmoriston for part of their Xmas vacation for the purposes of climbing and hillwalking. At the time there was a large amount of Hydro-Board construction taking place in the Glen and the construction company, Carmichaels Ltd, had a large work-camp situated on the south side of the road just east of Dundreggan dam. There the party obtained accommodation since the workforce were not on site over the festive season.

On the day in question the students divided themselves into several smaller groups to tackle climbs of varying difficulty and set out into the Cluanie mountains via the large hill called Sgurr nan Conbhairean.

The Munro

The Munro where the young climber went missing.


John Sandeman was one of a group of four led by 19-year old Andrew Kerr and their route took them towards Bealach Coire a’ Chait; Sandeman was not a very experienced climber, however, and he found himself in a group who were just too good for him. About 3.10, with little of the short winter’s day ahead of them he had started to flag and had dropped some 100 yards behind his companions. They pressed on , crossed a false summit and returned. Sandeman was no longer following them. They assumed that he had dropped out and gone back down to the road, but when they did not meet him, they retraced their steps back up the bealach. When once more they did not find him, they returned to Cluanie and back to Dundreggan where the alarm was raised.”The whole party went out after dark, searched the lower hills and corries, but returned at 5 a.m. without success. It was just after returning that they learned that the missing climber’s father, 70-year old Mr Robert Sandeman, a retired jute manufacturer, had died suddenly the previous evening. John Sandeman, however, was well enough equipped to survive a night in the open and so the search resumed the next day.

The Police were told “At about 1515 on Sunday the 3 January, John Sandeman became separated from his party whilst walking from Coire a Chait and Sgurr nan Conbhaireen!. He has not been seen since.”

After being called at 0730 on the Monday the 4 Jan 1960 the RAF Kinloss MRT arrived at the Cluannie in at 1100. After conferring with the Police and local civilians it was decided to carry out a sweep search on either side of the route taken by Mr Sandeman after being separated from his companions.

That evening Monday 4 Jan it was learned that civilians from Inverness and Fort William would be available next day to search.  It was decided that the steep ground NE of Sgurr nan Conbhairean. This task was delegated as follows; Area between last known position and Loch Cluannie to be searched by civilians. Steep ground  NE of Conbhairean searched by MRT.  The decision to call of the search was due to the falling snow making it difficult to locate the casualty impossible!

Civilian assistance was on a comparatively large scale, parties coming from Inverness and Fort William. Co – ordination was difficult since the parties arrived at different times. In accordance with the pre –arranged plans they were allocated search areas by the local Constable. The lateness of the start of the civilian searchers and the onset of thick weather made this search virtually abortive. It is difficult to see how an efficient effort by civilians can be achieved unless facilities exist – such as a Youth Hostel  – where search parties can concentrate the evening before the search!

( I would imagine that the road conditions, poor communications did not help. D. Whalley)


Red flares reported were used by the Fort William Police to concentrate their parties.

Mention must be made of the great help given by the following: Mr Tom Ross the local hill farmer with great local knowledge. Constable MacKay of Dornie was out on the hills both days and his initial

Investigation of the students was very much to the point. Finally Mr Tennant of the Kintail Lodge Hotel wh organised the local civilian effort and made freely of his one transport.

It is presumed that he injured himself and died of exposure somewhere to the SW of Sgurr nan Conbhairean.


Footnote – On Friday, September 21st 1962, a shepherd, George MacKay, who was out gathering sheep with his employer, Mr. T. D. Girvan, saw something sticking up in the heather behind some boulders.

It turned out to be an ice-axe with the initials J.D.S. It looked as though its owner had just stuck it in the ground and sat down beside it to rest. With the axe were found some residual human -remains in company with a watch, cigarette lighter, spectacles and boots. John Sandeman had been found some two and a half years after his disappearance.

The area where he was found was at the top of Glen Fada, north of Aonach Shasuinn on the marches of the Ceannacroc and Guisachan Deer Forests.

The location of the casualty!

The location of the casualty!

This was about 9 miles from the point where he was last seen. After losing touch with his companions in the fading light John Sandeman must have realised he had to descend to refind the road. It is probable that he turned east and descended into the wrong Glen and in his exhaustion when the snow came he turned to walk with the wind and snow at his back. This he must have done for some time until, eventually, overcome by his exertions; he stuck his ice-axe in the ground, sat down beside it and perished of hypothermia.

Two days later the remains were recovered from the hill by Constable John Morrison and Sgt. Irvine, two of the local policemen who had been closely connected with the search and who had also been present at the unveiling ceremony above Loch Lundie. They were placed in Glenmoriston Church of Scotland, where with a prayer from the Rev. Peter Fraser, they were to lie for the Sunday night before being conveyed to Inverness for formal identification and thence to Edinburgh for cremation.

Sandeman Memorial Kintail 1960

Sandeman Memorial Kintail 1960

A sad outcome and a long way from where he was last seen!

The Inscription:

1960 Sandeman plaque


Always keep your party together this is though many years ago a sad lesson and look after those less experienced than you out in the wild places?




About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer when body slows, loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Views Mountaineering, Weather. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to A sad Tale of the Sandeman Memorial at Kintail. A tragic day on the Kintail Mountains. Can we learn from such tragedies even so long ago?

  1. Adrian says:

    Thank you for writing this, John was my mother’s second cousin (my third?), and it took me until the internet age to find out what actually happened to him. One day when we are in Scotland we will drop by and give him a wee dram…


    • I cleaned up
      The memorial will check it out again – it’s right next to road.


      • Fraser Mackenzie says:

        Glad you did that- I always do the same. I wrote the original article so many years ago for Moriston Matters- and the reason I did so was to try to preserve the information which at the time as far as I knew only existed in the minds of locals and of course the newspapers of the time.. I spoke to the Rev Peter Fraser, (who accepted the article for the publication) Morrison the Bobby ( a real character) and Mr Girvan (sen) plus a few others.
        I was never really able to contact a member of the Sandeman family but its good to see from the above that they are still around.
        I remember the search and passed parties at the roadside -though what my father was doing heading to Inverness from Kyle along a narrow single track road in January I don’t know. It stuck in my mind ever since.
        Fraser Mackenzie

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for that it was a sad event I must go back and re clean it! Thank you


      • Adrian says:

        Thank you both, gentlemen. John’s father’s siblings families ended up in England and South Africa, and I’ve never been able to trace any relations via his mother, so it is really only you keeping his memory alive.

        As you can imagine, SWMBO and I have not got up there in 2020, but one year we will head for the far North-West again, and this time will go via Loch Cluanie and not Inverness, and will stop off and remember the lad on the way.


      • Thank you next time I am over I will clean the memorial


  2. Where he was found is quite remote. In daylight and good weather, no problem barring injury and exhaustion. He had an ice axe with his initials marked, but maybe no map or compass. But with darkness, weather, fatigue, hunger, dehydration, apprehension possibly all crowding in, it would not be difficult to come to grief in navigation. I got hypothermic on Dartmoor aged about 16 on a turn as lead of a “patrol” of Outward Bound in rain and fog and bog. Someone noticed, took over the lead and walked me along. It was the “eat this Mars bar” school of first aid, fifty years ago. Only yesterday I saw a Guardian article on wild swimming that mentioned the early sign of hypothermia: “Look for the “umbles” – fumbling, grumbling, stumbling and mumbling.” But somebody has to be with you to notice.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Adrian says:

    I’ve since discovered, utterly by accident, that John had a younger sister – but I’ve been unable to find anything about her other than her shorthand exam results in the local paper!
    Should you read this, Elizabeth, I’d love to get in touch.

    Liked by 1 person

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