Yesterday I was pretty tired and the face still smarting from the wind of the Cairngorms on Sunday, I sorted my gear out and got some kind messages from some of those who took part in our short winter skills at the weekend with the Moray Mountaineering Club. It is amazing how much we take days like that for granted as I spent my time in the military and we regularly did these every winter with the mountain rescue teams. I also was on over 30 winter courses every year a two-week in these days insight into winter mountaineering and climbing. For 4 years I ran it as Chief Instructor for 30 -40 people it was a stressful period for me many long days on the Ben waiting at the top to ensure the young instructors were okay and many hard lessons were learned. These courses were based at Grantown On Spey and Ben Nevis I have many memories of these days from being a young pupil in 1973 to the so called main man. The Outdoor Activities Centre in the town is a place I know well and love.
George Bruce was the first name on the Board at Grantown and a pal wrote this after I published that photo.
“I had the honour of working there with the first Senior Instructor George Bruce . A born Leader.” From Keith Geddes a top man.
My reply “Yes he was a great man It was a huge honour to be there at his funeral and help lower the coffin. A sad day but as you say a great leader keeping us all in check and advising us. Even you Keith Geddes what a man what a guy! His catch phrases remain with me ” the mountains have no respect for rank” so many great days. When we were avalanched on Lancet Edge he said “Heavy you have the honour to be Avalanched with me” Miss him !
I was asked to speak to the RAF Mountaineering Association (RAFMA) who had a few member’s at Grantown On Spey for a winter week last night. It was a call on the way home from the Cairngorms on the bus asking could I speak on this Monday night so I had a busy day yesterday. Many will be aware that RAFMA were involved in a tragic avalanche in the Chalamain Gap in the Cairngorms in 2013 a very sad period for them. It would be a tricky night for me as part of the talk was on Mountain Safety and then if they wanted a chat on my first trip to Canada climbing ice in 1983 before some of them were born.
The drive last night across the Dava Moor in a storm that came from no where as the sky darkened just before dusk but the 32 miles went easily taking care on the roads. The Centre has changed over the years it was an old Drill Hall the first time I was there in 1973 now it is a modern building. Gone are the rafters where as a young lad I climbed up at the end of my first course glad to be alive after an incredible two weeks of non stop climbing! Now it has incredible photos, Mission statements but some of the old photos are there and there has been some mountaineers in this place. I did not have that much time to look around and got sorted out in the excellent lecture room a joy to be there.
I met Emile and the others all just off the hills finishing dinner their faces still glowing from a day in the wind and we caught up. A few were already looking at tomorrows plans and filling in log books a small group but very keen, with maps and weather forecasts and the Avalanche info all being accessed. How good is the access of information nowadays compared with all those years ago? My mate Pete Greening from Cornwall is up assisting with the Instruction and we caught up. I then set up and then had my chat which I hope I dealt with sensitively and passed on some simple ways to stay safe and learn from others experience and the odd mistake. I was very aware of my surroundings and the people who I knew and who had worked in this Centre. Many were great people like my first team leader George Bruce a giant of a man in my life, sadly gone but his memory lives on. It is also great to see such enthusiasm for mountaineering and great to see the fire in souls especially of these people.
They all wanted to see the Canadian Ice Climbing Lecture my first trip in 1983 and my last in 2012. In these early days of ice climbing with the Terrors and basic crampons, one small car for 6 of us and climbing in below – 20. 12 hour days, no mobile phones and waiting for a lift back in the dark. The stories get exaggerated as the years go by but what a 6 weeks trip on a shoe string with 5 great people and what climbs we achieved. Great tales of abseiling off metal piping,very simple ice screws and wild abseils of shaky belays. Party night in Canmore Alberta at the Alpine Club,blue skies and incredible ice and less than 100 routes at that time in the area. I had a pair of terrordactyls axe hammer and crampons and they loved to see them. I explained the medical term “terror knuckle” that these tools left you with after a days climbing when the knuckles got battered on the ice. This was a magic part of my life. I left soon after as they were all getting things done for a busy next day where the forecast looks good.
I was pretty tired by now and headed home the night was clear and a full moon.The temperature was just below freezing, the road across the Dava was clear and I stopped to check the road for black ice, what a place to stop the moonlight and the patches of snow on the moor shinning. It had been a great night and a chat with a some good people and great to see the enthusiasm of the young ones setting of for hopefully a safe lifetime of adventure in the mountains and wild places.
Have a safe enjoyable winter week, take care and of course enjoy these wild mountains now in deep winter!
If your a Club, Rescue Team or group who want a lecture why not contact me through the Blog?