As I walked into Ossian Youth Hostel from Corrour Station on Friday night a small snow shower hit me just as it was getting dark. It reminded me of though such a wonderful place to be to be caught in bad weather in these hills as I have in the past in winter can be a survival exercise. You are a long way from help if it goes wrong, nowadays we have so much better gear and clothing yet people still get caught out . The further you get from Loch Ossian and past Corrour Lodge is wild country and in 1951 an experienced party of mountaineers left the station and headed into the wilds for New Year. This is a small part of the story:
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 MacInnes 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.
RAF Kinloss MRT were called into assist and in their report the train was delayed taking the team to Corrour due to fallen trees on the line such was the weather. The damage all over Scotland was incredible, the equipment worn by the walkers was very basic and nowadays we have all the great gear, good weather forecasts but the hills can still take their toll in lives if we make a mistake.
The power of nature is shown in wild weather and no matter how hard we are on the wrong day it can easily go wrong.
Today’s tip: we can always learn from the past, worth knowing.
In 2013 in the same area a solo walker was found after a big search, he was siad to be trying to live of the land another tragedy. This is wild country and in winter a hard place to be and survive..