Heading to Bairgowerie for a talk to the Tayside MRT.

I am off on my travels to Blairgowerie to talk to the Tayside Mountain Rescue. I will visit the late Al MacLeod’s Mum my best pal who was killed on a fall on the North Face of the Materhorn it will be great to meet her again.


Big Al MacLeod after his successful ascent of the North Face of the Eiger a great pal and superb friend.

Big Al MacLeod after his successful ascent of the North Face of the Eiger a great pal and superb friend.

Al Macleod 14/7/1989

In Mountain Rescue you meet some great characters and my great friend Al McLeod was on of them. He died after a fall on the Matterhorn North Face whilst soloing. It was a tragic day when we got the news. Al was just leaving the RAF and had planned a years climbing. He was a superb mountaineer and just back from an unsuccessful attempt on Everest West Ridge, he had attempted the summit and was 1000 feet from the top after climbing the Hornbein Coulior, the weather came in and they descend. As a young man he had so much to live for, he like the rest in our prime of youth felt so at one in the mountains. He was so powerful and regularly ran back to the bothy after a huge hill day. He never showed tiredness, just power and though not a natural climber on rock he was so strong. As a winter climber he was exceptional. He loved the mountains and the wild and as a local boy from Blairgowerie he had spent his life in the hills. He was the man who looked after me after Lockerbie, he was a true friend in all aspects and I never forget him.


On researching my talk I was amazed at the influences during my 40 years in SAR. My early Team Leaders, George Bruce, John Hinde, Pete McGowan and Ray Sefton all so different made incredible impressions on me. They had so many talents and to work with them and many others was an incredible experience and one I treasure.

Leadership is often talked about and the military try to teach it rather badly in my opinion to many of their Officer core. What I learned through the years was incredible and if you could bottle it and learn from your mistakes it would be some teaching manual, a best seller.  What the military was a bit scared of was the way we operated it was not the respect of rank but of experience and ability no matter what your rank. I learned much from the “young guns” and was glad so many developed into  strong and sound mountaineers, leaders and in many other aspects of life.

Another good thing you were only a Team Leader for a few years, I did back to back tours at RAF Leuchars and Kinloss 7 years in total with so many incredible test and learning points. In that period I dealt with the Lockerbie Disaster, The Shackleton Crash in Harris  and the Chinook crash on the Mull Of Kintyre. Add into that 25 -30 call – outs a year and many fatalities it was a testing period. In addition I lost 3 pals on the mountains. In the end I was burnt out and my family suffered. I try to talk about this as there are so many lessons to be learned for future leaders. I learned much from the civilian Team Leaders, Hamish McInnes, Peter Cliff, Graham Gibb, Terry Cornfield and Donald Watt, many became pals and were always fair to me a young keen Team Leader.

I was never a team leader again but stayed as a Team Member and watched the changes develop. I was the Chair of Scottish Mountain Rescue during this period and helped get Goverment financial assistance for the civilian Teams and from the Order Of St John which has been incredible for the Teams.


The RAF Mountain Rescue has changed three Teams now but still the same people a lot more admin as only the military can produce by as a good pal said. Willie Mac Ritchie the ex Team Leader at RAF Kinloss and RAF Lossiemouth stated.

“The kit on the outside and the equipment may have changed.
Underneath the heart and soul of the teams remains the same”

How right he is and long may it continue.

Ray Sefton and Hamish MacInnes.

Ray Sefton and Hamish MacInnes.

About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Aircraft incidents, Articles, Avalanche info, Equipment, Family, Friends, Himalayas/ Everest, History, Ice climbing Canada, Lectures, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, SAR, Scottish winter climbing., SMC/SMT, Views Mountaineering, Weather. Bookmark the permalink.

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