1977 January 8 & 9TH Torridon – Liathach Pinnacles a young ATC cadet fell 800 ft, 17-hour epic, carry off with team. In the days before mobile phones and serviceable and effective radios.
From the UK Climbing Dan Bailey
“Torridon is the archetypal west coast range, and if you like your scenery on an epic scale it’s unequalled. Rising over tidal Loch Torridon and the lochan-pitted hinterland beyond, each mountain stands proud of its neighbours, unique and individual. Each takes the form of a massif, with multiple summits and sharp-chiselled ridges, gouged out by great corries and walled with huge terraces. Liathach is the best and beastliest of them, a dark satanic cathedral of ragged crests and bristling crags, dominating its surroundings and offering few lines of easy access. The full traverse rates as one of the great ridge routes of Scotland, a challenging and exciting walk with options to indulge in some top quality mid-grade scrambling”
In winter it is even better a winter experience in winter it is transformed and is a classic of the Scottish winter with sensationally exposed views and ridges. It is a must do for those who love winter mountaineering,
|Fallen walker with team involved in 800ft fall. (ATC cadet) Sustained head, neck and leg injuries. 17 hours to hospital.
Long carry off poor communications and weather snow, cloud and rain.
At 1230 on the 8 Jan 1977 whilst training with RAF Kinloss MRT a 16-year-old cadet fell from the Am Fasarinen pinnacles on the Liathach ridge NG 25/925576. He was located by the RAF Kinloss Team Leader 800 feet lower down on the North side of the mountain in Corrie Na Caime. This was about 1230 that day with head, face and arm injuries.In these days the radios were poor and the Storno VHF radios in the poor weather low cloud snow and rain were not effective. It took several hours to gain communications. (There were no Mobile phones in these day and the radios were basic) A helicopter managed to drop a stretcher with two men but due to the impending darkness and air turbulence on the East side of the peak. ( there was no night vision goggles in 1977 and the helicopter was immense in getting the two troops and stretcher in to an area nearby.
The stretcher reached the casualty at 2100 and after a 5 mile carry off in extremely difficult terrain in darkness the casualty reached the car park and ambulance at 0430! From here he was taken to Inverness Hospital. (The accident happened at 1230 one can only imagine the time spent waiting and he could not be moved due to his injuries) My comment.
How close have we all been to this type of accident moving on steep ground in bad weather in winter? How amazing that the Team Leader got to the casualty so quickly moving down such steep ground so quickly after the young lad fell, how many of us could do that and that undoubtedly saved the young lads life.
These Torridon giants are big serious hills especially in winter and the remote corries like Corrie Na Caime are Alpine and far from the road. Even today once you leave the ridge there is still very limited communications in these wild corries. I have done several incidents and carry offs here and on Beinn Eighe and without helicopter support these involve huge effort and man power and rarely hit the news. If you go back to 1977 things were very different and the rest of the team was training all over the Torridon hills and a re call took time. It was a wild carry off and one can only think what Pete the Team Leader was thinking yet he was the man all the way till we got the young lad to medical help.
There were big lessons learned and after that no Cadets were allowed out in winter which was what we’re pressured into by the hierarchy at the time. Even when I was the Team Leader many years later I was pressurized to take them out in winter. I always told this story and had to fight for my decision to be accepted.
I often trained in the Torridon area and did the Liathach Traverse in winter over 30 times. It is a wonderful mountaineering day and one I love. I climbed with many new team members it was the best way to teach them and show them the ground we may be called out on. I would tell the tale of what happened that wild day in January and to “look well to each step!”
We would often use a rope it took time and care but was good skills but on a rescue or a search you have to move around these type of places in poor weather where a slip can be serious. In my many rescues in Torridon that involved big carry offs in poor weather that was one of the worst, it was never-ending and after a hard day on the hill an incident like this was one you would never forget.
It was so hard to find out who had fallen as I said the communications were so poor then and the weather a typical January day. The gear we had was poor most of it wet when we went out on the hill after a day out. You rarely got time to eat and on that day most had not eaten and when you look back we were fit and strong and it was one of our own. The 16 troops who were there pulled out the stops and the stretcher carry was endless. A never to be forgotten experience one of many. Then next weekend you had to go out and get on with it no time to worry as the call outs and experiences came thick and fast.
When I ran the RAF Mountain Rescue Team Leaders Course this was one of the simulated exercises we ran to show the new Team Leaders that anything can happen on the hills. It was good to pass on the experience and not hide it and pass on the lessons learned. The questions what would you do and how would you cope if it was you in that situation?
I look at the ground that Pete descended in winter to locate the young lad I was amazed, could I have done it? Even accounting for the adrenaline and fear of losing a troop it was some journey into the Corrie that without a doubt saved a young life.
We can learn so much from the past and episodes like this after this I always carried a Terrordactyl hammer in my bag if I had to descend very steep ground in winter and summer!
After this we managed to change our Ultra radios as we put in a report about the water ingress into the battery recess and effectively shorting the battery out making the radio next to useless.
I feel it is still worth sharing stories like these and how the line between a great day in the mountains and a tragic one.
Take care the winter is mild but there is still plenty of icy ground about.