I needed an easy day before my party in Onich so I went into Fort William for a breakfast and some shopping then a visit to see Joss Gosling who at 88 is a veteran of the RAF Mountain Rescue and a dear pal. I had a lovely time with Joss and Annie and we caught up. Joss was on the Lancaster Crash on Beinn Eighe in 1951 and took the great photos of this epic incident. He is a great mine of information of the early days of Mountain Rescue and we had some fun reminiscing.
It was then down to see Hamish MacInnes in Glencoe and I caught him out for a walk into the village and we had a few hours together. He has so much on projects running and when I told him I was off to Skye next week to Loch Coruisk he told me more information on the epic call out on the Dubhs Ridge in 1963 in winter it was so full of detail and information I could sit and listen all day.
Another pal arrived Paul Moores a Guide who I have known for many years looking as ever like some “blond God” and we had a great catch up. I left then to discuss Hamish’s next project and marvelled at this incredible man’s capacity to keep going with new projects what a man.
As I said we had a chat about a huge call – out in Skye the story is so well told in Hamish MacInnes’s book “Call – out” When I spoke to Hamish a few years ago I asked him about a call – out that stuck in his mind. I was expecting one of the epics in Glencoe but it was New Year 1963 and a very serious accident in Skye where Hamish and his wife Cathy was taking a break in Skye after a busy Christmas of Rescues in Glencoe. How wrong he was to be as he was expecting a quiet time! It all started when a group of climbers from the Glasgow University Mountaineering Club and a few pals went to the JMTC hut at Coruisk in Skye for the New Year.
The Loch Coruisk Memorial Hut was built in 1959 in memory of two young climbers who lost their lives whilst climbing on Ben Nevis on April 1st 1953. During the opening day of the Loch Coruisk Memorial Hut there was a ceremony dedicating the hut to the memory of Peter Drummond Smith and David Monro. It was then handed into the care of the Junior Mountaineering Club of Scotland who maintain it to this day.
The Loch Coruisk Memorial Hut is situated in an ideal location. It provides visitors with quick and easy access to a number of popular climbs on the Cuillin Hills including Sgurr na Stri, the ‘Bad Step’ and the walk from Loch Coruisk to Elgol through Camasunary. It also gives good access to Sligachan or Glenbrittle, the Dubhs, Druim nan Ramh, Garsbheinn and many more famous climbing and walking routes on the Isle of Skye.
The story of Coruisk Tragedy is well worth re – telling.
Hamish was just finishing pruning trees for a friend in Glen Brittle when he saw someone running alone off the hill. It was late in the day and Hamish knew something was wrong and tells the tale. He was told by the climber that three climbers had fallen at the back of the Dubhs one is still alive and a climber is with them. The journey for the informant across a winter Skye ridge all the way to Glenbrittle must have been a real test and what thoughts must he have had? This is in the days of no phones on the hill, basic torches for lighting and the middle of winter with lots of ice but little snow. Hamish set off with his wife and the informant to locate the accident and had called for assistance from the Portree Police Team and RAF Kinloss MRT who were at Fort William for New Year. It would have been a busy time for Kinloss who had dealt with a few call – outs already including one for a team member who had broken a leg! As Hamish says how John Hinde the Team Leader managed to get hold of the team who were scattered to the wind as it was New Year remains a mystery to this day. Hamish also remembered that the Junior Mountaineering Club Of Scotland (JMCOfS) were at Kintail for Hogmanay and were asked to help.
These were the days of everyone helping when trouble arrived on the hills. It was dark when Hamish, his wife Cathy and the survivor left and one can only imagine the thoughts as they trudged in over the ridge in very difficult conditions to try to save the injured climber and locate his companion. How the informant made another epic trek over the ridge with Hamish is a tale in its own. It was in very tricky winter conditions with ice and verglas everywhere. This is a hugely complex area and in the dark they searched but could not find any sign of the accident, they were exhausted and the conditions were extremely tricky with the verglas and ice everywhere. It is a huge complex descent in the dark and in winter as wild as anywhere in the UK. In the end exhausted they made their way down to the hut at Coruisk where the rest of the group were staying. Here they found the survivor who told them the grim news and that all the climbers were dead. With no communications one can only imagine the thoughts of the locals and Police who tried to assist that night. Only a few had crampons and lighting was by Tilly light on serious winter ground. After an epic theY also decided to return to Glen Brittle and wait for daylight.
What follows is an epic with a two-day recovery for the three climbers killed in the accident. RAF Kinloss MRT and others from the local team arrived at Coruisk by boat and then began as Hamish states a very difficult recovery. Over 35 people were involved to carry the three fatalities off down 2300 feet of the worst terrain in Scotland. The An Garbh Corrie is one of the roughest in Scotland and wild and inhospitable place. Belays were very sparse and conditions incredibly difficult and most of it was done in the dark down icy slabs, with boulders crashing down all the night. Crampons bit on the rocks like broken glass making life incredibly difficult but the recovery was completed and they arrived at back at the hut with the casualties. These were all strong hard mountaineers all putting their lives on the line for the recovery of the climbers. One can only imagine how the friends of the party felt as they were brought down to the climbing hut at Coruisk and this was an incredible testing time for all. This call – out, though I have just briefly mentioned some of what happened is the one that Hamish remembers and when he spoke again he remembered every fact, as clear as day. He knew most of the characters of the Kinloss Team John Hinde was leading the team and recovering from frostbite after a trip to Denali in Alaska. Geordie Patterson, Jack Baines and Ian Sykes were all part of the recovery. Most mountaineers knew each other and it was a small world as was rescue in these days. They all have told me of this rescue and what memories of the epics of the recovery, most are men who say little after a rescue. What a story of a terrible tragedy and how all the climbing community, locals, climbers, rescuers and Police worked together. The boat came in Coruisk took all the casualties and rescuers back in wild weather. Hamish remembers that after a few drams some of the team began to sing as the tension from the rescue wore off. This is all part of the way team member’s cope with a tragedy on the mountains.
The effect of those left in the hut was one Hamish will never forget and there was great grief and sadness throughout the recovery. Get hold of “Call – out” and read the full account. I have done several rescues in this area with the Skye Team in the past and as WH Murray states that the “An Garbh Corrie is one of the wildest Corries in Scotland.” I can concur that! All say it was a very hard task moving 3 fatalities on tricky icy ground and steep slabs must have been awful for all involved.
We nowadays have all the equipment, navigational aids and even so the communications can be very difficult without helicopters in poor weather these wild corries are still an extremely serious place to be. These were truly hard mountain people.
“I never slept properly for 5 days” Hamish words on my last visit.
There are so many epics in this tale.
Further reading advised:
Call – out Hamish MacInnes
Two Star Red – Gwen Moffat – will give a feel for this era.
In The Shadow of Ben Nevis – Spike Sykes.
We follow in the footsteps of heroes.