Boots,Crampons and ice axes – Some early experiences!

My first time i wore crampons was on my first day with the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team at Kintail in February 1972. I was wearing the famous curly boots a simple lightweight boot with 3 pairs of socks and had never wore crampons ever on the hill. We wore then one size bigger in winter with three pairs of socks, I just did ( for once as I was told)

The famous Curlies a great boot for summer but winter worn one size bigger and 3 pairs of socks.

It was also my first day on the hill as a young lad with the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team I was on a three week trial. This I know now is a remote winter Munro Mullach na Dheiragain and a Munro top and I was with the Officer in charge of the team. Mullach nan Dheiragain is one of the more awkward Munros to reach especially in winter. It is situated on a very long ridge extending north from the much higher mountain of  Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan. These are hard mountains in winter and were to be climbed many times in the complete Affric traverse in the summer. What a location for my first day on the hill with the team and looking back it was incredible. 


It was just him and me it was mid winter and that was a full on winter in 1972. We left from the remote Iron lodge after an epic drive along the track and a chat with the keeper. It was then head down and then along an icy path and up onto the ridge where I was told to put on my crampons ( with no assistance) We then had a long winter day on the incredible ridge and a walk off with crampons on till we got back to the land rover. The views were outstanding and the mountains all powerful. My previous adventures had been on the Merrick, Arran, Ben Lomond and some other big hills but little in winter. I had never seen anything like it before and Loch Mullardoch and the Affric giants were etched in my mind for ever. These were the days where a new team member was rarely spoken to and I remember being pretty fit and staying with him all day much to his annoyance.

The basic issue crampon that were heated and bent to your boots, many broke as the metal became very brittle with re heating.

I was also given the rope to carry but all day loading rations on wagons as my job skinny though I was  no problem. I have no clue what would have happend if I had fallen as there was little or no instruction on the use of these spiky things on my boots. When we  put them on  I put them on the wrong feet at first and they fell of several times. My hands were frozen as I tried to put them on and what a time it took and I vowed to sort that for future days. Later the crampons were heated and fitted to my boots in workshops after I passed my trial.  Many of these crampons broke as there was no record of how many times they had been heated and fitted to various boots. The metal became very brittle and broke on the hill in the extreme cold. They were attached to the boots by leather straps that froze when wet but better than nothing at the time.  Years later when taking new team member’s out as a leader I would shudder at that introduction!

Salewa adjustable crampons

After I passed my trial in the team saved up for my own boots a costly but worthwhile idea getting a great deal with Bill Marshal at Aberdeen and a pair of crampons of my own that were adjustable. Not long after the team were issued with decent crampons after a few broke on a big call out on Ben Nevis on the backside of the Ben above the Carn Mor Dearg Arete. This was the recovery of two fatalities high above on the steep cliffs of Coire Eoghainn. On this incident several crampons broke on the hard water ice and rocks and eventually MOD bought us decent crampons that did not need re heated but a simple adjustment like the crampons above.

11/03/74 Carn Mor Dearg


2 fallen walkers.  Bodies lowered 600ft.  Navigational error. A few of the team had Crampons breaking on this incident.

I carried a MacInnes Massey a brute of an axe and so heavy but robust for us. In the years before a lot of the wooden axes were breaking some with tragic consequences and Hamish came up an idea a metal axe and he also made a North Wall hammer. The military wanted a strong ice axe and that man Hamish MacInnes came up with goods the “Massey” it was a great axe and never broke but was so heavy. I know Hamish made over 5000 of them for NATO and that bought his new fast car from the profits!


The Massey built to last. You could drive a 4 tonner vehicle  over it with little effect. Hamish made a few of them over 5000 for NATO. They were heavy but troop proof.

I had  a pair of them cut down for my winter course and lead the Mirror Direct shaking all the way up the ice a grand wee climb in the Cairngorms. When ice climbing they were so heavy and the pick was fairly straight hardly no bend at all. How mad were we,in these days I soon bought some different ice axes and hammer as soon as funds became available.

The North Wall Hammer. Built to last.

This axe and hammer was the forerunner to Hamish Famous Terror, that helped revolutionise ice and mixed climbing. More about this later!

The “Terror. MacInnes Terrordacty
Ice climbing axe. Metal shaft with black plastic tape wound round. One hole at top of pick. Wide adze, serrated pick. Pointed ferrule with hole. Black plastic round shaft. – some great information here.

With cold weather coming in this weekend very low temperatures due, it is worth getting out in the crampons and how simple are they to put on nowadays and how good the ice axes are strong and light.   Maybe a bit of checking them out and getting used to wearing crampons and of course practicing with the axe?

Crampons are so easy nowadays.

There are some great videos on various websites about crampons and ice axes and there use well worth a look.

Simple skills like walking in crampons could save your life?

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 Bothies, Enviroment, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Munros, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering, Weather. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.