From Skye MRT – Gerry Ackroyd Skye MRT Team Leader Retires.
Gerry was the Team Leader since 1975. Over these years, he was patiently supported by his wife Joan who did a lot of organising behind the scenes and who had to put up with countless disruptions to family life.
Tributes were paid by team members at our AGM, to Gerry Akroyd, who stepped down after 46 years as Team Leader. In that time he managed over 1,500 call-outs, usually leading from the front in extremely difficult conditions. Countless walkers and climbers were brought down from the hills, mostly safe and well, many with severe injuries, and scores who had tragically lost their lives.
Gerry became Team Leader in 1972, and quickly began increasing the size and ability of the team. He often practiced alone in the Cuillin Hills, with the RAF helicopter crews to establish approaches and winching sites, which led to many audacious rescues. He borrowed techniques and equipment from “rope access” to upgrade the teams’ rigging systems – this has now been widely accepted across Scottish Mountain Rescue.
On a national level, Gerry was a key figure in pushing for the radio networks and government funding which has made such a difference to every Scottish rescue team, and he always fought in the interest of Skye MRT, convinced that we had unique problems to deal with.
In 2010 Gerry was awarded an MBE for services to mountain rescue in the Queens New Years honours list. Gerry’s wife Joan, and two sons Graham and Mark, have all been team members, and were also praised for their huge support and contributions over the years.
Gerry’s deputy for the last ten years, Neil Urquhart, has stepped up to become the new Team Leader, with James “Paddy” Stephenson becoming the new Deputy Team Leader.
From Paul Challice SAR Helicopters
“I was part of a Lossie Sea King crew in the 1980’s. Injured climber in the Cuillins but we couldn’t reach him due to night & low cloud. We spent the night at Gerry’s (the winchman & myself slept in Gerry’s kids’ bunk bed”
|08/09/75||Isle of Skye||West Buttress||Sgur McConnich||Skye MRT/ Kinloss MRT – Fallen climber with injuries to lower leg, facial and internal injuries. 700ft lower. 17 hour “epic”. falling rocks, rope cut, a scary introduction to Skye on a big rescue. Met Gerry the man!|
I knew Gerry when I was in the RAF Mountain Rescue Teams for many years since the mid 70’s and over the years and was privileged to work with him on many rescues. A couple were really exciting. The epic on Collies ledge above was one where we learned so much and I am sure I met Gerry that night, what a night, The other one that sticks out was a lower from the In Pin in a wild wet night. The climber had fallen of the abseil rope on the short side of the In Pin.
|Isle of Skye||Inaccessible Pinnacle||32’/44220||Fallen climber aged 65 with back injuries. 1200ft lower single rope and 2 mile carry off. 8.5hrs. All night after a day on the hill a huge carry off wild rocks falling and stones only 6 of us night met Gerry on the In Pin. I will never forget climbing down in the dark and the stones crashing down the smell of sulphur and sparks; The God’s were with us that night. We had Gerry!|
As always it happened as always after a Sunday night as we were leaving the Island. There were no mobile phones then and the chopper could only get us into Coire Lagan. It was a terrifying flight. There were only 6 of us with all the gear, stretcher, rope, casualty bag and climbing gear. It was pouring and windy Gerry arrived on his own in the dark as we got to the casualty, by now the casualty had been there for several hours. It was a big lower it was on one rope 500 feet long. Gerry and Terry Moore were on the stretcher as guides and myself and John Beattie did the lowering on a single 500 foot rope. It was loose and wild, stones crashed down as they can only do in Skye.There were three big lowers and there was only a few of us, but you learn to trust each other. The Skye and more of our guys team arrived as we got to the screes we were exhausted. It was still along way off and great to hear Gerry’s wife Joan on the radio as we were on the hill and through the night.
There were many other wild nights in the back Corries of Skye big searches on loose steep ground that only Skye has. As always Gerry’s area knowledge was a massive help that night as always and you learn a lot on nights like these. Many years later I was in many epic rescues and I think we had a bond and Gerry trusted us on his Island, no mean feat.
Many years later when I was working in the ARCC at Kinloss he was always the point of contact and regularly got to the casualty first as he was guiding on the ridge. His clients must have had some day. I was amazed on so many occasions how fast he got there on so many incidents he knew that ridge so well. What a man and I cannot believe he was the Team Leader for so long, his dedication and expertise is exceptional.
Skye is an incredible place easily the hardest mountains in Scotland especially on a rescue and yet the team cope with whatever they have to. They are amazing people, who say little but do lots and Gerry is a legend in mountaineering circles especially Mountain Rescue. Skye is the wildest place in UK to carry out a rescue it is a so serious where a slip or trip is punished, yet the team has a great safety record. The terrain is complex and unforgiving it takes some dedication to be in the team and for Gerry to serve from 1975 is humbling.
How hard is rescue on Skye. I spoke to Hamish McInnes the other legend of Mountain Rescue and he says his wildest call -outs is the one on New Years day in Skye in the 60’s. He never slept for 4 days on the recovery of a three casualties from the Dubhs ridge. This is how hard Skye can be and few will understand the effort involved as every hill is from sea – level and hard on the body and soul. Few who have trudged over to the Coruisk side with a casualty in poor weather will understand the effort and committeement.
Gerry was also a huge influence in Mountain Rescue and kept me right when I was Chairman. There was never a dull meeting when Gerry spoke and kept us all on their toes. He was straight to the point as you have to be at times and those in the firing line got both barrels, he took few prisoners. It did not matter who you were and a few were kept in their place. He did much to make the efforts of the teams acknowledged by the authorities and never taken for granted. Yet Gerry was a compassionate man as I know, hard as nails yes but the heart of a lion. I think he mellowed when the Skye bridge was built yet he spoke with an authority that few have.
I cannot imagine the number of Rescues Gerry has been involved in and the many lives he and the team have saved. Skye MRT are rarely in the news or media yet what they do is exceptional. I hope he and Joan and family have a great retirement and on behalf of his many pals in the RAF MRT and SAR good wishes. Enjoy a peaceful retirement Gerry. Joan can hopefully relax a bit now no more worrying about you and your son on the hills. She will be glad that the phone call in the middle of the night from the Police is over.
The team has changed so much they have two Bases on the Island and a big change from the early years and good gear and training, much is due to Gerry and the effort he put in over the years. In the mountains you meet many characters there are few like Gerry enjoy the break and the family time. Its worth looking at the Skye MRT Face book page for some great comments.
I would love your stories please add them?
I’m relieved to say I didn’t meet Gerry in his MRT capacity but he was our guide for most of The Cuillin over a few trips. We really appreciated his skill and style and he gave us some memorable days on the mountain.
A great man!
I Jimmy Martin stayed with Gerry and his family when completing the Skye ridge in 1992 along with friends Les and Vonnie. We all had a fantastic week and his wife Joan looked after us very well. He provided us with a fantastic bed and breakfast and evening meal along with packed lunch. The food was always fresh and home cooked. We trusted Gerry throughout the trip and he was a fantastic guide and was very knowledgeable. During my trip I would always ask him is this the In pin day..? . His reply was you will soon know when you get there. When the In pin day came Gerry gave us all a harness and I said to him said to him this is the day isn’t it.?? Gerry replied “TRUST YOUR BOOTS as this was his favourite saying. Gerry knew the Cullins like the back of his hand. He made my experience of climbing the Cullins much more pleasurable and achievable . We went on to complete all the Munro’s, Corbetts’s and the Graham’s. Thank you to Gerry for being part of my experience. Good luck to both Gerry and his wife on their retirement and we wish him all the best in their retirement years.