Character building – Bivying – I learnt from Bivouacking from that.

Nowadays thanks to great books like Munromoonwalker many are spending the night out on the hills. In the RAF Teams we used to have to bivouacs regularly mainly to get a trust in the gear we carried, In the early 70’s it was plastic bags and they were wet and miserable but proved the point? I always tried to find a howf as we knew where they were like the Shelterstone before it got popular and so busy. The secret is good insulation and nowadays is so easy with sleeping mats and gortex bivouack bags .

Shelter stone – Photo Davy Walker

We knew where they were the late John Hinde  and the late Ben Humble knew most of them all over Scotland from Skye, to the Arrochar hills. I remember bivying below the Cobbler and Creag an Dubh Loch, Arran and a few other places especially below the big cliffs and crags, even a howf at Creag Mheagaidh near the loch. Coire ant Sneachda had a bivy spot that I have never re –  found below the Mess of Pottage. Anyone know where about it is? Many of the western hills in the big wild corries have spots and boulders many are only known to a few. I tool the troops to these places and we had many an unplanned bivy for them.

photo – Future RAF Valley MRT team leader in the learning phase in Cairngorms Lee Wales and Jullie.

Of course all this was great for the big hills and learning the craft bivying at 18000 feet is not fun and you can see how cold we are after a hellish night in the Himalayas.  Willie went on the be the main man in charge of the RAF Mountain Rescue and a great pal.

1990 hims bivy 1800 ft-

We learnt about bivouacking from that. The skills all came into use:

Skye December 1982  – USA F111 Aircraft crash in Skye –  December 1982 – Scrambled by helicopter to The Isle of Skye on a wild winters night with heavy snow and the helicopter having to land on the road due to weather. Then await the storm and a dropped in a remote Bay to search for a missing F111 aircraft with two crew.

“By now it was midnight we were finding large bits of aircraft but no sign of the capsule, it was passed midnight we stopped for a break, it was now very heavy wet snow falling, and we were soaked and needed to gather our thoughts. Everyone was cold and tired I had a fine bunch of troops and we agreed to search and spread out, it was not long before we found pieces of the cockpit and sadly the crew. It was fairly easy to decide that no one had survived the crash. The ground was incredibly steep with cliffs and broken ground covered in fresh wet snow. In moments like this life stands still. We were working in hope that we would find two people, I was sure they would have ejected, it hit me hard, though you cannot show it at the time.

Two unknown men to us American Aircrew with families, children and lives just like us had died where we now stood. It is impossible to explain our feelings at the time.  Due to the sensitivity of this crash and where we were it was now about 0300 and we decided to bivouac at the scene until the reinforcements from RAF Kinloss arrived.  They took over 6 hours to get to Skye the weather was so bad.

We had no radio Communications all night and I tried every hour to get through transmitting what we had found, there was no answer nothing. We even had Gus at the bothy Camusunary and he could not hear us, we were alone. It was a hellish night, and looking back after 40 years in Mountain Rescue it was one of my worst nights ever on the mountain’s. In the end we rested and bedded down  we were soaked and wet all night with the fresh snow and rain making the ground slushy and wet. I could see the two young ones suffering so by 0400 we were all up waiting for daybreak; it was a very cold night.  We were struggling yet there was no way we were descending the steep crags in the dark. By 0800 the weather had cleared and we heard the team on the radio, they had an epic drive 6 hours and stayed the night at Jethro Tull  Ian Andersons Farm(the musicians farm) and set out at first light. They managed to drive in to near Camusunary a crazy road and eventually reached us by midday. We showed them around the crash site which was all over the area where we had bivouacked. We could not get back down quick enough and were soon back at Base Camp in Skye by mid-afternoon.  We had been on the go that day for over 24 hours after a days work.

In these days we bivouacked in plastic bags after that we got Gortex bivy bags. That was a hard fight getting funding for something so basic. We were lucky that we all survived. I had no kit as my bag was full of climbing gear and a rope lucky I was fit and strong and daft and  yet what a night as the leader of that group I was worried that we might lose someone.

Nowadays with all the great gear its a lot easier but the skill of staying out overnight is one worth thinking about. Remember all the skills you practice may come into use in years to come or in an emergency. I could have done with a bothy bag on Skye in 1982 great bit of gear.

Cave bivy Himalayas Lessons learned.

Comment – Alison

“Morning just finished my cup of coffee and reading your blog about bivving. You mentioned John Hinde who i had the pleasure of spending part of a summer with at Outward Bound Loch eil Ft William in 1985, I did a placement there.He was really into getting the kids from Belfast out on a “solo” which was basically a bivouac alone for 24 hours and they couldn’t move very far from the position he gave them. I was a bit shocked to be honest but he said that they would learn loads about themselves from the experience. When we went to retrieve them from their places in the forest above the centre, everyone survived and it was really interesting to hear how they got through the 24 hours!!! Most had never done anything like that before. Happy days, I like John and they way he worked with the kids.”

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 Articles, Enviroment, Equipment, Friends, Gear, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Views Mountaineering, Weather. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Character building – Bivying – I learnt from Bivouacking from that.

  1. Heavy the 1st photo is of Coron from our trip to the Shelterstone in January a few years ago when due to the heavy snowmelt we were unable to cross the burn and found shelter under a sloping boulder. Great fun!!!

    We didn’t have crampons either so cutting and kicking steps was the order of the day when ascending out of the coire. Coron still uses the boots you gave him and he now has crampons.

    We had a great winter.


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