Night time climbs and walks. A few memories.
It’s so popular now to go out at night on the mountains camp or bivy and catch the early sunrise on the summits . Over the years all over the world I have been so privileged to be there. I have slept out under the stars in the hills and the deserts during my time in Mountain and Desert rescue and among some of the worlds great peaks.
Some were coming of the hill on an all night Rescue after a full days work exhausted but to see the sunrise was always so uplifting. Even after a long night no matter how tired you were it raised your spirits. It’s was to me a primeval feeling.
In our early days we would rock climb at night the “Classic Savage Slit” after work in late summer in the Cairngorms was a team favourite. We would look at the weather and with a few pals climb at night drive home and go straight into work in the morning. We would be buzzing all day but you were young and fit then. In the RAF team part of the training was a night navigation and bivy. The Cairngorms would be ideal for this as after a long day we would announce an overnight bivy with just what we had. The plateau Loch Avon and Corrie Sputan Dearg we’re favourites.
Then the night climbing moved on into winter climbing when the cliffs were a lot quieter and climbs like the “Mirror Direct” done again after work. Once involving a Rescue after one of our troops fell and broke his leg. That involved a big carry off helped by the “A team “at Glenmore lodge and lots of explaining to do to our bosses. Yet this was great training for Rescues and mountaineering.
Then we had night traverses of the Aonach Eag in Glencoe as in the way wonderful W.H.Murray book. This would involve the West to East of the ridge then turn back straight round and do it East – West. I was always telling Hamish what we were up to and the local police.
In Wales there was always the classic Lockwoods chimney done late at night an annual event for the RAF Valley MRT. The 14 peaks would start with a night ascent of Crib Goch then on to a long day on the hills. It was all great training.
We alway every year had big night Exercises in Wales on the Idwal Slabs . These would involve big lowers at night. Unseen boulders crashing down the smell of Cordite filling the air. No fear just another part of the training. It is so easy to make a mistake at night and everything has to be doubled checked. Safety was paramount.
Then it was on to the epics in Skye, a lower off the In Pin on a wet night with Gerry Ackroyd of the Skye team on minimal gear. A stretcher at night down the loose slabs with a casualty was never easy. Often there would be rocks falling and then climbing down after the stretcher was at the next belay. All this was done on a single 500 foot rope and a with a badly injured casualty. Yet we all got down safely the “big man” must have been watching us! We had a few on Skye like that I was pleased it was dark and I could not see where I was.
The Ben was another great place in the 70’s the Lochaber heroes would be lowered down the big winter faces on Rescues. Communications were poor as usually was the weather lots of basic lowers and simple gear in these days. In early summer we would climb the gullies before the sun hit the remaining snow and it was always good training for the “Greater Ranges” The Classic Four ridges meant that me being a slow climber doing at least one of the ridges in the dark. Interesting times.
In the Alps then the Himalayas it was always early starts to get the summit in before the sun hit and melted the snow. Lessons hard won and learned.
So many now go out now to see a sunrise many introduced by the Munro Moonwalker and his superb books and photos. You have to be careful at night it’s a different game.Yet is there anything better than arriving at a summit in the dark awaiting the dawn?
Another pal in Skye Adrian Trednall is always up in the Cuillin awaiting that classic photo and his photos are inspiring as is his enthusiasm. His Facebook page all things Cuillin is full of wonderful photos that were hard won by early starts.
My best but hardest memory was in 1982 on Skye on that classic wee mountain Stron na Stri. We had an epic night in the snow when an F111 USA aircraft crashed near the summit killing both crew. We located it after a long search late at night. Our gear was a lot simpler then plastic bivy bags etc. We were soaked frozen and had to stay till late morning. That was our job as the crash site was to classified and dangerous to leave. It became a survival exercise for the 5 of us. We bivied down in the wet snow we were soon soaked. It was my longest night I watched the weather clear at about 0730 and the views of the Skye ridge plastered in snow were incredible.
You felt the sun slowly warm you and rise on a cold morning in an early December day. You were still alive and the next few hours awaiting the rest of the team were spiritualWe were all alive and had survived in my mind as all these night time adventures had given us a great deal of experience that kept us going through that long night.
Later on when the Sea kings had Night Vision capability we would get early drop offs by helicopter as the sun rose. Was it cheating to be dropped of on the Devils Ridge on the Mamores as the sun rose on a big search. Not on a call out !
Looking back how lucky have I been ! Going out all night was looking back after a days work in training or on a call – out some of the best memories I have.
The navigation, the effort but the prize of a sunrise make all the effort worthwhile.
I hope I can get a few more nights out maybe a camp overnight on a summit like I did in the old days. The gear is lighter but is the body still capable.
We will see.
It is in winter that the Scottish Mountains Excel
No one who has seen the skyward thrust of a snow peak, girdled by its early morning cloud and flushed with the low sun, will dispute with me.
Follow a long ridge of encrusted snow to its sunset tower and tread the summit at moonrise.
This is Scottish winter climbing!
“Nothing but a memory of the wide silent snowfields crimsoned by the rioting sky and of the frozen hills under the slow moon”.