Dog Tales – part 3 Back in Scotland.

Let me introduce myself: My name is Teallach I was a very soft Alsatian and I have been asked to write about my life in the mountains. 

I was very lucky to have spent all of my life on the hills, mountains and wild places. My mother was Dreish another Mountain Dog she told me when I was very young that if I was lucky I may be able to choose this way of life as well. Dreish was an incredible dog a fully trained Search and Rescue Dog in Scotland (SARDA) and Wales, like her owner very fit and strong so I had a great pedigree. She had won the SARDA Madras Trophy in 1977 for best Novice Search Dog she was a machine. After a few weeks where I was bottled fed by Allister’s wife Pat I met my owner a very small loud human, he had a strange name” Heavy”. 

He was introduced to me and the other pups but it was my huge feet that mattered to him and for 12 years we looked after each other. Mainly to be honest I looked after him!

It was great we were back in Scotland and straight on 2 weeks on the annual RAF Mountain Rescue Winter Course. The Course was split into two parts the first at Grantown on Spey at the PTI Outdoor Centre for 3 days then we split into 2 groups one stayed and the other went to Ben Nevis. It was a long Course over 10 days on the hills. Grantown where the Centre was fun though I was banned Anne the civilian administrator and the Chef let me come in once the Boss left every night. This was after a day on the hill this was ideal, nice and warm and looked after. The first 3 days of the winter course was hard, there were over 40 on the course many were new team members from the 6 RAF Mountain Rescue Teams. The entire Course in these days learned and were refreshed on basic winter skills and had an overnight stop in a snow – hole, it was exciting stuff.

Travelling to Skye with Kas the Team Leader.

I loved the digging holes and spent the day chasing snow thrown by the troops. We would also go for night navigation from the snow hole. This was where I could show them at the end of the walk where the snow hole was no matter how bad the weather. Some of the new troops were pretty worried about this but most of the time it went well. On another occasions in a snow hole the weather got bad I started barking in the middle of the night. Heavy told me to shut up . I kept going heavy went outside and he found two climbers who had a bit of an epic, saw the light of the snow hole tried to get in only to be met by a wild dog. They were bivying outside when Heavy brought them in.

In winter on our Courses there was always a call out when some climber fell of a route in the Cairngorms and we were there to help. To a few this was too much watching folk falling or picking up the pieces was not nice. The troops worked very hard often after a day on the hill the call out would come and usually me and Heavy found a route for the stretcher to be carried out. It was hard work but great after the training was over as we could go climbing or in poor weather bothying. If the weather was poor we head to remote areas getting Munros in. I got to know the Cairngorms well and only had one near epic when I went over a small cornice at Windy Gap, I never did that again for a while. Heavy was not impressed as he nearly followed me!  I learned to cope with the wild weather, I was used to it and  whilst the team was training and would curl up into my ball as the new troops learned simple things like putting on crampons, this could be a slow business.  I learned as a dog on the mountains you had to be patient and well trained I was rarely on a lead as Heavy trusted me and I have now a nose for the big Cornices.

Winter Course work

The Fort William phase on the Winter Course was great and Ben Nevis was special and we stayed at the famous CIC Hut I was allowed to climb the easy gullies but when they did a big route I would go for a walk with some of the course who were tired and needed an easy day. I met some of the greats of climbing at the time Cubby, The Brat, Doug Scott  to name a few and most were okay, if not I marked their bags! I was also not allowed to stay in the CIC hut but I did hiding under the beds if the nasty custodian was about in the end he was okay to me. 

Many were shocked when I emerged from one of the gullies and I was getting pretty good at finding 4 gully or a way off the Ben.  We had a great course and got very fit and then Heavy was back in the Catering Office but on the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team and I stayed in the old hut where the team lived. The Team Leader Kas Taylor liked me so I stayed under his desk and the hut was that old that when it snowed the spin-drift would come into the office through holes in the wall. I could be covered in spin-drift and it was like being on the hill. Most days though I sat outside watching the world go by and getting lots of cuddles from the girls on stores. I learned where Heavy worked in Catering and would spend days with him as well. The Butcher was great to me and most days I would get a bone. I would even walk across to where heavy worked get a bone and walk back across the road with my bone. I became a bit of a character on the camp.

The hills were great and even when Heavy went climbing I would go and on an early day on Fionaven up in the North West he was climbing a big route and left me most of the day. They were late off and I worried but got them down to their bags and the torches when I heard him shout. Heavy will never admit that. Scotland was magic and I loved it Heavy was doing his Munros again and trying to get me round them, now that would a great thing for me to do.

My Stafford MRT mates were doing a big walk In May 1982 from East to West and Heavy was supposed to be on it but he could not get the time off as he was in his new job at RAF Kinloss. It was huge walk of 23 days and I went on it and loved it what a trip with of of Munros. The boys looked after me it was non-stop but I went well and learned so much.  Jim Morning led the walk and he was a big softie looking after me. After the long walk I had 76 Munros walked about 400 miles and climbed 150000 feet of ascent.

My feet were pretty battered after this walk but I had built up a huge stamina for the hill, my route finding in bad weather was impressive “up always up “was the motto and the river crossings in bad weather and swollen rivers became a new skill. I had done so many of the hills now and was repeating many but Heavy kept a log for me and would tell me.

The South Clunnie all 9 Munros again.

Heavy was now trying hard to climb Classic Rock and we had some great days though I was only 5 I was in my prime. On Eagle ridge on Lochnagar I was left below the route. Heavy was having his usual epic and shouting a lot and I thought I would investigate and ended up having a minor epic on the cliff. Heavy was not impressed as I popped up above him near the top of the route. We had great days in the Cairngorms biving at Loch Etcheacan and meeting and climbing Talisman. I pinched a few of Glenmore Lodge’s sandwiches that were lying about near our bags. In winter I loved the Northern Corries but got into another bit of trouble when I was up high near Pygmy Ridge looking for Heavy. Glenmore Lodge were on an assessment and I arrived high in the Corrie. I was lowered down, I did not need rescued and Fred Harper at the Lodge at the time said that I could be banned from the Corrie. It was only a joke but I was very upset.

From that day for a while I was tied up if Heavy was climbing and no one could look after me. Many got a fright when they arrived at a route to see a dog and the rucksacks covered in snow. Heavy was getting cocky and would leave his bag at the bottom of the climb. One day he was with a new troop and when they got to the top after an epic winter climb and Heavy’s map blew away, it was a blizzard and black as hell by now. They told me later that they started walking the wrong way heading for MacDui! Heavy noticed it was all going wrong and managed to find the tops of the Northern Corries.He got down into the Corrie it was now very late and the usual blizzard was up. I heard him calling and managed to pull the belay off and drag the two bags up near the Goat Track where we met a worried Heavy. I was a cold hero and Heavy learned not be so cocky and that his belay was poor. The poor lad with him never climbed again!

I came back from my Big Walk from West to East of Scotland very fit and strong. I loved the Scottish Hills but the call -outs were pretty hard. I got to love some places and we went to Skye a lot in late Sept 1982 we had a wild weekend I had been over the back end of the Skye Ridge and had a long Saturday on the Dubhs Ridge , with a scary abseil for a dog, a lower really. On the Sunday we were on Blaven and that meant I only had a couple of Munros left to do in Skye. My paws got fairly battered after the rough ridge and we were getting ready to leave for the long drive back to RAF Kinloss it was a wet day and I was glad to be leaving. The Police arrived and said there was a climber who had fallen whilst abseiling of the In Pin in Skye. In these days there were no mobile phones and if an accident happens and it took several hours to get help.  It was about 1600 and the team had to grab enough kit to get someone of the ridge. I went with them and the helicopter arrived and took us into the Corrie, it was wet and windy and a bit of an epic getting in. After that it was a big haul up the screes and rocks, loose and slippy where we met the Skye Team Leader Gerry Ackroyd below the In Pin. He is the local guide and like Heavy can take a bit of getting used to but he was pretty good. The poor casualty was very cold and wet and badly injured. At the time there were only 8 of us it was hard work to get a stretcher up there and the rope was a 500 foot one. Gerry told me to keep out of the way and they soon had the casualty on the Stretcher and lowered him off.  It was dark wet and cold and I had to wait with Heavy and John Beattie and lower the casualty off. It was horrible the stones were crashing about but after 3 big lowers we got down to the screes. I had to wait while Heavy and John scrambled down then follow them down. Everyone was worried about loose rocks but I was careful. It was a long night we met the Skye Team in the Corrie and had a long wet carry out to Glenbrittle.

I had been to a few aircraft crashes by now as this was Heavy’s job with the RAF Mountain Rescue and was aware how dangerous they were, with all the sharp metal and fuel about. For a dog this is a very wild place to be and the smell of fuel is overpowering. I was in the helicopter that flew into Strath Connon  for a USA F111 aircraft that crashed both of the crew got out safely, pretty unusual as most we went to there were no survivors. The F111 has a capsule like the space shuttle ejects the whole canopy of the aircraft which should come down in a parachute over land or in the sea. This was what the RAF MR Teams are for and we have to pull out all the stops. This was where I was usually handy with the team as they could use me on the crash site as a guard dog? At least I looked the part? The team had to ensure that the security of the crash site was kept until the investigation Board arrived. The team were there for a few days and it was a great place to be but I glad when we  left.

Just a few months later in the depths of winter in December, we got a report of another F111 missing in Skye. Heavy had just finished a 12 hour shift at work and was sorting his kit out for the weekend when we got the call in the MRT block a helicopter was inbound from RAF Lossiemouth a few miles away and would be with us in 15 minutes, it would take Heavy plus 5 others. This was December 1982 and the weather was horrendous.

Now Skye is a wild place to be and the last cal lout a few months before had shown me how tricky it is in the wet but in a wild winter night, with fresh snow, it would be taxing. The flight over was awful we were low level and poor Heavy who hates flying was up in the front, we went by Achnasheen and had to land on due to the snow and wait for the heavy shower to go through.   We got battered by the weather tried to pick up some of Skye Team at Elgol but nearly hit some wires and the only place to land was by the sea near Camusunary. Heavy has written about that night in his Blog but I will never forget getting told to swim the river it was deep and then work our way up onto the hill Stron Na Stri to find the crash site. I picked a line up the hill it was snowing really steep, wet grass with big crags and after a few hours located the crash. It was very dangerous and scary the smell of fuel was everywhere there was very sharp wreckage about I had to do exactly as I was told. Heavy tied me up as the wreckage was everywhere and we spent the night out on the hill till nearly midday next day.  We were frozen, soaked, it was a long night and I was really hungry, even I was cold! It was not until midday that the troops came to take over from us; we had no sleep and were exhausted. The weather had brightened up by the time the team arrived to take over. Both crew sadly were killed instantly so there was little we could do but after the other crash at Strath Connon we were sure we would find them alive. I spent a week with Heavy and the American Investigation Team at the crash site at the scene, travelling in every day it was not an easy week. We stayed in the Broadford Hotel and I was treated like royalty the Americans loved me and despite the sad event we made new pals. I grew up that week.  So did Heavy, it was the hardest call – out we had ever done.

I loved Skye the Cioch was a great place to climb and I could meet the troops on the first pitch of Cioch Direct via a ledge. It would make a few climbers laugh seeing me waiting for them. We climbed in Skye a lot got to love it and rarely needed a help. My feet were pretty tough by now out every weekend. The winter to come was a real epic, big snows and a lot of searches with the Kinloss Team, the worst weather was on Ben Nevis looking for two Irish climbers. It was a wild search in some of the worst weather I had been out in. The Teams searched for days and I made friends with some of the SARDA Dogs and even Jimmy Simpson the Policeman and his “War Dog” Rocky got to like me. I think I proved my value in the wild conditions and I was pretty aware of the Cornices and Avalanche slopes that we searched. This was one of the few times that we did not find anyone and Heavy and me would go back a few times later in the year and search the Ben looking for them.  I got to know a few of the wild places “ 5 Finger Gully “ and the hidden Corries of the Ben, it is a huge place.

It was all part of my training getting out every weekend meant that I felt was at one with the mountains! During this time I met many of the Characters in Mountain Rescue and got to know the real guys in the other teams.  The poor Irish boys we were looking for were not found till late that summer, months after they went missing, they had been buried under a huge amount of snow.  These were huge winters.

Most nights after the hill I went to the pub and feel asleep listening to the troops talking the usual rubbish after a few drinks but we were always up for the hill the next day.

We stayed in the local Village Halls every weekend and even camped at times. I loved the camping but in winter it could be pretty rough. In the Village Halls we slept on the floor om mats by now I had my own mat and sleeping bag, I was part of the team, this was my 5 th winter, I was gaining experience and even getting a bit cocky, not a thing to be in Scotland in winter!

About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer when body slows, loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Aircraft incidents, Friends, Health, Hill running and huge days!, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Rock Climbing, Views Mountaineering. Bookmark the permalink.

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