Introduction – 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 Alistair’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!
Things were changing and Heavy decided to apply for the RAF Team Leaders Course down in Wales. He was accepted and worked hard to get up to speed for it He climbed a lot more and did a lot of technical stuff, with Stretchers and things. He climbed in all weathers pushing his standard and as a poor rock climber it was never easy for him. When he was away on the Course the Team and Dianne looked after me and I I still got looked after a weekend the troops were great to me. I was spoiled when Heavy was away but loved my weekends out. Heavy passed the Course amazingly and was very happy and all he had to do was to behave and maybe get a team.
Things were looking good when until he had been told he was posted to Ascension Island for 6 months after this he would get RAF Leuchars MRT. I could not go to Ascension but I was to stay and be looked after; he would be away for 6 months. I was a bit upset but that is life in the RAF.
Anyway Heavy had two days to go before he was posted and he played football for his work and broke his ankle it was a bad break a pin and plate put in. The only good thing was he was not posted away and had to stay in UK. He was a pain and a terrible patient but I got lots of walks. Amazingly after 6 weeks the plaster was off and he went out to Arran with the Team on a Grant. I was out with troops and met him on Cir Mor with one training shoe and one boot on limping about. He was climbing alone on the Slabs, it was scary to watch. Once the plaster was off we did lots of training in the sea and built his ankle up and I loved the water. This went on for over a year and in the winter he could only get one boot on at times. I just kept doing huge days with the troops and getting fitter and stronger, we swam in the sea to help his ankle but it kept swelling until he got the metalwork taken out of his ankle. I was lucky I had few injuries but that winter I walked over a Cornice on Creag Mheaghaidh in a wild storm. I went over 1000 feet but luckily the snow was soft. Heavy was amazed I was okay, he thought I was a goner, I was getting over-confident. I stopped Cornice walking after that. It came as a huge shock to both of us, I was at the over confident stage!
Heavy had to get fit they call it medically upgraded, he should not have been even out on the hill but if he did not get sorted and fit he would not get a team. The hill days got longer, I found I was repeating Munros but it was great and Heavy was limping along and I was getting not far off finishing them life was good. On the Social scene the Team was great and they had wild parties at RAF Leuchars that I sat outside when they got a bit noisy getting lots of attention from the girls, what a place Leuchars was. Team members would take me out for a day on the hill for the company and even I would go running I was used to that after running after the wagon down some of the Highland Glens after a day on the hill!
These days of getting Heavy Hill fit again were some of the best of my life, we went to many remote bothies usually with new troops and always had fun nights. Many were amazed after a a long day at work and 2-3 hour drive to Base Camp to spend part of the night walking into bothies but I loved it, We would soon have a fire on and Heavy and I would go for a wander and find the buried coal and food, dropped off by our friends in the helicopter. We would meet some great people and I would get that close to fire my fur would start singing. In winter we would get the house on some of the great huts and Bothies like the Ossian Youth Hostel and there I did go on fire when I crawled under the stove and it got a bit warm. I would always find wood especially at Sheneval near An Teallach one my favourite bothys and after swimming the river would be given a huge piece to drag up. It was here we met some unsavoury characters and it was on a winter round of the Fisherfield 6 a huge day. We had been on the go for over 15 hours and one of the party was struggling, in truth we all were, it was deep snow and lots of navigation. He was left with the two others in the party for the long haul in the Glen back to the bothy. Heavy and I went ahead to get a fire on and sort out food and check the river. The river was very high and in the pitch dark scary. We left my light stick at bank near the shallowest bit for the rest to follow. When we arrived at the bothy there was a large group of 12 who had taken over the hut. They were pretty drunk and told Heavy that they had booked the hut and there was no room, Heavy said rubbish and one of his party was exhausted and they would make room. Now the wee man was very annoyed we brushed passed them and Heavy went upstairs and starting throwing their gear downy the stairs. “There is now” he said and then I was told to stay and growl while Heavy went to help the rest across the river. It was a quiet bothy when they got in and a couple came up and apologised. I continued to growl.
I was always taken out when Heavy went climbing and loved the days with the troops and it got better and better. I got out even more during the week with troops who could not make the weekend and was averaging about 220 hill days a year. It was not always hard days we had great chilled days with Heavy’s lassie Dianne doing Munros she was very keen and even bothying and she was enjoying it. The New Year before Heavy was given a Team we were in Glencoe and always got a big callout at that time of year. Glencoe were very busy and a climber had broken his leg in Broad Gully on Stob Coire Nan Lochan it was an all-night job on New Year’s night. It involved a long carry off with the teams and we got met by Hamish with beer for the troops at the end about 0300 in the morning. The next day we were in 5 finger Gully helping Lochaber on Ben Nevis, the weather this time was wild but it was another long night but great companionship in that wild place. The land rover was rocking in the wind when we arrived in Glen Nevis and I jumped out and Heavy and the troops did not want to leave it. The avalanche conditions were very high but the God’s were looking after us as always.
Yet that winter on Lochnagar Heavy was climbing on a day off on Lochnagar. Conditions were not great and I was left below Black Spout gully whilst heavy climbed the Buttress. The weather came in very bad and coming off the top with two others young climbers he met on the route he descended Black Spout. The two who were following walked over the Cornice. They brought it down on Heavy and his mate. It was dark when they all came tumbling down the gully in an Avalanche. I belted over to them and Heavy was okay but the others struggling.
It was now pitch dark and a blizzard was in force. It was an epic as the two that followed us and brought down the Cornice wanted to wait for a rescue. They would still be there now. These were the days before mobile phones. I helped route find the way out in awful weather and we got back in the wee small hours. We were lucky that night it was a steep learning night.
In 1987 Heavy was given the RAF Leuchars MR Team it was big appointment for him and they were a great bunch. I only had one problem with one troop who enjoyed being nasty to me during my time and that was sorted out by a big frying pan by Heavy before he took over. He never gave me a hard time again! Heavy was very happy but wanted the team to know the areas we got the nasty call –outs in, the wild Corries and difficult locations. The Team then were pushed into a lot more climbing and getting to know these places in Glencoe, Ben Nevis, The Cairngorms and the North West. We also hammered our local area hills and we rarely took a break. In these days we would get people in the RAF volunteering to join a Team many with no mountaineering experience. A few in the RAF thought this would be a good skive or a way to get a posting! They were shocked but the 3 weeks we had them most proved to be sound people and came back to the Team. I was kept busy being out in the hills regularly and even a midweek bothy and night wander. I always knew a new Troop and had my work cut out helping looking after them. It was never easy but some were very strong and most looked after me sharing their lunch and food with me on the hill. It was usually on the midweek trip to Culra Bothy near Ben Alder and we would go after a day’s work, we became friends. We drove in a fair way Mr Oswald was a great keeper on the Estate and would climb the 6 Munros after a night in the bothy; we had many great nights and made a few good mountaineers out of this testing time. It would be a long two days, even for me the final weekend would include a big hill day, one of the classics, the Mamores, Fannichs, Ben Lawyers or Kintail Hills. It would be a full on weekend the next day a Sunday a classic climb like Tower Ridge, or a Glencoe Classic, or even into the Cairngorms massive days and great memories. The reasoning that if the troops coped they would handle long call outs and gain the stamina needed to do our job. I was always on the big hill day and got to know these hills so well.
Heavy’s lassie had moved to Aberdeen for a new job and he hardly saw her. He was at the stage where he thought that he needed to be out every weekend, never take a break even though he had such a great Deputy and strong young Leaders We never had a moment but what a team we had we were ready for anything and we needed to be as we were to find out. .
1988 It was another hard winter with the team dealing with many calls – outs. We did everything all over Scotland and the young team responded so well. Heavy was very busy, we had a few nasty call outs in Glencoe and also did some work with the Navy Sea King Helicopter at Prestwick at Gannet. They were good guys but took a bit of getting used to seeing a dog in the helicopter. We all knew our way round these wild corries a bit better and did some steep searches even on 4 legs. We travelled everywhere as Heavy wanted to ensure the Team were up for anything. It was hard going but the team were young keen and loved the mountains. I went down with Heavy to Prestwick and we had some fun with the naval aircrew and they became great friends, most of them had beards but lovely people and once they got used to me they were fine. We also did a few more Plane Crashes in the Borders a USA F111. We met some very high ranking USA Military people who were flown in after we had sorted it out. They were impressed but not with our communications and gave us a huge mobile phone that they moved some satellites for it too work and that was 1988. I was in the Control with Heavy when it was getting sorted out and when he spoke to us again he realised we had a GPO Line in the wagon.
Heavy had arranged that on any incidents that he called a magic number and they grabbed a line from the nearest pole and ran it into our tent or control point; We also had many visitors and great days with the members of the Hong Kong Civil Aid Team who worked with us most years. We had some adventures with them and also some fun days of the hill. We also had lots of visitors to the MRT Section and on the annual Inspection as it does everything gets tidied up. When the great man arrived the Team is all smart and completely different from normal. Heavy was running about daft and the Station Commander who did not really like me wanted me tied up for the great event. As always Heavy let me sit outside watching. It is said that when they arrived in a cavalcade that a USA President would have been impressed by I walked up to the staff car as he walked out and had a pee on the tyre. The troops were laughing, the CO was not impressed at all and for a while Heavy was a marked man ( as always I became a legend overnight) I was now happily ensconced under Heavy’s Desk and hearing all the bits that go towards being a Team Leader. Listening to the teams problems and escapades. I was now a Cpl Teallach on the Team nominal role and a party leader, that baffled the powers that be asking who Cpl Teallach was ?
This team was ready for anything or so we thought.