I was out for another weekends training at Kintail on the West Coast with the RAF Mountain Rescue Team from RAF Leuchars in Fife. The weather was great so we planned to get a climb in Skye just over the water it was the mid 80’s. There was no bridge there I was trying to get as much climbing in as possible before my RAF Team Leaders Course and was enjoying it. It had been a good summer and we had got a lot of rock climbs in all over Scotland!
At the times we were chasing some Classic climbs and The Great Prow was in the famous book Hard Rock by Ken Wilson. It was one of the easiest of the routes in the book and many who know these things could not believe it was Skye’s only route in it. I had walked in before but the route was wet so we did a long climb on the Buttress which was as they say “character building.”
The climb – “The Prow” from Hard Rock – very Severe 380 feet East Face of Blaven first ascent 1968.
This was to be the day to get the route climbed as we had two good climbers with us Dave Tomkins also a photographer and Stampy who would climb the North Face of the Eiger. We also had a young troop Ross with us for an “experience day” he had just done the RAF MR First aid Course. We had most things covered.
The Friday night in these days at Kintail is always a great night and we stayed in the village hall opposite the pub. They had a fancy dress night in the hall and there were lots of hats and masks left when we arrived along with the debris of the usual party that we tidied up in the hall. Anyway in the morning we had an early start and the troops had some of the masks on as we headed for Skye!
In these days there was no bridge it did not open till 1995 . It was the ferry we went across in complete with masks if I remember mine was a batman mask . The ferryman was laughing as was the garage at Broadford on Skye then it was round to Blaven the mountain our route was on. It’s a great drive iconic with the first views of the iconic mountain always makes me smile. The classic Glach Ghlas Traverse is an outstanding day and how many miss this wonderful scramble and climb and in winter a route to task most of us. Not today we had planned the climb we were after.
The weather was great but the walk up to crag is and I quote “Purgatorial” according to the SMC guide. It is up steep screes to the cliff the Prow is situated. A far better way is to descend “Scuppers Gully” by another route but not today. the walk in is from sea level up to 2200 feet and about a mile and a half a lot on scree.
I had also been up here in winter and the scope for winter climbing is superb and the walk up easier. Anyway we made it to the base of the crag the weather was great and we were enjoying the day. The cliff is imposing and the Great Prow an outstanding feature but there are some hard routes round here with few that let mere mortals like me climb on it.
Two other climbers arrived that is unusual as this part of Skye is usually quite! They were two top Scottish climbers doing a much harder route on a cliff that gets few ascents! We had a good chat and off we went. They must have thought we were mad. Climbing was pretty friendly in these days and we were fairly well known as we climbed on most cliffs at the time. It was a great community and most folk knew each other. There are some incredible climbs on this face including at its time one of Skye’s finest Stairway to Heaven 120 metre E5 three star route. We left the boys to their climb and God knows what they thought but they never knew who we were as we kept it low key many days were spent as the odd climber fell at our feet or on the same cliff. Low profile it was not to be.
The climb – “The Prow” from Hard Rock – very Severe 380 feet 105 metres East Face of Blaven first ascent 1968.
As always I was a bit worried but the route was fine with some great belays and 4 pitches one was very loose, the top one but we had fun, what situations and great company and I climbed in my mask. We were soon on the top the views of the ridge are stunning and then we started to descend Scuppers Gully back to the bags that we left below the route. On the way down we heard shouting, not the usual but that call that means trouble. On arriving we found one of the climbers on the deck looking pretty rough, he had fallen off or a hold had come of and hit the screes. He was in a bit of shock and we soon sorted it out and had an arm injury. Poor Ross was thrown into the casualty care while we thought about the evacuation. Now it is not far from the road but its awful ground. This was 1984 and no mobile phones so it would have been a long time to get the stretcher and enough man power to get him off. It does not seem a bad injury but he had also hit his head on the scree was very dazed so it was worrying. So we had put on our serious faces and get on with it.
From the SMC Journal 1985 – June 8 th 1984 – Climber 21 (m) on the Jib 130 metre three star E1 – East Face of Bla Bheinn fell 20 feet arm injury , shock/ Rescue by RAF MRT and RAF Leuchars helicopter 28 man hours.
The Wessex helicopter was training in the area and was planning coming to see us and by magic I tried a call on our radio. There was no way we should have got any answer but we did. We got contact and the helicopter was going to refuel and would be straight over. Now the cliff is steep and overhanging in places and soon the winch – man was dropped of with us on a long wire, we had a bit of work sorting out the casualty. More importantly we had the helicopter Neil Robinson stretcher basic but meant we can now move the casualty. There was no way the helicopter could winch here so we moved him to the screes an epic on the loose ground. We struggled and heaved with him but managed to get into a possible winching position. It was then a pick up by the helicopter not easy with the closeness of the cliff and the turbulence but as always they were great. It was soon over and we were left to walk down of the hill with his mate. Our casualty was off to hospital and recovered well climbing again within a few months. It was a good job and could have been a lot different as rarely are there other climbers on the crag in those days.
It was back for “tea and medals” and then I noticed that for most of the time I had my mask on and I got some wind ups from the helicopter crew for that, what did the casualty and his mate think, we will never know but they were glad to see us.
Crazy days,but as I sit here with my memories and look back a great outcome thanks Dave, Stampy and Ross. Now where is that mask now I could use it?
References – Hard Rock – Ken Wilson
Skye the Cuillin SMC Guide.