I just got sent these photos by a pal Rushie of Ted Atkins and Al MacLeod on the North Face of the Eiger in the late 80,s. I remember them coming back from this with “wild bivouac eyes. “ Sadly Al was killed on the North Face of the Matterhorn a few years later and we lost Ted in a fall in the Dolomites in 2018.
The late 70’s 80‘s and 90’s were a great time in the mountains for us but we lost many pals during this period, yet it pushed the mountaineering within the RAF Teams to another level.
Most of the main military expeditions to the Alps, Alaska , South America , Artic and Himalayas had RAF Mountain Rescue Team members. They helped climb Ama Dablang Shiviling and were part of the big Military expeditions of that period. Later going on smaller lightweight trips all over the world.
Many troops went on to climb all over the world and bring back huge experiences to be passed on to the other troops.
This was a huge boost to teams in the UK but a bit of a nightmare of ensuring that safety was paramount during training. These were the days before risk assessments yet we were already accessing the risks at the time. I was never a great climber but climbed a lot of routes to ensure I could make a judgement on route choice by team members.
This meant we had so excellent mountaineers throughout our system in every team. There was competition and another generation came through pushing our standards all the time.
We had great times and you knew the troops would never let you down. If there was an accident in training then the military quite rightly had a investigation. I fought to ensure that if this happened then one of our team leaders would be part of it. Our job was unique we often went into areas all over Scotland especially in winter in awful conditions that few would venture in. This was to assist local teams it was there area yet we had to work it. I feel we never let them down or lost a team member.
We had a few accidents and rightly learned much from them. I feel we Helped stop the blame culture of the time and improved safety. We did this by giving the young folk good training and “their heads”to make decisions on the mountain especially in Rescues. Regardless of age or rank I was never let down.
Looking back now at a “Risk averse” world it was an incredible period to be involved in.
It could also be harsh as we lost a lot of good pals. When Al MacLeod left to solo the North Face of the Matterhorn he was just leaving the RAF and working for me at Leuchars . He passed by my house, my stepdaughter Yvette asked for his autograph has I had made him into a hero for his exploits. He signed her wee book and I never saw him again. It broke many hearts and when Ted died a few years ago it was the same.
The mountains I and many feel give you a unique bond they give and take a lot. It’s so hard to explain to others yet to be part of that era even in a small way is humbling.
I am so lucky to have met so many outstanding folk. Also others who give so much and are unheard of. Most are still going strong and are still out there and will be out there after Covid.
Thanks to Rushie for the photos and all those who pushed us all on. There are to many to name but you know who you are!
Stay well, stay safe .