Mountaineering History The old Abseil posts on Carn Mor Dearg

Nearly 10 years ago I wrote this “The mountaineering press tells us that the Abseil posts from Carn Mor Dearg into Coire Leis have been removed. The eight abseil posts leading down from the Carn Mor Dearg arête into Coire Leis on the north side of Ben Nevis have been removed. The majority of the poles had fallen into disrepair and were unsafe to use. The highest abseil post provided a useful navigation aid and is to be replaced by a two metre high cairn that will be constructed in the same style as the other navigation cairns which currently exist across the summit plateau.

The old posts now gone.

This cairn will mark the top of the obvious descent line into Coire Leis in poor visibility. The cairn will be constructed by the landowners, The John Muir Trust. The cairn is expected to be in place by the end of July 2014 and will be located at Grid Reference NN 17078 71000

The marker ‘flag’ and pole at the top of No. 4 Gully (a popular grade 1 descent route in winter) has been removed and is also going to be replaced with a two metre high navigation cairn. This work is also expected to be completed by the end of July 2014. This is an extract from the John Muir Trust website and various other places.

Building the cairn.

2014 – ‘The Coire Leis abseil posts were originally installed in the 1960s by members of RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team. The majority of them had long since fallen into disrepair and were unsafe to use. Some were right over on their sides’ says Heather Morning, Mountain Safety Advisor of the MCofS. ‘I was up with a small team of RAF folk yesterday to finish the job. We carried the posts and other debris down to the CIC hut, from where they were airlifted out.

The Trust and MCofS relies on the help of volunteers to undertake this sort of work. A window of good weather at the end of May allowed MCofS to mobilise a group of volunteers and some members of the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team to remove the Coire Leis post. The Number 4 Gully marker was removed at the same time.

The Coire Leis post will be replaced by a 2-metre high cairn, while the Number 4 Gully Marker will be re-instated as a 1.5 metre cairn with ‘No.4’ incised on the cap stone. This will make the marker stable and less prone to vandalism and maintenance in the future. Work will begin to build the cairns as soon as possible over the next couple of months.

John Hinde

The original abseil posts were put up in 1964 by RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue after several bad accidents in the area but as the report above states had fallen into disrepair. Accidents in this area were fairly common especially descending from the summit to the Carn Mor Dearg arete in the early 50′ and 60’s. In 1954 there was a terrible accident when 5 walkers from Royal Naval Station Fulmar (Lossiemouth) fell/ glissaded over the North East Buttress on 19 December 1954, all were killed and it was a tragic recovery by the locals and RAF Kinloss MR. Just after this accident local Mountaineer and Rescuer Doctor Donald Duff arranged for some poles to placed on the descent to assist mountaineers on finding the descent to the Carn Mor Dearg Arete. This was in the days of basic maps, no Gps and basic equipment. It is very hard when you are at the sharp end of tragedies on the mountains, any ideas or views to try to stop such accidents are all worth looking at. It was quiet good that the RAF Kinloss Team assisted in clearing up the site last week. John Hinde and Hamish MacInnes told me the tales of carry gallons of water from the Corrie to mix the cement high on the ridge.

ABSEIL POSTS, Coire Leis – John Hinde from his dairies a great read. Sun 21 June 64

“Liaison with Leuchars helicopter and Hamish MacInnes and some of his Glencoe rescue team. Lochaber and TA also helped. We had some people staying in the CIC Hut who went early on to the Carn Mor Dearg arete and radioed weather conditions for the helicopter. In all we flew three loads of cement, sand, water and the aluminium alloy abseil posts to within 500 vertical feet of the arete, on south side, and eight members of the team including me. The weather was good and we spent the rest of the afternoon sweating as we carried most of the loads up to a cache on the arete. The 8 men were flown up in two flights independently of the loads.

Descent by SSE Ridge of Ben Nevis to col of Meall Cumhann and then to the car park. We have arranged with Hamish to get the posts fixed on Sun 5 July.

Sun 5 July 64

Clear calm weather in hot sunshine on the Carn Mor Dearg arete of Ben Nevis. 15 of the team with Hamish MacInnes and Dave Crabbe of Dundee. We completed the carrying of all the materials for the abseil posts which we almost finished on 21 June. There were only six drums of water left to carry up from 3,100 ft. We mixed cement and sited all seven posts and completed the job by cementing them in place, firmly we hope. They may last for years but we shall have to check during the winter to make sure they still protrude far enough from the snow slopes. It should be quite easy to extend them. We went up and down from the Glen Nevis car park by the waterfalls of the Allt Coire Eoghainn.”

I wrote this at the time: “Whatever your views on the removal and the addition of the abseil posts and other cairns, that are in the mountains, views can be very varied, whether for or against. I at times worry about the elitism of some mountaineers and their views at times towards these. I for one have been glad to see them and other landmarks like the cairn on 1141 on the Cairngorm plateau on a wild day have been a lifesaver for me and great to see on a few climbs and rescues. This that is only my point of view. I am sure there are a few others who feel the same also but some that feel that they are that good they never need any assistance or help?”

Worth remembering?


Please note the abseil post are not longer there !

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 Articles, Gear, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, SMC/SMT, Views Mountaineering, Well being. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Mountaineering History The old Abseil posts on Carn Mor Dearg

  1. Alan Halewood says:

    The No.4 post has a wee story too. One day I was heading to Ledge Route having come up Tower Ridge and noticed the post was missing. I peered down No.4 Gully and someone had tossed it down about 30m. I scrambled down and towed it back up (heavy with rotten cement around the base) and replanted it in the shallow cairn where it had been. Originally it was cemented in place and was often used as an abseil anchor but now it only had the stones I piled around the base to hold it in place so I let MScot, JMT and as much of the wider climbing community as possible know, through social media, that it wasn’t particularly secure. I didn’t have much of an opinion as to whether the post should be there or not but did feel it was wrong for someone to take a unilateral decision and lob it down the gully. After that JMT did a survey asking people if they felt there should be a marker there and then the new cairn was installed on the base of the old one (which seems to provide a home for a couple of rare plants… perhaps due to climbers fertilising the spot with urine).


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