My first years at Kinloss what an apprenticeship!

Thanks for all the comments on the blog on Kinloss. When I look back on my first years at Kinloss with the MRT. It was some period in my life. What an introduction to so many great folks. Within the first few weekends I had lots of adventures including being avalanched on Lancet Edge near Ben Alder. I have written about this at length on previous blogs. The team had its own block transport and lived in an old 2 world war hut full of character. Looking back I think my trade did help? Food: Being a Caterer was to me another reason I got to join the team I could get extra rations and we all had to cook and took turns it was a nightmare on the petrol cookers and in tents. We were also given a chocolate allowance (scran) for the hill. If you mucked up you were on the river☺️.Training: This was great, long hills days, this gave me a love for big hill days and planning for them there were few books guides about in 1972. Navigation & Fitness were the key then the main other skill. There were lots of good mentors and the odd one who you did huge walks with. You had to learn all the knots and how the stretchers were tied on. I used to go to the loo with a bit of rope to practice. There was so many new things to learn it was all consuming but it kept you on your toes! Area Knowledge: As we covered the whole of the North of Scotland we used different Base camps every week. You learned the areas by going out all the time getting to know the hills and the landowners. We always asked permission to go on the hill this was well before freedom of access. I was shown the big cliffs easy ways off in bad weather and often where the new routes could be found along with Bothies whose location was often not well known. Fitness: I was chasing Munro’s so very happy to get the big days done. Like the Mamores, Fannichs etc lots of looking at maps. Then we had a briefing every Monday where you were asked what hills you did . Never easy if it was a long day with 7 or 9 Munro’s! The Briefings covered a different subject every week and the team had a huge Library gifted by ex team member’s and the old Albums going back to the early days full of history.

The late Ben Humble and Pete Mc Gowan Team Leader a few later with Ben receiving a team tie – ah as Ben would say. PHOTO IN THE OLD BRIEFING ROOM.

Technical training: in these early days was limited to the Sea cliffs at Peterhead where we did big abseils, tragsitzs and Gorge life outs. It was all new to me the knots and the skills needed. There were simple things to learn like carrying a stretcher back roping and lowering. First Aid : Once a year we had our Annual First Aid course on the station. It was a lot more basic in these days as was the gear. Communications : We carried a basic radio for each party on the hill and you were taught all the bits and pieces for good communications at the time. There were no mobile phones. Pyrotechnics : Again we were taught to carry them and use safely. Smokes for the helicopter and flares that illuminates the Corries on a big search and Ground illuminators that helped locate the best ways of the hill in the dark. Social: We met lots of great folk from other teams. Molly Porter from Cairngorm, Fred Harper from Glenmore Lodge Hamish in Glencoe to name a few Lochaber and Glencoe.

Longhaven Sea cliffs note no helmet.

Kintail, Skye, Torridon regularly called us to assist on big call outs. The section was always full of visitors we had Ben Humble regularly and he was well looked after by the team. I met many team members and you got to know them. Many became friends. Many were superb mountaineers like Big Ian Nicholson and the Glencoe Mafia. Many we met on the hill like Glenmore Lodge who were full of star climbers. Winter skills: Ice axe breaking was taught every weekend in winter and you had to show you had madtered this key skill. As was walking in crampons on steep ground and on icy paths. Maybe it’s my memory but the winters were very hard and our kit was not great. We were limited to our gear and often wet when on Call outs. Even though I spent every penny on my own gear my wages allowed I could afford only limited things like boots that fitted and crampons. Bill Marshall from Aberdeen would visit regularly who owned a shop in Aberdeen. He would let us pay at the end of the month.

Tom and Heavy Ben Dorrian Tom MacDonald collection.

Wages were poor in the RAF and we could borrow cash from the subs that we a;; paid when we ran out of cash. Climbing was only done by a few at that time in the team and my first route was with Kas Taylor on Creag Dubh at Newtonmore it snowed and scared me. The next weekend I was on Savage Slit on the Cairngorms. Leading after my partner had a wobble. I had limited knowledge climbed in a waist belt with the Tarbuck knot. After a fall at Grantown where I smashed my chin and an epic again with Kas in Skye in the rain when he slid a long way descending on slabs in the rain. He also took me and Tom MacDonald round the Skye ridge and I managed them all bar Sgurr na Gillean. I was that tired I nearly abseiled of my gear loop on my Willians Harness . Lucky my mate Tom noticed and saved my life. I was exhausted and not thinking straight. Yet you learn from these things.

S characters Inverailort

There were big winter walks on Ben A’ Bhuird in crazy weather with another mentor Teuch Brewer who was training for an artic expedition. All the time learning and pushing your fitness and navigation walking through the night in winter on these huge mountains definitely switched you on. I did a few winter climbs and was getting experience when I bought my own boots ice axe and crampons I felt much more competent. Call outs: in these early years I did many big Call outs all over Scotland. I saw at first hand what a small mistake or a long fall can do and no matter who you are “nature rules”There was limited training for these incidents and the trauma and how to deal with a tragic death in the mountains. The days of PTSD were unknown then . Often the new troops were left to it as the only way to learn it was hard going at times. A death in the mountains is not an easy thing to cope with but that was the job and you did it. As is a long carry off helicopters were not that often used then and much was done by the teams. I found aircraft crashes pretty hard going ad well and again an aircraft hitting the mountains at 400 mph is a traumatic experience. Everyone copes differently with tragedy I have always taken them hard and would continue for all my years in Mountain Rescue.

We had our own social scene our own table on the Mess and our own bar for leaving parties. We were a wild bunch always up to something on the station. Yet George out Team Leader looked after us and the Disco night on a Sunday as we returned from a weekend was wild. It was straight in to the party of we were late without a shower. Crazy days. I loved my first tour learned so much got two great winters in and a few classic routes and many huge walks. Yet despite such a apprenticeship I had much to learn. It did come at a cost my family hardly saw me as the mountains look over my life. My career struggled as my Boss was so anti MR despite me trying so hard he even held my promotion back for 6 months. Yet it was so worth it in the end.

Just a bairn

I was just becoming a trained member of the team when I was posted to Masirah in the Persian Gulf. That is another story. So many to thanks you learned quickly to stand up for yourself but many became lifetime friends looking back we were all very insular but that was what helped make us a team. Many of our families missed out many worried about us yet we were in our own world maybe selfish but hindsight is great and you learn from your mistakes.

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, Enviroment, Equipment, Friends, Gear, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Rock Climbing, Views Mountaineering, Weather, Well being. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to My first years at Kinloss what an apprenticeship!

  1. Very good reading Heavy! I would love to see any photos of the members then and how they look today as I only knew their faces not their names apart from one or two.

    Liked by 1 person

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