“Any chance of a day out on the hill” I get these questions now and again. I have a friend who joined the RAF Leuchars Mountain Rescue Team in the 80’s as a very young lad when I was Team Leader. Brian “Tommy” Pilling like many of his era served a hard apprenticeship in the team. We had to be hard on the new members it was not an easy time big Callouts, wild weather and of course Lockerbie. The main thing was to get the troops fit! The way forward was Big hill days all the classic ridges and many Tommy became like many a great team member. He always keep going , always smiled and was a bit wild but we all were even me.
This was my first Team as Team Leader and I had plans. Looking back you have a huge bond with these young folk they gave so much as did there families.
We lost touch over the years as folks do but met up for his 50th birthday a few years ago and I had a great time with his wife Mandy on the Cairngorms.
He told me he was up West on his own and fancied a day on the hill. His family are grown up and he had some time and Mandy said go for it.
When Tommy called a few weeks ago I had not been feeling great but said I would try and see how I felt nearer the time. He would have been happy for a coffee but said he had rarely been up in Torridon. It was a place he wanted to come to. He had plans.
Looking forward at the weather it was going to get very windy in the afternoon so we met at 0730 for a day on Beinn Eighe. One of the best mountain days in the UK.
Tommy had not done Beinn Eighe before and to me it’s a wonderful mountain. The joy he enthused all day on this mountain was so invigorating. Due to the weather forecast I decided to get the ridge and it’s two Munro’s done before the weather broke later in the day. We met at the little car park at Glen Torridon and headed up Corrie Loaigh. I know this Corrie well as we used it a lot for winter training with the Torridon Mountain Rescue Team. It’s a good path and we chatted all the way up enjoying the shelter from the wind. Tommy had such enthusiasm and I felt stronger, still slow but I was enjoying his banter and his stories. He is a fierce Burnley supporter and I caught up with his stories and the update on his family. He was so proud of them all and it cheered me up.
All the way up onto the ridge the wild flowers were out. Orchids, cloudberry and so much more to see. The livid mosses so green and the wee burn so clear make this a special place. The top of the Corrie is steep and in winter care has to be taken here. We got on the ridge and Tommy put on his Balaclava and I another top as we headed to our first Munro Spidean Coire nan Clach (Peak of the Corrie of stones) it was windy so we did not hang about.
From the ridge we are in a different world looking into the gullies wild Corries and shattered pinnacles that make every view different. I was feeling good and was soon along the ridge. We met a couple enjoying there day sheltering from the wind and we had a chat.
It was then on through this incredible ridge walk. I was still feeling strong and despite the wind was warm. I had all my clothes on I was glad I had put a bit more in my bag.
I love looking in these wild Corries and we saw an Eagle! The day got better.
We took the traverse path along below the ridge. It’s now well marked we were out the wind at last.
The Celtman ultra marathon was here at the weekend this hill is part of a huge day. The path brings you out at the descent to the Beleach to Coire Mhic Fearaichar a gully that care has to be taken.
We left our bags at the beleach and headed out to our second Munro. We watched the weather and had great views of the the wonderful Cathedral that is the Triple Buttress. We ambled along getting great views seeing a magnificent panorama of mountains Lochans and wild space.
As we reached the summit the rain started and the wind got up. We headed back to the beleach and the gully descent. It’s loose in places and I always hug the right hand side. There can be stonewall from other groups but we were on our own.
I was still feeling good my pacer Poles excellent and I took care on the now wet rock. We got down just as a party we’re starting down so we were well away from the rockfall. The Celtman uses this descent on the race and they run down the gully. My day for this is over but I was moving ok.
I had a wee surprise as Tommy had wanted to visit the Lancaster Crash site so we went of and traversed in to let Tommy see the scale of the area. This crash means so much to me and I have written so many blogs on it. A few years ago we put a new slate memorial up and I wanted to see how it was faring on this remote site? It was also 70 years since the crash and in 1951 70 years on.
The weather was pretty wild now heavy rain and gusty winds . We saw a few heading down but few visit this place. How much they miss this site is such a part of the mountain.
Tommy was amazed at the amount of the wreckage and the back drop of the wet, black triple Buttress made this a somber visit. We spent time here saw the family of deer nearby and headed down into the heavy rain. I thought of my old pal Joss Gosling who was on the Call out in 1951 and recovered the crew over that awful winter. I always think of the crew who all died here.
The walk off is superb even in bad weather it got gusty and we nearly got blown over. There was still views but it was head down as the wind blew. I was still feeling good and we found some shelter and I needed some food.
We kept going and got a battering in the wind. It was really wet now but eventually we got down. Tommy was chuffed as I was it was a great day. He offered to take me for a meal and sadly o needed to get home. The drive went well and I was still feeling good.
Being out on the hills is my life. I may be slow but what a place to be how good it is for my well being. How I needed that day, thanks Tommy for a great day.
Beinn Eighe “The Triple Buttress”
Unseen from the road.
Majestic cliffs are hidden by ridges and wild corries.
A long walk in, views expand as we climb.
Liathach, brooding watches our progress from afar.
A familiar family of deer by the boulders,
They have been there for many years and are friends.What have they seen?
The views of moor and lochans,Waterfalls sparkle in the sun.
At last, the lochan.
Then Cathedral like, great cliffs glisten in the snow.
Time and weather sculptured, wreckage glints in the sun.
This is a wonderful poignant place.
This Torridonian giant
Heavy Whalley March 2011
Tommy – get these Poles out and use them. They will be worth it. Keep loving the mountains and keep looking after Mandy and your family,