The point of Training hard for the worst that the weather can do on the mountains.

I have written a few blogs recently about mistakes I made on the hill. The point I wanted to make was to show how little things can escalated and can turn into an epic .

I spoke to Dan Carrol who I respect as a mountaineer and for his honesty. Dan was my Deputy at Kinloss Mountain Rescue where he was an outstanding mountaineer.He was also my Team Leader at Kinloss well respected by all.

Dan is great to chat to his advice is invaluable.

I was talking him through the piece I wrote yesterday of an epic I had in the Cairngorms over 35 years ago. As a young climber who thought he knew the Northern Corries of the Cairngorms well was pushed to my limits. A few folk contacted me and wondered why we trained so hard.

From the epic on Eat
Five finger gully Ben Nevis .

What Dan reminded me was we were training all our new Team members for a unique environment.

We were not training for working in normal conditions but for the wildest. We were training to operate in the worst of weathers. “As the only all weather SAR”’ that was often when most of our Call outs occurred. We often were going out when others were going home.

The responsibility of taking young / new team members out in these conditions was a huge undertaking . Yet we thought that at the time we were invincible nothing would happen to us.

The training we did in awful weather pushed the safety margins at times. As I got older I could see this and tried to tell my party leaders (mostly young folk) The decisions on the hill we’re theirs and if things got that serious to come off the hill. The big point was that “No one would criticise their decisions and there would be no shame attached to any decisions” .

I learned from so many great mentors. One that stands out I was very lucky as a young party leader we were supporting Cairngorm and Glenmore Lodge MRT in a big search in winter .

I was sent to support a few of Glenmore Lodges top men as they were returning from a search in Loch Avon.

It was then that Fred Harper the principal of Glenmore Lodge who briefed us . Only a few of us were out that day as the conditions were as bad as they can be as we headed out in the Cairngorm plateau.

He kept the minimum folk out due to the serious conditions.

Wild day in the Cairngorms.

As a young confident party leader I was so pleased to chosen for this task. In my small party on the hill one of the young lads normally very strong was really struggling.

The weather was bonkers as bad as it gets. Out on the whiteout on the plateau he was having a bad time with the consistent wind and snow. It’s very hard to keep an eye on the group when the goggles are on hoods are up, wind is trying to blow you off the hill. Even my dog Teallach was finding it hard. I made the decision to come back. We huddled together and agreed decision made. Now we had to get off the Hill. I made the decision and it was full on getting off. In these days my whole life was on the hill, I was prepared for the weather but felt I had let the Glenmore group down.

On returning to Glenmore we were

called into Fred’s office in Glenmore Lodge. I dreaded it feeling I had let him down. He was great and said “ you made a great decision always remember when to call it a day”

These words and advice I have never forgot.

The great thing is we had few real epics despite averaging about 150 hill days a year for over 35 years. Even more important I never lost a Team

member and how many of these young folk became competent mountaineers. The responsibility was at times huge for all. I have discussed this with various Team Leaders of both Civilian and RAF most felt the same .

Our young party leaders never let us down and always produced the goods. It was a huge learning curb for all. Unlike the civilian teams we were called in all over Scotland into many wild areas. We did not have an area as such that’s why we trained in all areas every weekend.

You relied on your skills to keep everyone safe. It is well worth noting this was before good weather reports, Avalanche information, mobile phones, good communications and GPS mapping. We relied on navigation, fitness and a bond between us. Added to that some great people as mentors and working hard to learn the Mountain areas all over Scotland. Add to this a helicopter drop offs at short notice into a wild area and having to access the mountains and the limited weather / avalanche conditions available at the time !

The only way in my mind was to train was to get out on the hills in all weather’s and test ourselves. It seemed to work ?

On the hill you learn to trust your companions and especially your climbing partners. This bonded us over years and I felt is unique to the world of Mountaineering.

Interesting looking back ?

I look back when I had to be part of an official enquiry into an accident for a team member in training. This was a testing time and took a bit of understanding the “Blame culture” that was present at the time by those in power who had little understanding of what we did. We did learn from these incidents and adjusted protocols to ensure that they would not happen again.

Most folk will have their own stories of lessons learned these are still relevant to this day.

Comments welcome as always

Stu Mackenzie – “Yes thats ok and read abd agree with the content. 50 years ago we were out on the Monadhliaths and the weather was so bad, blizzard, we decided to turn back and get off the hill. Next day we were out looking for the party of schoolkids who all perished bar one. So sad, but it was all down to experience and decision making.”

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, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, People, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering, Weather, Well being. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The point of Training hard for the worst that the weather can do on the mountains.

  1. Norna Hall says:

    I remember years ago the late Martin Mackie had a story of taking troops over the Mamores and deliberately leading them back down the wrong side to Kinlochleven to see their reaction. Not one person questioned it. He then hopped into a waiting landrover and left them to get their own way back to Fort Bill. Lesson well learned!


  2. Willie Munro says:

    I often reflect on MRTs going out in conditions that I would find totally exhausting and frightening. It’s amazing commitment and competence.


  3. Pingback: The point of Training hard for the worst that the weather can do on the mountains. — | Vermont Folk Troth

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