Living with joining the Team. Training and lots of learning.

I was not long back from my epic on Lancet Edge and getting back to work was hard going and very physical. I hardly told my Mum and Dad what I was doing as I did not want to worry them. My aim was to get trained as a Team member even then it was a long process.

My job still involved lots of lifting rations into storage; there were no lifting devices it was all done by hand. Every day we delivered to the Messes and huge wagons would come in from the contractors we would move them into our store, it sometimes took all day. By next day I could hardly move and after being checked again by the doctor, he gave me a few days off, which I did not take and just went back to work. I had bruised my ribs as well as my back which took ages to heal; he also confirmed that I had swallowed a lot of snow as I was coughing a lot. I dare not risk any problems with the team as my work were not happy with me being on it already.

There would be many problems ahead with work I felt, but I tried so hard always offering and working late and doing extra work when people went sick to help me with getting out with the team. My work was so worried about me getting time off for call outs during the week. In fact there were very few most of the 10 -15 incidents were at weekends in my own time or at Christmas and New Year when the team was out training. Anyway I was told I had to learn my job first, which I felt was no problem as to me a monkey could do it, it was a “game” and I had to play it and keep them happy. It was hard to accept but it was to be with me for most of my early RAF Career as work and Mountain Rescue collided.

Now I was accepted with the team I was told I had to move into the Mountain Rescue Block. This was our own Block on the Operation side of the camp. We were exempt some of the inspections as we ran a duty crew each night which we did as a means of calling the team at night. It was all by phone in these days and the Rescue Coordination Centre called us out. The block was a special place full of tradition and unique in many ways. Very few people visited without an invitation and it was full of fun. It had a crew room where we all watched the television and had the occasional party. It also had a very simple drying room which was so important for drying your kit after the weekend and a washing machine, we had everything.

We also had individual rooms which was unheard of at this time as all the rest were in 6 man rooms on the main camp. The senior members had brewed beer hidden in the loft and there were constant visits from some of the girls on the camp, which was not supposed to happen in the military. There was even a big sign saying that “no females were allowed” which was ignored.  It was a great social place and there were all ranks in it, and no rank was used in the block. I was just amazed by all this.  

I was always up for any learning we had a briefing on every Monday night where we were asked questions about the weekend Exercise, where we went and what hills climbs we did. This built up local knowledge of the hills and also made you take an interest in where you were going. We also had a lecture on a different subject every week, from navigation, rope work, equipment first aid and the many skills needed to be a competent mountaineer. This was incredible way to learn and though usually exhausted after the weekend you were thirsty for the knowledge. It was all held in our briefing room which had so many photos in it. The pride of place was a Ben Humble photo of the North Face of Ben Nevis in winter. What a background and you had to learn allthe routes and where they were.

The local sea cliffs at Cummingston were used during the week and we would cycle or run to the cliffs and had a few epics on the brittle sandstone. I was always with my mate Tom MacDonald he was already a talented climber. When we were lucky enough to get a wagon we would go to Inverness Duncheltaig or Huntley’s Cave near Grantown On Spey. It was at Huntley’s Cave where I had my first fall and hit the deck when I fell off. I was sent up Double Overhang a fairly serious route at the time. I remember being knocked out and sick after I came to, I managed to walk off myself with blood everywhere from my face which was cut below my chin.

The troops stopped at the pub at Dunphail where the owner offered me first aid as whisky! I was then taken to the Medical Centre at RAF Kinloss. The doctor offered one of the lads if he wanted to stitch me up, it would be good practice, luckily he was only joking, they kept me in overnight, my Boss was not impressed.  This affected my rock climbing for a while and still does, it was a hard lesson learned, do not fall!  It did not stop me though and we went out for the odd night ascent after work of a mountain nearby regularly we went to the Cairngorms and my first ascent of the great climb in Cairngorm was Savage Slit at night, tremendous learning on a big serious cliff and straight back to work.

We were always back at first light for work, what a buzz from the nights adventures with if we were lucky a few hours’ sleep. I was slowly improving all the time. We had visits from team members from the other teams who were allowed to stay on in the block on their way to climbing in Scotland. It was great meeting all these characters. Never did I hear them talk about the tragedies they had come across on the hills, this was a different era where nobody spoke.

Huntys Cave near Granton on Spey Photo T Moore

There was always something going on, the kettle was always on and all the time. In addition the team had a fantastic Library with some of the greatest mountaineering books, given by team members for all to enjoy. I read every one; I was becoming a mountain fanatic.

I was really interested in the Munros and heard that at this time there were just over 100 had completed them. Three team members had completed and were legends, It was explained that if you completed the Munros you knew Scotland fairly well and would be a fairly component mountaineer. I set this as my objective and decided to go after them every weekend possible. Travelling to a new area each weekend was ideal and meant you could get so many Munros done. I purchased a Munros book and began keeping a list of hills completed and a diary. On the few weekends off I was off with my mate to climb or walk. We had some eventful weekends; with no transport it made life hard. I was saving to buy good gear and Bill Marshall who owned a Mountaineering shop and would come down from Aberdeen and sell us kit. He would let us have it and pay at the end of the month.

Every 6 months we would do some technical work with stretchers, abseiling, prusiking and tragsits. You had to do everything it was a new world to me at the time and pretty scary on one rope on a steep cliff.

Longhaven cliffs near Perhead the Tragsitz in action – Paddy with no helmet.

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, Lectures, Mountain rescue, Mountaineering, Rock Climbing, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering, Well being. Bookmark the permalink.

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