Pushing the climbing standards in RAF Mountain Rescue. The late 50’s – early 70’s.

The RAF Mountain Rescue went through many changes since it’s beginning in 1944. Wales had some exceptional climbers like Johnnie Lees who pushed the standards along with several exceptional climbers in South Wales, The Peaks and the Lakes.

In Scotland there were great things happening with the National Service still ongoing. Ian Clough and his mates were climbing all over Scotland pushing there grades. This was not only in summer but in winter. Terry Sullivan also was another star doing an early ascent of the Bat on Ben Nevis. Many routes by the team were climbed on the Ben, Torridon, Skye, Glencoe, up North West on Fionaven and Stac Pollaidh. In these days some of the routes were not reported and many were lost in time sadly. If anyone has any details I would love to see them. Ray Sefton keeps his part very quiet but he has many tales. Later on came Spike Sykes and another group of climbers. Things come and go in the teams as the troops moved on.

Ian Clough and Kinloss troops.

Every now and then things change. When I joined in 1972 in RAF MRT there were a lot more hillwalkers in my team at Kinloss.. The climbers were another breed. Yet it was great to climb and a few keen ones.As a youngster we were taken out and shown the ropes. We climbed after work down at the local crag at Cummingston. Also getting away after a days work to Grantown crag and then the Northern Corries with Savage Slit being our classic . Arriving back at times straight to work ( no sleep) We had a few climbers John Hinde and Kas Taylor who you would always have great days with superb folk. Yet they got us really interested in climbing. The seed was sown.

There were a few excellent climbers about pushing the grades. Folk like Pete McGowan who had put a new route on Mount Kenya and had trips to the Himalayas. John Hinde had been on the first British ascent of Denali and Alaska. Lots of the troops had been on Artic Expeditions and to South America Patagonia on Joint Service’s Trips, Spoons Blyth and Bill Skelson and friends in the Himalayas and the Alps. One of the team had been with Patey on Rakaposhi. Geordie Armstrong was on big Himalayan trips. Yet in a few years the numbers of climbers in teams at a good standard improved rapidly .

Down South standards were improving with Gogarth near Hollyhead Lou Costello and others were climbing well. The same was on South Wales, The Lakes and Stafford. The annual Summer Course held in Wales cross fertilised climbers and helped greatly push standards. There was a unique one to one leader client ratio which greatly helped. Team members came back with lots of confidence which led to a great push in standards in summer and winter.

Things were changing !

Comments photos always welcome.

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 Equipment, Friends, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Rock Climbing, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering, Well being. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Pushing the climbing standards in RAF Mountain Rescue. The late 50’s – early 70’s.

  1. John Griffiths says:

    I was fortunate to meet Lou on a number of occasions when I was stationed at Holyhead.
    If I recall correctly the first time was when he came over the top at Parliament Cave.
    Happy days.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Alan says:

    Your Blog brought back memories of Ian Clough.
    I had never rock climbed before and can’t remember how it came about, but I went climbing for a day, back in the 1960s, with Ian Clough at Craig a Barns (Dunkeld). He knew Pat Mellor in Fife, so that is probably the connection.
    We did a few climbs during the day and when we were about to finish, above Terminal Buttress, Ian said, “Did we do an abseil earlier on?” I replied, “What’s an abseil?” He quickly doubled the rope around the nearest tree and showed me how to use the rope to descend before he slid away on it over the edge of the buttress, saying, “You’ll be fine.”
    Rope and gear stowed, after my first solo and free abseil, we made our way to the Post Office Cafe in Birnam for tea and cake with others who had been on the crag.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pete Berry says:

    Thanks for this interesting account Heavy. Spoons was the Team Leader (1980) when I was first posted into Leuchars. Earlier I met Bill Skelson at Odiham and climbed with him quite a bit. He was brilliant to be with on the hill and taught me a lot. He took me up classics in the Pass such as Nea and Brant and on Yrn Las – Main Wall Climb, after which he said ‘let’s pop to the cafe for a brew’! So off we trotted and ended up in the Summit cafe, Snowdon!
    One climb at Tremadoc which always sticks out in my mind and for me symbolises Bills way with things, is One Step in the Clouds. I was blown away by how thin the crux pitch was and have taken others up that route many times since. Oh to have those glorious days again. RIP Bill, and old Troops everywhere.

    Liked by 1 person

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