The Old Man of Stoer -1968 – Extract from the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Diary

The Old Man of Stoer has been a classic climb since it was first climbed in 1966 by Tom Patey and friends there is a great story in “One Mans Mountains” of the first ascent.

his autobiography offers a glimpse into the mind of Tom Patey, a man whose contributed greatly to modern climbing. He was killed in May 1970, abseiling from a sea stack off the north coast of Scotland. He was 38. People outside the climbing world knew of him as the only man who launched himself into space during the televised climb of the Old Man of Hoy. Inside the climbing fraternity everyone knew of him. It was when studying medicine at Aberdeen University that Tom first showed his talent as an extraordinary climber and started his long series of epic first ascents. He also took part in the four-man 1956 British expedition to climb the 28,800-foot Mustagh Tower, a mountain that many people regarded as unclimbable; they conquered it - Tom, John Hartog, Ian McNaught-Davies and the legendary Manchester plumber Joe Brown.

his autobiography offers a glimpse into the mind of Tom Patey, a man whose contributed greatly to modern climbing. He was killed in May 1970, abseiling from a sea stack off the north coast of Scotland. He was 38. People outside the climbing world knew of him as the only man who launched himself into space during the televised climb of the Old Man of Hoy. Inside the climbing fraternity everyone knew of him. It was when studying medicine at Aberdeen University that Tom first showed his talent as an extraordinary climber and started his long series of epic first ascents. He also took part in the four-man 1956 British expedition to climb the 28,800-foot Mustagh Tower, a mountain that many people regarded as unclimbable; they conquered it – Tom, John Hartog, Ian McNaught-Davies and the legendary Manchester plumber Joe Brown.

I have been lucky enough to have climbed it 3 times and had an epic on another occasion with 3 members of the Hong Kong Rescue Team!  The language problems and my ability left us on the crux with language difficulties and teaching abseiling without a safety rope. It has always been incredible place to be and I have many great memories of this special sea stack just along the coast from Lochinver in the far North of Scotland. It is a great walk to the Sea Stack along the coast and the Stack has an interesting descent down the steep cliffs and then a swim across to the stack which stands imposingly. I have never been a great rock climber and had a few near epics in the past with 45 metre ropes that left you short on the wild abseil. Also the sea, the rock add the birds and exposure and my fear level rises considerably. My dog loved the days here and always spent the day in the water when the weather allowed swimming with the seals round the Stack!  On another occasion the Stack was covered in foam  to half way up the stack and yet Jim Morning swam across in a sea of foam while we sat and cried on the cliffs. Even Jim had to abort after the first pitch he was covered in foam, I must find these photos. What a place, what vision Tom Patey had in 1966, read the first ascent account.


The classic and popular sea stack (not to be confused with the Old Man of Storr on Skye!) First Ascent in 1966 in June by Tom Patey, B. Henderson, P Nunn & B Robertson.  Now a 4 star VS.


Access notes

An unorthodox crossing

An unorthodox crossing

Tidal and wind affected. Park near the lighthouse and walk along the cliff-tops. Scramble down to the platform opposite the base of the stack.


The Tyrolean Crossing

The Tyrolean Crossing

A Tyrolean traverse is required to access the stack. If one is not in place then a swimmer (preferably a volunteer) is needed in the party. Bring enough rope to leave a Tyrolean in place and carry out the descent abseil (60m ropes advisable)

The Old Man Of Storr Monday 28 July 1968 – This an extract from the RAF Kinloss Diary of the day!

Modern day gear

Modern day gear

A party from RAF Kinloss of Gonk Ballantyne, Yeni Harman & George Bruce set out to climb the Old Man Of Stoer, they borrowed a ladder from the Ullapool Youth Hostel to get across to the Stac without getting wet.

Happy Troops RAF MRT.

Happy Troops RAF MRT.

They reached the bottom of the climb at 1700, left the ladder in place ready for withdrawal. Bruce decided against climbing, due to steepness, hardness and being incredibly frightened.  Ballantyne and Harman completed the climb having difficulty in places finding the route and being spat on by nesting birds on the ledges. They eventually abseiled off at 2300. The sea by this time was fully in and the ladder was by now 6 feet under water. They decided not to swim back due yo man –eating seals who were waiting patiently for the wrong decisions to be made. They spent the night testing Mr Harmans’s new space blanket and a fairly comfortable bivouac. They awoke at 0300 and found that the tide had ebbed enough to allow a crossing using the ladder.


Although only graded Hard Severe the exposure was frightening , the abseil off even worse, not recommended for anyone with a weak heart. The route was climbed in big boots! CLIMBED IN BIG BOOTS!!!!!!

George Bruce – RIP

Modern day ascent all the gear.

Modern day ascent all the gear. RAF MRT

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Sad week in Paris but this is the time to stand together?

From the Sunday Post a Scottish Icon” Oor Wullie”

The Sunday Post Cartoon.

The Sunday Post Cartoon.

From the Sunday Post in Scotland. “Today we join a world united in its grief over the horrors in France and defiant in the face of threats to our most basic, cherished liberties.

Our front page is a message of support from us and Scotland’s most iconic cartoon character to all who value the right to freedom of expression.”

It has been a hard week especially for the French, the tragic murders have shown what a mad and crazy world we live in. I have traveled all over the World from the 70’s to the Persian Gulf where I lived for over a year and in the  years to come in Pakistan and many other countries. If we respect each other ways and cultures in the main human beings  get on well. It is a tragedy to see that the world we live in  today the hatred and loss of humanity.

It was amazing to see the millions  that marched in Paris a show of unity. I wonder what the future bring  us and how we can change the hatred we have built up?

In Scotland the freedoms we have allow us to do mainly as we want. The Mountain Rescue Teams have been busy out rescuing and there have been some lucky escapes for a few. There is the usual shouts from a few to close the hills in bad weather? This would be impossible to even carry out, we have great freedom but with it comes great responsibility. I stopped listening to the news I was getting to upset by it and have a Granddaughter who had her first birthday on the day of the shootings in Paris. What kind of world are they coming into?

Later on I saw a few photos of the Braemar, Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team, Lochaber and the Rescue helicopters out on the weekends mountain Rescue Call outs. Brave people in all these Agencies who are risking their lives for people they do not even know.

Cairngorm MRT in action with the Sea King great Team work in wild conditions.

Cairngorm MRT in action with the Sea King great Team work in wild conditions. It gives me faith in humanity.

A very few will be aware that this is happening on our doorstep in this crazy world but a bit of faith in humanity came back to me despite “Man’s inhumanity to man”

We live in troubled times but I still have faith that good will triumph over evil.

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More High Winds Forecast and wild weather be patient! Glenmore Lodge and the Out of Doors show.

One of the few good things about being ill is when the weather is wild you are not missing much on the hill. Yet a low level walk into a wind is invigorating. I felt the bitter wind yesterday as I moved my old car away from the main Street in Burghead as it was the Annual Clavie Night “The Pictish New Year”.

The Clavie Burghead photo  from the  Bothy

The Clavie Burghead photo from the Bothy

The burning barrel of pitch carried through the village can do wonders for your old car paintwork, so I move it away. Everyone despite the wild night had a great night the parties in the village went on to the wee small hours. I think there was a piper and wild dancing late on into the night in the main Street.  This year I never even went up to the Clavie finale as I was still feeling pretty ill and worn out. Hopefully next Year!


Glenmore Lodge

Glenmore Lodge

I had a look at the Scottish Avalanche Information Service Blog on the Cairngorms to me this is a daily treat and saw Kathy and Dog in their arctic environment. They are all hardy souls and what a job they do daily to give us information on what is happening in the hills all over Scotland . The hills looked wild and storm lashed by high winds and I was glad I was inside for once at the weekend. I had already heard the BBC Radio Scotland Program the Out of doors that is one every Saturday at 0630. It is a wonderful produced program with so many interesting  features. Yesterdays is  repeated on Iplayer today was a great piece about Glenmore Lodge. It gave a great insight into the work by the Lodge and Mark Steven’s  was taken for a winter wander in the Cairngorms with one of the top Instructors Al Gilmour. It was radio at its best interesting and entertaining and so many great pieces of advice on winter mountaineering, well worth a listen to again. Later on the new principal Shaun Roberts spoke about the Lodge and what it does in today’s modern mountain world. I visited recently and the facility is amazing. I was so impressed by the improvements in accommodation and facilities especially where the groups meet for a briefing  prior to their hill day. The weather forecast and Avalanche information can now be seen so dramatically it is well worth a visit on its own.  Planning is so vital for a good day in the hills! I have been visiting the Lodge since 1971 and have seen huge changes, I was lucky enough to meet many of Scotland’s finest mountaineers here on Rescues and the odd course. It was always a great place to return to after a wild call -out as there was always a cup of tea and cake after a Rescue and the Catering Staff always looked after us, especially the RAF Rescue and of course the Helicopter heroes!  Many rescues were run from here until Cairngorm Mountain Rescue moved their Base nearer the hills and we had some wild times. In my youth I even got a few sound pieces of advice from the Principal Fred Harper and other instructors. Later on we had many Scottish Mountain Rescue Meetings at the Lodge many that went on to the wee small hours as Mountain Rescue could be very political. It must never be forgotten that Glenmore Lodge has its own Mountain Rescue Team that has worked in tandem with Cairngorm MRT.

It was great to hear from Shaun the plans for the future and the part Glenmore Lodge plays in many other Sports and how though their  jobs and though at times a very hard physical work it is the job of a lifetime for many of the instructors and staff.

Glenmore now is base to  the Scottish Avalanche Information Service, Scottish Mountain Leadership and houses the Scottish Mountain Rescue Project Manager and a few others.

It was great also to see some of the old photos and their gear out on display boards  that despite the huge changes that Glenmore Lodge will never forget its historic place in Scottish mountaineering.

The famouss  Hamish MacInnes  Terrordactyl hammer

The famouss Hamish MacInnes Terrordactyl hammer

In the display cabinets at Glenmore Lodge is the hammer above

The Scottish Mountain Heritage Collection – THE TERRORDACTYL
The ” Ice Revolution” started at the end of the 1960’s. Mountaineers had been seeking a better way of remaining in contact with steep and overhanging ice. The technique at the time was to hang on to ice pitons, driven into the ice above the leaders head, which was both dangerous and insecure.
Various ideas were tried and rejected and Yvon Chouinard, a Californian and an outstanding mountaineer developed a short, wooden shafted ice hammer with a curved pick serrated on its bottom edge (the Climax). Though the earlier Maclnnes All Metal Ice axes and ice hammers had a straight, slightly declined pick these were not sufficiently “dropped” for direct aid on vertical ice.
Hamish Maclnnes developed the “Terrordactyl” in 1970, which was a short, all metal ice tool with an aluminium alloy shaft and a high quality pressed steel head in two sections with an adze and steeply inclined serrated pick, for climbing on neve or hard snow.
For several years both the Chouinard ice hammer and the Maclnnes “Terror” dominated the forefront of international ice Climbing.

Mountain Heritage Collection

Mountain Heritage Collection well worth a look!

Eventually the accepted worldwide design for modern ice tools evolved as a combination of these two basic designs with the pick, steeply dropped like the “Terror” but curved upwards at the tip like a reversed Chouinard “Climax” hammer and known as the “Banana” pick It also has a medical injury associated with it “Terror Knuckle2 by people ike me who battered them into the ice causing a battered and bruised knuckles  and in later years arthritis but what a great piece of engineering!

Thanks Hamish!

Posted in Avalanche info, Enviroment, Equipment, Friends, Local area and events to see, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering, Weather, Wildlife | 3 Comments

The Human Factor – lets go and have a look?

More bad weather on the way and many who love the wild places are stuck inside waiting for the weather to break. This week the Mountain Rescue Teams in wild weather manged to Rescue two mountaineers in the Cairngorms, they were extremely lucky. It was a great team effort by all concerned and a superb outcome to a sad week. Team work by all Agencies was the key to success as was the incredible training, drive and effort by all concerned and I wrote a piece on my blog this week.   January is a wild month shortage of daylight and big storms are part of a Scottish winter and many are sitting impatiently for the weather to break. It is never easy as in these days of a busy lifestyle time off is usually planned in advance and many are resigned to go and have a look despite the weather.

Wild weather - check the forecasts and Avalanche Reports daily!

Wild weather – check the forecasts and Avalanche Reports daily!

Today’s weather for Cairngorm – Another day of widespread storm force upland winds. Frequent squally and heavy snow & hail showers for Scotland and northern England.
Brighter further south, but heavy bursts of rain move south across
northern England & Wales just after dawn.

Cairngorm Weather Westerly, in the range 70 to 90 mph most of the day. Gusts possibly topping 100mph. Close to or below freezing from near glen level up.
-5 dropping to -8C Occasional bursts of sun, most toward Deeside and the Lecht.
Visibility often good, but suddenly appalling in cloud and snow. Slight haze.
40% Cloud base rapidly changing. Occasionally dropping to 700m during heavier
precipitation, but intermittently lifting above 1000m. Rarely clearing higher areas
Sudden heavy, squally snow and hail showers, perhaps one after another for several
hours. Intermittent whiteout. Risk thunder, mostly toward north.
Frequent snow and hail; risk lightning. Walking conditions very difficult from low levels up; any mobility tortuous on higher areas. Severe wind chill.

The wind here is only about 35 mph

The wind here is only about 35 mph

It is easy to see how many things affect your attitude to going on the mountains. The wild weather and like me being unwell can make you very impatient. It is three weeks since I have been out in the mountains due to my long wait for an operation. I am now back on penicillin so there will be a delay in me getting out on the hills for some time. This can lead to great impatience especially for someone like me. This weekends forecast as you can see is still pretty bad with more high wind and heavy snow forecast.

There will be few who venture out but many waiting for the weather to break and feed their need to be out in the mountains?
It is this human factor that makes us very susceptible to start pushing it in variable conditions in the mountains and patience and  care is needed to take into when going into wild country after such a storm.

It will be interesting to see what has happened high up with the wind and fresh snow and we are lucky to have experts about to advise us!

The Scottish Avalanche Information Service  SAIS) and the Mountain Weather Information Service ( MWIS) give us so much valued

information on what is happening in the mountains! Please use this advice and be careful ” the mountains will always be there the secret is to be there with them! ”

Worth noting – Familiarity with a place or situation allows us to function efficiently, as we do not have to figure out from scratch what to do each time we encounter it. We simply behave as we have always done. Unfortunately, in avalanche terrain the effect of prior experience can lead us to take chances we might not take in unfamiliar territory. No matter how familiar you are with an area bare this in mind.

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Clavie Night This Saturday in Burghead.

Last night was wild with incredible winds blasting the country  and the windows rattled all the night, I was glad to see the morning. Tomorrow  Saturday is Clavie night in Burghead (The Broch) and the town will be busy as many come and see this annual fire festival to celebrate the Pictish New Year! The village doubles to twice the size in this small coastal  town and many come from far and wide to see the spectacle. It will be good fun as the lighted barrel is displayed through the town! The weather looks wild  so it will be an interesting night. I am a bit under the weather so it will be a quite night for me.


Clavie.Final preparations are underway in Burghead In Morayshire Scotland as local folk get ready to celebrate the Pictish New Year with the traditional burning of the Clavie. Thousands are attracted to the Broch for the annual event, which sees a tar-soaked barrel set alight and paraded around the streets to ward off evil spirits for the year ahead.The flaming spectacle of January 11 is led by Clavie King Dan Ralph and the local men who make up the Clavie Crew.At exactly 6pm on Saturday, a burning peat will be used to light the Clavie before it is heaved onto the shoulders of crew members and marched around the town. It is some ceremony and if the winds are high an incredible sight



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Cairngorm Rescue on a wild night – a debt of gratitude ?

Yesterday was an awful day with the killings in France showing what a crazy world we live in. “Man’s inhumanity to man” left 12 dead and so much hatred about?  Later in the day in the dark I heard the RAF Sea King helicopter heading of from nearby RAF Lossiemouth into a wild, windy night and knew that someone would be in trouble for them to fly in these conditions on such a night. ( That helicopter was going out to a Sea incident at that time)

Night Rescues never easy especially in wild conditions

Night Rescues never easy especially in wild conditions

There was a party of  missing mountaineers near Ben MacDui that had called in and asked for help, in such weather would this be possible. My grapevine told me  that it was a wild night with high winds in excess of 80 mph thunder and lightning forecast I was glad my days of Rescue are over. I did not envy the Cairngorm Team, Breamar and the others involved in such a Rescue. During the night Cairngorm MRT announced that ” A wee jaunt to Ben MacDui in some pretty testing conditions. Good result with hill party now safely off the hills. A huge thanks to Rescue 177  RNAS Gannet who managed to fly out the Larig Gru in horrendous conditions, land on the plateau and waited for casualty extraction to their location. An Outstanding piece of flying”

Flying at night never take it for granted

Flying at night never take it for granted

As usual the Mountain Rescue Teams will play down the drama that would unfurl that night. To battle extreme winds and to fly in such conditions is incredible and to ensure all return safely is a huge compliment to all agencies involved and their training. In a big search in the Cairngorms a lot of the time the teams not only from Cairngorm are called out but also Braemar and Aberdeen who come in from the South and as always SARDA. Last night I would imagine there was plenty of people out in the wildest of weather  and what a job they did.  There will be several families very happy today that the Rescuers have pulled off another incredible Rescue in the wildest of conditions.

I am now past my days of being battered in a helicopter at night in the Larig Gru or getting hammered by high winds on the plateau and my thoughts at times were of survival for me and my hill party. We nowadays take flying at night in the mountains for granted, it takes great skill to fly with night vision goggles but add high winds, snow and other factors and we have some incredible people about.   A huge well done to all concerned and I am sure everyone involved will be feeling a bit proud of what they have achieved.

Please support Mountain Rescue!

Please support Mountain Rescue!

These are not lost or in trouble hill walkers these are people’s families, sons and daughter that have been caught out. The men and women who risk their lives to assist people in the mountains they do not in most cases even know is an incredible thing, We may live in extremely troubled times but there are still so many good and caring people about.

Well done all and have a safe winter!


Before the incident in the Cairngorms I spoke to 26 young members The Mountain Rescue (MR) Service at Gordonstoun.

Gordonsoun MR Service , It was an enjoyable couple of hours and you never know some of them may end up joining the Mountain Rescue Teams throughout the country.  aims: to foster a knowledge and appreciation of the mountains of Scotland; to train students as future mountaineers; to use this trained body as a support group for other School expeditions; and to assist the Police with searches and evacuations in the Grampian Region and the mountains of the North.

Posted in Enviroment, Friends, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering, Weather | 7 Comments

Pitreavie Castle – Edinburgh Rescue

1988 Piteavie Castle - pHOTO iAN sTEWART

1988 Piteavie Castle – Photo Ian Stewart

In my early days before mobile phones, it was the trusted land line or the local Police that called you out. The RAF Mountain Rescue Teams were controlled by two Rescue Coordination Centres at Pitreavie Castle and Plymouth. In Scotland it was Pitreavie Catle that called us out when we were at home, usually in the middle of the night and a call the kids at home would fear as it meant you were away on a call -out.   The photo above was sent to me by Ian Stewart and it was a first day cover celebrating 50 years  of Pitreavie Castle near Edinburgh that I signed as Team Leader RAF Leuchars. It was well known in the early days of SAR as “Edinburgh Rescue” and along with Plymouth Rescue controlled the military SAR Forces until they moved to the sole ARCC at Kinloss in 1997. Many in SAR in the helicopters and MRT will remember the call sign “Edinburgh Rescue and Plymouth Rescue”. I went to the Castle on several occasions for meetings and the odd bollocking. It was an impressive place and was the main line of communication on all Rescues.

After the Second World War Pitreavie Castle became the headquarters of the NATO North Atlantic Area, home of the commanders of air forces and of naval forces in the North Atlantic, and the home of the Air Officer Scotland and Northern Ireland (AOSNI). The base closed in 1996, and role as a maritime rescue co-ordination centre was moved to RAF Kinloss. The castle has now been converted into several apartments with most of the surviving gardens developed as private housing (MacLean Gate) and the Carnegie Campus business park.

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