Windy Cairngorm.

Yesterday I had planned to meet an old pal and go down to the A9 and walk the Munros, as we left and passed Dalwhinnie we were in a rain funnel and turned round after Drumochter. My need to go out in such a day nowadays is not great after getting battered by many years in the hills on my job in Mountain Rescue . These were the days whatever the weather we went out! It was the only way to train for what you have to operate in on Call – outs. After over 40 years  the toll on my body and mind is pretty hard, so I try to pick my days now.

Out of the wind in the boulders of Corrie an Sneachda in the Cairngorms.

Out of the wind in the boulders of Corrie an Sneachda in the Cairngorms.

We drove back to the Cairngorms and  I wanted an easy day as the World Rugby Cup final was on at 1600. We had a coffee in the Squirrel Cafe as the rain poured down as the rain and wind battered down. But Paul does not get out much and wanted to test his new jacket out so we drove up to the Cairngorm Carr Park meeting the RAF Lossiemouth Mountain Rescue Team who were off for a day out. The forecast was still not great with the weather changing for the better in the afternoon. Wind speeds were projected at 40 – 60 knots. The wind is a killer and no matter how tough you think you are you have to be aware of what a 60 knot gust can do, it can blow you off your feet so you have to pick a route to suit the days.( Well worth noting)

Cairngorm wind - speed. actual well worth a look!

Cairngorm summit wind – speed. actual well worth a look!

We wandered into Coire An Sneachda (my second time in two days) and it was pretty wet but not cold but gusty. The wind is fairly sheltered  in places in the walk in as you near the moraines and boulder field the winds get stronger and many times I have been battered here in a helicopter as the wind picks up.  The colours were still great with the Deer grass blowing in the wind looking incredible and giving a new view of this tough plant. The plateau in places is covered by these amazing grasses and just now are looking special. We found some shelter in the boulder field  for a break and decided to use the wind and go up by windy ridge past the crag as it was sheltered.

The Deer grass looking so different in the wind. It is amazing how things change in the weather.

The Deer grass looking so different in the wind. It is amazing how things change in the weather. It looks like a sponge underwater to me?

We passed many familiar winter routes on the way up and the crag was soaking but we were out of the wind. This is a great place for modern mixed winter climbing that the Cairngorms are famed for. I was feeling not great but had a poor nights sleep despite an early night in the Hotel I had a busy few days. I was staying at the Newtonmore Highland  Hotel for the RAF Mountain Rescue Re – Union weekend.


We were soon on the plateau there were few people about and were just going to go up onto Cairngorm summit and then off for the rugby. It was a wee plod onto the top and pretty gusty at times and I was a bit slow but the views were great and the hills were clear, there were only a two others about. The last bit to the summit was gusty about 30/40 knots and you had to watch as the stronger ones could blow you about and it is easy to go over on an ankle or worse.

The Cairngorm weather station a bleak looking place on the summit.

The Cairngorm weather station a bleak looking place on the summit.

We had a brew and then followed the path to the Ptarmigan Restaurant, it was awful to walk on and sore on the knees. From here the path has been up graded and  was very windy in places. We got hit by some big gusts unexpectedly at times and took our time on the way off. There is lots of work been done but I still think the buildings could have looked more natural, they have the Cairngorm granite facing but the tin roof  looks like and industrial site place on the mountain. I had a vision of a natural wood building like in Canada made of local Scots pine but that would have been so costly and maintenance would be high? Is this just me that thinks that? There are also new fencing all over the area this will catch the snow better for the skiers, a lot of money is being spent.

The new fences that now cover the ski area.

The new fences that now cover the ski area.

I was glad to get down and my knees hurt on the path it was hard work. The gusts were so powerful and blew us about and the face was a bit sand – papered by the wind.  It was straight back to Newtonmore for a shower and a brew and then watch the Rugby. A short day about 3 hours but enough for me in the wind, a fun day with Pam and lots of memories of past climbs and days. Pam and me did so many great summer and winter routes when he was young team member and still is going well.   It was great to be out but maybe I need to take it a bit easier yet not much stamina just now. Maybe  I should accept that after 4 operations it will be a slow process but I will get there. So much to do, so little time!

Pam in the wind!

Pam in the wind!

Today’s tip –  Look at the weather forecast if big winds take it slowly place your feet and be aware that gusts can blow you off your feet, if possible stay away from narrow ridges.





Posted in Enviroment, Friends, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Munros, Views Mountaineering | Leave a comment

In Search of the everlasting snow in the Cairngorms

In Search of snow in the Cairngorms.

Oct The ;and of everlasting snow

I had a meeting in Aviemore with Mark Diggins who heads the Avalanche project and I enjoyed the drive down from home, the trees many have still a lovely yellow orange tinge. The hills were clear and it was a lovely late autumn morning. We managed to get all our business done and I was meeting my old pal Ian / Ned Kelly for a wander up onto the Cairngorm plateau. It was late start and we set off after 1100 from the Car Park at Cairngorm. There is lots of work being done in the car park by the new owners of the Ski area but I would have loved to see a big natural wood building as the Centre piece instead of the modern build that is there!

It was raining as we walked in and a bit of a wind and we wandered into the “Corrie of the snows” and were soon at the lochans that are nearly dried up. Ian is a bit of photographer and was enjoying the changing light and the sun came out as we walked up the Goat Track that gives access to the plateau.  We stopped at the Mountain Rescue box in the Corrie and it  was a place to enjoy the views.  There was a bit of loose rock about but the place is still wild with the huge Cairngorm Granite boulders making this a interesting steep walk to the plateau. In winter there are many accidents as this area  is an ascent and descent for climbers. This is a place well known to us and we chatted about great days on these popular routes in previous winters. The big winter cliffs in the Corrie were looking damp and uninviting and soon would be busy with climbers after the snow falls. It was a cold wind, hat and gloves were on and we wandered along the plateau in search of the eternal snow and found some near Feith Buidhe across this wild place that soon would be a testing place in the winter weather. We broke down into the slabs and had a wander round.  There are some interesting rocks with definite man made markings about and places where in days gone by the gemstone hunters were looking for Cairngorms stones, Scotland rare crystals. There was still tons of rock hard snow  in this area and we went in behind  the snow where it has left a gap behind the slabs to get some photos. It is incredible that this snow will stay with us now for all year, the start of a glacier?  The snow picks up a cold wind and the temperature dropped. There were bigger snow patches further on but we were running out of time, so left them for another day. We had lunch Ned forgot his and  ate mine and a hot flask out of the wind and what a joy to be here off the path and with the views of Loch Avon and these wild cliffs. I love the ever expanding views of Loch Avon and the Shelterstone cliffs, with the clouds coming and going all afternoon make this a wild place.  There were 6 tents down near the Shelterstone and they would have a cold night as it was not far off freezing. Time was moving on and we had a wander over to Hell’s Lum and looked at the cliffs and then back across the plateau to the Northern Corries as the sun was setting it was just after 1630 and we were in mist and the temperature dropped.

Oct Ned Loch Avon

The light was changing all the time and we did not get the sunset we wanted but we got great views as the clouds poured over the cliffs and the views came and went. This is a great time to be on the hills we were alone and just enjoying the changing light and a few fun hours out in these big hills. Ian has a powerful new head- torch and the light saved me using mine as we wandered down of the tops it is amazing how equipment has moved on so well over the years.     We were soon down amongst the Industrial Ski area and back at the car. I took Ian home, where we had some incredible spicy soup thanks Glenda and then we watched Ian’s photos on the Television as we ate.  How things have changed and it’s incredible to be able to see the day you had as soon as you come off the hills.

The dusk on the Cairngorms.

The dusk on the Cairngorms.

I was heading for the Kinloss / Leuchars Re – Union at Newtonmore straight after so it will be great to catch up with old pals over the weekend. The internet is slow so this may be a bit late. I am a bit tired now and it was a grand day and I am going to take it easy and hopefully get a wander in the hills tomorrow. I feel  so much better than last year feeling stronger and loving to be out in these wild hills.

Winter is not far away make sure you get out and enjoy the weather while it lasts and the shorter days mean take a head torch and spare batteries with you and some warm clothes.


Posted in Enviroment, Equipment, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering | Leave a comment

DEAD MEN DON’T WAVE – A Rescue on Ben Nevis – The Casualty must come first!

March 1990 – DEAD MEN DON’T WAVE


The article below to me describes a Mountain Rescue incident, few will know of but it was typical of many rescues that go unreported.. Five mountain Rescue Teams – Lochaber, Glencoe, RAF Kinloss, RAF Leuchars & SARDA searched for a young 17 year old who was lost alone in Ben Nevis in winter. This was a busy time most of us had already been away on Call -outs for may days, the teams were exhausted, we had not seen our families for over a week “but the casualty must come first” In these days the teams were as always assisted by the RAF Wessex / Sea King helicopters flying in typical winter conditions.  This is an article written by Pete Kirkpatrick who was the Team Leader of RAF Leuchars at the time, too me it is what Mountain Rescue is about. Five  Mountain Rescue Teams over 5 Days searched and this was after many days of constant call –outs.


How could a dead person be waving at me? My eyes must be mistaken. Tiredness and the constant peering into the mist were creating false images. It could not be true, but if it was, by hell it was some surprise.


Those five days had started with the RAF Leuchars Mountain Rescue Team (MRT) undergoing a normal weekend training exercise in the Arrocher Alps. During every weekend, the 6 RAF MRTs train around the hills to maintain fitness levels and expertise. The usual result is teams returning to their units, contented and weary late on a Sunday night.


This Sunday, started to change shape around Crainlarich on the journey home. Over the radio we heard of a rescue taking part on the Buachaille in Glencoe. An offer of help was made and accepted.


The incident involved a crag fast climber high on the mountain. In true good MR fashion we carried the world to the scene, in the hope it would not be used, but reluctant to ascent the mountain with hope alone. Happily, the climber was recovered quickly and assisted off the mountain. The team went to ground in the Kingshouse Hotel on the edge of the Rannoch Moor, four to a double room, one snorer per room.


Monday. The rain lashed down and the windows rattled. Inside the dining room the team tucked into a civilised breakfast, girding their loins for the drive back to Leuchars – or so we thought. Telephone call – assemble the team and report to Hamish McInnes in Glencoe.


Two overdue climbers had left yesterday for a route on Stob Coirre Nan Bieth, and had not returned. The weather was causing concern. It seemed wise to combine RAF Kinloss and Leuchars, Lochaber and Glencoe MRTs members and go and find out why?


That day the teams assisted five climbers from the mountain. Three who had never been reported missing but needed help, and the original pair who walked in uninjured having survived an enforced bivouac. The MRT workforce had put in a considerable effort due to the gale force winds, difficult ground and snow conditions. Another night in the Kingshouse was needed, too tired to go home now.


Tuesday. Another telephone call, report to the Fort William Police Station and assist in a search for a missing seventeen year old lad called Garry Smith, lost since yesterday on Ben Nevis. Quickly formulated opinions passed through the brain, but as yet not for public consumption. Yesterday’s weather, his lack of experience, the statistics of the big bad Ben – this lad was a goner.


Over 120 people swamped the mountain and helicopters scoured the visible areas. Danger spots were probed carefully and fearfully. His parents had travelled up from Manchester. This was not another lost person; it was now somebody’s son. I have a son capable of the same misguided mountain enthusiasm. (Pete’s son is the now a very well-known mountaineer he is the world famous Andy Kirkpatrick)


Mountains are there for pleasure and adventure. Epics are great if you survive. The trick is having the epic only once and learning from it. Was this lad still capable of learning?


We helped to search Five Finger Gully and expended more nervous energy than physical in the dangerous ground. In a last chance throw of the dice, a night search seemed appropriate. A small group went out again. A lone Landrover waited remained in the Glen, hopefully awaiting a positive radio message; no such call came. The searchers returned to their sleeping bags, depressed.( The teams were exhausted and many heads were down quit rightly we were all exhausted and many were getting pressure to go home and back to work)


(I was helping organising the search from Fort William Police Station with Donald Watt the Lochaber Team Leader and Pete is right this was the last day of our chance to find Gary alive. The teams were exhausted this was the last chance to find him. The family were with us things were looking bleak)


Wednesday. New search areas, but no new information. Tired hearts and legs ascended the mountain again. No stretchers were carried. Private opinions had been voiced – bodies don’t need rescuing, only finding.


My team had been tasked to search the slopes north of the main footpath above the half way Lochan. Difficult rocky ground to walk on let alone search in misty and sleety conditions. The area was finally reached and the separate parties began to slowly search across their 500ft portion of the mountain. I was in the top group and five minutes into the search I could see an arm waving from a red shape. A mixture of emotions and thoughts ran through me – relief, guilt, concern and professional questions on what to do next? Satisfaction would only be allowed if we got him off this mountain alive.



He was barley conscious and soaked through to the skin and half covered in a plastic sheet torn to shreds by his crampons. He was alive – just.


During the next 15 minutes other party members arrived, dry kit replaced wet clothing; sleeping bags, hats and gloves eventually cocooned his body. The message of ‘You’ve been found, but it’s not over, hang on, don’t give up now was firmly implanted  – repeatedly!


Down below, the news of the find had revitalised everybody involved in the SAR operation. A tremendous combined ‘Will to Live’ seemed to transmit upwards.

Incredible effort by all the teams.

Incredible effort by all the teams.

(When Gary was located the radio message came in to the Police Station, the cheer that went up when we were told that Gary was still alive but in a bad way, he had a chance, I will never forget that message and the huge hug from a big burly Policeman)


Below, beneath the mist line sat the Leuchars 22 Sqn Wessex, only 60 seconds flying time away, poised, waiting for the opportunity to snatch the casualty and save him an hour of bone jarring man handling. Suddenly the mist parted and that window of opportunity appeared. Rapid plans were made between the ground party and the helicopter. A quick in and out, a difficult winching operation, pray for the break to last – let’s do it!


The helicopter closed carefully with a constant eye on the swirling mist. The winch man descended into our welcoming arms. Strops were placed. Checks were made – thumbs up.

One of the best days ever!

One of the best days ever!

GO, GO, Go – gone. Gone to live another day.


As I said in the introduction it was an incredible rescue and what a result for us all. The teams all came off the hill feeling elated, Ben Nevis had shown mercy this time, Gary had hung in there and been found. It was a huge rescue attempt by all the teams and it never matters who locates the casualty we are all part of a big team. To me this was one of the best Rescues I have ever been involved in and what rescue is all about. This will be one of many stories to do the rounds at the RAF Leuchars/ Kinloss Re Union this weekend. I was in the Fort William Police Station when the news came through that he was alive. The family were about, there joy and tears were shared by all. Cheers came over the radio from all teams involved and a massive cheer in the police station said it all. Big tough Lochaber bobbies had a tear in their eye as did many of us. Words do not describe how we felt.



Thanks to Pete Kirkpatrick for permission to use his wonderful article it still makes me think of these epic call – out and the amazing people that are involved in Mountain Rescue.


“Dead Men Don’t Wave” – “The Casualty must come first” There is always hope. Please share if you feel this of interest?




Posted in Articles, Enviroment, Equipment, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Munros, Views Mountaineering, Weather | 3 Comments

When the world stops! Dealing with bad news?


We cannot see into the future

We all have busy lives and in the great scheme of things worries and fears about the future but many are so insignificant in reality but such is the pressures of modern life. In one day your life can change a visit to the doctor and then the awful realisation that you or a family member or friend may  have a  life threatening health problem.  It is amazing how many say they feel well yet things are wrong, the body is amazing on how it copes, the mind is different .  I have several friends faced with these problems just now and is near to home for me and it brings back how lucky we are to have an NHS despite many of our moans. These are the time where normal worries and problems are put in perspective and all the matters is health, family and friends.

We all cope with this in different ways but many try to be there for those that matter. Modern medicine allows many of us a great chance of living a normal life again where many years ago Cancer,Leukaemia that took my mother so young have made huge strides in treatment. It is so much better that today we speak about  Cancer and medical problems  openly nowadays. I was a lot younger when my Mum died and it took years to sink in she was gone. If I had the chance I would do with things differently. I was not told my Mum was ill until near the end. I was down in Wales at the time and only getting home twice a year.,  My family  decided not to tell me until the very end and Mum hid it in our weekly phone calls. That was they way they dealt with it in the 80’s.  I think I had seen so much tragedy in my life in the mountains that my mind could not cope with losing my mother?

I have become so different as I get older when I hear of upsetting news I am far more open and cry nowadays, but after that I am ready to help in any practical way I can. If you have someone who is in such a situation and had bad news it is so hard. Everyone copes so differently and you have to accept that and be there for them and respect their wishes. Life is not easy and luckily many illnesses can have complete recovery and our knowledge of treating them and looking after those effected has changed so much. There are so many Agencies out there with professional help for those that need it.

When in life we hit bad times like this we have to try to live every day and love those around you, a big hug is at times better than words.

Thinking of you all.

“Life is like juggling five balls in the air. They are Health, family, friends, and integrity, and career/ achievement. These balls are not the same: the important thing to remember that the career ball is made of rubber but the others are more fragile.  You can take more risks with the rubber ball, you may take more risks with this ball as if you drop it will eventually bounce back. Normally this ball does not suffer long – term damage. The other four balls need to be looked after more carefully.

If you drop one of these it will be damaged and may even shatter.

So long as we have our Health, family, friends and integrity we can overcome life’s hurdles.”




Posted in Family, Friends, mrdical | 6 Comments

Out on the rock at Redhthye Portsoy with my old mate Dan the man!

Great to see the big man out on the rock again.

Great to see the big man out on the rock again.

The dust from the last few weeks lectures has settled and it was great to catch up with all my admin in the house and get away from some of the issues of the last few days. My old pal Dan Carrol was about so we managed to get an afternoons rock climbing at Redhythe near Portsoy. It was lovely and warm for late October when we left, even sunny but grey clouds followed us for the 45 minute drive to Portsoy. We soon arrived in the car park for the first time I did not get lost easy now to find it with the turn off to the car park near Kingdom Hall!  Dan had never been before to this cliff and it was a bit windy on the track in but hopefully the crag would be sheltered and the waves not too big. It took 15 minutes walk to the cliff  past the cleared fields, gone is the golden barley and everything looked a bit  grey and bleak. It was a good path along the cliffs and Dan had not been  this far before apart from canoeing and  he wanted to see it. I love this place, you rarely see anyone else. As you leave the path the view opens and the cliffs come into view with so many geos and inlets and a grey sea, then the cliff is there with its lovely red lichen to brighten the day. There were no Dolphins today and few birds just a few Shags and cormorants in the water.

The Grey day coloured by the lovely cliff.

The Grey day coloured by this lovely cliff.

Dan like me had done little climbing this year and it was great as we sorted the gear. its only a small crag so I had a half rope with me to see how it went. A big rope was hard to keep out of the sea as the climbs are short.

Directions & Approach to the cliff at Redhythe NJ 575671 From UKC

Crag features – A pleasant low-grade venue, with some very soft grading. The rock is not perfect, but is sound enough. A good place to solo

The flag marks the car park !

The flag marks the car park !

Approach notes – High tide affects some routes, but most are accessible via low level traverses.

On the west side of town Portsoy, follow the signs to the sea level swimming pool (now defunct – ask a local)and park in the large parking area.  (Dan had been here as a young lad when he was a very young lad about 15 and swam in the outdoor  pool) Walk west along the coast until you arrive at an abandoned target shelter, and then bear right along a vague path to the top of the crag – 15 minutes easy walk with great views.


That man Dan

That man Dan

The cliff is easily accessible 1k from the road and the routes though not long, many routes can be climbed in a day. The rock is can be accessed on a clam tide and the rock in place is covered by a brilliant yellow lichen and nesting sea birds are not on the climbing cliffs. The rock is metamorphosed sandstone, perhaps quartzite and can be sharp and care as always must be taken.

SMC Guide Book

SMC Guide Book

You can scramble down and there is a lovely traverse in to the far end of the cliff, you end up right by the waves and the sea it is a special place to be. I have seen dolphins, seals and shoals of fish at times and on a hot day the sea is so inviting. Normally you will see lots of boats and Kayaks on this coast but not today.

It was a grey day but no wind sheltered by the cliff

It was a grey day but no wind sheltered by the cliff

The climbing is really fun and though short the routes the situation is so special with the sea and the noise of the waves and the gurgling sea on the massive boulders in the geo, making a unique and incredible noise as the tide comes in and out. I enjoy it here but you still have to watch with the odd brittle hold and fluted features provide good climbing in the easy to middle grade routes. We climbed on the Plateau face which is usually in the sun and protected from the wind and the yellow lichen was so colourful even though it was a dull day.

The big man likes this place.

The big man likes this place.

It was fun to be out with Dan a great pal from many years, he still ensures you have a great safe day and the old harness check and safety checks are a reminder of past days and always worth doing. The crag is ideal for a fun day the rock is fairly good with great rock protection and so colourful on the rock and with the sea lapping at your feet a great place to be. During the day we chatted about lots of things from the earthquakes in Pakistan where we climbed on Diran in the Himalayas on the RAF MR 50 th Anniversary and Everest in 2001. The tragedy to a country especially in the mountain areas that has so little is so trgic and we wonder how the local pals some of the porters and our Sirdar Jabed is as the earthquake was near where he lives?  Yet we had lots of great days with true mountain companions and memories never to be forgotten of special days.

A contented old man out with the man again.

A contented old man out with the man again.

It was time to go and after 3 routes we headed home, Dan I think liked the crag and said he would be back hopefully with me. We planned a few things for the winter now I am feeling better, every day I feel stronger and what a difference a year makes after a long illness. It was great to be out and we managed a short afternoon and what a joy to be back among the rock and the sea in such a place.

Health, family and friends are so important in life and days like that make the oncoming of the dark nights long winter nights a bit more acceptable.


It was a joy to get out again and this weekend I am down at Newtonmore for the RAF Mountain Rescue Reunion and will see many old pals and get a day on the hills all being well.

Today’s tip – When climbing always check your buddies harness  and when you abseil final checks, screw gates, belays no matter who your with.

“Life is like juggling five balls in the air. They are Health, family, friends, and integrity, and career/ achievement. These balls are not the same: the important thing to remember that the career ball is made of rubber but the others are more fragile.  You can take more risks with the rubber ball, you may take more risks with this ball as if you drop it will eventually bounce back. Normally this ball does not suffer long – term damage. The other four balls need to be looked after more carefully. If you drop one of these it will be damaged and may even shatter. So long as we have our Health, family, friends and integrity we can overcome life’s hurdles.”

 2015 Oct Redhythe Heavy



Posted in Enviroment, mountain safety, Rock Climbing, Weather, Wild life | Leave a comment

Rescue in Skye a great effort by 3 teams and various agencies. Its Head – torch time on the hills.

After all the politics  in the last few blogs it is great to see that the Mountain Rescue Teams are as always helping those in trouble on our mountains. Cairngorm MRT were out at the weekend as well so the job goes on and there is little media interest in these very successful  call – outs?

Skye in a misty day never easy and at night hard going.

Skye in a misty day never easy and at night hard going.

This is from the Kintail Mountain Rescue Face book page.

Call Out 23/10/15
“A call from Police Scotland was received just after 5pm to assist Skye MRT who were dealing with an incident where a female in a group who were near the summit of Sgurr an Fheadain had fallen and suffered a serious leg injury at about 1pm. With very poor conditions a coastguard helicopter was unable to approach the scene leaving Skye MRT to lower then carry the casualty back out.
Kintail members met the Skye team soon after they had got out of Coire a Tairneilear and were soon joined by members of the RAF MRT from Lossiemouth.
The casualty was met at the roadside by an ambulance shortly after 10pm.”

Great co – operation by all the teams with a successful outcome and very little said in the media. A huge well done to all concerned and hopefully the casualty is on the way to a successful  recovery.

Heavy’s winter tips – Head – Torch and batteries.

Winter time means shortage of daylight from now on and with the clocks going back there is less time available on the hill in day light and watch how many get caught out. A head torch is essential for winter walking as is spare batteries and checking your equipment every time you go out. It is easy to get caught out and without light you can have big problems. There are so many head – torches available just now so ensure you have one  that works. A phone has very limited use as a torch and will drain the batteries quickly. I carry two one as a spare they are light and cheap. It makes sense and could save you in the end. It is also worth walking in the dark and seeing how different it is, to me it is a skill in its own. Everything is slower, even walking by  torch-light, navigating the map and compass is harder to see and it all takes a lot more time, this is worth a practice in a safe place.

Navigation at night impossible without a serviceable head. Have you got yours torch.

Navigation at night impossible without a serviceable head. Have you got yours torch.

Well worth thinking about?

A bit more – From Tilly lamps to head – torches.

It is hard to believe that on one of my early call outs in 1974 in March on Ben Nevis I was on a tragic search at night for a young couple who had wandered into 5 finger Gully on Ben Nevis. I was given a tilly to search with and was in the Gully when a then well-known Lochaber Team Member Willie Anderson who saw it took it off me as I was really struggling on the steep ground, took it off me and threw it away. I was worried about how I would explain that to my Team Leader? I have been there on several other occasions in 5 finger Gully and never found it and apologise for leaving litter on the hill. I wonder what future Mountaineering archaeologists will make of a Tilly in 5 finger gully.  After that I purchased a decent head torch as the issue one was pretty poor. In Mountain Rescue you do a lot of Rescues and train at night a head torch is essential and there have been a few disasters on this piece of gear over the years. At RAF Valley in North Wales during a time when money was tight late 70’s MOD in its wisdom bought cheap batteries for our head torches that fell apart on a night rescue high on the Idwal Slabs. I was the Deputy Team Leader at the time and sent of a powerful signal to the powers that be about the procurement of such rubbish. That was the last signal I was to send for a time as it ruffled so many in the Supply Branch at the time but we got descent batteries after that.   The marvellous improvement in head torches and lighting for personal and Rescue use is incredible. Tales of climbers climbing in a wild winter night with a torch in their teeth as they climbed some of the big routes in the ebbing light and moonlight are legend.

Tilly Lamp

Tilly Lamp

After seeing the recent pictures of Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team on call outs this winter with their powerful headlights is a huge improvement from the early days. Each rescuer is in their own world of snow and a pool of light it is surreal and impressive. I try to keep up with all the changes and the costs of some of these head torches are incredible some are over £300. I have tried so many the famous “Sharks Eye” with 6  heavy batteries that lasted about 2 hours was incredible but it was hand-held and not much use when searching very steep ground.  We also did some test with Hamish MacIness  and a huge Military Searchlight in Glencoe millions of Candle power how many remember that night?

A head torch is a vital addition to a winter hill bag and I always carry a spare so often I have had to give mine away to some poor or stupid person who does not carry one or has not checked it for some time and the batteries are flat. Always check your head torch and ensure it is working. Try walking at night and see how tricky it is, imagine that without one?

Get that torch sorted.


From the Mountain Heritage Collection. An invaluable source of information.

Scottish Mountain Heritage Collection

Scottish Mountain Heritage Collection

Fernand Petzl was a caver who had a desire to improve the equipment being used by himself and his pals in the 1920’s and 30’s. Along with a guy called Pierre Chevalier, he produced various items of innovative gear throughout the 50’s and 60’s. and in 1973 Produits Fernand Petzl produced their first mountaineering headlamp. Various forms of lanterns, torches, headlamps and the like had been around for centuries, but Petzl headlamps brought a certain sanity to moving around in the mountains at night.
Not quite sure how early, but the one we have here in the collection must be a fairly early one as it has an on/off switch predating the zoom version which appeared in 1981 ( twisting off the zoom facility incorporated the on/off switch)
This particular headlamp belonged to Mick Tighe and was used for many years in his Mountain Guiding Company, Nevis Guides.

Posted in Charity, Enviroment, Equipment, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering, Weather, Wild life | Leave a comment

A few thoughts after the Mountain Rescue Conference – “All the matters is that the casualty comes first”

It was at the weekend  as I have mentioned I was asked to speak at the Mountain Rescue Conference, I met many old friends and it was great to see so many young people involved so full of enthusiasm. That chat/ lecture was to celebrate 50 years of Mountain Rescue and I found it was very hard to put together and I spent a long time on it. I was given great help from many others with use of their photos and thoughts and tried to put a view across that covered much of the history and some of those who put together this great organisation.

I spent the best part of 40 years in the teams, mostly it was with the RAF Mountain Rescue where I held a full-time position for many years. In the RAF we had few worries the gear and equipment was supplied by MOD and though at the time we moaned we achieved a great thing but we also gave a so much in return. Few in the MOD hierarchy appreciated what they had until a Lockerbie or another aircraft disaster occurred and I unfortunately went to many in my time. In the later years MOD bureaucracy took over and though I love the RAF  Mountain Rescue it has changed beyond all recognition. As it times as with the military you ended up with more Bosses than troops.  Yet those in the three RAF Teams that remain are the same type of people and get on with the job. It is so similar to what I joined all the years ago and I am very proud of what they do, despite having so many hoops to jump through.

Change is never easy and must come but it must be managed carefully by those in charge?

I have watched the Civilian Scottish Mountain Rescue develop as well over the years and  managed to play a small part, during my spell with the Executive helping  developing the idea of government funding and the incredible sponsorship by the Order Of St John. It is hard to believe that a few were  against it at the time but the rewards especially for the casualty ( and that is what it is all about) is there for all to see. The benefits are are  a more professional service and the SAR world has moved on so much. I wrote at length in my Blog about this a few days ago.

Cost of gear

Cost of gear

I was approached by many at the Conference who are really worried that Mountain Rescue in Scotland may be reaching a crisis. Things have changed one-third of the incidents that the teams are involved on  are on – mountaineering looking for vulnerable people who societies changes have brought to every town and village in Scotland. In my view this is an important part of a caring society  that Scotland is and who with all the training the Mountain Rescue has could refuse a search for a lost child or vulnerable person from your locality? The Police sadly do not have the resources and the Teams and SARDA have filled this vacuum for many years, so many are alive today thanks to these efforts.  There seem to be a thought  that Mountain Rescue is losing its way but to me it is a natural progression as times change. Teams have always helped in natural disasterS such as snow and weather blocking roads, people stranded, train crashes in remote areas and floods, it was accepted by all that Mountain Rescue would help  and is now called “Resilience” by the Government.  Mountain Rescue plays a big part in these plans.

Teams have taken Government Funding nowadays and though not a lot £312000 ? in 2013 is a great help especially to the smaller teams with little local population.  Teams like Assynt, Torridon and others rely on this as do many of the others in the Borders and all over Scotland. Few teams have huge financial support and everything is raised by fund-raising and of course the great work of the Order Of St John the main sponsor.

Change is never easy to manage and as Mountain Rescue changes so must attitudes. Mountain Rescue is an incredible brand in the modern world. It is made up of unpaid volunteers a unique and a proffesional bunch of people who risk their lives often for people they do not know.  The 27 teams despite the many differences all have unique areas all with specific problems and areas of expertise. Yet united the Mountain Rescue Teams offer an incredible service to the public, this has been built up over the years by so many incredible events and the best asset is our team members.  I hope any decisions taken at the next Mountain Rescue Meeting are to improve the system for the future and for everyone involved. Each Teams area of expertise is so  important. It could be your son daughter, grandchild, relative  or friend that needs help in a mountain, difficult terrain or in a rural environment. The teams have excellent training and resources fought for over the years by many to make a huge difference and help others. In this society that at times cares for little but themselves it is a wonderful attribute to have saved so many lives. These are changing days but  what impressed me was the thoughts of many of the audience at my chat was the younger members who just want to help the casualty and help others. Things do not change. It was a privileged to speak and pass on my personal thoughts.

The Casualty Must come first!

The Casualty Must come first!

Maybe I should not have written this piece as I am no longer active in Mountain Rescue but I do care deeply for this unique system. Be careful what you wish for and I hate to use the slogan “but you are stronger together” and what you have worked so hard for over so many years by so many please do not throw it away.

As the old saying goes all that matters is the casualty, we must never forget that.

I would appreciate any comments and hope if you can you share my thoughts and views.

Posted in Charity, Family, Friends, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Views Mountaineering, Views political | 6 Comments