Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Tales from the Coffee Shop

Willie Elliot new Glencoe intimately as a shepherd.  Saved many lives by just keeping an eye on  cars, lights and using his "glass" ie stalking telescope

Pre SAIS these boards were at Alltnafeidh, Coire Lochan Lay bye and  Achnambeith. Hamish would  phone Willie Elliot who would update the info based on the avalanche hazard.  Note Sonic Boom - Concorde was flying test flights!
I get out for a walk as off on the sick and make a point of dropping into the coffee shop to meet up with the mountain legend or two that stops in there each day. Sometimes it's very funny with tales of their exploits that are unknown, or last weekend being put in my place when they regale tales of my own less than perfect performances or epics.

The Old Fox. 3 injured from Twisting Gully Avlx

Last Saturday Hamish told a tale to the gathered group about one of my first rescues when I was about 16 or 17.  A climber had fallen off the crux pitch of Clachaig Gully at "The Ramp" which is the pitch immediately after The Great Cave.  Hamish and I arrived at base which was the Clachaig hotel before anyone else, so he said "you better come with me" and off we trotted up the path (steep and tiring if a short walk) to the flat above the cave pitch.  At that time there was a well worn if very steep path/scramble into the base of the pitch and we used this to get in.  Hamish then soloed up the cave pitch and around and I had to follow.  I remember shitting it to this day.  We got to the injured leader who had a broken arm, jaw and leg and was in a lot of pain.  Hamish asked me to look after the casualty while he looked for the biggest tree he could find above and was shouting to the other lads on the path that we would cable way him out from a tree.  

I was handed a little red stuff sack with a "Brooks Airway" and first aid stuff, and told he needed some Omnipon which was in little tube like styrettes in a box.  I remember Hamish telling me to just get the back of his hand and pinch a bit of skin and squeeze the tube - which then promptly exploded backward and I got a splatter of the drug on my face.  The next jab went better and sure enough after half an hour while we set up the ropes he was a bit quieter.  We then had that rope tensioned and back ropes on the ubiquitous MacInnes stretcher which we had pulled across to ferry him out.  This all went well, and we then joined a rope to the one the leaders mate had left which dropped over the cave bit to abseil out. Given that this was about 1973 I had the long hair thing going and sure enough half way down my hair went through the figure of eight.  Hanging by your hair 50ft off the deck with an audience on the gully side and a legend laughing his head off! Hamish took great delight in telling of my squeeling.  So 40 years later it put me back in my box for a second time.  

Righteous justice came the following day when Alex Gillespie and his wife joined us at the table and the topic of the big avalanche of Carn Dearg in 1978 came up.  There had been a big avalanche in Gardyloo with 4 folk injured and on the way in the Wessex crew saw a party on the path hit by this monster that came off the top of the Colando/Arch (I think that's the gully names) and swept them down off the path to the Allt a Mhullin.  Glencoe team arrived by helicopter and we started searching.  I had the obligatory fist fight with a chap called "Alec H" who folk in the know will recognise after he called me a "Glencoe Bastard"  and we took part in what must have been the biggest probe line ever in Scotland on what to this day I think was the biggest avalanche ever seen in Scotland. The righteous justice bit was that Hamish had brought a metal detector and was working a line up the right side of the avalanche marking of points that he was getting a signal.  It was only after digging three holes and looking up the markers that we twigged he had followed the old iron fence line that used to be there! 

One victim was located 100m up the Carn mor Dearg side at a spot where we were dumping our kit each day (4 days of probing). A Locheil OB student sat among the kit and rucksacks and picked up a spare probe and just started poking around and shouted he could feel something springy.  Folk went up and dug and sure enough we had been eating our pieces on top of the last missing victim for 4 days.

The biggest avlx ever in Scotland? Below Carn Dearg Winter 1978

Joking apart though.  We had our first "Pieps" in 1974 for every team member and for those of you who follow "Time Team" the ground radar they use was first developed and tested as an avalanche search device in Glencoe with the inventor and Hamish working on it for two years and successfully finding a buried victim in the Grey Corries in late spring one year. Pre "Pieps" the Skadi was the only beacon around.

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