Thursday, 17 August 2017

An interim history of Glencoe MRT

Another find from the old PC to share. I can't remember what magazine this was written for could be "Cas Bag". Maybe it was just my pride at being a member from a very young age and at a time when I was not only a good athlete but pretty nails in bad situations. It was also a bit like a climbing club to some of us and I rubbed shoulders with many legends. Team members climbed all over the World from alpine grand courses to 8,000m peaks often together so previous to the mid 90's it was pretty unique but it made good climbers good rescuers. So forgive my rather prosaic writing and inflated view.  Certainly a great bunch of folks and a great core of mountaineers who socialised and climbed together and I am sure its the same today. When I wrote this it was the transition from Hamish retiring and John taking over with me as deputy. John did a sterling job as leader for the next 20 years. 


"Who has the hills for friend
Has god speed to the end
  -  His path of lonely life
And wings of golden memory"
- Geoffrey Winthrop Young

Mountains are dangerous, and the hills of the highlands especially so for those who do not respect the fickle ways of the weather and hostile nature of the terrain.  Mountains are dangerous - so are people - many misfortunes have occurred due to nature executing a terrible revenge on a momentary negligence or naiveté.  Why do people live work and play in the mountains?  Like love and hate, pleasure from the mountains is hard to define.  A first climb is like first love, never forgotten, a bench mark for all other recreations and relations.  A  winter ascent, breaking out of the icy confines of a gully into the gloaming of a sunset, snow on far away hills pink and blushing, is like an incurable venereal affliction,  the itch never leaves and relief only comes from another impassioned assault.

"As with sweethearts, so with places.  No lover can say that he knows the one or the other until he has been so often that he has lost count of his visits". 
T. Ratcliffe Barnett (Scotsman 1929. Describing the hills of the Blackmount)

People have accidents on the mountains and always will.  Attempts to regulate our culture and recreation has left mountaineering as a last bastion of freedom, where genuine adventure and misadventure can be sought without rules and regulations. Rescuers are mountaineers and all mountaineers potential rescuers.  We in the Glencoe team offer no overt criticism of the victims of misfortune as there is no adventure without risk and team members are adventurers who accept fully the implications of the choices others make.

Early days
Looking back to before the team was formed we can only admire the courage of the early rescuers going to the hill to search or evacuate those in trouble.  In the early part of this century mountaineering was a largely middle class pastime.  It is a testament to the early rescuers that despite probably seeing the early climbers as a somewhat eccentric bunch, it never deterred, nor I doubt would it ever have crossed their mind, not to help someone in trouble.  Often ill equipped and with only paraffin lamps to guide the way, they accomplished some amazing feats.  No helicopters then.  Aitcheson the keeper  from Leac na Muidhe or one of the other farmers in the area, be it Achtriochtan or Achnambeithach, Dan Mackay at Altnafeadh or Downie from Allt na Reigh, would cycle round to gather together a search party, perhaps including the local bobby if available.  If it was an overly technical rescue perhaps additional manpower would be sought from any climbers in the area, or a telegram sent to the SMC clubrooms for assistance.

Later as mountaineering grew in popularity a new class of mountaineer appeared from clubs such as the Lomonds and the Creag Dubh.  With little money and poor equipment they relied on the hospitality of Dan Mackay or Downie for a good doss in the barn.  A weekend trip to Glencoe for this pre W.W.II generation was a true test of determination.  Finish work on Saturday afternoon, hitch or scrounge a lift on a passing lorry to the Glen, doss the night, climb next day then try and get back for work on Monday morning. For the true taste of adventure at this time the book "Always a Little Further" by Alastair Borthwick captures this enthusiasm.  Even in this little gem of a book there is a rescue.  A second could not follow his leader exiting from the Devils Cauldron of the Buachaille Chasm.  The leader descended to the Glen Etive road where he stopped the local butcher who was delivering meat. The two went to the top and pulled the stranded second to safety!

After the war mountaineering took off on a big way and there was a tremendous proliferation of climbing clubs, mainly from the universities.  This popularity of course resulted in an increase in the accident rate, but due to the clubs coming to the Glen as bus parties climbing in one area, there were often sufficient available for self rescue.  This ability to help themselves, and the increasing number of incidents prompted the provision of first aid and stretchers at rescue posts in the Glen by the Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland.  Groups could then get access to equipment and effect a rescue with a proper stretcher.  Previous to this it was not unknown for someone to be carried off on a masons wheelbarrow or some similar improvised transport.

As the post war years progressed accidents became more common due to the increasing numbers taking to the hills.  The RAF mountain rescue which was primarily for the rescue of downed aircrew, sought a new peacetime role, and required training.  Many weekends would see personnel, also volunteers like their later civilian counterparts, from RAF Kinloss or more commonly Leuchars MRT in the area for training.  These RAF teams carried out many rescues in the Glen and when the civilian team was formed, provided additional support on protracted searches or busy weekends.  This close working relationship, in particular between RAF Leuchars MRT and later when the SAR Wessex helicopters were based there, continues to this day, although the SAR helicopter flight has now been closed, much to the chagrin of all involved with mountain rescue.

Several figures deserve special mention in the history of rescue in the Glen. Donald Duff of whom more later, and of course Hamish MacInnes.  Also, a history no matter how brief, would not be complete without mention of the Elliot family who without doubt set the foundations of the team and who continue to take part in rescues.  Walter Elliot senior and his sons William and Walter received a certificate for distinguished services to mountain rescue in 1976.   Another potent figure from the early days of pre and post formation of the team, was Sandy Whillans, first as a constable, and later as a sergeant in the Argyll constabulary.  A strong personality and a commanding voice, often heard before seen, Sandy took part in many difficult rescues and was a dedicated rescuer. John Arthur - Dennis Barclay - The Knowles brothers and a great stalwart, Eric Moss who came to the team after leaving the Army (Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders) in which he had retired as a major.  Also Huan Findlay from Achtriochtan who was a powerhouse on a long stretcher carry and who's son is now a valued team member.  Alan, Huan's son, Malcolm son of team member Alan Thompson and Jamie, the son of another long standing team member Will Thompson are second generation rescuers.  Also many bar staff of the Clachaig Hotel took part in rescues through the years, some going on to become full members after taking residence in the area.

Formation of the team
The Glencoe Mountain Rescue Committee (later reformed to team) was formed in 1961 at a meeting convened at the Clachaig Hotel Glencoe. This meeting was called by Hamish MacInnes then a resident climber and climbing instructor in the Glen, for the purpose of forming a local mountain rescue committee. The committee consisted of Dr. Duff then resident general surgeon at the Belford Hospital Fort William as president, Hamish MacInnes secretary, Brigader Martin Hon. President and N. McLaughlin treasurer. The Elliot family of Achnambeith of whom the father, William senior had been active for some 30 years or more in rescue, and who's two sons, Walter were also key figures and elected onto the committee, although absent at the inaugural meeting.  The Elliot family have been a keystone in rescue in Glencoe.  The small cottage in which they dwell has been the focal point of many rescue operations, and it would be true to say that literally hundreds of mountaineers have received succour from the family while awaiting news of  injured or lost friends.  Also elected in their absence were Dennis Barclay and J.W Simpson.  In addition to the office bearers elected at the meeting, other founder members present were Hector Beaton of Achtriochtan farm (Now Findlays), J. Feeny, E. Blackhall and J. Robertson.

Insurance in the early formative days of the team proved difficult.  The only solution at that time was for team members to become special constables.  This is now no longer the case which is just as well as it proved a contentious issue.

Dr. Duff was also instrumental in forming the Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team, and personally took part in many rescues on the Ben and Glencoe.  Dr. Duff could certainly be regarded as the father figure of mountain rescue in this area, as it was his motivation that formalised the formation of the two teams, bringing together local shepherds, mountaineers and forestry workers on a more organised basis.  Up till this point rescuers were a hotch potch of whoever could be got hold of at the time of an incident, with a telegram sent to the Scottish Mountaineering Club in Glasgow for assistance, or assistance requested from the  Lochaber branch of the Junior Mountaineering Club of Scotland if technical climbers were required.

As an insight to Dr. Duff I have reprinted this extract from the SMC Journal 1969:
Donald G. Duff, M.C - M.B.E - FRCS 
In 1945 the EUMC had a winter meet at Achintee farm and it was there that I first heard of Donald duff.  Gordon Parish took me to meet him and we found him battling his way to the Belford Hospital in filthy weather on an old bicycle.  This typified the man - independent, scorning hardship and always keeping himself fit.  Even in the coldest weather he never wore an overcoat or sweater to work.  His love of mountains was great and the Belford Hospital was always known as an emergency bothy for stray mountaineers. The hospital saw many other facets of his interests and it was not unusual to find him coming up from the boiler house where he had been carrying out experiments on rock fusion in furtherance of his interest in vitrified forts.

Perhaps he is most widely known for the Duff stretcher which he developed for Mountain Rescue work - and it was always a source of pride to him that one was taken on the 1953 Everest ascent.  He formed and led the Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team and a call out on Ben Nevis always benefited from his boundless energy, and it is all too often forgotten that when the team staggered wearily to bed after a hard night Mr. Duff had to then begin his work as a surgeon on the casualty.  Because of this devotion he was awarded the M.B.E and made an Honorary Member of the Club, which he joined in 1946.

I knew him best as a medical colleague from working in Fort William.  He was always approachable by his patients - a somewhat rare trait in many N.H.S hospitals - and his medical skill was diverse.  In these days of specialisation one rarely finds a man who is a surgeon (and known for a specialised instrument for neurosurgery) a good General Practitioner and also skilled in Obstetrics.  In his medical work he gave vent to his inventive leanings in a variety of instruments that might have looked strange but nevertheless were highly effective in his hands.

Hamish MacInnes, who for the next 33 years was the Glencoe team leader.  From an engineering background, and for many years at the forefront of mountaineering both here and abroad.  Hamish is one of the great technical innovators of rescue. His textbook "The International Mountain Rescue Handbook" can be regarded as a definitive text on the subject {being revised 1995/96}.  Hamish was instrumental in the formation of the team and like Dr Duff before him, designed a stretcher for mountain rescue work.  The "MacInnes" stretcher is now the workhorse of Scottish Mountain rescue.

The Glen & The Team
Glencoe has a rugged geography and unique geology.  It has the greatest number of Chasms and gully systems in the UK, and the longest narrow serrated ridge on the mainland {Aonach Eagach}, unbroken for 3.5 miles and all above 3, 000ft.  Glencoe's main peaks radiate from the central massif of the Bidean range, and many are mountaineering expeditions due to limited access up through river gorges or through cliffs. 

As a rescue team, the Glencoe MRT covers from Loch Etive & Blackmount round to the Duror of Appin hills {which also have Scotland's deepest pothole from which we also carry out rescues}, North to the Kinlochleven Mamores, over Corran Ferry to Ardnamurchan and off course Glencoe itself.  This is an area of some 600 square miles with 35 peaks of over 3,000ft and 100 of 2,000ft or more. The team is also currently taking back the Ardgour area which as part of Argyll was in its area and included in Glencoe guide books. With the new Corran ferry boats, links are much better and access from here quicker by day, It is a sobering business getting dropped off by helicopter at an approximate location somewhere in Lochaber or Argyll the dark and in bad weather. A fair degree of luck in assessing just quite where you are is required!

The Scottish Mountain Safety report on mountain accidents highlighted that Glencoe was a dangerous place for the inexperienced mountaineer. 23% of rescues in this area are for fatalities.

The team operates a two tiered response system.  All team members are called by radio, with a telephone backup by three designated team members wives.  Coverage is achieved via a relay station on a hill above the village, and talk through repeaters at crucial points.  If a report of a serious injury is received a Priority Call out takes place, a helicopter, immediately requested, and within 5 minutes one of three 4WD rescue vehicles leaves for a designated rendezvous point. 

On arrival some team members leave immediately carrying, resuscitation equipment - spare O2 - vacuum mat and technical equipment as required.  Additional equipment is taken up as required or when information trickles back to those from further away who arrive at the rendezvous site later.  Regardless of other equipment required, the First Aider with resuscitation equipment is always away fast even if he leaves on his own.  This "Priority" call gets someone to the injured mountaineer as quickly as possible.  Due to now being called occasionally by mobile phones, team members can on occasion be with an injured person in the Glen within 1 hour from an accident occurring.  This speed of response, followed by prompt transfer by helicopter, has proved beneficial to the critically injured.  We are fortunate in having a good working relationship with the RAF and Navy SAR helicopters which proves invaluable. Likewise the staff of the Belford hospital are extremely supportive of our efforts and provide excellent feedback to us.

Other, less immediate call outs require a less hurried departure. Less immediately important calls would be for those who are cragfast {stuck} or for a simple lower leg fracture, {a common injury for hill walkers}, or when a large scale search needs organised.  It should be borne in mind that off the 60 or so rescues that we do each year, some will require 6 to 8 hours in execution due to technical hazards or bad weather, and large scale searches can take from one to three days {and in some cases months}!

During a probationary year a team member must display the ability to move over difficult ground, summer or winter in the dark, and be willing to work unaccompanied.  A team approach is of course mandatory, but we do not regard mountain rescue as a training ground for those who are not already sound mountaineers.

Equipment Notes:  x 2  for each 4WD Vehicle

Laerdal Heartstart 911
Nellcor N20 Pulse Oximeter
Pneupack Pulse Oximeter
Sabre 240 Aluminium  O2 Sets
SOS Aluminium "D" O2 Sets
Ambu Spur BVMs
Oro/Naso Airways/Laryngeal Masks
Combitube airways
3 x Sets adult Stifneck collars
Intubation Kit
Hartwell Medical Aeromedical Vacuum Matts
Asherman chest seals
Analgesia: Nubain  - Cyclomorph &  Narcan

2 MacInnes Mk 5/6Stretchers
3 x Casualty Bags - Flectalon
6 x Body Bags
8 x 160- 300 - 500 Ropes
Rope pully's - Descenduers etc.
5 x Handheld 1 million  candle power searchlights
3 Million  candle power parachute flares

1 x Landrover TDI
2 x 4WD Customised Turbo Charged Transits. Each Have:

3 Base Radio sets &  Scanners
Roof mounted 2 million candle power  searchlight
Roof mounted 8,000 watt Tannoy system
Large night vision sight from Conqueror  battle tank
Perimeter  floodlight system

Motorola GP 300 series + Scanners {each team member has a personal set}
2 private frequencies +  National Rescue Frequency

David Gunn


Hamish the Legend

Fiona is cleaning up a really old PC we are binning and we wondered what was on it before it got the hammer. So there lurking in its drive along with hundreds of photos are a lot of old articles I wrote. I didn't write the one below. I believe this was written by Gary Latter for Climber magazine for Hamish's 80th Birthday. It was published so this will be a draft copy so apologies to Gary but its too good not to share. With "Call Out" and "Sweep Search" available again after many years on Kindle go have a read. Enjoy!

A man of action and of words - Hamish MacInnes
Born in Gatehouse of Fleet, in Dumfries and Galloway on 7 July 1930, Hamish
was brought up in Greenock, where his father had an engineering business. At
age 14 in 1945, Hamish noticed “a bloke lived nearby, chap called Bill
Hargreaves” would head off climbing on his motorbike at weekends. Hamish
asked if he could join him and thus was introduced to the hills.

Hamish has made his name in many different fields: climber, adventurer,
mountain rescue, designer, filming & safety work, writer and photographer. He
has climbed both at home and abroad with many of the great names of the latter
half of 20th century mountaineering, including John Cunningham, Chris
Bonington, Ian Clough, Tom Patey, Kenny Spence, Allen Fyffe, Ian Nicholson,
Yvon Chouinard, Dougal Haston, Don Whillans, Joe Brown, Mo Anthoine, Paul
Nunn and Martin Boysen. Its almost seems like he hasn’t aged. I remember my encounters with him when I was in the rescue team in the late eighties and he doesn’t seem to have aged much in the twenty odd years since – close cropped white beard and the iconic
permanently attached cap, whatever the weather. What comes across, both from
chatting with Hamish and throughout many of his books is the adventurous spirit
and ‘go for it’ attitude that seems to have been present from such a young age.
Hitching out to the Alps at the age of 17, he recalls jam coming off the wartime
rations just as he reached Dover. Exploration and adventure have been at the
core of most of his exploits over the years. Whether it be searching for gold on
the remote west coast of South Island in New Zealand, or Inca gold in South
America; searching for the elusive Yeti in the foothills of the Himalaya, or climbing
the vegetated and wildly overhanging tepui of Roraima deep in the jungle of
Guyana, fighting off scorpions, bird-eating spiders and the deadly bushmaster
snakes en route - he’s been there and lived to tell the tale!

Dubbed “the old fox of Glencoe”, Hamish has lived in the glen for over half a
century, first moving to the wee whitewashed cottage Allt-na-Ruigh, above the
meeting of the Three Waters in 1959. He moved further down the glen to the
National Trust owned Achnacon in 1970, later building his own place, complete
with its own artificial lochan (and his own rowing boat!) on the back road between
the village and the Clachaig in 1998.
National Service for 19 months at the age of 17 was “quite a pivotal experience”,
as fortunately he was posted to Austria. Here, on the steep limestone walls of the
Kaisergebirge, he acquired a taste for pegging from the Austrians. His
predilection for pegging back home in Scotland later earned him the nickname
“MacPiton”, with routes like Porcupine Wall on The Cobbler, Engineer’s Crack
on the Buachaille, many routes throughout the Skye Cuillin, including Creag Dhu
Grooves, and the long sustained Titan’s Wall on Carn Dearg Buttress, Ben

Although particularly renowned for his long and pioneering involvement in
mountain rescue and mountain safety, early on in his climbing career Hamish has
also been on the receiving end of rescues. In January 1951, whilst attempting the
first winter ascent of Raven’s Gully on the Buachaille with Creagh Dhu members
Charlie Vigano and John Cullen, Hamish was leading on a 160’ rope (quite a long
rope at the time), when the rope jammed (it was also dark by this point). Unable
to free it or descend, he untied and continued, but reached an impasse 10 feet
from the top. Bridged across the iced-up chimney, he braced himself for a long
night, dressed in just jeans and a thin shirt underneath his anorak. His rucksack
with warm clothing was with his mates down below, who fared much better, being
dressed in heavy motorcycle jackets. Luckily fellow Creagh Dhu member Bill
Smith was driving up the road and spotted their headtorch lights and, along with
others, including Jimmy Marshall, eventually dropped a top-rope down to him and
extracted him in the early hours. “I thought I’d had it, I was so bloody cold.”

The second instance occurred in the French Alps. The teenage Hamish had an
arrangement with the famous French guide Lionel Terray (first ascent of Makalu
and author of the wonderful Conquistadors of the Useless). As route finding was
difficult, Hamish had an arrangement with Terray, where he would solo a suitable
distance behind Terray and his client. On a traverse of the Grande Charmoz, the
pair had made a 40’ abseil from a situ nylon sling on a bollard. Hamish threaded
his rope and proceeded to follow suit, only for the sling to break as soon as he
weighted it. On impacting the small ledge at the base, his knees were driven up
into his eye sockets, temporarily blinding him. Luckily he didn’t go any further
down the remaining 600’ drop to the glacier. Another famous Swiss guide,
Raymond Lambert was nearby, and the pair effected a rescue.

Climbing Achievements
1951: 4 routes on The Cobbler in the company of two of the finest climbers in the
country at the time, Creagh Dhu members John Cunningham and Bill Smith,
including the fine Gladiator’s Groove (HVS) and wildly exposed Whither
Wether (VS)
1952: Peasants’s Passage, Wappenshaw Wall on the Rannoch Wall, and
Bludger’s Route on Slime Wall with Pat Walsh, later combined into the classic
Bludger’s Revelation.
February 1953: Agag’s Groove (VII, 6), Crowberry Ridge Direct (VII, 7) and
Raven’s Gully (V, 5).
Late fifties instructing work for the Mountaineering Association (the predecessor
of the BMC) in the Skye Cuillin saw the opening up of many good rock routes,
including such well-trodden modern classics as Vulcan Wall (HVS) and Creagh
Dhu Grooves (E3) both with some aid, on Sron na Ciche’s Eastern Buttress, and
the fine Grand Diedre (VS), over the back of the ridge in Coir’ a’ Ghrunnda, all
climbed with Ian Clough.
February 1957: Zero Gully (V, 4) on Ben Nevis with Aberdonians Tom Patey &
Graham Nicol. This was Hamish’s seventh attempt at the much sought-after line,
having arrived via the Carn Mor Dearg arete from Steall Hut in Glen Nevis, on
learning that other teams were showing an interest.

April 1959: Titan’s Wall on Carn Dearg Buttress, Ben Nevis with Ian Clough,
which came in for much criticism at the time due to its extensive use of aid,
though it would be two decades and numerous attempts by several of the top
climbers of the day before it was finally freed by Mick Fowler in 1977.
February 1965: First winter traverse of the Cuillin Ridge, with Davie Crabb,
Tom Patey and Brian Robertson. North Face of Pik Schurouski in the Caucasus was an outstanding route with 2 bivvys, with Paul Nunn and Chris Woodall. (Still unrepeated!)
The Glencoe School of Winter Mountaineering, which operated from 1964-74,
over the years employed many of the best climbers in the country at the time,
including Ian Clough, Jim McCartney, Allan Fyffe, Kenny Spence, Dave Knowles,
and Ian Nicholson.

Hamish tunnels his way through a big cornice on the Ben, emerging well back
from the edge, as if straight from the earth. A group of schoolkids are astonished
to see this wild-eyed man covered in snow struggle out of the ground. MacInnes,
still only half out of the snow, fixes his eyes on the nearest boy and calls out “You
laddie. What year is it?” Schoolchildren run screaming.
On the infamously acrimonious international Everest expedition in 1972, it was
Hamish, (not Don Whillans, for a change!) who first came up with the nickname
‘Sterlingscoffer’ for the wealthy autocratic German expedition leader Herligkoffer.
Though Whillans’ famous retort to the Austrian Felix Kuen who on hearing over
the radio the 2-0 defeat of England by Germany in the European Cup declared
“We beat you at your national game, hey Whillans” only for the sharp-tongued
Whillans to retort “Aye, but we’ve beaten you at your national game twice now,
haven’t we!”
On traverse of Shkhela in the Caucasus “…after breakfast of dehydrated food
that looked and tasted like nail clippings…”

Glencoe-based guide and rescue team member Paul Moores:
‘One of my first impressionable moments of Hamish - he used to keep an
immaculate garden at Achnacon. I went round to visit him. He wasn’t in the
house, but I eventually found him in his garage, working on the huge V12 engine
of his E-type jaguar. Hamish had his finger trapped under the cylinder head, and I
managed to rig up a rope on a beam and winch it off. When asked what he would
have done had I not shown up: “Well, I knew the postman was coming
‘Hamish used to hold an annual party, usually in the Summer, with loads of folk
from all over. He would make these huge trifles – at least 6 washing up bowls.
Mike Begg, the producer of BBC Outdoor Broadcasts was there, with his then
girlfriend, Margaret Thatcher’s daughter Carol. Hamish, in his fifties, was going
out with Betsy Brantley, an American actress in her twenties, whom he met while
overseeing the safety on the Hollywood film Five Days One Summer. While the
party was in full swing, a police car pulled, up with lights and sirens blaring.
“We’ve got a complaint.” The local bobbies soon took of their caps and joined the
party. Later on, some of the partygoers got all the empty cans and bottles and
loaded them into the back of the police range rover. After the party the bobbies
walked back along the road, two of their colleagues returning in the morning to
collect the vehicle.'

Paul and another local rescue team member, Hugh McNicol arrived at Achnacon
on a blisteringly hot midsummers day and asked if they could swim in his pools
(in the adjacent River Coe). Although never really a drinker (usually a half cider at
best), Hamish used to make vast quantities of his own Silver Birch sap wine.
Hamish set a table and 3 deck chairs up and opened a gallon flagon of his
homemade brew, and got “completely and utterly miraculous”, then later made
‘dinner’ which was ‘eventful’ to say the least, including all the peas exploding
from the microwave. Later, Paul’s wife Ros drove them all up the glen to the
Kingshouse where they continued drinking. Hamish was supposed to be filming
the next day, with the helicopter pilot buzzing the house, hovering outside his
bedroom in an attempt to rouse him from his slumber. Hamish has never drunk

Glencoe local and stalwart rescue team member for many years Davy Gunn:
“If I had a camera in my early climbing and rescue years, one picture I wish I had
taken was that of Hamish in Glen Etive beside an abandoned min-van. We had
gallon cans of beans in our old WW2 rescue truck as sustenance, and lacking a
plate and spoon there he was sitting on a rock beside the river with his iconic cap
on, eating cold beans out of a mini headlight glass with a big dirty channel peg.
That image will always stay locked into my brain as the epitome of a hard man
climber picture. Yet behind that picture is a gentleman.”
“Hamish is a tough customer. Cold doesn’t seem to bother him and he has
always been immensely strong.”

“As a young sixteen year old mad keen on climbing, Hamish took me and
another local lad Ronnie Rodgers under his wing. As the youngest, as long as I
tagged along on rescues not getting in the way and helping a bit, then odd bits of
gear would arrive from “Fishers of Keswick”(pre Nevisport) or Typhoo’s (Tiso’s),
ordered for me by Hamish to encourage me for my labours.”

Peter Debbage:
February 1969: ‘I booked onto a Glencoe School of Winter Mountaineering
course. Was told that we wouldn’t meet the great man as he was never there.
And so it proved. For the first two days we were dragged up various things by Ian
Clough and Jim McCartney and no sign of him. On the evening of the second
day this tall weather beaten man appears with a ‘presence’. Apparently he did
this. He got the others to suss out the better climbers and collared them for the
third day. We were leading HVS at the time, which was a respectable grade in
those days. Pointing to me and my two mates, he said “You, you and you, come
with me tomorrow.” And then he disappeared.
Panting up behind him in an open necked shirt and sports jacket (at between
minus 5 and 10). “What are we doing today, Hamish?” “Och I fancy yon wee gully
up there” he uttered. “What grade is it Hamish?” “Och how the hell should I know
laddie – it’s never been done before” he retorted. For the next 3 days we were
dragged up a series of desperate new routes by Hamish. I have never forgotten
that and it remains one of the outstanding experiences of my climbing career.’

Chris Bonington:
Recollections of Chris Bonington’s first encounters and climbing exploits with
Hamish are well covered in Bonington’s first autobiography ‘I Choose to Climb”;
from their first meeting in on the Buachaille, when 18 year old Chris was staying
with members of the Climbers Club at Lagangarbh. “Hamish handed over to us
‘gnomie’ (Gordon McIntosh) who was the slowest climber there ever was, and as
a team of three, we climbed behind Hamish and Kerr MacPhail on the first winter
ascent of Agag’s Groove (VII, 6) on the Rannoch Wall.” Chris was climbing in
Clinker nails, Hamish in Tricounis (another type of nailed boots), with straight
picked axes. Chris stayed on, and later that week Hamish and Chris made the
first winter ascents of Crowberry Ridge Direct (VII, 7) and Raven’s Gully (V, 5)
on consecutive days, the latter in “pretty manky condition”, Hamish having to
remove his boots to lead the last two pitches in his socks. Both Agag’s and
Crowberry were well ahead of their time – the precursor of the modern snowed
up rock routes now commonplace – definitely routes in the modern idiom. Chris
recalls: “It was an amazing privilege to be climbing with one of the best all round
mountaineers in Britain at the time, on my very first ever winter season.”
Later, in 1957 Hamish wrote to Chris, asking “how about climbing in the Alps.”
They attempted the North Face of the Eiger, which would have been Bonington’s
first ever alpine route (talk about being thrown in at the deep end!), but the
weather turned on their first day, and they retreated in the dark. Moving to
Chamonix, they set off to do the Walker Spur, but got lost on the glacier, and
ended up climbing a new route on the Auguille du Tacul instead.
Chris also went on to say “Two, no three of my greatest influences in climbing
have all been Scots – Hamish, Tom Patey and Dougal Haston.” “ When I think of
Hamish, it is with a mixture of respect, friendship and enjoyment – he has an
incredibly broad interest and passion, he’s hyper strong, and also a super
designer – he is one of the very, very great characters of British mountaineering.”

First all metal ice axe, in 1947– dubbed ‘The Message’ by the Creagh Dhu, later
manufactured in the sixties by Massey (of Massey Ferguson tractor
manufacturers), hence the early taglines “as strong as tractors”. Pivotal in the
advancement of modern technical winter climbing, was a fortuitous meeting with
visiting Americans Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tomkins in February 1970 at the
Clachaig Inn in Glen Coe, where Chouinard unveiled his curved pick ice axe. The
next morning, MacInnes had produced dropped pick axe – the prototype of the
‘terrordactyl’, so called by Ian Clough when he first saw the aggressive looking
Although there were informal rescues in the glen, carried out by the local
shepherds such as the Elliot’s and any climbers who were around; Hamish
started the team in 1959, (the year he moved to Glencoe), primarily in order to
raise funds for equipment.
The first aluminium MacInnes stretcher was produced in 1961. This innovative
design has undergone continuous development and refinements throughout its
many incarnations, with the latest Mark 7 version utilising composite materials
and titanium. Various versions of these are used by rescue teams, the military
and police forces throughout the world.

Author of 23 books, including the innovative 2 volume Scottish Climbs’
selective guide, which was the first guide to make extensive use of photodiagrams,
though the quirky use of alpine grades for rock routes (and adjective
grades for Winter routes!) never quite caught on. His ‘International Mountain
Rescue Handbook’ has become the definitive textbook on the subject, and been
constantly in print since its release in 1972. Several have been translated into
numerous languages.

Worked as either climbing cameraman or safety consultant on hundreds of
documentaries and films, including the live outside broadcast spectaculars of the
Old Man of Hoy, Gogarth and Freakout and Spacewalk, in addition to producing
several of his own tourist-orientated DVDs, narrated by either Sean Connery
(who met on Five Days One Summer), or Michael Palin (met on Monty Python
and the Search for the Holy Grail), both remaining good friends. Film work
includes looking after safety on the Clint Eastwood Hollywood blockbuster ‘The
Eiger Sanction’, and working with Robert De Niro on ‘The Mission’.

“I don’t join anything unless I can’t possibly avoid it, not even climbing clubs.”
In addition to being founder and team leader of Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team,
also founded Search and Rescue Dog Association (SARDA), honorary member
of Scottish Mountaineering Club and ex President of the Alpine Climbing Group.
Mainly in recognition of his great contribution to mountaineering and mountain
safety worldwide, Hamish has received many honours from outwith the
mountaineering world, including M.B.E and O.B.E., a Doctorate from Glasgow
University and honorary degrees from four other Scottish universities. He was
awarded the ‘Great Scot Award’ in 2000, inducted into the ‘Scottish Sports

Hall of Fame’ in 2003, and awarded the inaugural ‘Scottish Award for
Excellence in Mountain Culture’ in 2009.

Many thanks to Paul Moores and Davy Gunn who assisted with many of the

details herein.