Thursday, 17 August 2017

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.