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Topic - BBC 999 - Mountain Rescue...I was one of the 'stars'

davidrj1 - on 22 Mar 2013
I know there was a rescue topic in recent days and I am afraid I am continuing with this topic! But it’s probably right that I do as I was one of the stars of a recent BBC documentary episode, Country 999 which is being aired at the moment on BBC in the afternoon. Check out iplayer:

I am an occasional user of this site and so far haven’t discussed our incident but I think now is timely! If you watch it, I am the guy with the white helmet on and I’m sharing this so others can hopefully take some lessons from our misadventure. I’m also doing it to highlight the great work the Royal Navy SAR team did.

As the programme shows, we were on Buachaille Etive Mor and the incident took place very early December during the first significant cold snap and winter flurries. We were raring to get out for our first winter route and the weather was crisp and sunny so everything was set up for a cracking day (how many incident stories start this way!?). We knew conditions were early season and for that reason thought a ridge route would be in order. We’re not alpine super stars but neither are we inexperienced. Two of our party which included myself, had previously completed Curved Ridge in summer time (nice but straight forward) and had always meant to do it in winter. Being a grade 2, within our abilities and being a ridge with some nice views, we thought it would be a good one to kick off the season. Because of our confidence we invited a friend who is less experienced with winter but none the less is a capable and fit climber. We thought the 3 of us would move together alpine style.

With hindsight I still sometimes wonder how it all went so badly wrong! Part of it was certainly a blaze attitude to it all. We were late starting (about 9.30am), were confident because of the grade and because we had done it before, albeit in summer, hadn’t spent enough time studying the route beforehand. I certainly expected it all to make sense the way it had in summer (I should have known better having done the anoch eagah in both winter and summer).

If anything, the day started rather disappointingly. The route lower down wasn’t in nick and it proved to be a bit of a scramble up frozen turf and powder icy snow. I was regretting choosing the route and wishing we had gone elsewhere. However we continued because we were on it...It was after lunch things started to go a really wrong. Myself and my friend had both done it but had done it independently from one another. We ended up having a bit of a debate about which way to go. We’d been mountaineering together quite a bit including having both been to the alps together, so there is a fair bit of trust (we’d been out on the piss a couple of days earlier in Glasgow with no incidents :)). None the less we couldn’t agree on this. He was leading however and the best technical description of the route we took is we started to go a bit too ‘left’. We ended up on very steep, exposed and rubbish ground which was beyond grade 2. Again we disagreed on what to do. This terrain was slowing our progress right down and at this point we could have abseiled down and clambered down the way we’d came. I was reluctant to do this, as was he, which was a mistake, with much of my motive being I didn’t want to disappoint our third climbing friend. I also thought we would soon find the route or ‘a route’ and generally get out of it. This didn’t happen! The other lesson was that in early winter routes the day light is very limited (I’m pointing out the obvious but it came in very quickly). I was ok about us coming down the mountain trail with head torches but far more nervous about climbing the crag in the dark and snow. At about 3.00pm I was getting worried. Instead of getting easier, it was getting worse. My friend who had been leading proceeded up a section which he really struggled with. The crag was loose and horrible with few protection points. At this point we were in a precarious position, he was ‘crag fast’. Myself and my other friend were fixed into the mountain but he couldn’t find any protection , he kept on climbing but it only made things worse. I was really worried that he would fall and not only severely injure himself but either fall onto us or rip us all of the mountain (i didn’t completely trust the gear we were attached to). He got to a point and by this time it was pushing 4.00pm and it was dark. He managed to put a sling in but it wasn’t great. We couldn’t see him or get to him and he wasn’t confident about abseiling down from his one piece of protection. It was at this time that I knew we had to do the previously unthinkable and call mountain rescue. Thankfully I had a phone reception.

The whole process there after is captured in the BBC programme and I have nothing but respect and thanks for the guys and girls who helped us. Because of our position a helicopter was dispatched and Glencoe mountain rescue were also scrambled. You can see from the footage the helicopter rescued us and apart from some bruised egos and a little bit of physical bruising we were ok. The Royal Navy team are first class and the Glencoe guys, although we never met them, were great too and it was good to know we had them there. If I appeared to smirk on camera it was only because I saw a camera stuck in my face which was the last thing I expected! Afterwards, I felt some guilt because I was aware of the cost of rescuing us. I also felt some non outdoors people judged us but most people were ok and everyone was relieved we were fine. Regarding the cost, I sort of justified it two days after when I was overtaken on the road whilst driving by a guy on a blind corner who nearly hit an oncoming car. He took more risks than we did.

Nothing ‘big’ happened to us which led to the incident. It was a series of small, poor decisions which mounted up which in winter magnify and for me not trusting my instinct. I should have put my foot down and we should have turned back when we could. It was just crazy how all those things came together and led us to where we were...PS the rest of the show is a bit crap isn’t it!? A guy with no van insurance, is that what we pay the licence for?? I digress...

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