Mountain Rescue Mum

© Emma Atkinson

The urgent march of footsteps cracked down the wooden hallway and cut through my soft, warm dreams. Seconds later the bedroom door crashed open, bouncing back off the wall as the sharp click of the light switch snapped through the quiet. Offending bright light engulfed my sleepy cocoon. I blinked my eyes open to see Mum scooping my sister Aithne, blankets and all, into her arms and disappearing out the room.

Another person lost on the hill.

Emma and Sarah on Maol Chean Dearg, 1993  © Sarah Atkinson
Emma and Sarah on Maol Chean Dearg, 1993
© Sarah Atkinson

I knew I only had minutes before she would pile us into the car and drive us to our grandparents, where we would wait for her to come back from the rescue. She would often arrive at theirs in the early hours, unannounced, and just leave us sleeping on the couch. It was great as we got stuffed with sweeties and sometimes got to miss school!

I was six years old, attending Farr Primary School with my little sister. My Mum Sarah Atkinson was, and remains, a member of the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team. Growing up with keen mountaineers for parents encouraged me to develop a passion for the mountains and what they offer. However, with Mum in the Team, from an early age we became aware of the less romantic side of the mountains too, and developed a healthy respect for them, for how dangerous they can be and for how serious a situation can rapidly become. Mum channelled this information and advice through atypical bedtime stories such as Cinderella and the Lost Crampon.

“Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess called Cinderella and she loved long walks with her sisters through the snowy mountains. One day, they had an argument and Cinderella decided to go off alone instead. Cinderella – the silly cow – went and lost one of her crampons on the plateau. She had been so angry at her sisters that she hadn’t told them where she had gone, or when she would be back…”

“Is there not a fairy god mother though Mummy?”

“Yes. But she didn’t get there in time.”


The Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team consists of forty-three volunteers who provide help to those in need in the mountains. The Team operates over the Northern Cairngorms, Ben Alder and the Eastern areas of the Monadhliath Mountains. It is from their Base in Aviemore that rescues are co-ordinated. The majority of their call-outs occur in the Northern Cairngorms, with winter providing their busiest time.

Mum on Meall nan Ceapraichean
© Emma Atkinson

Mum belays Emma on Market Day, Ardmair
© Rory Brown

My mum joined the CMRT when she was twenty four years old. Her enthusiasm for the mountains began as a child when Grandad would take her out hillwalking. She fell in love with the space, peace and adventure the mountains of Scotland provided. It wasn’t long until she found rock climbing and became an active member in the Inverness Mountaineering Club. It was through the club she met my Dad.

A particularly scary day winter climbing on Ben Nevis encouraged her to start a family. As pulsing spindrift blasted down the buttress and the hard ice cracked and fell away from axe placements, thoughts of her life expectancy trickled into her mind. It was then she decided “think it’s time I started a family instead…”

Then I came along, shortly followed by my sister. At the tender age of three months I began my mountaineering career with my first Munro – Beinn Liath Mhor Fannaich – in a rucksack, don’t worry, I’ve not counted it towards my completion list!

And so began Mum’s family life. Her love for the mountains never dwindled as we grew up - no matter how many hormonal strops I threw, the hill walking trips never seemed to cease.

Twenty four years later, Mum remains an enthusiastic (to put it lightly) mountaineer. After graduating university I was drawn back to the Scottish mountains where I began my career as a Mountain Leader and was introduced to rock and winter climbing (by Mum of course). I now hope to progress to my Mountaineering Instructor Award and continue to push myself in my climbing.

It’s thanks to Mum that my life it what it is today - based in Aviemore, surrounded by the mountains, spending days exploring Scotland’s rock and heights. I’m so grateful for her influence. Having such a strong female role model has encouraged my sister and I to never doubt our abilities in whatever we choose to be passionate about. So thank you Mum, and hope to see you for a route or two soon!


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7 Feb, 2017
Love the bed time story.
7 Feb, 2017
Nice article Emma!
8 Feb, 2017
She is The Salt of the Earth, Emma
9 Feb, 2017
Great story. You sound just as committed as your mum, Emma. And would you ask your mum if I can borrow the bedtime story for the grandchildren when they come along?
9 Feb, 2017
Lovely story and you are so lucky as girls, to have a mountaineering mum - it makes all the difference - I am sure my three would agree, a climbing dad is an added bonus! Dorine
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