January 2002

Trio escape serious injury in avalanche

Three climbers walked away with just cuts and bruises after an avalanche swept them 700ft down a gully on a Lochaber mountain on Wednesday, January 2. Rescuers said the men were "extremely fortunate" to have escaped serious injury in their plunge on the Stob Ban in the Mamores. Mathew Goodyear (32), from Edinburgh, and William Graves (27) and Philip Jackson (27), both from London, were about two thirds of the way to the summit on the North ridge of the 3,277ft peak when they were hit by what was described as a "mini-avalanche". The men, who were well-equipped and believed to be experienced climbers, were roped together and tumbled down the gully after being hit by the falling snow and ice. Their fall at 1.30pm was witnessed by another climbing party who used a mobile phone to contact police in Fort William. Officers in turn alerted Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team and the Rescue Control Centre at RAF Kinloss. A search and rescue helicopter was scrambled from RAF Lossiemouth and picked up two members of the Lochaber MRT on its way to the mountain. When the aircraft reached the scene an hour later the rescuers found the men making their own way down to safety. They were winched aboard the helicopter at 2.40pm and flown to Belford Hospital in Fort William for a check-up. The three men were said to have been winded and shocked by the fall and had minor cuts and grazes. They were released from hospital later the same day. Terry Confield, leader of Lochaber MRT, said: "They had been climbing in one of the northern gullies on Stob Ban when they were hit by a small avalanche. None of them was seriously hurt. They are extremely fortunate. It was lucky none of them struck anything on their way down." A spokesman for Northern Constabulary said the group were four hours into their expedition when the accident happened. He added: "The snow band started to slip where the climbers were and an avalanche took the party down the slope. There is no doubt that these men had a very lucky escape indeed. Conditions out there can be very dangerous at this time of year when it continually snows and then freezes over."

In a mountain rescue on January 2, a climber was airlifted by RAF helicopter to hospital in Inverness after falling and hurting his back in the Cairngorms. The incident happened on a footpath between the Sugar Bowl and Chalamain at around 3pm.

The Munro Society

A new society for those who have completed all of Scotland's 284 Munros is in process of being established and a steering committee is planning the inaugural meeting for April 20 next year.

The number of ''compleatists'' now exceeds 2,700, the vast majority having finished their round within the last 20 years. Although Scotland has many mountaineering clubs, up to now there has been no attempt to bring together in one organisation the wealth of mountaineering experience that Munroists represent. The Munro Society is not intended to be another mountaineering club, but will provide a forum in which Munroists can discuss matters of common concern and provide an organisation through which they may give something back to the mountains. Equally important will be the society's social dimension which will give opportunities for convivial gatherings. Among the objects proposed for The Munro Society are to support and initiate efforts to preserve access to and conservation of the Munros as areas of wild mountain land; to foster social, cultural and other exchanges between The Munro Society members and to encourage research into matters connected with the Munros and the activities associated with them; to maintain an archive germane to the Munros and those who have climbed them; and to provide an informed and valued body of opinion on matters affecting Scottish mountains and Scottish mountaineering in general. One development is the publication of a journal, likely to be brought out on an annual basis. This will be the means by which research would be disseminated to members and other interested parties. As the Munros attract skiers, botanists, geologists, archaeologists, photographers, ornithologists, geographers and many more, the scope for articles is very wide. If a reasonable proportion of Munroists choose to join The Munro Society, one way in which they might "give something back to the mountains" could be by conducting a Mountain Path Survey, initially in selected areas, but eventually covering the entire Highland area. This would provide an up-to-date picture of the extent and state of these important access routes, and would allow more effective prioritisation of the limited resources available for path maintenance. The Munro Society will hold its inaugural meeting on Saturday April 20, 2002 in the Bonar Hall, Dundee. Prior to the formal proceedings there will be an illustrated lecture by John Cleare, the internationally renowned mountain photographer. As 2002 is the International Year of the Mountain, John Cleare's talk will be designed to set the Munros in their international context. The afternoon and evening event will also include a buffet meal and will end with a quiz in which all attending will have the opportunity to test their knowledge of the Munros. Further details of The Munro Society, the inaugural event and an application form may be obtained by sending an SAE to: The Steering Committee 28 Fairies Road Perth PH1 1LZ. The Munro Society website

Nevis team search for new HQ

Britain's busiest rescue team has mounted a major search operation - for its own headquarters. Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team volunteers want to follow counterparts at Glencoe and build a permanent base from which to direct their operations. The Fort William-based team uses accommodation in the town's police station, where it parks its two all-terrain vehicles. It has an equipment store in the neighbouring former telephone exchange. After 40 years, during which it has annually dealt with 150 mercy missions, the team says the time has come for a home of its own. The rescue team association has already made inquiries with a number of agencies in its search for half-an-acre of land, preferably as close as possible to Ben Nevis, where most of its operations take place. The proposed headquarters would serve as a mustering and meeting point for the team's 35 members, provide an equipment store and garaging for emergency vehicles. In the longer term, it is hoped an interpretative centre could be added to the premises where visitors could learn about search and rescue operations. Association secretary, Miller Harris, said: "Ideally, we would like to buy some land as close to Fort William as possible on which a helipad could also be located. At the moment, our facilities are all over the place, with the result that it is becoming more and more difficult to handle the logistics of the larger rescue alerts, which can tax our resources to the limit. "For example, our vehicles are kept at the police station, where parking is at a premium, while all our gear is in the telephone exchange. And when we have the back-up assistance of military helicopters, the time of the year dictates whether we are picked up - and casualties landed - at the council's West End car park, which can be busy in the tourist season, or on pulp mill land at Corpach." Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team opened its own headquarters at the junction of the village main street and the A82 Fort William-Crianlarich road more than three years ago. It had previously used a room at the village police station, and was able to finance the new building thanks to its own fundraising activities, lottery cash and bequests from people whom it had assisted.

West Highland Way walker missing

A search is underway for a man who went walking in wearing just a jacket, T-shirt, tracksuit bottoms and trainers. The 25-year-old from Denny in Stirling area had been walking with friends along the West Highland Way when he became separated from them between Inverarnan and Inversnaid. Central Scotland Police say they are becoming "increasingly concerned" for the man who was reported missing at 6pm on Monday, January 21. Lomond Mountain Rescue Team, trained dogs and the Lomond rescue boat began a full scale search at first light on Tuesday. The operation will cover the popular walking route as well as Loch Lomond. Inspector Kevin Findlater of Central Scotland Police said: "As time passes I am becoming increasingly concerned for this man's safety and well being. His clothing, a leather jacket, T-shirt, tracksuit bottoms and trainers would not have afforded him much protection from the elements overnight.

Parliament to hear Land Reform Bill evidence

The Scottish Parliament's Rural Development Committee this week hears evidence on the parts of the Land Reform Bill which deal with public access rights. An official meeting held on Monday, January 21 was the first time a Parliament committee has met in the Loch Lomond area. The committee was due to take evidence on public access rights from a number of organisations, including representatives from the National Farmers' Union of Scotland, Ramblers' Association, Scottish Outdoor Recreation Network and VisitScotland. Committee convener, Alex Fergusson MSP said: "The Land Reform Bill will have an impact across the whole of the country. With direct relevance to communities throughout Scotland, the Members of the Rural Development Committee feel it is entirely appropriate that we should meet outside of Edinburgh, to hear at first hand people's view on the government's proposed legislation for land reform. "Prior to the public meeting, my colleagues and I will make a private visit to two local farms in the area where access rights have been a recent prominent issue, to discuss what steps were taken there to resolve any conflict. "Only by taking the Parliament to the people of Scotland can we begin to fulfill this institutions founding principles of openness, accessibility and accountability,'' he added.

Climber praised

Rescue teams have praised a climber who survived a night on the Cairngorms in blizzard conditions. A search for the 38-year-old man was launched after he was reported overdue on Monday, January 28, when the area was hit by winds gusting at up to 140 miles per hour. Five mountain rescue teams and an RAF helicopter took part in the search for the climber, from Lincolnshire. He was found on Tuesday by members of Aberdeen Mountain Rescue Team in the Lairigan Laoigh area. Rescuers said the man was well prepared as he had a food supply for several days. They also praised him for taking the correct action and digging in for the night when the weather worsened. A spokesman for Grampian Police said the man was found on his feet and was walked to safety. He was said to be safe and well. He had been overdue from a three-day solo expedition in the Ben Macdui area. An RAF helicopter which joined the rescue was forced to abort its mission because of blizzard conditions. More than 70 police, mountain rescue and RAF staff were involved in the search

Bid to buy Perthshire peak

An ambitious community led bid to buy a hill in Perthshire has been launched. A group of residents living near D&n Coillich - a peak bordering Schiehallion - hope to restore the 1100 acre piece of land to its natural wildness. Part of Schiehallion was purchased by the John Muir Trust but when they were approached with the possibility of doing likewise with Dun Coillich they suggested the local community might be interested.

Robin Hull is now spearheading the campaign to purchase the land. He said: ''D&n Coillich came on the market a couple of months ago when a farmer who had kept it as a deer park decided to sell. As soon as the John Muir Trust suggested the local community might be interested a public meeting was called. Around 70 or 80 people attended and it was immediately obvious there was huge popular support for the idea. "We are currently applying for grant aid from the Scottish Land Fund. If we can demonstrate that the community really wants this land then we could be successful. "This is an ambitious scheme, similar but smaller than the acquisition of the islands of Eigg and Gigha by their communities. To be successful we will need the support of as many of the 1200 or 1300 residents of Highland Perthshire as possible. "The fact that similar schemes have been successful in the past is encouraging, and although it is a tremendously complicated process our applications for funding are well advanced." Mr Hull feels a tide of humanity has eroded too much countryside and he hopes the purchase would allow a small part of Scotland to be returned to its former glory. "Although D&n Coillich has been over grazed for many centuries, echoes of what it may once have been are visible a few miles away in the Black Wood of Rannoch, where majestic Scots pines tower and a few capercaillie linger on," he continued. If the bid for the 572 metre high hill is is successful, trees will be planted to recreate the habitat that began when the ice retreated 10,000 years ago. "D&n Coillich would be an ecological haven, but not so conserved that access is impossible. There could be walkways, information and recreation areas but it would be no theme park. It could create employment for the people of Highland Perthshire and tourists from afar would come to see this major green undertaking,'' Mr Hull added. Although residents are aware it is an ambitious, long-term project, they are determined to leave an area of wild and natural beauty for future generations.

Cowal and Bute bid for national park inclusion

One of Scotland's two proposed national parks may be extended west to include Cowal and Bute. The area of the planned Loch Lomond and Trossachs national park already includes the Argyll Forest Park and stretches from St Fillans at the eastern end of Loch Earn to the edge of Loch Fyne in the west; and from the outskirts of Killin in the north to Helensburgh in the south. Members of the Scottish parliament's rural development committee are now considering the case for extending the boundaries to include Cowal and Bute, creating a park of over 500 square miles in size. The consultation period ended officially in September but, following late representations, the case for including Cowal and Bute's inclusion is receiving cross-party support. The matter is set to be discussed by the rural development committee on February 12 and the final decision rests with rural development minister Ross Finnie. The issue is back on the agenda after community councillor Bill Smith, of South Cowal, a long-time campaigner for the extension of the park, met with members of the rural development committee. A petition co-ordinated by Smith and signed by more than 600 people was presented to the Scottish Executive. Supporters are keen to take advantage of any economic benefits that may come from the park, although Smith believes Cowal and Bute would contribute valuable amenities. He said: ''At the moment the park is simply the mountain tops around Loch Eck and Ben Lomond, the Arrochar Alps and the Trossachs. The provision for people is very limited, so what Cowal and Bute will bring is the facilities and amenities that make the place hum.'' Conservative MSP for the Highlands and Islands, Jamie McGrigor, a member of the rural development committee, said the Cowal peninsula would add marine boundaries, largely missing under existing plans, to the park. ''I would happily give them my support. If you look at the map, it makes sense to include Cowal to have the sea boundary. They also want to include Bute, out of politeness more than anything else,'' he added. McGrigor, who also pushed for the inclusion of Argyll Forest Park, said it made sense to include Rothesay and Dunoon since they were established tourist resorts and could act as gateways to the park and to the wider Highlands. A draft designation order showing the park's boundaries will be published soon. MSPs will have an opportunity to debate the boundaries when the order goes through parliament. The Executive has allocated £3.8 million to be split between the Loch Lomond and Trossachs park and the other proposed national park, the Cairngorms. A spokeswoman for Scottish Natural Heritage, which carried out the original consultation on behalf of the Executive, said the identity of the park was meant to be focused on the Loch Lomond and Trossachs area, to relieve pressure on the area's natural heritage. The need to bring socio-economic benefit' to Cowal was not questioned, but its inclusion would accentuate concerns about the coherence and character of the park, she said, adding that people in Cowal and Bute had not made strong representations on their inclusion during the consultation period.

Climber hailed a hero after rescue

A pensioner has hailed his female climbing companion as "heroic" after she walked through the night to raise the alarm as he lay injured on a Scottish mountain. Mike Doyle (68), from North Wales, broke both ankles and dislocated a shoulder after being caught in an avalanche on Aonach Mor. Pamela Hope - who herself suffered a broken ankle after being caught in a second avalanche - struggled for 12 hours to get off the hill and raise the alarm. Mr Doyle is now recovering at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness. The leader of Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team, Terry Confield, praised Ms Hope's efforts in raising the alarm. "She did a good job. She travelled for about 12 hours trying to get down the mountain at night with very bad conditions and poor visibility. The gentleman himself had a very rough evening as he was lying in the snow there wondering how his friend was getting along," he said. Mr Doyle also paid tribute to Ms Holt (53), from Berkshire, who he described as "heroic", and he said his climbing companion had even apologised for taking so long to get help. The two had set off from Nevis Range, Fort William, but after climbing the Forgotten Twin peak on Aonach Mor they were swept about 200ft down from the summit. "We shot out of the bottom and I was quite surprised to find myself alive," said Mr Doyle. "We shouted to each other and compared conditions. Both of my feet were hanging sideways and she then made me a snow seat and sat me in it. She made a platform for my damaged feet and gave me a bit of soup and she went off to get rescue." Ms Hope set off to get help, but was then hit by a second avalanche in Easy Gully and swept another 100ft down the mountain, breaking her ankle. "Pamela came back to me and told me what had happened and went down the other way," said Mr Doyle. "I just sat and froze and wondered whether I was going to be dead when she got back. "I thought I might get hypothermia and just go." She eventually reached the Nevis Range base and the Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team and a rescue helicopter from HMS Gannet at Prestwick were called out. Mr Doyle is expected to remain in hospital for several weeks.

Funding boost for Schiehallion

Schiehallion in Perthshire is to be restored to its former beauty thanks to grants totalling over £580,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Scottish Natural Heritage. The 3,547 ft high peak is one of Scotland's best-known landmarks but is the victim of its own popularity. Thousands of people visit the mountain each year and the path to the summit has become an ugly scar visible for many miles around. Thanks to an imaginative plan, the John Muir Trust, one of the country's leading conservation bodies, is embarking on a major path restoration programme aimed at returning the mountain to its former glory. The Trust has been successful in securing a grant for £506,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) in Scotland. This grant represents 62% of the total project costs of £816,962 and will be used for woodland restoration, interpretation of the mountain environment for visitors and restoration of the path. Scottish Natural Heritage is giving a grant of £75,000 to the project. Tim Wheatley, Senior Grants Officer with the Heritage Lottery Fund said: "The proposals submitted for Schiehallion by the John Muir Trust were innovative and exciting and they were well received by the HLF Trustees. By awarding this grant to the Trust we are ensuring the future sensitive conservation of the mountain as well as open access to all visitors to enjoy its splendour."

Nigel Hawkins, director of the John Muir Trust which owns the eastern part of the mountain right up to the summit, said: "The path on Schiehallion has become one of the ugliest mountain scars in Scotland. Now with the support of HLF and SNH we are going to re-align the path up the east ridge of the mountain and set about restoring the ground that presently carries the path. "This is a mountain rescue with a difference. This time it is the mountain itself, rather than a climber or walker, which is being rescued. It is appropriate that this is happening now as 2002 is The International Year of the Mountain, when we all become more aware of our impact on the mountain environment and the importance of mountains to local and national communities." Work is planned to start on the mountain early this summer but because of the complexity of working on the sensitive terrain the project is expected to take up to five years to complete. Schiehallion lies within a National Scenic Area and part of the land owned by the trust lies within a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of the limestone pavements and the flowers which flourish there. The highly distinctive conical shaped mountain has a special place in science as the place where experiments were carried out in the Eighteenth Century to determine the mass of the earth by observing the deflection of a pendulum caused by the mass of the mountain itself. These experiments involved marking locations of equal height around the mountain and from this came the concept of contours so important to today's mappers and hillwalkers.

Bothy news

Manquhill bothy in southern Scotland remains closed for the foreseeable future following vandalism. Major repair work is required and it is not known at this time if, or when, the building will re-open as a bothy. In the meantime, however, it is apparently providing a home for barn owls!
Major work parties at the Faindouran and Tarf Hotel bothies in the Eastern Highlands - postponed this year due to the foot and mouth outbreak - are due to go ahead next summer.

Major work at Culra, on the Ben Alder estate, is due to take place over the winter or early next spring. Some work started at the end of the stalking season but the work party did not progress as planned due to a lack of volunteers.

Lairig Leacach bothy has been hit by vandals again. It remains open and work is underway to make good the damage.

An investigation is underway after the bothy at Glas Allt Shiel on the Balmoral Estate was attacked by vandals. The refuge is maintained by Dundee University Rucksacks Club. It sits behind the Royal lodge, on the shores of Loch Muick and is the property of the Queen's Balmoral Estate. In the attack - which took place at some point between December 3 and 10 - windows were smashed, furniture broken and a fire set to rafters within the upstairs sleeping area. The estate and other users of the building are extremely disappointed and say they will be monitoring the future use of the facility. It is feared that an act of stupidity of this nature could jeopardise the future of the bothy. Anyone who has any information on the incident, or who knows who is responsible, should contact Grampian Police at Braemar (Tel 01339 741222).

Cairngorms bid for World Heritage status

One of Scotland's most magnificent mountain environments is to be recommended for inclusion on the elite list of World Heritage Sites. A cross-party group of MSPs are to call for the Cairngorms to be added to the UNESCO World Heritage list. It would join internationally celebrated sites such as the Canadian Rocky Mountains and Grand Canyon. The Cairngorms range forms the largest continuous area of high ground above 1000 metres in Britain and already constitutes one of two proposed national parks in Scotland, the other being Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. The motion by Labour member for Aberdeen North, Elaine Thomson, argues there could be no more appropriate way of celebrating the United Nations International Year of the Mountain, which falls this year, than ensuring designation. The Cairngorms were previously been put forward for designation, without success. However, Thomson said, the time was now ripe to re-apply for the coveted status. ''There's all sorts of reasons the Cairngorms should be looked after properly for current and future generations and having World Heritage Status would reinforce the unique importance of the area,'' she continued. ''Scotland is one of very few places left with some genuinely wild areas, and the Cairngorms very definitely falls into that category.'' World Heritage Sites fall into two categories, natural and cultural, and man-made sites. Scotland has four designated sites - Edinburgh's Old and New Towns, Neolithic Orkney, St Kilda and New Lanark.

Slugain Bothy plans scrapped

Controversial plans to create a new bothy at Slugain Lodge, in the hills to the north of Braemar, now look set to be scrapped. At a special meeting of the Eastern Highlands area committee of the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA), members reiterated their view that the project should not go ahead, following concerns over the environmental impact of putting a bothy in the largely unspoiled glen. Fears were also expressed that a bothy at Slugain Lodge may lead to the existing track being extended further up the glen and that it could have a detrimental impact on existing howffs in the glen.  The lodge, which lies at the foot of Meall an t-Slugain on the Invercauld Estate, is currently ruined but the MBA's Management Committee decided to press ahead with the £6500 project, despite the fact it was rejected unanimously by the Eastern Highlands Area committee in October 2001. A special meeting was called at the Atholl Arms Hotel on Saturday, January 19, to discuss the situation. It was well attended, both by members of the Eastern Highlands area committee, MBA members and other interested parties. Following considerable discussion and debate, the committee unanimously backed a motion that the MBA does not go ahead with the Slugain project. This decision will have to be ratified by the Management Committee but it looks as if the proposal is now dead in the water, a move welcomed by bothy-goers and hillwalkers in the north-east. The special meeting was attended by MBA fundraising officer Neil Phillips and trustee John Arnott. Mr Arnott assured local members that the Eastern Highlands Area committee's decision would mean that the project is now at an end.