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At the bottom of each post there is the word "comments". If you click on it you will see comments made by followers, and if you follow the instructions you may also comment and I always welcome that. I have found many people overlook this part of the blog which is often more interesting than the original post!

My blog nick-name is SIR HUGH. I'm not from the aristocracy - my middle name is Hugh which relates to the list of 282 hills in Scotland compiled by Sir Hugh Munro in 1891. I climbed my last one (Sgurr Mor) on 28th June 2009

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Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Heroes.

Afootinthehills who comments here asked me to publish details of the Hamish McInnes/Ian Clough snow and ice course I attended in Glencoe back in 1969 after I had alluded to that event after watching a fascinating documentary last night on BBC Scotland - First Ascent. The programme was a self narration by Hamish McInnes detailing his life. I highly recommend it - I think it should still be available on iPlayer or whatever.

Hamish is a renowned Scottish rock climber and was also a pivotal member on several very serious Himalayan expeditions. He is a seminal equipment designer re-defining the design of ice climbing equipment and laying the foundations of modern day Mountain Rescue including the design of the standard stretcher which I think is still being used today. 

Ian Clough was known to me slightly as a fellow member of the Yorkshire Mountaineering Club back in the 60s snd his younger brother Peter was in my form at Bradford Grammar School. Ian was another professional climber who teamed up with Hamish in Glencoe and they did many first ascents together. Ian was, and I don't say this lightly, one of the nicest people I have met during my life. Unfortunately Ian was killed on the last day of the Bonnington Annapurna expedition (1970) by a collapsing ice serac.

The doings of these two and their contemporaries in British rock climbing, and alpine and Himalayan epics are legendary to a monumental degree - just have look at Wikipedia.

So, by chance, years ago I started writing up details of my own modest doings and have been able to lift the relevant stuff about my 1969 few days in Glencoe with these two legends.


Heroes

I suppose most people would choose their heroes from the ranks of the famous, and they would never know them personally, and it may well be a great disappointment if that were to happen, but I include one or two here, I hope with sufficient justification. First of all I want to recall an event in 1969 which produced a clear hero for me, and taught me something else I have never forgotten.

The event was a snow and ice climbing course in Glencoe run by Hamish McInnes and Ian Clough which ran over a period of a few days. There were about eight of us on the course, and I now only remember three in particular. We all assembled at, and stayed in a bunkhouse in Glencoe. At that time I was twenty nine years old. I drove to this event in my Volkswagen 1300 Beetle, and picked up a hitchhiker on the side of Loch Lomond, who turned out to be heading for the same course. This guy was a few years younger than me. Although it is not relevant to this story, coming round a bend in the road we came across an accident. An elderly lady had been driving from the opposite direction, and her car was upside down on the side of the road. Other people were already in attendance and help had been called, and the lady was not injured, but I was amused because she kept saying repeatedly,
“I wasn’t going too fast was I?”

My hitchhiker was a trifle arrogant, and I did not particularly take to him, but he did convey that he was an experienced climber of some ability. At the bunkhouse the next person who remains in the memory was another even younger lad who seemed to be clumsy and inept, but always willing to do more than his share of work, and make brews for everybody. I don’t think he did this to curry favour – he was just a decent sort of guy. The third person was a small fiftyish guy who turned out to be a bank manger and had no previous climbing experience at all - my immediate thoughts were that hewas too old and would prove to be a liability on the hill.*

There was not really enough snow and ice for the purposes of the course, and on the first day we were sent off on a navigation exercise across some wilderness in foul weather.

The second day we were taken up into The Lost Valley in Glencoe to do a mixed snow and rock climb which Hamish said was a second ascent. We ascended a steep snow gully, then broke out onto the righthand rock wall which was sparsely snow adorned. Halfway up this wall the young inept one lost one of his crampons, arising,I suppose, from not having properly strapped them which was predictable from previous observation of this character. We watched as the crampon fell down our previously climbed snow gully for about a hundred feet. We all knew that somebody would have to retrieve it, and everybody seemed to hesitate, and nobody wanted to volunteer, but unnoticed at first, the fiftyish “old” inexperienced bank manager had unroped and set off - he retrieved the item in a competent and modest manner, and I think we all felt a bit ashamed that we had held back and let this chap do the business.

At the end of this day my hitchhiker was muttering that the course was not hard enough. The next morning we assembled to meet Hamish and Ian. I saw Ian beckon to the hitchhiker and they went off together, and the rest of us went off up Bidean nam Bian with Hamish. I suspect Ian took that guy up some desperate climb and scared the hell out of him. All I know is that he was very quiet and subdued for the rest of the time.

My hero of course was the bank manager. The lesson I learnt, which I know is a cliché, is never to judge people on first acquaintance, and I have tried to abide by this ever-since. I am not saying that first impressions are always wrong or right, but it is always worth taking a step back and observing before making radical judgements.

* Pereception of age I now realise is proportional to one's own age at the time!

6 comments:

bowlandclimber said...

Just finished watching the Final Ascent film about Hamish MacInnes, an interesting way of looking at his life through his own memories which he had just retrieved after a spell in hospital. Using iPlayer I could stop the action and rewind whenever I wanted to take in the details.
There seem to be some excellent programmes on Scottish TV.
On visits to Scotland, we would always take note if he was in residence at his little white cottage at the bottom of Glencoe.
Your story of being on a course with the great man is historic in itself.
I assume he is still alive aged about 90.

Sir Hugh said...

BC - Yes, a much treasured memory. According to Wiki he is still batting. Did you notice the acknowledgement of First Ascent in the film credits at the end regarding him climbing onto the hospital roof - graded VS 4c.? Not bad going at that age.

afootinthehills said...

Sir Hugh - Thanks for posting this.

We watched last night and I think the film showed Hamish as an intelligent and thoughtful person as well as giving an appreciation of his mountaineering pedigree to the uninitiated. And of course his contribution to mountain rescue was immense - unequalled in fact. I still have his book,'Call-Out',which I may re-read.

As regards Hamish’s and Ian’s courses, I seem to recall that they often featured second and even some first ascents of winter climbs in the Glen. I think your hitch-hiker participant took a big risk complaining about the course not being hard enough - he might have been offered the lead on some horror of a route! I don’t think McInnes or Clough suffered fools gladly.

I loved his final climb onto the hospital roof. That showed ‘em!

Did you enjoy the course and find it useful?

Sir Hugh said...

Afoot - Apart from being shown how to arrest a fall with the axe which I already knew about I learnt little apart from the lesson of life detailed in this post. As you say Hamish especially didn't suffer fools (or the less accomplished.) His style was to march off ahead and hard luck for anybody who couldn't keep up. Ian C was the opposite, attentive to one's needs, eager to teach, kind and good company. Another vivid memory was coming off the summit of Meall Mor above Glencoe village. It was fully corniced and Ian just jumped over the edge and glissaded down - I would no more have done that than jump off a building, but of course that's experience. Did I enjoy the course? I'm not sure, but not much I think.

afootinthehills said...

Sir Hugh - I was never inclined to go on a mountaineering course, though not because I thought I had nothing to learn. Far from it, but my heroes never did (Haston, Smith and the like) so I didn't see any reason why I shouldn't just climb and learn from experience. Of course a teacher taught me basic rope management and how to place protection (such as it was in those days) and my brother who was 12 years older than me had climbed a fair bit.

I regret that I never kept a diary of those early days although two rather stupid escapades stick in my memory. However, I'm sure my memories of the detail of those outings will be completely wrong so unlike you I can't really write about them with any confidence of accuracy.

Sir Hugh said...


From Sir Hugh - I inadvertently deleted Phreerunner's comment but fortunately still had it as an email notification so here it is re-posted:


Phreerunner has left a new comment on the post "Heroes.":

Excellent, Conrad, that's a lovely story from 1969.
Keep it up!