TAC 28: Aug-Sep96

TAC 28 Index

The further adventures of Budgie

Ronald Turnbull

"Thou mad'st him strong to stand, though free to fall."

It was a perfectly routine rescue. Walking down Glen Nevis in the dark last March, we saw two lights above the Steall Falls. "Can't get down there," we said to each other; and sure enough, the lights started to flash an SOS. I trotted down to the campsite, requested a ride to the phone box, and called the Rescue. It turned out that eighteen people had been behind the two torches; one had fallen a few feet and got a bit scratched; the helicopter came for them in the early hours.

Two torches among eighteen? Dear me. And obviously they hadn't studied their escape routes in advance. Very stupid, shouldn't be allowed onto the hill, should be made to pay for the helicopter, lucky for them there were a couple of real hillwalkers passing by.

Well, let's start by looking at those two experienced hillwalkers down below. Ice-axes, crampons, torches - but what's that on their feet? Running shoes? And what are they doing in Glen Nevis in the dark anyway? Thirteen Munros? Hmmm...

Flashback to Striding Edge, late Feb. Lots of snow, trampled down to a sort of artificial neve. Proper hillwalker, crampons, ice-axe, just finished a tricky little descent on front points, meets two idiots with no pointy metal bits whatever. "Best go back," he tells them. "Front-pointing, you know: can't be done without crampons. Fall off, as like or not."

I was one of those idiots. The other was someone I met on the way up. We didn't go back. It wasn't as good as the thirteen Lochaber Munros: it wasn't as silly, either. But it was good. Believe me, it was chop off the top of the head, spoon out the brains and fling them to the winds stuff. But the sensible young man did spoil it a bit, until we decided he was probably just a bit scared after the front-pointing.

Now let's flash back ninety years and suppose I'd seen those lights in Glen Nevis in 1906. Candles, they'd have been, in some wonky lantern that kept going out and, when you tried to relight it, burnt your fingers. Back in 1906, I wouldn't have finished my reasonably challenging day by running for the Rescue. In 1906, I'd have turned myself round, gone back up Garbhanach for about 1000ft, across the steep rocky stuff, down the stream for about 900ft, and spent the rest of the night leading the eighteen back up the stream, across the rocky bit, and down Garbhanach. That would have given me a really interesting night out, given the eighteen an appropriate amount of suffering in consequence to their bad mapreading, and cost the taxpayer nothing.

Sideways, next; for this is to be a story told entirely in pictures. This is from Touch the Void by a bloke called Simpson. (Your Ed says it's Touching the Void - TAC24, p15 - but if Wordsworth can persuade us all that Saddleback is really called Blencathra, Touching the Void is really called Touch the Void.) There he was, sitting in his bag on a ledge near the top of the Walker Spur when the ledge fell off. He spent the rest of the night dangling by his armpits off two dodgy pitons. Since his boots were now 1000m below his feet, there was nothing to do when morning came but yell for the helicopter.

Simpson's mate gave up mountaineering for ever. Simpson kept at it. Simpson went to Patagonia, and on the walk in he wrote in his diary: "What freedom, what joy, to be walking into country with no damned rescue helicopters." And when he eventually broke both his legs, was able to enjoy the most interesting and self-reliant rescue ever.

Now, a big man with a beard. It's Mr Unna. "Nothing shall be done to make the mountains easier or safer to climb on."

Next, a peaceful moment on Loch Trool. A wee boat putters gently across the still waters of evening. But who is this lying in the sternsheets? Alas, he has broken his ankle on the Southern Upland Way. Fear not, for on the further shore his helicopter awaits. But now the final sad scene. Here come the people with the pick-axes. The only slightly interesting bit on the whole Way is to be diverted along the shoreline and made flat. Many of those who walk the Way are retired persons (and therefore "frail"). The rescue has been "awkward" and, who knows, some day a walker may sue.

The quote from the top is from Milton. Doctrine of Free Will, St Augustine, all that stuff. Read it up. After all, you might go somewhere there are no helicopters and get dead and need a bit of theology. Next issue of TAC: Dante's Inferno, the Guide for Cavers and Backpackers.

TAC 28 Index