Grant and Johnny get rescued by helicopter!!!

Click on the photos or captions below to see an adventure in pictures!

00 Map 01 Helicopter in the distance 02 Helicopter getting closer 03 Helicopter looking for a place to land 04 Hovering and still looking 05 Helicopter almost landed
00 Map.jpg 01 Helicopter in... 02 Helicopter ge... 03 Helicopter lo... 04 Hovering and ... 05 Helicopter al...
06 Helicopter lands at the Youth Hostel 07 Getting out of the helicopter 08 Leaving the Sea King behind us 09 Do you detect a look of relief on our faces 10 Thankfully  we're safe 11 Helicopter takes off back to base
06 Helicopter la... 07 Getting out o... 08 Leaving the S... 09 Do you detect... 10 Thankfully w... 11 Helicopter ta...

All this only to get to a meeting of the Mountain Bothies Association

(To go to the MBA website click here)

            Johnny and I look after a remote bothy (a mountain refuge) near Dalwhinnie on the A9 road route Edinburgh/Perth/Inverness - have a look at Culra Bothy if you want to know more about it.  You can find Culra Bothy on Google Earth at: 56 51' 12.77" N, 4 25' 26.14" W.  There are some good photos of Culra Bothy on the Google Earth site.  There is also a route map on my website: so you can see where it is and how to get there.  We sometimes go there by car, turning off the main road at Dalwhinnie and driving up onto the moor and cycling the last bit in or, as this time, we take the bikes on the train, and cycle from the station at Dalwhinnie all the way in to the Bothy.

           A meeting of the Mountain Bothies Association was programmed for May 4, 2013, to be held at Gorton Bothy near Bridge of Orchy on the West Highland Rail line on the route from Glasgow to Fort William.  Bridge of Orchy and Gorton are both roughly where the famous (or infamous) Rannoch Moor starts on its southern edge.  Gorton Bothy:  56 35' 48.86" N, 4 38' 54.32" W.  The main topic to be discussed at this meeting was our Bothy, so we thought it would be a good idea to take the bikes in to the Bothy on Thursday 2 May, have a look at it's current state, take the bikes over the Bealach Dubh and down to Loch Ossian on 3 May, stay at Loch Ossian Youth Hostel that night, take the train down to Bridge of Orchy on 4 May and cycle in to Gorton to the MBA meeting.  The weather forecast, however, was not great!  But it wasn't horrific either.

            We took the train to Dalwhinnie and cycled in to the Bothy with driving winds and rain in our faces on the Thursday.  Nothing much had changed at Culra since our visit in March:  the roof was still leaking, the porches were in a very bad state, the north and west sides of the building were badly in need of another layer of paint, the window frames were continuing to rot, etc.  Nothing new!  We stayed the night at the Bothy and left with the bikes at about 10.30 the next morning heading west south west to the Bealach Dubh.  We were able to cycle on some of the path, but basically we ended up pushing our bikes most of the way.  The wind had changed direction from the day before, and the rain and wind were now in our backs and the wind was much less.  Great!  Had a quick early lunch just before climbing up to the Bealach which was in a bit of a wind shadow.  We found that bikes laden with our gear and pushed up a steep snow slope are a bit unmanageable!!

            We managed to stay on the track for a good distance on the west side of the Bealach, and dropped down to the bottom of the glen without much bother and relatively little bush-whacking (figuratively speaking - there's no actual bush for miles!!!).  It was pissing with rain!!!  Even at the beginning of the main burn down the glen to Loch Ossian, the water was quite high and we decided just to go for it and cross in our boots and get wet feet.  On we went and on and on.  We occasionally lost the track and then found it again, hoiked the bikes up steep banks and through narrow bits of track getting our shins and calves banged by the bike pedals, over peat bogs, through racing burns, and across boggy grassy slopes.  It was incredibly wet!

            At one point we came across a rather big burn rushing across in front of us.  Johnny crossed first and was swept over by the current against his bike panniers.  I naturally gave him lots of good advice about how to get out and back upright, but it wasn't at all appreciated.  (I try to do my best!)  So I then crossed the burn myself determined to show Johnny how it should be done.  After getting my feet firmly planted on the bottom of the burn, I attempted to move my bike on a bit.  Trouble is that the tyres and panniers tend to FLOAT in the water changing the bikes dynamics totally.  Swosh!!!!  I was on my arse in the burn, getting lots of advice from Johnny!  But no damage to either of us other than hurt pride!  About a half an hour later I reached into my anorak pocket to get some sweeties I had put there.  Water gushed out of the pocket - a souvenir of the dip in the burn!  I also soon discovered that all of my (previously) dry clothing in my pannier was now totally saturated!!

            On we went!  Another burn with more water in it than the one we had just crossed with some misadventure, but it was spread out and we crossed it without difficulty.  We could soon see the pine trees above Corrour Shooting Lodge and knew that we were just about there.  We imagined riding our bikes on the surfaced road along the side of Loch Ossian and on to the Hostel.  We were just about there and would soon be warm and dry!

But - -

Then - - -

The final burn just 1 km from Corrour Shooting Lodge was a raging torrent!!  It was about 20 feet wide and looked like it would have been up to our chest in depth.  It was rushing down a very steep slope and was foaming and very angry.  THERE WAS NO POSSIBILITY OF CROSSING HERE.  Johnny climbed up beside the burn to see if there was a shallow place higher up where we could cross.  He went on and on and it only got steeper and angrier.  I went down to where the burn flowed into the main river, but there was NO possibility of getting through and across there either.  We were both soaking wet, cold and tired (it was then about 5.30). 

What to do?? 

We couldn't go back because we knew that the burn where we had been swept down would be much fuller and that we couldn't cross there again now about 2 hours later!  We could see the water rising everywhere as we watched.  We were trapped - effectively on an island between raging torrents!  We couldn't go back up and we couldn't go down!  We had only a minimum of dry clothing and not enough for either of us to get completely dry.  We didn't have a tent, and the only bivouac bags we had were small and wouldn't cover us totally.  We knew that the burns were getting higher with each passing moment and would be even higher, deeper and faster in the morning!

            I pulled out my phone which was still dry enough to work.  THERE WAS AN EMERGENCY SOS NETWORK SIGNAL.  So we phoned 112 the emergency number.  Eventually we got onto the Mountain Rescue service.  We asked for someone to come in with a rope, throw it across to us so we could be pulled over.  Eventually after a lot of too-ing and fro-ing it was decided that the rope idea was very brave, but that it would be very risky under the circumstances.  So we were told that a helicopter was on its way, and would be with us in about 20 minutes!! The rest of the story you can see in the photos above.  To this point, though, we were too worried to take any photos of the raging torrent, the drenched hillsides, or us!  So I'm afraid you'll just have to imagine these and what they were like.

            Some of these photographs that can be seen above were taken by Katrina McCrae who was the warden at Loch Ossian Youth Hostel (Loch Ossian Hostel  and SYHA Loch Ossian - Have a look!  Now have you ever seen such a beautiful site for a Hostel??  In the second photo on the SYHA site you can see the Bealach Dubh in the distance on the right-hand side of the photo.). 

            We are extremely grateful to Katrina and Jean for the fantastic reception we received.  It was Katrina's second day as Warden at the Hostel - so it was an initiation by fire for her!  She had been forewarned (at our request) by the Mountain Rescue that we would be arriving late, but in style, so she and Jean had a roaring fire to welcome us, cups of tea, and a wonderful stir fry meal.  Just what we needed at that moment!  We got our wet gear off and she even gave us the (night) shirt off her back for me, and loaned Johnny a LOVELY pink sweater.  He looked very endearing in pink!  But - it was warmth, dry and food!  Great!

            We are also extremely grateful to the Fort William Police, to the Lochaber Mountain Rescue Service and to the RAF Helicopter Mountain Rescue for getting us out of a very uncomfortable and unpleasant (if probably not life-threatening) situation. 

We thank them all from the bottom of our hearts.

            We spent a comfortable night at the Hostel, got the train down to Bridge of Orchy, and Johnny went to the MBA meeting (I was feeling rather ill and, after a valiant start, decided it would be best to return to the comfort of the Bridge of Orchy Hotel).  So, after a bit of a trochle getting to that point on the previous day, Johnny, at least, did manage to get to the MBA meeting!  Plan accomplished - with some unplanned events on the way!

            We have been walking in the Scottish hills all our lives - about 100 years of combined experience between us - and nothing even remotely like this has ever happened to either of us before.  Perhaps it is because we don't usually go out into the hills in such atrocious conditions.  Or perhaps because we are usually walking along the tops or along ridges and not down in the bottoms of the glens.  High water in the Scottish hills is something we've never even considered before.  The Mountain Rescue were a bit concerned when I said that I was 72 and Johnny was 69.  But, they seemed to realise that this was not as serious as it might seem.  They asked us if we were fit and able to cope - which we were or we wouldn't have made it that far, and they dropped that line of enquiry immediately.  Of course, what our 'advanced' age means really is that we are very experienced in the hills.  That said, my bicycle pannier wasn't waterproof when it came to going for a swim in the raging waters of an engorged burn.  So I've bought new totally waterproof panniers - even though I don't really plan to go swimming with the bike again!!!!

            As someone said recently about over-legislation - you can't legislate against risk.  Similarly one can't take precautions against every risk.  Especially when it was a risk we had never encountered before, and never even considered.  But it has taught us a lesson that we will never now forget!! 

- Grant and Johnny

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