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Hamish MacInnes 1930-2020

Monday 23rd November 2020, 4:18pm

Scottish mountaineering legend Hamish MacInnes has died, at the age of 90.

Mountaineer, rescuer, innovator and author, his contribution to mountaineering practice and culture, both in Scotland and on the world stage, was massive. And who knows the tally of lives he saved, both directly as a mountain rescuer, and through his innovations in equipment and training for mountain rescue teams?

Born in Gatehouse of Fleet, he was most associated with Glen Coe, where he lived for most of his life.

Climbing since his teens, he was renowned for his determination and powers of endurance, and tales abound of his feats in the mountains, both in Scotland and beyond.

In Glen Coe he founded the first properly organised mountain rescue team and was a pioneer in the field, quite literally writing the book on the matter when he published ‘The International Mountain rescue Handbook’ in 1972. He also invented the MacInnes Stretcher, designed for mountain rescue work, which went through continuous development through the decades, a version still being used today. He was aslo involved in the foundation of the Search and Rescue Dog Association (SARDA) and the Scottish Avalanche Information Service.

Ice climbers remember him for his development of the Terrordactyl – the first all metal ice-axe with a steeply angled pick, which allowed a total change in ice climbing technique and ultimately helped to inspire modern ice-axe design.

For a time he ran the Glencoe School of Winter Mountaineering, where promising students might find themselves involved in first ascents.

Through his involvement with mountain rescue he was skilled in safety and rope management in the mountains and this led to lots of film work, as technical and safety advisor, in films including The Eiger Sanction, Monty Python & the Holy Grail, The Mission and Five Days One Summer.

He wrote prolifically, with a number of thrillers to his credit, although he is most associated with classics such as ‘Callout!’, about his mountain rescue adventures, and ‘Behind the Ranges’ about some of his early mountaineering adventures, including a two-man attempt on Everest in 1953.

In 2008, he was the first recipient of the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture.

In 2014 he was misdiagnosed as having dementia, suffering delirium actually caused by an acute urinary infection, and spent time detained in a psychogeriatric ward in hospital.

His attempts to escape from there, and his determined efforts to recover his memory after release, were told in the 2018 film ‘Final Ascent’, a powerful and affecting documentary which showed that even in his latter years he had lost none of his determination and strength of will, and was the same hard man who had impressed his contemporaries and succeeding generations with his extreme exploits in the mountains.

Brian Shackleton, President of Mountaineering Scotland, said: “One way or another, every hill walker, climber and mountaineer in Scotland owes a debt of gratitude to Hamish MacInnes. From his own climbs, to his contribution to climbing technology and to the development of mountain rescue; from his autobiographical writings and tales of mountain adventure, to his guide books and his International Mountain rescue Handbook, he has made an unrivalled contribution to both the culture and practice of mountaineering.

“He was one of the first mountaineers in this country to become a household name and was a real legend not just in Scottish mountaineering, but on a world stage.”

Damon Powell, Chair of Scottish Mountain Rescue said: “Everyone in mountain rescue across Scotland will be deeply saddened by today's news. We all walk in his footsteps and in his shadow. Hamish was the instigator of all that we are and do in mountain rescue today. He set a standard for us to be the best at what we do and we continue to strive to meet that challenge. Our thoughts and best wishes go out to all his family and friends."