Book review – Cairngorm John: A Life in Mountain Rescue

Cairngorm John: A Life in Mountain Rescue (Non-fiction) (Hardback)

* Publisher: Sandstone Press Ltd
* Published: 20 March 2009
* Format: Hardback 320 pages
* ISBN 13: 9781905207244 ISBN 10: 1905207247

Frequently when working or walking in the Cairngorm mountains I hear or see the mountain rescue helicopter buzz overhead and wonder what has happened to an unfortunate climber or hillwalker. I’ve felt especially concerned for the injured person and the mountain rescue team if it was particularly bad weather. I’d then maybe hear a short two line article in the local press the following day.

In this book John Allen tells of the background and aftermath of some of these incidents. John Allen served as  member of the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue team for over thirty years and he was team leader for most of that time, following on from the well-known Molly Porter.

His book is filled with a mix of accounts of rescues he was involved with, and in some cases he is able to give quite detailed accounts of the event leading up to the incident and some history of the CMRT.

He discusses rescue topics such as hypothermia, helicopter assistance and first aid. He explains the potential problems with giving CPR to hypothermic patients and highlights how misreporting by the media has led to unwanted public debate about the best  procedures.

Amongst his earlier tales of rescues include several when the CMRT were involved in leading stranded rail passengers and drivers to safety. During the severe winters, which were more common during the 1970s and 1980s than today, the railways line and or roads (including the A9) would often become blocked by snow drifts.

John tells of the recent example of  the MRT being called out  when not necessary – but which the walkers seemed to think was their ‘right’ – was for the group of 39 school children from a London Girls Sixth Form College. The teacher and the girls got lost on the slopes of Meall a’ Bhuachaille (810m) and called for rescue. Apparently the teacher demanded a helicopter be sent to help them.  During negotiations, when the MRT tried to explain this was not necessary, the mist lifted and the easy path down off the hill was clearly visible. But the school group still demanded help. The CMRT set off to lead the group off the hill only to find they had got bored waiting and started down themselves. But instead of being full of gratitude or feeling ashamed of themselves they demanded to know why the MRT had taken  so long in coming to help them. This incident happened as recently as 2004 and was one of the most irresponsible cases in recent years. One local guy I know told me he spoke to the school bus driver that day and when he heard what the teacher proposed he advised them not to attempt the hill dressed as they were in school uniforms and carrying bin liners to protect them from the weather.

This book also explores the debate around the funding of the mountain rescue service and the current volunteer nature of this.  I felt that now, since his retirement from the team, John was finally able to speak his mind regarding several issues in which he’d previously had to give the official MRT line or say nothing! This combination of stories and personal feelings makes the books interesting to a wide audience.

If you’ve ever wandered the hills in the UK and been aware of the potential dangers of your activity, you may enjoy this book. Or if you simply feel an emotional attachment to our wonderful uplands then you’ll recognize John’s feelings for his local stomping grounds, the Cairngorms.

I would highly recommend this to anyone who ventures out in the hills.


Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team

3 comments on “Book review – Cairngorm John: A Life in Mountain Rescue

  1. Is mollie Porter still Alive, my friend and I spent a week around 1968? on a holiday in the cairgorms led by Mollie when she was training her dog in rescue techniques

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