John Muir, the ecologist and national parks trailblazer, was my first piece in a series on Scottish pioneers of the outdoors last week (see here for the article). Muir was a giant in outdoors terms but he is also very much in the past (he died in 1914). The subject of my second piece is much more personal and rather more up-to-date.
I have marvelled at the exploits of Hamish MacInnes, climber, mountain rescue visionary and film-maker, ever since I was a boy and I “borrowed” (still have them) books about mountain rescues from my dad. In more recent times I was lucky enough to meet and interview Hamish at his home in Glencoe – he even wrote a letter of praise for an article I wrote in the Scots Magazine which is about as high an award as I could wish for! It’s on the wall on my office even now.
Hamish sadly died last year but his legacy will live on for as long as people seek adventure in the mountains.
It was 60 years ago that he established the Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team after realising the band of brave shepherds, fishermen, landlords and climbers who helped save lives on the high summits needed better equipment than Wellington boots and storm lanterns.
It was these rescues, and tragedies, which led MacInnes to develop cutting edge equipment used by mountaineers and rescuers across the world. It began after he invented the first all-metal ice axe in the late 1940s. He developed this until a version was created in the 1960s using aluminium alloy shafts. After finding a drop forger in Manchester they went into production and their use was to revolutionise the climbing world, not only improving safety but providing lighter equipment.
He is equally as famed for the invention and manufacture of stretchers suitable for use on difficult terrain such as mountains. He designed the first stretcher which came apart and had wooden skis attached. Further modifications were made and the first folding stretcher was invented – quicker to carry out to an injured climber as well as being easier to lift back, meaning there was a better chance of saving lives. Since those early days the MacInnes Stretcher has been used for rescues across the world as well as in conflict zones such as Afghanistan.
Despite the inventions, MacInnes always said they didn’t make him a rich man. Rather, his major income came from the world of film where his expertise was used in productions ranging from The Mission with Robert de Niro and Jeremy Irons to the James Bond film The Living Daylights with Sean Connery.
Work on the Eiger Sanction in 1975 is credited as some of the most dangerous location shooting ever done. MacInnes enabled a camera crew to work on the north face of the Eiger and he developed a mutual respect with the director and star, Clint Eastwood.
With typical enthusiasm for anyone who enjoyed being in the mountains – whether a film star or day-tripper from Glasgow – Hamish told me: “Clint was a great bloke. He did all his stunts, he wasn’t a climber but he was very fit and had no fear whatsoever.”
I am sure Mr Eastwood would return that compliment.
I’d love to hear of any suggestions for Scottish outdoor pioneers so please let me know.