Hamish MacInnes, the Fox of Glencoe

Hamish MacInnes, a giant of Scottish mountaineering and mountain rescue, passed away at home on Sunday. This tribute from Dave “Heavy” Whalley MBE BEM was originally published on his blog.

There will be much written by many in the mountaineering world who climbed with Hamish MacInnes over the years. His exploits are legendary and so impressive.

Hamish climbed all over the world, yet his passion was Scotland. He wrote many books of his exploits; they, like his films, are a part of his legacy.

Hamish MacInnes: Photo Hyparxis CC-BY-SA-4.0

I got to know Hamish through Mountain Rescue where he was known as “The Fox of Glencoe”. His incredible pioneering work within Mountain Rescue and the formation of The Search and Rescue Dog Association (SARDA) work towards Avalanche Awareness are renowned.

In the early days of Mountain Rescue he was a pioneer and formed the Glencoe MR Team. They were a great group of top mountaineers called The “Glencoe Mafia” and, added to the many local characters, keepers and shepherds, they were a team in the true tradition of Mountain Rescue.

I was so lucky to meet him and work with Hamish on so many occasions. In these early days he worked with many of the RAF teams who were in these days at the forefront of Mountain Rescue in the early years .

Hamish used his engineering background to make lightweight stretchers and ice axes. He designed new techniques for technical rescue. Yet most of all he was a true mountaineer. He was also an innovative inventor who made breakthroughs in the design of ice axes that changed the face of mountaineering.

Yet he was still part of of a small Mountain Rescue team in Glencoe. This world-class mountaineer was one of us.

I got to know Hamish well over the years. I was in the corner of the room as a young lad as he talked about rescues and other tales. I worked with him on the hill was amazed at his endurance and how he never seemed to feel the cold. He was ice cool in any drama and such a mountaineer. I got to know him better as I became Team Leader of the RAF Teams. He was full of advice, yet he listened to you and shared his knowledge.

He had so many contacts in the military he could arrange anything. This was very helpful. Hamish also helped set up the Mountain Rescue Committee and he got things done. He highlighted the costs of Mountain Rescue to team members to the Police and fought our corner on many occasions. He also handled the politics of Mountain Rescue, advising on so many occasions.

Hamish MacInnes

He worked with the helicopters all the time improving systems and was a friend of so many aircrew; he was the man they trusted on a rescue. He had many other contacts in the special forces and had access to state of the art gear that he used on searches.

He helped us a lot in many ways, always there when our future was threatened. He had the ear of many politicians over the years. If you had a problem, Hamish was the man.

I think and I am proud to say we became good pals and I dropped in often to see him in his house in Glencoe. He had an incredible memory. He could produce at any time a picture of some first ascent or of a famous climber on an expedition he was part off.

Hamish stories were incredible and when he took ill a few years ago I was honoured to be part of his network that he spoke to. These were terrible times for Hamish and his recent film shows how grim it was for him.

Amazingly Hamish recovered. He regained his memory by re-reading his many books. I visited him and the stories kept coming back. Listening to Hamish he would drop the names of the famous into the conversation as if it was a normal occurrence . Chris (Bonington), Clint ( Eastwood), Shaun ( Connery) were regular, as was Michael (Palin) and so many others.

On his recovery he had many visits from his pals. He seemed so happy, so well looked after by his local carers. He sang their praises, they looked after him so well and he was fighting back to health.

He had just celebrated his big birthday (90) recently and on his birthday he was surrounded by his Glencoe pals in the garden. He was overjoyed with a special day.

I saw him recently and he was still on fine form. I think he knew we would not meet again. He asked me if I could sort out a fly past from the coast guards. He was missing seeing his pals in the helicopters. (Over to you, Bristow Helicopters.)

My last words were “take care” as he sat by Tom Patey’s desk, amongst the pictures of the mountains he loved.

I will miss his lengthy chats on the phone, the huge emails, the visits to his house, his incredible memory, his stories, but also his true friendship. He did so much for so many especially those in trouble on the mountains.

There will be so many stories and tales of this incredible man but to me he was our Hamish. I feel we so honoured to have been a small part of the story.

Rest in peace Hamish, you were one of the finest men I have ever met. How many lives did you save, how many folk are indebted to you? We will never know but what a life , what adventures, what vision. What a man.

There was also a side that many did not see his care for the relatives after a tragedy on the hills was something few knew about. Hamish the man of iron had a heart of gold.

Hamish at Tom Patey’s old desk ! Photo Davy Gunn

“An Iconic Last” Hamish’s words.

“There can only be one” Highlander.

Thank you Sir.

Many thanks to Heavy for permission to reproduce his tribute.

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