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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 February 2007, 13:24 GMT
Lost and found in the mountains
By Steven McKenzie
BBC Scotland news website

Mountain rescue expert Alan Crichton recalls some unique events during his many years on Scotland's peaks.

Alan Crichton (Pic: Alan Crichton)
Alan Crichton 'at the office'

A winter skills class on digging avalanche assessment pits was halted mid-lesson by a strange figure trudging through the snow towards participants.

Holding a black umbrella aloft, the man was dressed for an afternoon stroll rather than a hike in Glen Shee.

Alan Crichton, the man leading the class, said: "This character came out of the gloom.

"He walked up and asked if he was headed in the right direction for Glas Maol."

Alan, a long-serving member of Aberdeen Mountain Rescue Team, told him in no uncertain terms that he was in not equipped to walk to the 1,066m (3,503ft) summit in the grip of winter.

"I think he turned back then. The rescue team didn't get a call out that day, so I presume he did," said the 48-year-old.

This great big Hercules was flying through the valley way down below and being air cadets this was great
Alan Crichton

It was among the more bizarre incidents Alan has come across in his time as a rescuer and running his own company.

He said: "There was another time while out in the hills where this group of girls approached us and asked: 'Do you know where we are?' 'Yes', I replied. 'Oh, could you tell us where we are please?'.

"They had a map and with a bit of help they managed to find where on it they were and went on their way.

"They were doing their Duke of Edinburgh Award, which was one of the things that got me interested in hillwalking when I was a youngster alongside my parents taking me on walks up Bennachie."

His interest was further fuelled during a trip with friends from the air cadets.

While climbing a hill near Braemar they looked down to see an RAF transport aircraft lumbering through the glen below.

Alan said: "This great big Hercules was flying through the valley way down below and being air cadets this was great.

"We all thought that climbing hills could actually be quite good fun."

However, climbing and hill walking was to play a serious role for Alan in 1995.

He said: "I was a chartered quantity surveyor but the company I worked for shut up its office in Aberdeen.

"I was called down to Glasgow and told because of the recession they were closing the office and I had a choice of moving to Croydon or being made redundant."

He took the redundancy option and set up his mountain skills company, Mountain Skills Limited.

An Teallach (Pic: Alan Crichton)
An Teallach, the forge in Gaelic, taken by Alan Crichton

"The market has always been there. If you climb a munro most days, there are usually other people out and about so there is definitely a growing interest in the hills," said Alan, who regularly climbs in the Alps.

"I took a gamble to set up on my own and so far it's paid off. I think the fascination in mountains and climbing is booming."

More than 10 years down the line, Alan continues to stress that preparation, good navigation skills and correctly used equipment are essential to staying safe.

An ice axe ranks as one of his most vital pieces of kit to have - and definitely not an umbrella, he said.

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