This is the second of Katie Berry’s two-part blog on the history of the Glasgow University Mountaineering Club told via the stories of alumni from the club.
In addition to members from the 1940s and 1950s I also managed to get in touch with a few members from the 1970s, whose offspring are currently active within the club. The first of these was Sheila MacIver.
‘I first joined the GUMC as an undergraduate, in 1974, aged 21, when I came to Glasgow University to work on a research project for a year as part of my degree at Middlesex Polytechnic. Although I was Scottish by birth and parentage I had mostly grown up down south and wanted to explore as much of Scotland as I could. I was not an experienced hill walker let alone mountaineer, despite having spent a month in the Alps, but I was keen on the outdoors and reasonably fit. I survived the Freshers’ meet to the Dubs hut, above Honister Pass in the Lake District, with at least 3 times as many people in the hut as there were beds spaces and where unbeknown to me then, I met my future husband. Walking up to the Hut in the dark with far-too-heavy a rucksack and no head torch was a nightmare and a lesson to me for future meets.
My first Scottish meet was to Lagangarbh in Glen Coe. I can remember standing outside the hut looking up at Buachaille Etive Beag and thinking how the hell do you get to the top of that? Well I did, and that was the start of a love affair with climbing Scottish hills. But every bit as important as the hills was the social life of the club – the pubs; the drinking; the singing of Scottish folk songs. I wanted to participate and not having a great voice, I learned to play the penny whistle. It was during that first year that I was introduced to Clashgour where again overcrowding seemed to be the norm, but we just got on with it and all squeezed in somehow. Once “the bomb” was blazing and square sliced sausages (“squaries”) were frying there was no better place to be.
My experiences with the GUMC during that year were a major influence on my wish to return to Glasgow as a postgraduate. I was keen to get away with the GUMC as often as I could. The club was not as large as it is now and we mostly stayed in mountaineering club huts or camped. It is all a bit of a blur now but I remember trips to Steall in Glen Nevis; the Carn Dearg Hut in Glen Clova; a youth hostel in Galloway; Nancy’s private hostel at Fersit, near Spean Bridge; camping in Glen Rosa on Arran and by the sea on Rum. I discovered a love of ridge walking/scrambling – The Five Sisters and The Cluanie Ridge in Glen Shiel, The Aonach Eagach in Glen Coe, The Carn Mor Dearg Arete and Ben Nevis in winter conditions, Sgurr nan Gillean via Pinnacle Ridge and the mighty Liathach in Torridon. I had learned to pack a rucksack I could carry, bought a winter sleeping bag so I was warm and a Vango tent (still in use) so I always had somewhere to sleep. I had also mastered the art of cooking with a primus stove without setting my tent alight.
Trips to Clashgour stand out as memorable. On one occasion myself and a friend walked up beyond Loch Dochard to head up Stob Coir an Albanach. It was a hot day and we skinny dipped in the river, carried on up to the summit, then glissaded down some late spring snow in a gully on our way back round to Stob Ghabhar via Meall Odhar. Once I went to Clashgour for a few days on my own. No one else was free to come and I was keen to see how I coped with my own company. I remember lying in the attic listening to the wind, the birds and the river. There was time to think and reflect, brew up some tea and think some more. Happy days!’
The second member who got in contact with me from the 1970s was Colin Porteous. Colin’s was a member from 1970–4 and his memories focused on the Skye meet which traditionally followed the summer exam period.
‘We lived for Skye. In those days, early seventies, it wasn’t quite so easy to get there. Most of us hitched, but occasionally, someone could get the loan of a car and we stuffed it full of gear and people. No bridge at Kyle [of Lochash] then either, so you had to be there before the last ferry.
In those days the GUMC had a big green tent called the elephant. It was an Icelandic Stormhaven. It had wooden poles, was six feet high and was big enough for at least ten people. At times it had a lot more in it than that. Anyway, this tent got pitched in Glen Brittle for weeks on end in June, and it provided a base for those released back into the community after degree exams. A sort of transit camp for students from different faculties with different exam times, so it was permanently occupied. The medics were always the last to arrive – and the last to leave. It was the party tent. In June, it doesn’t get dark in Glen Brittle, so we had both parties and hangovers in broad daylight.
Mountains and routes did get climbed though. Coire Lagan was the irresistible magnet for most of us. The fabulous gabbro routes up the buttresses of Sgurr Alasdair kept us occupied for weeks when the weather allowed. We played games on the Cioch Slab, like climbing it with your hands in your pockets cause the angle was just right, or climbing it without PA’s, just in hairy socks cause the rock was so good.
Then one day, from the floor of the coire to the glacis a long way above, we did Cioch West, Cioch Slab and Integrity in one long, unbroken climb. That was a long day. 10 o’clock closing in those days and we got down too late to get to the pub at Sligachan. You don’t have that problem now.
Then there was the ridge. We went up onto sections of it regularly over three years of visits, till we knew it. We experimented with ways off it in cloud. We made sketches of it and took pictures of it and dreamed of doing it all. But we had to wait till we’d all graduated before we finally got the break and did the whole thing. None of us will ever forget it … best route you can do in the UK, nothing else comes close’
In his email to me Colin asked whether the GUMC still go to Skye after exams now, I replied that we did; indeed the club heads off for Skye this weekend! (time of writing 21/05/14).
I am incredibly grateful to Sheila and Colin for their contribution. I hope that their stories, and Angela and Hugh’s last week, help to provide interesting reading about the exploratory activities of students around Scotland during their time at University of Glasgow.