Born in Gatehouse of Fleet in 1930, Hamish MacInnes became a renowned mountaineer who tackled many of the great peaks of world in around twenty expeditions in the Alps, the Himalayas – including four to Everest – the Caucasus, New Zealand and South America. Known variously as the ‘Father of Scottish Mountain Rescue’ and the ‘Fox of Glencoe,’ for his cunning as a mountaineer, Hamish was also an inventor, mountaineering advisor, search and rescue expert, writer, filmmaker and photographer. He died on 22 November 2020.
Hamish MacInnes lived at 31 Catherine Street. In the 1920s and 1930s his parents ran Market Cross Stores at 35-37 High Street.
After the Second World War, his family moved to Greenock, on the Clyde. There Hamish became interested in mountaineering, learning by accompanying a neighbour when he went climbing in the ‘Arrochar Alps’ and by going out with the Glasgow Creagh Dhu Club. When Hamish started climbing, it was mostly a hobby of the well-to-do but the club allowed working class men to enjoy the sport too.
During his National Service in Austria (1948-1950), Hamish spent his leave climbing in the Tyrol and the Dolomites. After his return to Britain, Hamish pioneered many winter climbing routes, including the first winter traverse of the Cuillin Ridge on Skye and the first winter ascent of Zero Gully on Ben Nevis in 1957. During the first British ascent of the Bonatti Pillar, near Chamonix in the French Alps (1958), falling rocks fractured his skull.
In 1959 Hamish made his home in Glencoe, where he explored its cliffs with the Glencoe School of Winter Climbing. He has lived there ever since.
In 1961 he founded and, for thirty years, led the Glencoe Mountain Rescue team.
His work with them led him to design his first folding stretcher in the early 1960s. The MacInnes stretcher, the MK8 model of which is in development, is used worldwide for rescues in rough terrain, for helicopter work and in disaster and war zones.
In the late 1940s, after he found two wooden axes broken in a fall on Ben Nevis that had killed three mountaineers, Hamish designed the first all-metal ice axe. He manufactured it commercially in the early 1960s. The ‘Terrordactyl,’ his 1970 version of the ice axe, has had a worldwide impact on the course of difficult winter climbing.
In 1965 Hamish set up SARDA, the Search and Rescue Dog Association, and co-founded SAIS, the Scottish Avalanche Information Service.
Deputy leader on Bonnington’s Mount Everest Southwest Face expedition of 1975, Hamish was nearly killed in an avalanche.
As well as many awards for services to mountaineering and mountain rescue, including the British Empire Medal and the Order of the British Empire, Hamish received honorary doctorates from five Scottish universities. Inducted, in 2003, into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame, he was the first winner, in 2008, of the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture.
Hamish wrote many books on mountaineering, illustrated with his photographs. Call-out, first published in 1973 and recently reissued, is his account of leading the Glencoe Mountain Rescue team. His International Mountain Rescue Handbook (1972) is regarded as the standard manual worldwide. He also published murder mystery novels set in the Scottish mountains.
Hamish worked on several hundred expedition, mountain rescue and climbing documentary films. He was a climber, climbing stunt double and safety officer on a number of feature films including ‘The Eiger Sanction’ (1975), ‘Five Days One Summer’ (1982), ‘The Mission’ (1987), ‘Highlander’ (1986) and ‘The Living Daylights’ (1987).
Books by Hamish MacInnes
Climbing: A Guide to Mountaineering and Mountain Rescue. (1963).
Ben Nevis and Glencoe: Guide To Winter Climbs. With Ian Clough & Richard Brian Evans. (1969).
Scottish Climbs: A Mountaineer’s Pictorial Guide to Climbing in Scotland. (1971).
International Mountain Rescue Handbook. (1972).
Climb to the Lost World. (1974).
Death Reel. (1976).
Look Behind The Ranges: A Mountaineer’s Selection of Adventures and Expeditions. (1979).
West Highland Walks. (1979).
High Drama: Mountain Rescue Stories from Four Continents. (1980).
Scottish Winter Climbs. (1982).
Beyond the Ranges. (1984).
Sweep Search. (1985).
My Scotland. (1988).
Highland Walks. (1988).
Glencoe. With Oliver Thomson. (1988).
The Way Through The Glen. (1989).
Land of Mountain And Mist. With Moira Kerr. (1989).
The Mammoth Book of Mountain Disasters: True Stories of Rescue from the Brink of Death. MacInnes Hamish (ed). (2003).
Over 9,000 feet up on the top of Mount Roraima is a twenty-five mile square plateau, at the point where Guyana’s border meets Venezuela and Brazil. In 1973, Scottish mountaineering legend Hamish MacInnes alongside climbing notoriety Don Whillans, Mo Anthoine and Joe Brown trekked through dense rainforest and swamp, and climbed the sheer overhanging sandstone wall of the great prow in order to conquer this Conan Doyle fantasy summit. They were accompanied by a BBC film crew.