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Scottish Mountaineers

Harold Raeburn

Harold Raeburn / Mountaineers

Harold Raeburn
Harold Raeburn
  • Name  : Raeburn
  • Born  : 1865
  • Died  : 1926
  • Category  : Mountaineers
  • Finest Moment : First winter ascents of Green Gully (1906), Crowberry Gully (1909), Observatory Ridge (1920); many fine summer routes

Easily the best Scottish mountaineer over the first two decades of the 20th century, Harold Andrew Raeburn was born on July 21st, 1865, at 12 Grange Loan, Edinburgh. The fourth son of William and Jessie Raeburn, he grew up to enter his father's occupation as a brewer. It is not documented how or why he began climbing but a fair guess would be that his deep interest in ornithology led him up steep places he otherwise would not have ventured. Living under Edinburgh's Salisbury Crags and possessing a wiry, athletic build he soon adapted to the vertical world of rock and ice.

His other sport was sailing, racing yachts in the Firth of Forth and here too there may have been a connection with his third life-long passion, ornithology. With his brother John, they raced as members of the Royal Forth Yachting Club, based in Granton. They were successful enough to win the club's Corinthian Cup three times. Being presented with the Cup, they in turn presented it back to the RFYC, who re-named it the Raeburn Trophy. This is the name under which it is still raced for. His diaries on the sea birds of the Shetland Islands are lodged with the National Library of Scotland.

As to his character, he very obviously possessed the necessary determination and drive of any ambitious and hard mountaineer. Lord Mackay provided a good description of Raeburn writing that he was "..physically and mentally hard as nails, trained by solitary sea-cliff climbing after birds' haunts, he was certain, unyielding and concise in every movement, both mental and physical." Mackay went on to remark that Raeburn had a capacity of grip that was astonishing. "He was possessed of strong muscular fingers that could press firmly and in a straight downward contact upon the very smallest hold."

Raeburn remained a bachelor all his life, occasionally climbing with the ladies, including his sister Ruth, herself an expert climber. The Scottish Mountaineering Club was founded in 1889. Raeburn joined it in 1896 and within a few years became its leading climber, recording many classic routes throughout Scotland. There are quite a few "Raeburn's Gullies" scattered across the land!

On Ben Nevis in particular he left a superb legacy of quality routes. A solo first ascent of Observatory Ridge (V.Diff.) in June 1901, Observatory Buttress (V.Diff.) solo in June 1902, his outstanding eponymous Arete (Severe) two days later on North-East Buttress, with Dr and Mrs Inglis Clark, and the first winter ascent of Green Gully (IV,4) in 1906. The latter ascent, with a Swiss alpinist called Eberhard Phildius was barely recognised in a later guidebook, as he had not climbed the rocks of the Comb on the left but had instead followed snow and ice in the gully. Indeed Raeburn's ascent was completely forgotten by 1937, when Jim Bell made the second winter ascent, thinking it was the first.

On the Buachaille in Glencoe he made the first three ascents of Crowberry Gully, including a wintry 1909 ascent, and the second ascent and first Scottish ascent of Crowberry Ridge Direct (1902), then the hardest rock climb in Scotland. His style of rock climbing was very muscular, holding himself close to the rock, while his particular attention to the exact times of ascents could frequently drive his companions to exasperation. There is a humorous reference to this when a fellow club member called Newbigging made a first ascent on Ben Nevis and called it "Newbigging's 80-Minute Route", this being an echo to "Raeburn's 18-Minute Route" climbed the previous year.

In the greater ranges too he recorded fine climbs, including the first British guideless ascent of the Zmutt ridge of the Matterhorn in 1906, the ascent of the North Face of the Disgrazia in 1910 with his friend Willie Ling, the first solo traverse of the Meije, as well as first ascents in Norway and the Caucasus. He made two interesting expeditions to the Caucasus, in 1913 and 1914. During the first they made first ascents of five mountains and attempted Uschba, being turned back by conditions. In 1914 four new mountains were climbed, Raeburn descending to find that a World War had broken out. From 1902 on Raeburn climbed without guides. He joined the Alpine Club in 1904.

Raeburn became Vice-President of the SMC in 1909, later turning down the Presidency. His book "Mountaineering Art" was in MS when World War I broke out and long, hard hours in an aeroplane factory for the next six years stopped all climbing. (At 49, he was too old for the Royal Flying Corps.) As a celebration following the end of the war, in 1919 Raeburn returned to the Alps and made a solo traverse of the Meije ridges.

In 1920 his book was finally published, having been postponed due to the war. In this he was unlucky, as by then it was probably already becoming somewhat dated. In Easter of that same year, during the SMC Meet at Fort William, Raeburn made what was probably his finest ascent in Scotland -the first winter ascent of Observatory Ridge on Ben Nevis. With fellow members Mounsey & Goggs and using a 100ft rope, the three finished the route in just under six hours. One long axe each and no crampons. The mental and physical control required of all three climbers was barely short of miraculous.

In 1920 Raeburn was on an Expedition to Kanchenjunga and in 1921 he lead an Everest Reconnaissance party. He worked desperately hard at organising and preparing the party, while suffering from influenza. By the time the expedition reached Tibet dysentery had broken out. One member of the party died, and Raeburn himself had to be carried down, spending two months in hospital. Against common sense, he returned to the expedition but he was now exhausted and never really recovered. Declining health eventually led to his death five years later. He died in Edinburgh, on December 21, 1926.

With two earlier SMC Huts - Ling in Torridon and the Charles Inglis Clark (CIC) on Nevis - named after prominent past members, it was fitting that with the building of a new club hut, opened in 1988, it should also be named for one of the club's finest pioneering mountaineers - Harold Raeburn. The Raeburn Hut stands by the road between Dalwhinnie and Newtonmore. Close by is Creag Dubh on whose steep rocks Raeburn was, typically, the first to climb.

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John Mackenzie Mountaineer

  • Name  : Mackenzie
  • Born  : 1856
  • Died  : 1933
  • Category  : Mountaineers
  • Finest Moment : Many first ascents in the Cuillins of Skye including the first ascent of Sgurr Mhic Choinnich (1887), the Thearlaich-Dubh Gap (1891), Banachdich Gully & King's Cave Chimney (1898), the Cioch (1906, and named by Mackenzie). First professional mountain guide to work in Britain.

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John Norman Collie

John Norman Collie / Mountaineers

John Norman Collie
John Norman Collie
  • Name  : Collie
  • Born  : 1859
  • Died  : 1942
  • Category  : Mountaineers
  • Finest Moment : Numerous peaks and routes. In Scotland the 1st ascent, and 1st winter ascent, of Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis (1894); Thearlaich-Dubh Gap, Skye (1891); Sgurr Coir'an Lochain, Skye (1896); The Cioch (1906). In the higher ranges the Dent du Requin, Aiguille du Plan (1893); Mt. Athabasca, Canada (1898)

Norman Collie was born on September 10, 1859, at Alderley Edge, just south of Manchester. He was the second of four sons. He has a fair claim to be Scots, as his grandfather, George Collie, was tenant of the farm of Wantonwells at Insch, Aberdeenshire. His father John lived for several years at Glassel on Deeside, where from a small shooting estate he could enjoy fishing and shooting. Norman Collie was six at this time and even in his 80s he recalled the magic of good days out on the foothills of the Grampians around Banchory. John Senior had married Selina Winkworth and here there was a link to climbing, as one of Collie's uncles, Stephen Winkworth, had joined the Alpine Club in 1861.

The family moved south in 1870, to take up residence in Clifton, near Bristol. The excitement of wandering over the Scottish landscape was exchanged for the palpable danger of the rocks in the Clifton Gorge. Schooling was initially at Windlesham in Surrey, then in 1873 the leading public school Charterhouse. The family money had been made in the cotton trade but in 1875 the American Civil War resulted in their financial ruin. Sherman's army torched a vast amount of cotton which the Collie's firm was about to load on to their blockade busting ships and despite a shady insurance scam by Alexander Collie, one of John Senior's brothers, the company went bust. (As an interesting aside, Alexander's wife Flora MacNeill was a descendant of Flora Macdonald; she who helped Prince Charles escape from Skye.)

Collie had to leave Charterhouse, transferring to Clifton College. His uncle Stephen paid him an annual allowance while he was a student and with a small inheritance belonging to Selina the family was able to escape poverty. At Clifton, Collie found he was completely unsuited for the classics; only when he attended University College in Bristol was his true vocation for chemistry discovered.

He rapidly developed the two main interests in his life; a long and distinguished career as a scientist and an equally long and distinguished life as a mountaineer. As a scientist he began as a student under Professor Letts in Bristol, before moving to study at Wurzburg University in Germany, where he graduated with a Ph.D. in 1884. After that he spent two years as a science lecturer at Cheltenham Ladies' College, which he disliked, before moving to London in 1887 as Demonstrator in the Chemical Laboratories in University College, London.

In 1886, aged 27, he was on the Isle of Skye, scrambling in Coire a' Bhasteir. The fishing had been poor. He watched as two climbers made an ascent of one of the pinnacles on Sgurr nan Gillean. A few days later, armed with directions from the Skye guide John Mackenzie and accompanied by his brother Henry, he climbed Am Basteir. It was the beginning of his life long love of the Cuillin. Mackenzie was then the ghillie at Sligachan Inn and was some three years older than Collie. It was also the beginning of a famous friendship - more than a partnership - which lasted until Mackenzie's death in 1933.

But whereas Mackenzie never climbed outside the Cuillin, Collie became renowned as a climber and explorer in many mountainous areas of the world. He climbed in the Alps, the Himalayas, the Lofotens and the Canadian Rockies, where he made many first ascents. During six expeditions between 1897-1911, he recorded 21 first ascents and named at least 30 peaks.

Back in Skye, Collie had climbed all the main peaks by 1888. On September 12, 1896, he made the first ascent of Sgurr Coir'an Lochain, perhaps the last peak to be climbed in Britain. With him were Willie Naismith, E.B. Howell, an English climber and of course John Mackenzie. By 1890 Collie and Mackenzie were systematically exploring the Cuillin. The following year saw the first ascent of the Thearlaich-Dubh Gap, a crucial obstacle on the Cuillin Ridge. In the same year, 1891, he joined the SMC. By then he was an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at University College London and had a house at 16 Campden Grove, Kensington.

In 1892 Collie began his climbing in the higher ranges, with his first visit to the Alps. He was climbing with the controversial A.F. Mummery. Controversial because his promotion of guideless climbing antagonised the chronic conservatism of the Alpine Club. Along with Hastings and Pasteur, the foursome made the initial traverse of the Aiguille de Grepon, including the famous "Mummery's Crack". The following year, this Alpine season, along with Collie's impressive British climbing record, allowed him membership of the Alpine Club.

In 1893 he hit the Alps again, with Slingsby, Hastings and Mummery. They made the first ascent of the Dent du Requin, the Petit Dru and the Matterhorn by the Italian Ridge. They also made the first ascent of the west face of the Aiguille du Plan, a 19-hour expedition.

By March 1894, when he joined the SMC Easter Meet at Inveroran, he was a seasoned Alpinist. He was accompanied by two guests from the Lake District in England; Godfrey Solly and Joseph Collier. After making several first ascent in Glencoe, the trio moved on to Fort William, where Ben Nevis was in splendid winter condition. On Friday, March 30, they pointed their ice axes at Tower Ridge. They were almost certainly unaware of the descent 18 months earlier by the Hopkinson family, though they soon spotted nail marks left on the rocks of the ridge by the Hopkinson boots.

The trio were successful, climbing Tower Ridge in five hours and visiting the Observatory on the summit. Collie was unstinting in his praise for the route and thought that it "resembled the Italian side of the Matterhorn and was the best climb he had ever had in Scotland". He liked it so much in fact, that he climbed it again the very next day, taking along his regular Alpine partner Geoffrey Hastings. Late that summer, Collie, Hastings and Mummery made the first guideless ascent of Mont Blanc by the Brenva Glacier. The next year, 1895, Collie was on Nanga Parbat with Mummery, when the latter disappeared trying to cross a pass.

Collie never returned to the Himalaya, and went on to explore the Canadian Rockies to great effect. But during this period, on Skye, he had spotted, on the great Sron na Ciche, on a late afternoon summer in 1899, an unsuspected shadow on the face, obviously cast by some large pinnacle of rock. He took a photograph as a record and determined to investigate it at some later date. The shadow was that of The Cioch and he waited until 1906 to climb it with his friend John Mackenzie.

By the time he returned from the 1911 Canadian expedition, he was in his early 50s. The pressure of scientific work was increasing. He had succeeded Sir William Ramsay in 1902 as the Professor of Organic Chemistry and in 1913 as Director of the chemical laboratories. It was effectively the end of his mountain expeditions. But he had discoveries still to make in science. He was a good experimenter and made the first neon light. He had always been interested in colours and in fact synthesised his interest in fine art and science with three papers on the colouring of Chinese glazes on pottery and porcelain.

There is good evidence that Collie should be credited with the discovery of neon, rather than Ramsay, in whose lab he did the work. He proposed a dynamic structure for benzene and discovered the oxonium salt of dimethylpyrone, which was the first example of such a salt. He invented the term polyketide for a group of compounds which play a major role in the bioynthesis of various natural products. It was not until 1955, almost 50 years later, that this theory was finally shown to be correct. He was probably, as if his other work was not enough, the first to use X-ray photography for medical purposes, when a patient with a needle fragment embedded in her thumb was sent to the college.

Collie continued to visit Skye every summer, often renting Glen Brittle House with the painter Colin Phillip, a fellow member of the SMC and a noted water colourist. (Collie himself was also an excellent artist, according to Phillip.)

On November 30, 1925, an article in the Aberdeen's Press and Journal reported a story which Collie had given at the Annual Dinner of the Cairngorm Club. Collie was Honorary President, and had been asked for a dinner speech. He told the assembled diners, for the first time in public, of a terrifying experience he had had 35 years earlier, on Ben Macdhui, while climbing alone in mist and snow. He was coming down from the cairn when he noticed that for every few steps he took, he heard a big crunch and then another crunch, as if someone was walking after him but taking steps three or four times the length of his own. He was seized with a blind terror and rushed down the mountain for several miles into the safety of Rothiemurchus Forest.

Some 12 years after the dinner speech, Collie told this story to A.M. Kellas, a lecturer and Himalayan climber. Kellas also, it turned out, had had a bad experience on Ben Macdhui's summit. Collie's story started the interest in what became known as "The Big Grey Man of Ben Macdhui" and those who are interested are pointed to books by Affleck Gray and Rennie McOwen.

When war broke out in 1939, Collie closed his London home and retired to Sligachan. He had by then lost most of his friends to old age, including Mackenzie, in 1933. When his old friend died, Collie made a solo ascent of Am Basteir. It was, he said, his last climb. He continued to fish. In the autumn of 1942, a friend invited him out for a day's fishing in the Storr Loch. It was very windy, yet Collie managed to find a relatively sheltered spot and pulled in dozens of trout. Trying to regain the bank the wind blew him into the loch and he was soaked. A chill rapidly developed into pneumonia and he died on the 1st November, 1942.

John Norman Collie was buried next to John Mackenzie in the old graveyard at Struan, by Loch Harport. A short walk leads to a skyline view of the Cuillin ridge, etched black against the sky. The graveyard is tiny and the graves humble. One supports a weathered lump of gabbro, the rough rock of which the Black Cuillin is made. It is an appropriately modest stone under which to rest, for one so travelled and learned, yet one so modest and unassuming. For most of his life Collie had pressed down on this roughest of rocks and it had held true. Surely it was only fitting that now a small piece of it could press down on him and hold firm what had been a fine life'

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William Brown Mountaineer

William Brown / Mountaineers

  • Name  : Brown
  • Born  : 1868
  • Died  : 1901
  • Category  : Mountaineers
  • Finest Moment : Second ascent and first Scottish ascent North-East Buttress, Ben Nevis (May 1895); first ascent North Buttress, Buachaille Etive Mor (July 1895); first ascent Tough-Brown Traverse, Lochnagar (August 1895); first winter ascent The Castle, Ben Nevis (April 1896)

William Brown was the eldest son of ex-Sheriff Brown of Aberdeen. He was educated at Aberdeen, where he graduated with an M.A. and then at Edinburgh where he studied law, graduating with an L.L.B.

As a lawyer he soon showed much promise, being called to the Bar in 1892. He had joined the SMC in December of the previous year and his energy ensured that he served on the Committee from December 1895 to 1899.

As a climber too, Brown was energetic and full of enthusiasm; bursting in fact with the joy of exploratory climbing. On Ben Nevis, following the dramatic descent of Tower Ridge by the Hopkinson family in 1892, with the first ascent under winter conditions two years later, all eyes were fixed on the massive skyline ridge of the North-East Buttress. What was unknown to the Scots however, was that the Hopkinsons had also climbed the Buttress, three days after Tower Ridge. So it was that on the 1895 Easter Meet of the SMC, in Fort William, the buttress became the object of ambition.

Brown determined to be the first to climb the buttress, and enlisted his usual climbing partner William Tough (the latter pronounced "Tooch"). There was only one problem; the train timetables. The newly opened West Highland Line was not designed for climbers, so they devised the plan of taking the Friday night express to Kingussie, cycling to Fort William, climbing the route then cycling back to Kingussie the same day to return to Edinburgh tired but hopefully happy on Sunday evening. This was in May, 1895.

The weather, naturally, decided not to cooperate. When, after a tiring cycle journey, sharing one bike after the other one had suffered a burst tyre, they arrived at the foot of the rocks at 5.30 pm, the heavens opened and down it poured. Once it cleared somewhat they soloed up to the first platform and roped up. Things went steadily until, several hundred feet below the top and in thickening mist, they failed on slabby rocks, "which turned out to be the man-trap of the ridge". It was now 9.45 pm with daylight almost gone.

A bivouac crossed their minds but Tough egged on his friend and they succeeded in finding a variation avoiding the rocky step above their heads. With another few pitches the route was finished and reaching the Observatory on the summit just after 10 pm they grabbed an hour of sleep. A telegraph sent by the intrepid pair to the SMC Journal Editor read "Climbed our ridge reaching top 10.05 Saturday extremely difficult and sensational Brown."

Brown and Tough eventually reached Edinburgh, after 45 hours of continuous travel, to be met by William Douglas. Later that summer, the Alpine Club Journal came out with a short report by the Hopkinsons on their ascent of the buttress. It was impossible, however, to know exactly where the Hopkinsons had climbed but all routes lead to the man-trap and presumably that way had been taken. Probably in the damp gloom Brown and Tough had failed to see any nail scratches on the rocks from the first ascenders' boots.

In July 1895, Brown and Tough, along with Rose, made the first ascent of North Buttress on Buachaille Etive Mor. This rock climb, still a respectable and enjoyable route of about Difficult in standard may be regarded as the first climb in Glencoe recognisable as a clean, distinct and lengthy rock climb, Collie's earlier expeditions notwithstanding. It was another bold piece of exploration by William Brown.

In August of the same year, 1895, the same dynamic duo made the first rock climb on Lochnagar, climbing an ascending line across a steep, slabby buttress now known as Tough-Brown Traverse. In 1896 Brown was in the party which made the first winter ascent of the Grade III Castle Ridge on Ben Nevis. His partners that April day were Naismith, Maclay and Thomson.

Sadly, Brown was soon to fall ill and after a three-year struggle with a wasting illness he died on September 15th, 1901. He was then in his 33rd year and had just been made a lecturer at Edinburgh University. Undoubtedly the history of early mountaineering in Scotland would read very different had he enjoyed a normal life span.

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William Douglas Mountaineer

William Douglas / Mountaineer

William Douglas
William Douglas
  • Name  : Douglas
  • Born  : 1863
  • Died  : 1932
  • Category  : Mountaineers
  • Finest Moment : First Ascent Naismith's Route, Crowberry Ridge

An Edinburgh man, Douglas joined the newly formed SMC in 1890 and immediately became one of its most energetic and likeable characters. Only two years after joining that club he took over the post as Journal Editor, a task he performed diligently for 18 years from 1892-1909. Having married Phyllis Procter in 1908, he probably found that family life was taking up too much time and energy for such a time-consuming job!

As a mountaineer Douglas was very experienced, having climbed, between 1895 and 1912, in Switzerland, the Dolomites, France and Italy, the Canadian Rockies, Norway and the Jura Mountains. One of his most notable climbs was a 21-hour traverse of the Meije, with J Rennie, a fellow club member. It was of this climb, in the classic book by Raeburn "Mountaineering Art" that Raeburn asserted it was one of the few Alpine routes for which a rope was probably useful. As a climber, wrote his friend Rennie, Douglas was bold, but not rash and willing to take a chance.

In Scotland his ascents ranged over a wide area from the Southern Highlands to the far North-West. On Ben Nevis he has a permanent memorial as the 700-foot Douglas Boulder is named after him. This rock feature lies at the foot of Tower Ridge and in 1896 on an Easter Meet of the SMC at Fort William, four climbers made an ascent of the Very Difficult Direct Route on the Boulder. The party consisted of William Douglas (who in an amusing account of the climb referred to himself as the "baggage"), William Brown, who led the crux pitch, Lionel Hinxman and Harold Raeburn, who made an early appearance as a guest on the meet.

It was a mark of Douglas' popularity that the Boulder be named after him; even his photographs indicate his good nature. Lord Mackay, writing descriptions of some of the earlier climbers, describes Douglas as "always modest but indispensable". At his wedding, the cake was designed in the shape of a mountain, with climbers wielding ice axes dotted about its surface.

Other ascents on which Douglas played a key role included: Naismith's Route on Crowberry Ridge on the Buachaille. This was climbed in August 1896 and as Naismith later remarked, one of the most difficult parts of the day was in getting Douglas past the ripe clumps of crowberries growing everywhere. It was the first ascent of the formidably appearing Crowberry Ridge; Black Spout Gully, Left Branch (March 1893) and the first recorded ascent on Lochnagar. The day before this ascent, they made an incredibly bold attempt on a formidable gully further left on the cliffs, only to retreat before the 60m headwall. This was only climbed in 1950 and is now a grade 5. In their honour it is called Douglas Gibson Gully.

Douglas was interested in every aspect of the Scottish hills and he wrote 50 or so articles or notes on their topography, history, ornithology and other aspects. He was one of the first climbers to describe the Brocken Spectre in Scotland and included along with his note a delightful little sketch of the phenomenon.

William Douglas died in 1932, leaving his wife and two sons. Phyllis, who was also a keen climber, became one of the original members of the Ladies Scottish Climbing Club.

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