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 From the Cairn Ban Archives... 

The Beginning

Bob Gardner

'Bastard!' Alan's one word, just after stepping over a low wall, catching his toe on the top, stumbling and kneeing the wing of his mini, just the other side, with the result that it now had a large dent. Despite this event we had had a good day on the hill.


This has only a little to do with the subject matter in hand: Cairn Ban Mountaineering Club and how it started and why.

Really, if you want to go back to the very beginning, it came as a result of being in Scouting. Jim, one of the fathers of a member of the scout group, was an ardent hill walker: one of the old brigade, similar to Tom Weir and his post-war generation, when everything was very basic, equipment was ex-army or what you could scrounge or make do with.

I recall that I used ex-army trousers, which I remember being very itchy, and a heavy army jacket to keep myself warm. The others used similar, and I remember us being very proud of any stitched holes as we would imagine that this was where the soldier had been shot. They did keep the rain out till they got totally soaked thru, then they were very heavy and horrible to wear.

I used tackkity boots for the first few outings before I could afford and find proper boots, which you didn't have a great selection of and which were in relative terms expensive. We also used cycle capes for a while, which as you can Imagine weren’t the best in a mountain wind. Stewart Michie, who did a little more rock climbing, recalls making up a climbing harness from parachute webbing, and using machined nuts from the engineering works as runners. As I said we made do with everything and anything.

Jim took us out a few times in the winter, which was a fantastic experience for us village boys, heavy snow almost guaranteed from the top of Loch Lomond onwards. When we got to the top of a hill, Jim would look back thru the haze of his pipe smoke and point to where Glasgow was; you couldn't actually see it as it was covered in a thick blanket of its own smoke, but we could see that it was there and felt happy to be away and on top of the world.

My memory is of wonderful sunny days with tons of snow, although I suspect Jim may have only chosen those good days in case he put us off. 


The defining moment for our group especially myself was a fantastic day in the Black Mount hills. We stood on the edge of Stob a’ Choire Odhair on top of about ten feet of snow. We were looking east when the edge broke away with us on the top. We were on top of the avalanche travelling downwards, under, then on top then under the snow again. I found myself buried with about 2 foot of snow above me. I easily extracted myself to find the others doing the same, except for one, we shouted and shouted and after what seemed like an eternity found that being smaller and lighter he had travelled further on down the slope by about 50 feet or so and over a dip so that we couldn't see him. Fortunately, although shaken we were not hurt; however we had lost most of our equipment including the one ice axe we had between us (axes were very expensive).

We had been very lucky. Jim got a real shock, the responsibility hitting home on the drive back. In the spring Jim and one of the others went back and found all our gear which apart from being damp was in good condition.


I remember not going out again for the rest of that year until the next winter arrived, when the pull of the snow and winter conditions grabbed us. This time we headed out with a lot more respect for the environment.


Jim took us out for a number of years after that, until we were able to drive and afford our own transport. This probably is where the actual beginning of the CBMC starts, as we then took out a number of the older scouts and they then obviously grew up and followed the pattern we had, happy and able to do their own thing.   


Four of us got together and decided to form a club: myself, Niall Henderson, Alan Leeman and Stewart Michie. We met at my house for the first time and drew up a constitution based on ones from other established clubs. The choosing of a club name wasn’t, from what I remember, too difficult. We didn't want a name associated with a particular range of hills and we wanted a name to define the fact that we were mainly a winter mountaineering club, hence Cairn Ban (White Cairn) M C was chosen. There are a number of small hills with this name, but none of any great height or note.

I think from the beginning we had decided to keep the numbers small as the logistics of communication at that time, by phone or letter could be a nightmare. We established a phone round method where I would phone 4 or 5 members and each of them would phone at least 2 or 3 others and in this way we tried to keep info up to date. We decided on a regular fortnightly meeting structure, and hence the fortnightly Sundays came about.

One of the things that we did do was to start organising weekends for the club. I remember going to Steal Hut the first time and we spent the first few hours on the Friday night cleaning the place. It was overrun by mice, and I mean overrun. Alan had the joy of having a mouse run over his face on one occasion; this was after we had watched the mouse steal our chocolate from our rucksacks and take it to its hidey hole in the wall. Not a joyous night, that one.


We also hired some of the caravans at Colyumbridge, which are heavily insulated and this proved to be a good way at the time. Unfortunately there were not the number of bunkhouses as there are now.

It must be said that very rarely did we not have fun on our days out: we were all friends out for a day together. Some times a challenging day but always memorable and fun. This for me is what still defines the club today, a great bunch of friends enjoying a day in the mountains of Scotland.



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