It's A Dogs Life
I read with interest a letter in a mountaineering magazine, asking if any dogs have done their Munros and thought it was time to share a small part of a special dogs mountaineering life. My dog Teallach, (the softest long-haired Alsatian you could ever meet) finished his Munros in 1985 and he had only twelve left for his second time around, when he unfortunately passed away. I am sure Hamish Brown's dog "Keltie" completed his before Teallach, but Teallach was possibly the second dog to do the complete round and would have been an early "Dog Munroist".
The most difficult Munros were on Skye, where had a great two days traverse. I have some great photos of him on the Inaccessible Pinnacle. As my rock-climbing ability is limited, getting to the very summit with Teallach, made it a major operation. However, with the addition of a few extra abseils and help from more talented rock climbing friends, we succeeded. His route finding ability was exceptional, usually vanishing around a ledge, to arrive before us above the difficulties.
Teallach made several outstanding walks including two complete traverses of Scotland, a North to South and an East to West, one hundred and forty five Munros in seven weeks - very hard on the paws! His apprenticeship was spent in Wales where he completed the fourteen Peaks when still just a pup. He did this hill route on many occasions, learning his basic skills on many of the Welsh classics, besides doing several winter routes here and in the Lakes. During my exile in North Wales, the lesser hills proved good training for Scotland and every six weeks or so we would take a trip to the big hills in the North, this being where he excelled. I have been a member of RAF Mountain Rescue Teams at Kinloss and Leuchars and many days were spent on big hill days with the young team members. Teallach's logbook included, the Skye Ridge in two days. Eleven full traverses of the South Clunnie (including The Saddle), six complete traverses of the North Clunnie, nine full Traverses of the Mamores, seven full traverses of the Fannichs, three ascents of the Shenavall Six and three ascents of the Affric Munros. In addition, he completed "The Tranter Traverses" in Kintail and Lochaber and was a regular user of the CIC hut, until he was banned by the members.
He was a very accomplished climber on rock and ice and in the end, had to be tied up as he was soloing way beyond my ability to rescue him. Regularly he would meet us at the bottom of the Cioch Slab in Skye, finding his way up from the Sgumain Stone Chute and across Eastern Gully with ease. On one occasion on the Cioch Nose in Applecross, we left him attached to the rucksacks at the bottom of the route. On returning to our kit and having attempted to flee the midges, we found him in the Loch over 2 km away, complete with our rucksacks still tied to his collar. He was a regular at Glenmore Lodge, before it was in vogue, until he was banned for annoying too many of the instructors -assessing in the Northern Corries at the time. After hearing my shouts whilst climbing, and thinking I was calling to him for help, many a Winter Leader's assessment was disturbed by Teallach trying to find his way up a Grade II gully, - for this I now sincerely apologise to the principal. The Lodge even sent a "formal letter" addressed to the MRT at RAF Kinloss, complaining of his abysmal rope work!
Though not a rescue dog, he was superb on the hill and could sniff out a cornice in any weather. His area knowledge was exceptional and he never used a map or compass, always finding the summit and leaving his mark on it! He had 2 big falls. The first one was on Creag Meaghaidh where he went a thousand feet in a whiteout. He was out in front as usual and at the overconfident stage in his mountaineering career. After I descended into the Coire expecting to find him in a bad way, I found him okay, a bit shaken and by now very "Cornice aware". On the second occasion, I left him below Black Spout on Lochnagar. After having an epic on Black Spout Buttress, I was faced with getting off the hill in poor weather, late on a wild winters night. The only way off was over the Cornice down Black Spout Gully. Two following climbers brought the Cornice down on top of us; we fell six hundred feet. Teallach arrived on scene and began digging us out, even though the avalanche had hit him as well. We eventually got back in the wee small hours, battered and bruised.
In those days, snow-holeing was fashionable. One night on the Cairngorm Plateau after the usual few drams, we all drifted back to our own holes. Just as we were falling asleep, I heard a noise outside and thinking that it was a raid on our whisky store, sent Teallach out to chase them off. Even though Teallach was a big softy, in the dark and around the snow hole, he must have looked fearsome. Imagine my consternation the following morning, when I went out and found two climbers curled up and shivering. They had left their sacks below Hells Lum and could not find them. Having seen our light they thought they were safe, only to be met by a huge dog, who would not let them in the snow hole. I brought them in, gave them a brew and walked them off in the morning, meeting Cairngorm MRT, who were coming to look for our "lost" friends. (Another confession)
I rarely saw him tired, only once whilst completing the Big Three in Torridon, (Beinn Eighe, Liathach and Ben Alligin) the heat got to him and he refused to add Beinn Dearg to the day, heading off down the Glen on his own to the vehicle. As he got older like us all, aging began to take its toll. Problems with his hips and back became chronic, but he still loved every minute on the hill. On rescues he was a great asset and was always well behaved. He knew when we had a fatality to deal with, or when the situation was serious and kept out of the way. He found a few casualties in his time and was a warm bivouac partner on many rescues.
After a hill-day and back in the bothy, he would always find the new lad's sleeping bag and make himself comfortable, in their bag and fast asleep. Few were brave enough to move the huge Alsatian and many a novice had a cold night curled up on the floor (good training for the Greater Ranges). As he got older he would enjoy walking up to the crag and watching our epics on the classics routes, occasionally pinching any food that was left in open rucksacks. Even after a long climbing day he would still be there after 12 hours, waiting for you to come down. He would even know where the descent gully was and meet you. Later on he developed a love for Sea Stacks and would enjoy the day whilst we climbed on Am Buaichile or Storr, swimming around the stack, watching what was going on. Every hill loch would involve a swim whatever the weather or season.
Each Friday night he would patiently wait by the Land Rover ready to go out on the hill, even when his health was failing. He would get upset at not being able to go out at weekends and still sit in the wagon waiting. In the Bothies and after a long hill day, he would crawl next to the fire and once burst into flames in The Ossian Youth Hostel after lying too near the stove. Teallach was an exceptional dog, well behaved on the hill, no problem with sheep or any of the wild life and most of all a great companion. The ultimate Party Leader, always looking after his party, regularly rounding up any stragglers. He was not a just a Munro bagger but an all round "Scottish Mountaineer". He used to be able to jump and climb deer fences when in his prime. Unfortunately he nearly hung himself when his karabiner caught in the top wire, much to the consternation of my 5 year old stepson who was very worried. I managed to sort it out and Teallach became very aware that his screw gate karabiner should be locked closed at all times! He always wore a screw gate karabiner round his collar and had one terrible habit when he was thirsty, in the middle of the night. He would head for the toilet for a drink. The noise of the karabiner on the toilet bowl woke everyone. Even though he died back in 1992, I sorely miss him, what a friend he was, what a life he had.
Published in the Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal August 2005