The Angry Corrie 25: Nov 1995-Jan 1996
TV / Magazine review: Strange but True, ITV, 13/10/95 and What's On TV, week 7th - 13th October 1995
"A 60 mph gale battered stricken climber Jackie Greaves as she lay alone and shivering on a slope 3300ft up the Cairngorms ... Jackie had fallen 450ft in a blinding snowstorm ... 'I was going numb', she says, 'But I wasn't afraid ... All night, a weird light shone down on me like a far-off torch. I gazed at it, sensing someone or something was watching over me.' ... By dawn, the blizzard had worsened. 'It was either lie there and die or try to climb down.' After hours of painful scrambling, she reached a plateau and stumbled blindly forward ... 'Suddenly, a railway crossing barrier dropped in front of me. I went to touch it and it vanished. I was astonished. Then I noticed a gigantic hole I'd have fallen into.' ... Jackie turned and a second barrier slammed down in front of another hole. 'I realised then someone was guiding me.' ... After spending her second night in a snowhole dug with her bare hands, eating snow and singing to keep herself awake, it was a final vision that led to Jackie's rescue. 'I saw two converging ridges illuminated with a brilliant light - like a giant V. I sensed this was my way off the mountain.' ... She staggered towards the V ... and into the arms of a waiting team of rescuers who were amazed to see Jackie alive. Remarkably, she was suffering only mild hypothermia..."
Just a selection of quotes from Jacqueline Greaves, as told to one Andrew McKenna in his What's On TV preamble for the trashy Aspel-hosted show devoted to unexplained happenings. Much of the above was requoted and enlarged upon in the programme itself, which featured reconstruction-style footage of the event.
TAC kept relatively quiet about all this at the time, preferring to give Greaves the benefit of the doubt when folk were tragically falling from hills left right and centre. But enough is enough, and now it's time to give another, more credible version of events. If angels and spectral railway crossing barriers are being invoked, then mention should also be made of more temporal matters such as incompetence and - once again - avarice.
Greaves was indeed plucked from the Cairngorms on 15th February 1994 after having been missing for two nights and three days. The weather had been undeniably bad on the first of these days, the Sunday. The Gorms are indisputably big and easy to get lost in for the ill-equipped and inexperienced. But let's examine why this story hit the tabloid headlines like no other that winter. Because Greaves was a famous climber of the status and calibre of, say, Alison Hargreaves? No - be serious. Because she suffered terrible injuries and was lucky not to push 1994's winter fatality-tally into the twenties? No - several members of the rescue parties were in a worse state than she was by the time they had finished. Because she sang the praises of the Mountain Rescue Teams and thus proved a modest and likeable role-model? Not at all. OK, was it largely because Greaves herself gladly sold the story in the ensuing tabloid auction? Er, yes.
Sadly, what turns all this from farce to something more mercenary is, surprise surprise, the money factor. The Daily Mail paid Greaves a massive sum following her rescue; the precise amount never became clear, but was strongly rumoured to be in the region of £20k. Fine in theory: grab all the money you can and thus fund a new infra-red camera for an MRT, or a couple of trained dogs for SARDA. Fine, except none of Greaves' money seems to have gone to any of the rescue agencies involved, remaining securely in her pocket. Nothing of this side to the story was mentioned in SbT. (One of her companions, Bruce Nutter, gave a donation to Aberdeen MRT, whilst ironically - and thankfully - Braemar and Glencoe MRTs received £10k each from the Daily Record by way of tabloid pointscoring. Presumably both Greaves and Braemar MRT - who featured - will also have been paid for this programme.)
Again let's run a checklist here: an enormous amount of people put time and effort into locating Greaves, at considerable risk and inconvenience to themselves. Do they get any credit? No. Does Greaves appear to be a wilful self-publicist? Yes. At the time, and again now, Greaves played down the MRTs' role in her rescue to such an extent that the casual reader/viewer would assume they were either incompetent or scarcely involved. "... a waiting team of rescuers ..." - note the implied passivity. Yet the SMC Journal report of this call-out estimates "man-hours" of 2000+, the biggest mountaineering-related incident in the 1994 list, and with all other 500+ hour incidents involving fatalities.
As regards the programme itself, there was so much rubbish here it was scarcely credible. Obviously much of what Greaves says is just plain laughable: what the hell are the forces of supernature doing dropping "railway crossing barriers" willy-nilly in the Gorms? Certainly a useful navigation failsafe if you can find one - although don't expect Nevisport or Tiso to stock lightweight models just yet. Highly unlikely facts were bandied about, eg minus 40 degree temperatures (smashing the all-time British low of minus 27.2ºC). The scarcely-injured Greaves was shown crawling backwards down a snowslope no more than ten degrees angle. She also appeared to then build a snowhole of such quality that she could doubtless find work as an adviser to Glenmore Lodge. And if she was able to take a bearing on the "light", then why not off the hill earlier? (Note also that despite a radio-interview claim that her party were "expert navigators", she had a compass but no map...) The programme also showed an MRT vehicle driving within metres of the helpless Greaves while she waved weakly at it in vain. This was also odd, given that she was almost certainly high on Sron Riach of Macdui at the time; perhaps the hills have unmarked roads on them as well as railway lines. (Derry Cairngorm, incidentally, was almost certainly a major red herring: ask Braemar MRT, who spent a less-than-pleasant Sunday night bivvying at its summit.)
Various "facts" were just plain wrong. Glenshee Ski Centre wasn't involved; Greaves was found by RAF Kinloss MRT, not Braemar; the weather was by no means hellish throughout: the middle day, Monday, was largely calm, although cloud did remain on the tops.
One other odd feature of all this remains. Your editor didn't bother reading all the Daily Mail exclusives at the time, but cannot recall even the slightest mention then of guardian angels, or of railway crossing barriers. Why not? I guess we'll never know. It couldn't, of course, be that Greaves has subsequently made up all these details as a method of luring the programme-makers and making even more money? Surely not.
In mitigation, it may be that Greaves has, somewhere along the line, surreptitiously given away her hill-gotten gains to some worthy cause. We have however checked extensively and this appears not to be the case - no British team has knowingly received a penny - and given her willingness to blab to the media, we would surely have heard if so. Maybe the whole sorry episode ought best be put down to a bad case of selective amnesia.
Val Hamilton writes:
I feel compelled to add my own contribution to the debate on phantom mountain railways. On hill days when visibility is poor, I have this strange and persistent feeling that I am not alone. Especially where there is no path, I am aware of a presence in front of me, a wraith-like figure leading the way. His progress is not always infallible but if I catch sight of him up to his knees in a bog or stumbling over an unstable rock, I can learn from this and take a better route.
However fast I go, however fit I get, I can never quite catch him; but if I slow down, eventually I will see the ethereal figure reappear emanating words of encouragement, though sometimes the wind distorts the message so that it sounds uncannily like "Get a bloody move on".
Even if I do lose sight of my mystical guide, I do not worry as I know he will be waiting for me at the summit. After all, he may have the map, but I've got the sandwiches.