There is a hoolie blowing whipping the snow up into frenzy.
The beam of your head-torch only penetrates the darkness a few metres to either side, where the indistinct figures of Mike (teacher) and Callum (game-keeper) are the only two members of the Braemar Mountain Rescue Team (MRT), from the 30 or so that are out on the hill, you can actually see.
There is a small knot of fear in your stomach as your group line-searches along a snow-clad slope in the Central Cairngorms, acutely aware avalanches are an ever-present risk, which can only be reduced, but never eliminated, by careful route choice and movement.
The fear keeps you alert and stops potentially fatal complacency clouding your decision making.
Your radio crackles into life and the words “we have a find!” ring out.
The overdue walker you were out looking for has been located and what was likely the worst night of their life has just got a whole lot better, but it will still be several gruelling hours before you can rewarm the moderately hypothermic casualty and walk them off the sub-arctic plateau to the waiting vehicles at Derry Lodge.
The above incident is just a snapshot of typical winter rescue for the police officers of the Police Scotland (Grampian) MRT, who are all members of, and fully embedded in, the civilian Braemar MRT: a true partnership that has endured more than 50 years saving lives in the hills, searching for missing persons in the forests and on the beaches of the north-east and turning out for major incidents, such as the Ballater floods in 2015.
Like all other mountain rescue teams, Braemar MRT is a charitable organisation composed of volunteers from the community including several more teachers and gamekeepers/foresters/rangers along with tree surgeons, doctors, oil workers, accountants and an architect amongst others.
Braemar MRT is not just a rescue organisation but also has a role in promoting mountain safety, and with winter just around the corner people going to the hills need to be prepared for the change in season.
Mountaineering Scotland’s ThinkWINTER campaign is a fantastic resource with detailed, user-friendly guidance on planning, clothing and equipment, winter navigation, avalanche and other key areas of winter preparation.
Working in police mountain rescue is a humbling experience with every incident necessitating extraordinary commitment from the civilian volunteers not only of Braemar MRT but also Aberdeen MRT, the neighbouring Tayside and Cairngorm teams, the RAF team, the rescue dogs and their handlers from SARDA and the crews of the Coastguard helicopters.
As an individual, you have very little impact but as part of a team, sometimes of a hundred or more, we can achieve remarkable things.
Without a shadow of a doubt, mountain rescue is one of the greatest roles in UK policing, because, despite the challenges, it is really rewarding when you can work as part of a great team to bring someone needing assistance down safely.
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