Where angels fear to tread

Chris Tiso. Picture: Greg Macvean
Chris Tiso. Picture: Greg Macvean
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THE route up Aonach Eagach is far from simple. Rocky and treacherous, put a foot wrong, lose balance and the consequences do not bear thinking about.

One of Scotland’s most challenging ridges, it is narrow, difficult, exposed. What it offers in stunning scenery across Glencoe, it more than makes up for in the brutal demands it places on those who tackle it.

There are multiple reasons why many of us might prefer not to bother, not least the fact that for some of us, it means moving off the couch.

Chris Tiso – a man who carries one of the best-known “outdoors” names in Scotland – has many more valid reasons to avoid it.

But soon the chief executive of the Edinburgh-based outdoor supplies business will be following the path older brother Donald once took when he walked the same ridge, scrambling across rocks, pausing to absorb the same view, feeling that same bond with the earth and the sky and the world around that make the mountains such a powerful magnet for so many like him.

Just seven months after Donald’s death in a climbing accident brought fresh tragedy to a family already touched by terrible heartbreak, Chris will tackle the route driven by a determination to enjoy life – regardless of all the challenges it brings.

He will head up the intimidating Glencoe ridge with a friend and then hike up Ben Nevis with nine-year-old son Angus – the next generation to bear the Tiso name is already showing signs of following a now traditional love of the outdoors – his contribution to a fundraising drive aimed at bringing vital support to the Scottish Mountain Rescue service.

Indeed, it was their Oban-based team and a Royal Navy rescue helicopter from HMS Gannet who responded in January when Donald, 50, a director with the family firm, lost his footing while hiking Ben Starav with his fiancée, Julie.

It was another shattering blow for the family. Donald and Chris’s father, Graham, who co-founded the Tiso business in 1962, died suddenly in 1992 aged 57, following a boating accident in the West Indies. And there was further grief when their brother, Rory, passed away in his thirties around ten years ago as the result of illness.

Chris was reminded of his own mortality in 1999 when he suffered a brain haemorrhage. Surgery saved his life and he recovered so well that he set off the following year as part of an expedition tackling Mount Everest, only to suffer pneumonia.

Surely plenty of reasons then to stay at home where it’s safe? No, insists Chris, these are the reasons to get out and live.

“Life is full of tragedy and sadness and loss,” he reflects. “My whole family’s outlook has always been about trying to look for the best in an situation, to be positive and forward looking.

“I want to remember my brother in lots of good ways rather than just focusing on the way his life tragically ended,” adds Chris, who took over running the Tiso business aged 21 when his father died.

“I know how passionate Donald was about the outdoors. And I don’t blame anyone or anything – accidents happen. I know he was well prepared and very responsible, conscientious, cautious, careful in the outdoors. Sometimes it’s just bad luck and being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

It’s on those occasions that Scotland’s Mountain Rescue teams swing into action – in all weather, in the most difficult of circumstances. And it’s why he is supporting their call for fundraisers to climb one, or more, of Scotland’s 282 Munros this September, to raise cash for the charity. Tiso outlets are backing the SMR fundraiser which is also being supported over the next three years by Isle of Skye eight-year-old blended Scotch whisky.

“They do an amazing job,” says Chris, 42, dad to Angus and Lily, six, and uncle to his brother Rory’s daughter, Rudi. “My father was involved with the service from Glenmore Lodge in the Sixties and as a business we have always supported their work. I would have supported them anyway, but it is all the more poignant that they attended to my brother.”

Donald’s loss and the string of family tragedies are a constant reminder of how fragile life can be, adds Chris. “Life is a gift. We are here once and it’s not for very long, it’s about trying to make the most of what time we have. You don’t know what is around the corner.”

Rescue service appeal

SCOTTISH Mountain Rescue (SMR) conducts about 600 rescues a year and costs around £1.2 million a year to run, most of which comes from donations.

There are more than 1000 volunteers across 24 teams and two Search and Rescue Dog Associations (SARDA). They work with police, Scottish Cave Rescue and the RAF.

Throughout September, SMR is calling for fundraisers to climb one or more of Scotland’s 282 Munros to raise money for new equipment, stretchers and training.

Register before August 17 via www.isleofskyewhisky.com/munro-challenge.

There is a Facebook page for the Munro Challenge at www.facebook.com/events/1409839912637986

986/ and JustGiving www.justgiving.com/teams/isle-of-skye-munro-challenge.