Search for Halifax man goes on

Martin Rhodes went missing while climbing

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Friends and family of an experienced walker who went missing in the Scottish Highlands over two years ago have praised the continuing efforts of the local mountain rescue team to find his body.

Early on a bright morning in May 2019, Martin Rhodes, 46, from Halifax, was seen walking near Kinlochewe. When he did not return to his hotel after a sudden change in the weather brought heavy snow, he was reported missing that evening.

Far-reaching search

Extensive searches over the following week by specialist police officers, mountain rescue volunteers, RAF teams, the Search Rescue Dogs Association and an HM Coastguard helicopter found no trace of Rhodes. Appeals to residents to check sheds or anywhere a person might have sought shelter also proved unproductive.

Before travelling north, Rhodes, who had delayed his journey until he was confident of better weather, had told his close friend Steve Brown that he had hoped to climb five Munros in a day, including the “Fisherfield three” of Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearachair, Sgurr Ban and Beinn Tarsuuin.

“Martin’s house was full of walking boots, magazines and maps. He talked continuously about the trip. He had already climbed 80 Munros,” said Brown, a musician. “He was really looking forward to the challenge. He texted me to tell me of his safe arrival later that day.”

The Munros are 282 Scottish mountains over 3,000 feet named after Sir Hugh T Munro, who surveyed them in 1891. The highest is Ben Nevis. Rhodes’s aim was to join over 6,000 people who have climbed them all.

In mid-May 2019, 30 of Rhodes’s friends, including Halifax MP Holly Lynch, held a vigil at his home. A social event, at which Brown performed, was organised by Halifax Labour Party, of which Rhodes was a member, to raise funds for the Dundonell Mountain Rescue Team (DMRT). Around £500 was collected.

From the start, Police Scotland asked DMRT to search for Rhodes. The team attends around 40 rescues a year and thankfully, according to team leader Donald Macrae, “in many cases missing people are found. In Martin’s case, this is different.”

When Rhodes did not return to his accommodation, Macrae asked four mountain rescue teams – around 60 people plus four search dogs and two helicopters – to look for Rhodes. The search area in the remote north-west Highlands was massive, equivalent to 2,500 football pitches in an area of wild mountainous country with no houses or roads. The mountains they climbed exceeded 1,000 metres and snow still fell on the high tops.

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Dedicated team

Searches took place every day for a week before the DMRT moved to weekend searching for a few months. When winter arrived, the searches had to end but in 2020 the rescuers again looked for Rhodes. There was still no luck. Last month, 12 volunteers were back out. They had to camp as it is a day’s walking to get to the locations where Rhodes’s body might be found.

According to Macrae the searches will continue. “People and families matter to us,” he said. “They are always on our minds and so for the foreseeable future we will devote time each year to search.”

DMRT, which has about 50 members, is a charity run by volunteers who are expected to be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Employers allow staff to leave work to attend rescues. Macrae himself is a deputy headteacher. Other members include engineers and self-employed joiners.

Team members can often miss important birthdays or events. “Rescues can take up many hours of a person’s life,” said Macrae. “We also attend training sessions once or twice a month. We have a strong team ethic and through training together we know how each of us works, so we take care of each other. Keeping safe is vital to our success.”

Fundraising effort

Brown and Rhodes’s mother, Kathleen, are full of praise for the DMRT and other organisations that have tried to find him. “Police Scotland and the Halifax police relayed important information when Martin was lost and both were very sympathetic and understanding,” said Brown. “DMRT are marvellous for still trying to find Martin. They are heroic volunteers who risk their lives to try and save others.”

“I miss Martin a lot and often wonder what happened,” said Kathleen. “He still had a lot of life in him, including walking on the Scottish mountains, which he loved. After being unemployed he had found work and his life was much better. It is very sad what has happened.

“If the DMRT, who, along with all the other organisations involved I would like to pay tribute to, can find Martin it would bring an end to some of the sorrow for myself, other family members and his many friends.”

At the vigil Brown sang Tom Paxton’s Rambling Boy. “I’ve never forgotten him. Keep rambling, Martin,” said a tearful Brown.

The DMRT relies heavily on donations for its £40,000 annual costs. Police Scotland makes an annual grant payment of £13,000 but the rest must be fundraised. It is currently fundraising for a new team base.

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