21 May 2014

Harms' Way

We normally climb of a Wednesday evening, but a disruptive schedule this week meant that I took in an Almscliffe shaped detour on my way home from work on Monday night.

I posted in our Facebook group that I was heading out, but no-one else took the bait, so I headed up on my lonesome for the first time in a long time. A session of steady re-ticks was on the cards, possibly with a throw at uber-project Morrell's as a bonus. I figured a nice, steady start was in order, so I set up camp at Low Man Slab. It was a gorgeous evening, and I spent a few minutes just sitting resting.

I rattled off the slab's groove and crack, and went straight up the side wall and also up the arĂȘte, no bother. Then, I freaked myself out on the right end of the slab - only ticked once or twice before, and without a spotter to stop me from tumbling down the hill should I fall, I found myself swinging into an escape to the left. My heart was pounding, and I calmed myself down by chilling on the mat for a while and having a drink. I would have felt pretty annoyed with myself if that had gone differently.

Obviously I then tried it again, but didn't get as far as where I got into trouble. Really, I should have known better throughout. I look forward to another look with a spotter around.

Then, my reverie was shattered by a sound, from around the corner of Low Man itself. My memory gets blurry, but there was an anguished cry followed swiftly by a sickening crunch. I headed down to the path - carefully, in climbing shoes on grass - and around the low end of the Matterhorn. There, below the Fluted Columns route, lay a climber - named Max, it turned out. His bleeding head was supported by a friend, and another friend was already on the phone to the emergency services. Max was conscious, and could move all of his limbs, so things looked surprisingly hopeful. The crag had come to a standstill, and climbers crowded round to do what they could, even just to be there for him. One climber was a doctor, which certainly helped matters. Max recognised me from Harrogate Climbing Centre, which seemed to be a good sign, and remained coherent throughout, though he occasionally repeated certain requests - to phone his Mum, for photos to be taken. That, and the suggestion that we all buy helmets.

Ambulances arrived - car, van, and helicopter, which first attempted to land near the drystone wall below Low Man. The pilot thought better of it and instead landed on the grass between the top of Low Man and Demon Wall. Max was loaded up and taken to Harrogate Hospital, while the rest of us dispersed, reflecting on what had happened.

It was sobering business. The word on social media is that Max is okay, but I've not heard exactly how he fell, so it's difficult to know what to take from this - sure, we should all give consideration to helmets and other appropriate gear, but what if the fall itself had been avoidable? I don't want to speculate more, but merely encourage anyone - whatever type of climb they're doing - to make sure. Sure, push yourself, but make sure you've got an escape route, or spotters, or a helmet, or enough mats, whichever is appropriate.

With the best will in the world, it - obviously - doesn't always work out. When it doesn't, we need someone to rescue us. And they - I'm talking about the Yorkshire Air Ambulance here - need our help to do it. So perhaps donate sometime. Even if you don't end up being thankful that you did, someone will.

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