Shrapnel from a Near-Miss

Lee comes in and says, ‘Have you heard the news, Rob’s had an accident.  He’s broke his arm.  Him and Sam got choppered to Bangor [hospital].’

Hours later we are waiting up for Sam to come in.  Its getting late and people head to bed one at a time when fatigue catches up - fair enough.  

But a few of us stay up, about midnight Sam comes in, with two other of our mates.
Sam looks fucked, I was going to do a joke, but instead just say I’m glad to see him and give him a hug.  He’s knackered, absolutely exhausted, but he’s still wired, and four of us have a glass of whisky with him before he turns in.  

Then we go out and get the hospital bags.  Sam managed to rescue both of their racks.  While he was waiting for the chopper he clipped everything he could to his harness because he thought they might not let him take his rucksack.  A lot of the clothing is covered in blood.  I want to get this stuff at least rinsed before Sam gets up again in the morning.

I’m over the bunkhouse sink.  One Jacket is Sam’s, bright red.  When Rob had been stranded on a ledge ten meters below with a shattered arm, Sam had passed it down to him to keep him worn.  There had been a scream of agony, Rob had been trying to get his pulped elbow through the sleeve.  

Blood swirls down the sink, I plunge my hands into the down and squeeze bloody water out, it looks a lot but probably isn’t.

The other down jacket is obviously`Rob’s tattered to fuck, like a load of moths have swarmed on it.  I turn it inside out.  There’s blood soaked in, and little lumps of matter - bone-marrow? muscle? - ‘Fucking hell lads, lets get this to Bangor, they can reattach it!’  Its like the scene from Pulp Fiction where they clean the car out.

I turn to the racks, Sam’s is - mainly - okay but some of Rob’s gear is covered in rusty patches of blood.  I go through everything, piece at a time and wash what needs it. 
‘What the fuck is this!  This is MY crab!’ 

We bin the stuff that the medics cut off him, no point keeping it.  For some reason we keep the harness.  Its gone two before we go to bed.

           *   *   *

One impact crater
Sam doesn’t want anyone to go back out there, but me and Lee head up to have a look to see if we can get any of their gear back.  I think- this is just stuff, it doesn’t matter, but it feels important to make the gesture.

The rope-cutting boulder

We walk in and find the crag, find the route, eventually.  There’s a torn rope dangling from a pitch.  I think it is a quartz vein until I see it swaying in the breeze.

I had been having doubts about climbing up - ‘I am not fucking going up there.’ so we don't.

Lee scampers up and finds a quickdraw with a nut on, then a rucksack - Rob’s.  Its got his brand new expensive jacket, favourite bobble hat, and even his walkie-talkie still clipped on.   His lunch is in the top pocket and has taken the brunt of the fall, mashed into crumbs.  I pick out a jaffa cake and eat it, saying ‘It’s what he would have wanted’.

Lee reluctantly agrees that
we aren't taking it home
Only one of his new shoes is in there though.  I scout down through the scree below, then Lee shouts, he’s found the other shoe!

‘Chuck it down.’

Lee aims, delicately. ‘This is coming down on your left hand side, Okay?’

Is it fuck.  Oh hold on -  It bounces down the ledge, like a pinball, toppling down towards me. It looks good! It has just enough momentum to reach me, and bounces gently into my left hand, with not even a stretch to catch it.  We cheer!

We find the impact crater of the smaller of the two rocks that caused the trouble: this one fell and cut Sam's rope 95% of the way through.  It is like a kerbstone, and Lee can barely lift it. 

           *    *    *

When we get back Sam tells us what happened.  He is better for a night’s sleep.  There are a lot of jokes, we are all willing to boom out laughter.  Some of the details are sad though, and some of it- a boulder fall, a cut rope- is frightening.  
The cut rope, trouble starts but does not finish there.

When I am listening to Sam’s account, I get flashes of the reality of his situation, on your own with your best mate badly injured on the ledge below, hoping for rescue, waiting for a helicopter, not being able to do anything meaningful.  Not just frightening but boring and lonely.

Sam is delighted we found Rob’s bag, he takes it up to him at the hospital.  Sam lost his bag, its still clipped on the ledge he was choppered off.  Its nothing really, a rucksack, a guidebook, map and compass, hanging on a nut.  Sam wanders round Llanberis and prices up what it would cost him to replace: he bizarrely comes up with a figure of over a thousand pounds.  Perhaps he is still in shock but I think this demonstrates why he is not an accountant.

Rob goes into surgery, they pump him full of drugs and weld his arm up.  All the nurses ad medics already think he is the most wonderful person, because even when he is pumped full of drugs and in intense pain he says ‘please’ and ‘thankyou’ and remembers everyone’s name.

'Thank you Sandra, yes that's much better.  Oh hello Gethin, have you come to do my splint?' etc.

         *   *   *

Sam and Rob are considering whether to sell their racks.  For non-climbers reading this, this is a highly emotionally important and symbolic decision.  It costs hundreds of pounds to put your rack: all your carabiners, nuts, cams,  quickdraws etc.  together.  The gear becomes highly personal to you, even though it comes and goes, gets lost and is retired or replaced.

Selling your rack is a decision that says you are retiring form trad climbing, it takes away your potential to do these types of climbs.

Rob's girlfriend Becca tells him not to sell it.  'Put it in the garage and wait a year.'  She is a keeper Rob!

        *   *   *

Sam has news!  He posted onto UKC that he had lost his bag with its '£1000'(!?) of kit in and another climber has found it and recovered it for him.  It is a race to find someone who can pick it up before the bloke goes back to Exeter.  A mate's girlfriend's friend's brother brings it back to Sheffield, so its getting closer.

I think there is humour in any situation - but I am also very pleased that my friends are back down from the mountain alive.  


Post a Comment