How to fall off a mountain

Low Water
Low Water with Levers Water in the background, shortly before my far too rapid descent!

The first foray in to the Lake District of the season brought me to Coniston and a night at the YHA Holly How. I planned to walk a circular route from the YHA via Dow Crags and the Old Man returning to the YHA by the coppermines track, the following day. So a nice curry and drink took me to bed and an early rise next morning. There was still snow about and I had brought crampons and ice axe ready for an assault on the South Rake of Dow Crags, so I was eager to get going. A breakfast with fellow room mate was the first mistake as talk delayed the set off by 30 mins so I was on the back foot already. I left a route card with the YHA manager and walked down the track behind the hostel, leading towards Coppermine YHA. The day was clear, snow had largely cleared in the valley but still clung to the tops. I followed the track bearing left at the bridge and eventually reached the Walna Scar road. The walk was easy going and I was making good time to make my check point that would lead me to Goats Water. I met a few people on the way, a family with small children. I always make it a point of talking to people on my walks. One its polite and sociable, and more importantly, ranger training has taught me to ask in a friendly way where people are going to, so that if any mishaps happen, I may have a clue as to their whereabouts. Such a question brought disdain from the family mother and a grunt of mind your own business. A sad way I think to conduct a walk with small children in such an environment. Carrying on I walked up the track to Goats Water and then took the left path towards Dow Crags. Plenty of snow was still evident on the South Rake and I made my way up with care, sometimes waist deep. There were footsteps already frozen in place so I was not the first, nor I suspect the last. After around 40 minutes I suddenly popped out onto the top with Buck Pike to my left and a roaring wind ahead of me. The crampons had done well giving confidence and support where needed. Lunch was had crouched behind rocks, away from the wind and then a walk over to the Old Man on a mixture of snow and ice brought me to the cairn and trig. A couple who had walked up Brown Pike struggled along behind me, the female having no crampons was struggling with the icy surface, but carried on gamely.

My intention was to descend via Levers Hause to Levers Water, but on reaching the turning point a snow crevice made me track back and descend a little further south to regain the path. And that is the last I can really remember until I came around some 30 minutes later 100ft below where I was previously and with blood pouring from my head and my rucsac laying a few feet below me. I had obviously taken a bad tumble somehow and was now in some state of distress to say the least. The rucsac hand become separated from my body in the fall but had luckily landed a few feet from me. I managed to grab the rucsac and take out my phone which had survived the fall. Amazingly I had a good signal and dialled 112 and was quickly talking to a controller at RAF Kinloss who had immediately scrambled a helicopter and raised the local Coniston Mountain Rescue. He also had my grid ref which he had me check with my own map. After 5 minutes I could hear a siren which I thought would be from the MRT vehicle coming up the coppermines track. It was now 4.30pm, by 5.15 it would be dark and the cold was starting to envelope me. I dug out my survival bag and spare clothing and tried to make myself comfortable and warm. I always save a few cups of warm tea in my flask for the end of the day and these were welcome warmth in the dropping temperature. Blood was still pouring from my head and my chest and leg hurt so I knew I was in a bad way. A phone call from Caroline of Coniston MRT reassured me they were closing in and I was able to give further details of my position so that soon they appeared at the head of Levers Water a few hundred feet below me. At the same time the helicopter appeared from the direction of Coniston. There is no better feeling than the sight of rescue teams heading towards you, soon Caroline was with me and I was being questioned and examined as to my injuries. It was not the end of the ordeal though. Due to conditions and the fading light rescue was difficult and it took 3 1/2 hours to stabilise me and lift me off the mountainside. 17 people from Coniston MRT were involved in my rescue, 3 air crew and even the manager at Holly How YHA had raised the alarm when I did not return.

I was taken to Carlisle Hospital where I was treated for a broken ankle and leg, 8 broken ribs, severe head wound as well as various other bumps and bruises. An operation spliced my foot and leg back together with nuts bolts and plates, 12 stitches put my head back together, Xray and MRI scans surveyed the damage and confirmed nothing more was wrong. Days in hopsital gradually brought me back to some semblance of oneness. I am here due to the skill of the rescue teams, nurses, surgeons and physios. What went wrong back on that mountainside? I have no idea what happened? I can only assume that I stepped on to what I thought was firm ground and as I transferred my weight the ground gave way and I careered down the mountain, eventually coming to rest as my foot hit a boulder rock and prevented further progress. What happened after that was a loss of consciousness for about 30 miuntes. I know this because I know what time I came round and can remember what time I last looked at my watch as I was aware that the day was starting to close in and descent was in order. The fact that I had survival gear with me I think helped my cause and stopped hypothermia developing fatser, it did become a problem later on. Spare clothing and drink was also a godsend as was that all important phone signal. If the phone signal had not been there then the route card left with the YHA manager with an indication of return time should and did alert him to a problem and he did raise the alarm.

So what do I take from the incident.
Always leave a route card and time of return with someone who knows what to do. Always carry survival gear, spare clothing and food and drink. Carry the phone on me and not in the rucsac. Metal drink containers survive a fall better than plastic bottles. My Sigg bottle is heavily dented but did survive and still held the contents. Keep calm and await rescue.

Perhaps I could have chosen a different route down, but there was no signs that the route I had chosen was problematic. At the end of the day this was an accident, one that could have been deadly, but one which I survived with the help of my training and the expertise, courage and dedication of RAF, and Coniston Mountain Rescue.

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