“It’s not too far down, I think I can jump it,” announced John, he’s on all fours peering over the edge of a cliff, his head torch beam fading into the darkness. It’s late, past dark, we are on the North East Ridge of Anoch Beag and we shouldn’t be here. I decided that a few hours ago and now we were attempting to get back down to the horizontal through a maze of short cliffs covered in wet slippery snow. “This is not a good place to have an accident,” I decided and uncoiled the rope.
This little blog is inspired by a post on the http://www.scottishhills.com which related the sad tale of a walker who had an accident and had to be rescued on the first mile of a 132 mile walk. This got me thinking. I suppose there is as much likelihood of your having and accident on the first mile of a walk as there is on the 131st.
I can remember standing at the top of a gully on Helvelyn one winter, “I think I can glissade down this!” I called to my mate Joe. I was about to have my first accident. I did glissade, (Sort of skiing on your boots) for the first 10 feet or so then gravity decided to be awkward and hurled me, at great speed, into a boulder at the bottom of the gully. That part of the mountain is now known as Swollen Knee gully or Falling Fool depending on whether you were watching me at that moment.
How to avoid accidents is, of course, a major industry with training courses available in everything from abseiling to how to walk outside the house. The thought of people having to be taught how to walk “off road” is not as far-fetched as it sounds. If you are a walker you’ll think everyone can walk over boulders and rough terrain, this is not so, some people never leave the security of the pavement and if they suddenly have to they stumble about unable to adapt to uneven ground. Walking in “wild” places is actually a skill a great many people never acquire. In some places there are “Mall Walking” groups, where people are organised to walk round shopping centres, I kid you not.
The only way to avoid accidents is to stay in bed. Hill walking involves a degree of risk no matter how careful you are. The press always look to blame someone. “Some fools fell off a hill somewhere. It was all their fault,” is a typical Daily Mail headline. That somebody made a mistake may certainly be the case but people make mistakes all the time in their daily lives. If you trip over a toy bus one of the kids left on the stairs you might end up in casualty but you are unlikely to be choppered off and end up in the papers. Hill Walker’s mistakes are big news and sometimes very costly.
Oh, and John’s cliff he thought he could jump turned out to be 75ft high when I later lowered him off into the darkness. Had it been more than the length of the rope, we’d still be there.
The forum post asked “Is it wrong to laugh?” Regarding the poor soul who fell in the first mile. I’d say it’s essential; humour gets us through situations like that. There is only one condition on laughing, you have to be able to laugh when it’s you they are maligning in the papers because then you are going to need a sense of humour.
Original post on Scottishhills http://www.scottishhills.com/html/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=13507