'For Adventures of a lifetime'

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

The Day Winter Ended Before It Even Started

Attending the Association of Mountaineering Instructors (AMI) AGM has become somewhat of a regular thing for me.  This year’s at Glenmore Lodge was fantastic, with great workshops and guest speakers and perfectly timed.  I had my Mountaineering Instructor Certificate (MIC) assessment planned for mid February (2017) but felt I needed a couple of workshops to help fine tune my skills.  Following a fantastic day with Bill Strachan the day before doing ‘stance management’ I was really pleased that I was going to be out with him again for a MIC ‘shakedown’ on the Sunday.  Along with myself were Ali, David and Bryan.

The day started normal enough with no hint as to how it was going to end! Walking in to the Northern Corries, a popular spot for many winter climbers, it was evident that the heavy snows that had fallen the previous two days were now melting at a rapid pace and turning the paths into ‘slushpuppy’ tracks.  The five of us persevered into Coire an t’Sneachda getting wetter and wetter, not really sure if it was from the outside in or the inside out due to the ‘warm’ temperatures and sweating.  For those who have not experienced these types of days in the mountains you can get colder more easily than when the temperatures are well below freezing but with no wind. Following a bit of this and a bit of that relating to the MIC scheme and a few pearls of wisdom from Bill, we had all had enough and we were all reaching for our extra jackets to try and fend off the onset of hypothermia.

Climbing the day before during the Stance Management Workshop

Walking out, we wasted no time getting to a spot to put away a few things such as harness and helmet we were still wearing.  Packing my rucksack the boys headed off and I told them I was going to have a pee and would catch them up.  By the time I’d finished the boys were about 200m in front of me so I put a bit of a ‘jog’ on to make up the distance and try and catch them.  I remember being only about 50m away when suddenly my left leg slipped on a slushy part of the path and I was aware that I was going down.  However, as my body went forward with the momentum my right foot caught on a rock and I felt it turn under.  This was one of those situations which had happened numerous times before during my career as a Mountaineering Instructor, but immediately I knew this one was different.  Normally I would have reacted fast enough to un-tuck my foot from under me, as had happened before, but the slush on the path, my speed and my body weight meant that this didn’t happen.  My foot turned back on itself and I came crashing down on it until I found myself sat on it facing a rather strange direction.  The pain, although severe was strange, more akin to a severe ‘Chinese burn’ than anything more severe. Instinctively, I managed to right myself and found myself sitting straight legged looking at the lads walking away from me, they hadn’t seen me fall. As my right foot flopped over to the side I thought that’s broken but having never broken any bone in my body in my longish career outdoors I had nothing to compare it to.   I shouted to the guys but to my dismay no one heard me, so I shouted louder until Ali turned around and saw me sitting there.  As I waited for the guys to come back to me I knew I had hurt myself badly and immediately I knew my winter and my MIC was over for this year. What I didn’t know was that this was just the start of some very strange events that would unfold as the evening went on.

 If you are ever going to hurt yourself in the hills/mountains make sure you are surrounded by appropriately experienced people.  The four mountaineering instructors with me on this day came with a small truck full of experience between them.  I was impressed how each of them appeared to know their role and what needed to be done immediately.  The outdoor industry generally has a very good safety record so the boys would not have had that much practice of real situations, although emergency procedures do form part of all the qualifications we undertake. With Bill, my new hero by the way, at the helm I felt in very safe hands.  His sense of humour is questionable though.
A decision was made that a stretcher was going to be sent up from Glenmore Lodge but that realistically it was going to be nearly an hour before it would reach me.  I wanted to keep warm and I suppose I was a little in denial about how serious I had hurt myself, so started to hobble and hop my way down to meet the stretcher coming the other way.  Two of the guys were always at my side taking my weight (sorry about that guys but very much appreciated!), and also me using a ski pole.  Together we managed around 350m before the stretcher arrived with my other new hero John Armstrong (his sense of humour is also questionable!), Rob and Alex.  People have asked if I was in a lot of pain during the whole of the descent and I can honestly say I was definitely uncomfortable but I was never in so much pain that I had to stop.  It was actually four hours later I took my first paracetamol and more because I thought I should rather than needing it.  I would like to formally thank all those above for being so professional and dedicated to getting me off the hill quickly and easily….could not have thought of a better rescue team.

Ali (left) and Dave (right) Supporting me on my 350m hobble/hop (Photo Bill Strachan)
The guys doing a great job with the fancy 'in-line wheel stretcher' (photo John Armstrong)

Me putting on a brave face for John (photo John Armstrong
Me finally in the mini bus on the way down to Glenmore Lodge (Photo Bill Strachan)

Arriving back at the Lodge my mind was buzzing with all the decisions I had to make and how I was going to achieve them;  X-rays, transport, home, MIC, Mentoring…  Fortunately, Peter Stollery, who lives close to me in Teesside (Darlington) and had attended the AGM at the weekend also, helped make some of the decisions a lot easier.  Pete volunteered to drive my van back down the road but having left his at Penrith we would have to drive there. So all I had to do was make arrangements to have my wife and son meet us at Penrith and all would be well.  This seemed my best option as I would be van bound at Glenmore Lodge if I stayed.  I thanked everyone I could who had helped, had a bandage (equine wrap) applied to my leg (great job Will Kilner thanks), collected various bits of kit which were located in various places around the Lodge, loaded the van and set off on the 5 hour journey to Penrith. The time was 17:00 hours!

The drive down the road went without incident, albeit a miserable evening with dark skies, fog and water on the road.  Pete was feeling tired due to an over indulgence the night before (usual AMI AGM behaviour apparently) but was doing a great job with the driving.  On the way Pete made a suggestion that, to save me extending my journey and him having to drive from Penrith back to Darlington (about 1 hour journey) would it be possible that my wife drives his van back from Penrith and he would take me directly to Accident and Emergency in Teesside?  The only thing was that my wife would have to collect his spare key for his van from his girlfriend in Darlington.  This was not much out of the way for my wife as it was on the way to Penrith anyways.  Arrangements were made and all seemed fine.  We stopped at a well known fast food restaurant in Berwick where, I took my first pain killers of the day, and continued down the A1 towards home.  The time was 20:30 hours.
Suddenly and completely out of the blue the van started to make a strange noise, Pete and me looked at each other ‘what the f**# is that’ we said almost in unison. Pete pulled over at the nearby lay by/parking area and got out and looked around the van.   ‘It’s a blow out’ Pete said! The near side rear tyre was completely flat and needed changing, so Pete set about releasing the spare wheel.  This proved more awkward than anticipated, me hobbling around on one foot not really being able to offer any physical help and now in a little bit of pain.  The spare wheel carrier was being awkward and Pete tried various methods to release it.  Finally, the carrier released, unfortunately, Pete had left his finger underneath it….with a silent scream and the look on his face I could tell it must have hurt.  We found out later after a visit to A & E himself, that the finger wasn’t broken but had to be drilled through the nail bed to release the pressure underneath (yuk!!!).   Although the spare wheel was released it was stuck under the van and Pete needed to put the jack in place to raise the van up so we (me) could pull it out.  Finally with the spare wheel out, the flat tyre off we (Pete) tried to line up the bolt stud holes, unfortunately, as Pete adjusted the new wheel the van moved and slipped off its jack.  Disaster you might think, as the van fell towards me and Pete…No miracle!!!  The spare wheel lodged itself under the wheel arch and stopped the van hitting the slippery tarmac we were parked on.  Quickly Pete replaced the jack and raised the van…Forgetting about my foot we both struggled to get the wheel in place before Pete eventually lined up the holes and screwed in the bolts/studs…Phew! The time was 22:00 hours.

Not broken but drilled and drained (photo Pete Stollery)

I jumped in the passenger seat and turned on the ignition while Pete cleaned his hands.  The van made a strange scream and whirring noise which eventually settled.  Pete jumped back into the drivers seat and for the second time that evening we said in unison “What the F**# was that?” Pete pulled out from the lay by and almost immediately we both noticed the lights on the van dash… Pete then said “Cliff I have no power steering!”.  What the hell was going on this evening was beyond both Pete and myself…It kind of reminded me of the film Final Destination, where those who had cheated death were chased until the inevitable happened…DEATH!  Pete pulled over again and said he just wanted to check he could actually steer…It was his call, if he could drive without the power steering I was happy for him to continue.  We continued down the A1 and took the slip road for the A19 and the Tyne Tunnel…wishing this night would end (not in a Final Destination way though!).  During this drive we received a call from my wife who said they had located Petes van in Penrith but could we confirm the make/model and registration number as they were having difficulty getting the key to work…  After a few expletives from Pete he realised that his girlfriend (soon to be wife) had given my wife the wrong spare key.  Lynne my wife and Aaron my Son were now stuck in Penrith.  Pete made the ‘calm’ phone call to his fiancée and explained the situation and that she would have to take the actual key over to Penrith to meet Lynne and Aaron.  What made this worse is Lynne had told us how bad the weather was going over the Pennines and that fog was getting thicker.  I felt I needed to talk to Pete’s Fiancée and tell her not to rush and to take care, all the while thinking about Final Destination!  All seemed well for Pete and myself now until just beyond Sunderland when in the middle of the dual carriage way with the rain coming down, all electrics to the van ceased to work.  We couldn’t even drop the windows to see out.  Somehow Pete managed to drive off the A19 and into a pub car park and safety.  Surely this was the end of the ‘events’? 

We waited only around half an hour for the AA man and his van to arrive (impressive), perhaps things were looking up! Only to have the barmaid from the pub meet him on the way to check my van out, “Will you guys be long?  It’s just I need to lock the gate of the car park” said the barmaid. No way!  Hahahaha we were almost hysterical by this point….Pete tried to reason with her, but to no avail.  He is obviously not experienced with females from Sunderland! The lads pushed the van out of the car park and onto the road while I steered and broke with my wrong foot (for the brake).  “Nothing I can do mate it’s the alternator belt and you’re going to need to be transported” Said the AA man.  He made arrangements for another transport company to come and pick us up.  The time was now 12:40 hours.

Following the detour to Hartlepool, where my preferred garage repair is located, we were dropped at my house in Billingham by the nice transport guy.  Pete quickly jumped in his van which Lynne had brought to our house and set off home.  I jumped into my wife’s car, not even a cup of tea was offered, and driven to Accident and Emergency at Stockton.  The time was now 2:30/3:00 hours.
We were seen quite quickly only to find out that the waiting time to see the doctor was three and half hours, however, there was an alternative to go to the One Life Walk in Centre in Hartlepool where I could be seen immediately for x-ray and analysis.  There was no option but to drive to the Centre, yes you guessed it, past my van that we had left outside of the Garage over an hour earlier.  The senior nurse arranged for an immediate x-ray as promised and which confirmed my fears that my leg was broken.  I had done quite a good job on it and had actually broken my tibia and fibula near the ankle area.  By this time the swelling had become worse but the bandage applied at Glenmore Lodge by Will had done a great job (invest in some equine wraps people).  They put me in a temporary cast and made an appointment for the following day to see the specialist/consultant.  We eventually settled into bed for 05:30 hours!

Fibula fractures

Tibia Fracture

Following the removal of my initial cast

All there is to say is a massive thanks to all those people involved and who had put themselves out for me during the day.  It’s amazing and humbling the support that I got and has continued through social media since.  Thank You for that! 

All the best to everyone attempting to complete their MIC this ‘winter’!

AMI  💗

The foreseeable future!