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Sunday, 30 September 2012

Accidental heroes

This weeks' post has a serious tone because it deals with a climbling accident - with all the "what if's," "could have's" and "should have's" that are an inevitable consequence of such a thing.
But I'm not dwelling on those. Instead, my thoughts are about the humanity, compassion, shared responsibility and comradeship shown between climbers (and other outdoor users) when the shit hits the fan.

The scenario went something like this; A client of mine, someone with a lot of climbing experience and a growing ability with a camera, wanted to learn more about shooting his sport, which he is very passionate about.

After I had posted about the new big thing in climbing, "dry tooling",  (you can read about it at "A New Hang Out"),  he was super-keen to get some photo-action of this. More so because he was actively involved in developing this new area at Hodge Close quarry, now know as "The Works'.

We met up with a team of climbers who were developing a new route here, with a plan to do an off-camera flash workshop on lighting theory and then get on the ropes to put this into practice. The theory workshop went well. We were ready to do the practical. We descended into the quarry cave and passed another group of climbers, also exploring this new dry-tooling venue and getting to grips with this new, upside-down version of ice-climbing-without-ice.

An abseil rope was already fixed in place. My client (who I shall now call Dave, because that's my name and frankly what follows could so easily have been me, or any other climber) went onto the rope, fixed his position with extra slings for safety and stability (ropes tend to rotate when you're hanging on them - making you spin) and started shooting the climber leading out on a super-hard new line.

I directed and pointed flash guns in, what I hoped would be the right direction. I also shot some images from my ground position. So far so good.

Are you still with me? I understand that this doesn't make for fascinating reading. Ideally, things would have continued in much the same vein. We would have created some nice climbing shots, with decent, well planned lighting, packed our gear amid the usual post-shoot/climb banter and scrambled out to our parked vehicles and the pub.

That didn't happen. What did happen was Dave's abseil rope broke.

He fell maybe 40 feet and bounced to a halt on unstable slate scree and blocks.

Even as he shuddered to a halt in an awkward-angled foetal position I found myself shouting for someone to call the rescue team..."go, go, get the rescue team..." and along with one of the other climbers started making my way to Dave, "he'll be alright, he'll be alright" I told myself. There was no way he was he going to be all right.

I've had some experience in this department before. I've been in a rescue team. I've been on call-outs. I have some basic training. Dave was making some noise. That was good. He was alive.

What followed the accident is really what this post is all about. The more experienced climbers took control, others waited to be directed and to contribute what they could. Everyone did their level best to help. They were shocked of course. But they pushed their fears and anxieties to one side and pitched in.

Everyone present helped to support the casualty, offer comfort, practical help and render assistance. We were all in this together and only one thing was important, only one thing mattered - the casualty - Dave's well being. No matter what happened, we would not let him down.

Even when the helicopter (Great North Air Ambulance) and Coniston Mountain Rescue Team arrived on the scene, the climbers continued to assist - man-handling the heavy, awkward stretcher up the scree slope and out of the quarry with the team members; gathering Dave's belongings, keeping his stuff secure. He was our guy - our responsibility - our friend. Despite the fact that most of those present, including myself, had only met him today.

Dave is recovering at home with a busted leg. He's very relieved about that and so are we! I mean a busted leg! Christ, he could have...well, we all know what might have been.
There are some questions to be asked, some lessons to be learned of course. But overwhelmingly, my greatest impression of the accident is the response of my fellow climbers. They reacted as all climbers would in such a situation. They were magnificent and they remind me that we share a common bond that always rises to the occasion when it most needs to. Despite what I read in the papers on a daily basis.