Picture Courtesy of Walking Britain.
Isn’t it absolutely beautiful. This is a view of World’s End above Llangollen in North Wales. A day just like this back in 1993 or was it 1994.
It was a lovely summer’s day and just perfect for climbing. We had planned this day out relatively quickly, but when you have a rucksack full of gear and a car full of petrol there’s not all that much to think about. It’s a long trip from the midlands. Certainly a lot further than we would normally travel. Having had a glut of “The Roaches”, Cheedale and Markfield Quarry it was time we did something different.
Together, Steve, Geoff, Girlfriend (at time) and myself set off. What a great drive. We approached Lllangollen and Steve points up. “That’s where we are going, up there”. The car snaked through small lanes and crossed a stream that was also the road. We could go no further by car and had quite a trek up the hill. We had passed some quaint houses at the bottom of the hill, must be nice to live round here if you don’t have to work I thought. We rounded the corner to a tall limestone wall, not particularly high, 40-50ft as I recall. Around the base of the crag, close to the road, plenty of rock strewn boulders. None big enough to climb, but big enough to trip over. The guidebook told of good climbs with names like “Starship Trooper”, probably named after a song by Yes considering the year it was named.
We settled down for a day of climbing, flew up some good routes, I am not a fan of limestone myself, but I too enjoyed them. More climbers appeared two sets of two and started doing other climbs along the crag. The climbing was good, the rock was dry, the sun was shining, the view was stunning everything was just perfect.
Girlfriend to climb next. Steve flew up an easy route and set up a belay. “Climb when ready”. Girlfriend tried hard, as I recall, and was progressing up some “VDiff” climb. It was at the halfway point Steve shouts “Stop, I’m going to lower you off”. “What’s going on” I said. “Just do it!”. Girlfriend slowly gets lowered down, almost down just 4 feet to go.
It was at that point a scream, a fall, a thud.
Climbing to our right, close to the entrance to the crag, near the road, strewn with boulders, one of the other climbers had fell. Steve quickly abseiled down we ran over. A woman had fallen and struck her head on the sharp limestone rocks at the base of the climb. She was still attached to the rope, her partner ran round from the top of the climb to join the others around her. Other climbers had taken charge, having recently done first aid I knew to keep them still, don’t move, except maybe recovery position after checking for breakages etc, stop the flow of crimson emanating from her skull. Steve gave the partner his fleece as a pillow, that floor was cold and hard. “Someone phone for an ambulance, quick”.
Three climbers had mobile phones. No Signal. We were on a mountain in North Wales, getting a signal outside of a city was hard enough let alone where we were. Steve being the fittest and tallest and least dumbstruck by the event said “I’ll go get help”. He ran down to the cottages, not an easy feat as the close ones were empty. We all waited. I watched at some distance, not being able to help as all the help that could be given was being given. A bit of room to breathe was needed. We watched and waited while the woman bled, helpless.
Steve returned, I can’t remember if he was by the injured side or by us, but informed people help was coming. He told me “I’m knackered, no-one answered in the first house, I must have ran a mile or so to get a phone”.
The wind picked up and a roaring sound was above us. I had never seen a helicopter so close. “Close your eyes!”. We closed our eyes and got close to the limestone wall, the sand and grit was being blasted by the engines of the helicopter as it desperately searched for somewhere to land. It moved away and we saw it land in a nearby field. It took some time for the paramedics to make it up the hill. The woman was loaded onto a stretcher. They carted her off.
The man handed Steve his blood soaked fleece and left with the paramedics. We walked to the car threw our gear in and went home. The story unfolded a little more in the car.
Steve was belaying Girlfriend and could see the other climbers. Being a diligent and safe climber, the only climber I ever feel safe with, he notices things. On this occasion he had noticed a man belaying a woman without any protection holding him in position. To any experienced climber or even novice climber with a bit of experience this is the most dangerous and irresponsible thing you can possibly do. there he was sat on the edge of a fifty foot cliff with a belay device and rope and dependant climber below. Behind Steve and the other climber was a forest, you can see it in the picture. There is no excuse, with only the rope he had he could have knitted himself into the forest and still provided enough dangle for his partner to climb with. Steve had called for the lower off and was about to sew him into the trees himself and tear a strip off him. He saw the woman slip, he saw the rope pull, he saw the guy almost go over the edge, he saw him drop the rope.
Later on the news we heard an announcement of a climber in North Wales had died, no other details than that. We had no way of knowing if this was “our” climber or another fool who had headed out on Snowden without the correct equipment. It was a bit of a coincidence so we figured it probably was.
All this finished our outdoor climbing for the year. We didn’t set out again. There were other reasons, each persons own personal life not being in the same position as it was for the great summer of climbing we had experienced. All the time that nagging feeling.
All of this was a long time ago, but it has never left me. I know that we did everything possible to help and nothing was our fault, after all we did not know them, we where 15 feet away, on seeing the problem an attempt to rush in and prevent anything nasty happening was made.
I recently got interested in climbing again. I love climbing. I have a son who seems interested too. It’s more than ten years later almost fifteen and this memory haunts me. I have thought of it more since climbing again. I wanted to tell other people, other climbers. I want people to know that climbing can be a very dangerous sport. I want you to also know that it can be made safe. Not 100% safe, certainly not for a leader. But for a seconder, top-roper, there is no reason on earth, other than incompetence or stupidity for anything like what I have told you should happen.
I hope this article can exorcise that ghost.
Our sport can be made safe. With the help of instructors at climbing centers around the country, not just my country almost any country, you can learn the skills you need to make yourself and your climbing partners as safe as possible.
Much of what you need to learn can be taught safely at indoor climbing walls. Many of those same walls teach courses on the transition between resin and rock. For those wanting to do traditional British climbing, a significantly more dangerous variation than the bolted routes of Europe, you should investigate those courses. Find yourself a good climbing partner, join a local club. All will help expose you to experienced climbers.
From my early days in climbing the BMC – British Mountaineering Council was a remote organisation with little relevance to climbers like me, or so I felt. Today this is far from the truth. The BMC has a great website that has gone through improvements. It still needs some improvements to find all the really handy literature that is on there. But on there it is.
Here are some links for people considering climbing or starting out already that would be useful for you to know, British or not.
The links below are taken from the BMC website. No responsibility for anything that happens to you because you read this article is accepted. Some articles are the opinions of the authors and not those of the BMC, always check the BMC site for the correct source of each article. Links are provided to help you find specific content you may still have to visit the original source page for details.
As the leaflets say
Be aware that climbing, hill walking and mountaineering are activities with a danger of personal injury or death. Participants in these activities should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions and involvement.
A parents guide.
This is a leaflet for anyone starting to climb not just parents. Questions to ask regarding the safety of children can easily apply to safety of us all.
Belaying and Abseiling guide
This is not a guide to teach the beginner but a reminder to all of us, experienced and novice alike on how to belay. Even an experience climber (despite being out of practice) such as me can learn and be reminded about belaying techniques. In fact the experienced can get a little too comfortable and not follow the basics. Shove this in front of your partners face as a reminder.
A Short Film on belaying can be found here.
Check Your Knot
Here is a short film on how to tie a figure of eight not, complete with stopper knot. I often tie stopper knots but not as well as this, I learnt something new here.
Check your Harness
How many times have you seen someone buckle their harness wrong. This is a reminder and details of the campaign. “Double Back !”, People
Next are a series of four feature articles about climbing from the BMC site from indoors to outdoors to that most evil of places, in the snow (no thanks). The series called “The Basics” can be difficult to find as they don’t link on to one another after episode one.
For those of us already climbing or returning to it a booklet on checking and maintaining your gear with notes on retiring it. Note it is the responsibility of the owner/user of any Personal Protection Equipment to ensure it is safe. If you don’t think its safe then it probably isn’t. If your thinking should I retire this kit, you probably should.
BMC Care & Maintenance booklet – amendment
An amendment to the booklet.
A series of newer articles on safety.
Where to Climb ?
For those about to venture out onto real rock then check the Regional Access Database. The BMC do an excellent job of negotiating with landowners to try to secure rights for climbers. Look here to find out if there are any problems with places you plan to climb. Don’t annoy landowners the BMC may be negotiating access and you blow it. Guides on how to behave and country side codes can also be found here.
Join the BMC
They do good work and offer insurance with membership, handy in today’s culture of ambulance chasers. What will you do if that bit of gear drops on someone’s head.
Legal and things.
The links above is my way of creating a handy list of stuff I found interesting. You should always check and re-check the BMC website regarding any information and its source and who wrote it and whether they endorse it or not.
The BMC are not aware of this blog and its content. I am not an employee or affiliated with the BMC whatsoever. At time of writing I am not a member.
I do not endorse or take responsibility for any of the content you may access by clicking on a link from this site. I do not take responsibility if you take up climbing and get hurt or dead or anyone with you.
Parents and participants should be aware that climbing, hill walking and mountaineering are activities with a danger of personal injury or death. Parents and participants in these activities should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions and involvement.