Falling 70 metres.

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I am obviously still mulling over all that needs to be processed from Thursday’s events.

But post my mum’s post on FB and then all the subsequent messages and visits, I feel extremely cared for, especially by Anna (I have an art therapy book and everything).

I would like to write about my analysis and lessons learnt in due course, however, in the meantime I sent this brief explanation to a mate of mine the other morning –

This is what happened – I was climbing with 3 friends, 2 ropes of 2, in an ice gully that we had taken a day or so to walk to. We bivouaced the previous night and started climbing at 530am. On the Petite Jorasses, the actual peak was called Frebouze, man I need some. The conditions on the first pitch provided good challenging fun as the lack of ice in parts lead to some interesting mixed climbing (ice tools on rock), the finger crack on the first pitch woke me up with a cracking smile. I then had to make some delicate moves to avoid dropping 2 blocks the size of coffee tables, that wobbled when I weighted them, onto my partners below. Avoiding this, as well as leading this pitch, I felt good, comfortable in my climbing. On a later pitch, which was mine to lead, the ice (more like frozen snow) was a lot thicker, short vertical sections interspersed with rests, things felt easy. I only placed one cam for protection a few metres after the belay, I wasn’t going to fall but a factor 2 fall was inexcusable so I did what I thought best. I didn’t scour the wall higher up as it would have meant moving quite a way to the right to place gear which would have meant wasting energy. I thought about placing a screw but the ice wasn’t nearly good enough to hold a fall so I didn’t bother. I was comfortable enough and was going to be at the belay in moments. Then came  a problem with the route. I had to move slightly out of the main gully, to the side, in order to reach the next belay point. The gully was partitioned by a thin slippery slab of rock and this was surrounded by rotten snow. I went higher to see if I could make a way around and down, no luck, I had to down climb the gully to where the thin slab started. I decided to go for the most viable option of a thin corner of crumbling rock just where the slab joined the gully wall. I found old snow, some rocky foot holds and some ice. I placed a nut for some closer protection and moved up into the corner. The conditions in the corner were far from great and axe placements had to be picked carefully. I was doing ok though and the nut had seemed bommer, I’d given it a good yank to test it. I was an arms length from the safety of the belay when my axes both suddenly, simultaneously popped. One came out of the thin ice and the other cut through the crumbling rock. I took a lead fall that ended up being head first down the gully with 3 of my friends in it. At first I thought I’d be ok as the nut would catch me, I felt it pop and my fall gained momentum. Face down, mouth wide, I screamed as I flew towards my friends. Then black. The impacts on rock or an in built protection sensor shut my brain down as it must have been all too much. Apparently my ice axe leashes had caught on the rope and along with the speed, they spun me upside down and that in turn had ripped the nut out. 70 metres is a long way. Eventually something held – the cam stuck and held me, if not that, then I’m told what eventually broke my fall was the melange of my axes and Michaels that me and my caravan of climbing gear collected and knitted up in the twisted ropes on the way down. I hung, upside down, momentarily asleep 100metres above the glacier. My friends were fantastic, having watched me tumble like a rag doll, they quickly secured me, spun me around while protecting my leg, got me warm, relaxed me and cut a step for me to sit in. I find it somehow amusing that when I woke up (after about 2 minutes) I got my phone out, dialled the PGHM and passed the phone to Nick in a kind of “Hey, speak to these guys” kind of way. They had tried before but I had left my UK Sim in so I guess it was using a different network. Soon I heard the relieving sound of a French rescue helicopter. I was plucked off to safety. Spinning on a wire across the glaciated valley would have been more fun if my foot hadn’t been hanging off.

Now in hospital and the best bit is I’m alive with my back in tact, again reminded of how precious life is. I have a broken tibia, fibula, clavicle, shoulder blade, rib, nose, my bicep is hanging off and i’ve got a few cuts. Was bleeding from ears but that has stopped plus scans are clear. Interestingly they saw my condition that lead to collapsed lung a few years back. Nothing I can do but not smoke. Think there are more rewarding things to do in life….

As well as to the kind eyes of the PGHM, Black Diamond helmets for saving my life, the supports in my Mammut Nordwand rucksack (that I am sure took most of the impacts on my back thus protecting my spine and neck) and all the amazing hospital staff in Sallanches, my everlasting debt goes most importantly to Mikael Abrahamsson, Nick Draper and Dan Owen. I take my hat off to you. Solid skills, true gentlemen….. who still had to rap down off the face and walk out for a day.


The following photos (apologies for no descriptions, Hospital Wifi is like National Paint Drying Championships) from the week leading up to the fall should be viewed to the soundtrack of “This is why we do it” by Mantell Jordan:


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5 thoughts on “Falling 70 metres.

  1. Pingback: “I FEEL THE NEED, THE NEED FOR SPEED” | Wako's Wire

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  3. Pingback: Thanking the PGHM | Wako's Wire

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