02 April 2015

The Kindness of Strangers

The Mate, The Offspring and I went to the Lake District for a hiking holiday earlier this week. The weather turned mean on our first hiking day, but we decided to see how far up Scafell Pike we could get before the sleet, hail, and wind made it feel too dangerous.
We saw a group of people ahead of us -- teenagers, mostly -- underdressed for the conditions. One of them fell crossing a stream. Later on, we were passed by faster hikers, and as we followed them up, realized we had followed them off the trail. We stopped, and the fog drifted, and we saw a cairn 20 yards away and found our way back to the trail.

In my hubris, I thought one of those groups was going to run into trouble.

About 200 meters from the summit we turned back... and a few hundred meters farther down the mountain, I slipped, perhaps on a patch of hail or sleet. And slid, with my foot under me, down the surface of a wet rock.


The Mate dug the first-aid kit out of my packpack and gave me Tylenol (Paracetamol) and the Ace bandage. I took his poles and tried to use them as crutches to hobble, but progress was very slow.

A group of experienced hikers caught up with us, pointed out that it would take us hours to get out that way, pointed out that The Offspring was in the early stages of hypothermia, pointed out that I was likely to fall again and get hurt worse, and offered to call Mountain Rescue. I remembered the stair-like section of the trail with rain-water cascading down it below us. I gave up. Another pair of hikers also stopped to help.

We got out our space blankets, they got out another, as well as an emergency shelter. The Offspring and I wrapped up and huddled together and ate some food. Other hikers came along and passed thermoses of hot coffee and hot cocoa into the shelter and we drank, to help warm up; we'd already finished our own thermos of hot tea.

A helicopter came, but between the fog and the rocks, it couldn't land, and eventually it landed in the valley. So The Mate made the decision to walk out with The Offspring so he could warm up; two of our helpers walked with them. Four people waited with me. For something like three hours, before the first members of the Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team reached me.

One of the doctors had seen The Mate and The Offspring near the bottom, and kindly let me know that they were almost out: a huge relief, as I was worried about them getting down safely.

The wrapped me in a massively thick "cas bag" and strapped me onto a sledge and took me down a path with lots of grassy patches that they could drag me across, but they also carried me over a river and several stiles. The efficiency with which they passed me hand to hand along a chain of people was incredible.
We reached the bottom, and somehow someone knew that the guys had hitched a ride back to the hostel and could warm up. They bundled me into an ambulance and took me to the nearest hospital.

All of the Mountain Rescue Team members are volunteers. They do not charge for getting people out.

At "A&E" (the ER), I was assigned an amazing nurse who stayed with me the entire time, making me tea and putting heated blankets over me (because after five hours immobile on the mountain, I still hadn't warmed up), wheeling my gurney to the x-ray department, chatting with me to keep my spirits up.

She tried to call the youth hostel to let The Mate know I was off the mountain, but just then got a message that he'd already called -- and was on his way with a man who was staying there for the night and offered to drive him over to pick me up.

We got back to Cambridge, and a neighbor brought  me more Paracetamol, an ice pack, AND a bouquet of beautiful flowers.
Accidents cascade. We might have gotten into really severe trouble out there if those guys hadn't stopped to help. The hiker community is an amazing group of people.

I'm allowed to start running again, carefully, in two weeks. There will be another marathon.