I’m haunted by her face, even now weeks later. Hollow, scared and so so full of despair. It moved me so much, I felt this unbelievable urge to go and put my arm around her. I wanted to comfort her badly, this lonely stranger. I could simply not imagine what she must be feeling. I’ve only experienced the fear of ‘what if’ scrunching its fist into my stomach and the squeeze of sinister fingers clenching around my heart, and not the horror of it actually happening.
To the mountains…
Bank holiday weekend is a prime time to head for the mountains, and that’s exactly what we did. To celebrate the last bank holiday of the year, we set out to the Lake District. Was there a more perfect way to make the most of the long weekend?
Whizzing along the lakeside it was sunny and spirits were high as we talked about the route we would be taking. However, as we rounded a corner in the road a huge wall of cloud billowed skywards and the mountain was nowhere in sight. Buried under a thick layer of cloud it had decided that it didn’t want to make an appearance for the weekend. Instantly, I felt on edge. Nerves nudged at my insides – you know the feeling – when something isn’t right but you don’t know what to do about it. Well – that’s not true – I knew what to do but I didn’t act on it, fearing being cut down or over ruled. I didn’t want to be the killjoy in the party.
We were here specifically to do a particular route – one that two of the party had wanted to do for a long time, and so I shut down my nerves and told myself that everything would be okay. It was easy for me to dismiss this route after all – I had done it several times.
Reaching the cloud line visibility dropped to about five metres, sometimes less. Fingers of cloud swirled around us, as though reaching out to grasp us with its cool touch. This didn’t help the unease. We really couldn’t see far and as the terrain turned to rock underfoot, the under-lying nerves kicked up a notch. I could feel the slight slip of my boots as the grip failed to gain purchase, and as we clambered up onto the knobbly spines of the ridge we were hit by a surprisingly strong wind. The situation was less than ideal and I remember telling myself we were now committed, so onwards we went…
Things don’t always go to plan…
When the ominous sound of helicopter blades came slicing through the air, we knew something bad had happened. As we climbed down the bad step, happy to have reached the end of the ridge we saw the ropes and the happiness faded fast. Expertly tied and taught with the weight of a couple of brave souls who had descended over the edge of the ridge into the chasm of cloud in an attempt to rescue the man who had slipped. Knowing there was nothing we could do to help, we turned to continue. There was help there and Mountain Rescue was on its way.
That’s when I saw his family and the empty eyes in their faces. I felt so cold, and traitorous as I walked away. They have help, my conscience insisted. In their position I would not want strangers hovering around me. I didn’t know them but man, oh, man, I felt terrible for leaving.
Hindsight is a marvellous thing.
As soon as I saw the mountain I should have said no, we need to go and do something else. That little voice whispering that we’d committed to the walk was absurd – we could have turned back. If there’s one lesson I’ve learnt in life, it’s to never think that it won’t happen to you. Accidents happen all too easily, even if you have the equipment and the skills – sometimes there’s nothing you can do about them.
I’m all for going out, exploring and pushing yourself but there’s a line. I should have listened to my instincts, knowing we would still have had a great time elsewhere – and that the mountain would still be there for another time. Yes, nothing happened to myself or my friends but that makes it no less terrible, and I’m still haunted by it. My thoughts are with the the family, and many thanks go to the Mountain Rescue for the wonderful job they do.
Picture credit for the feature image: Josh Clarkson