The not so Great Escape

The trip report goes something like this.

Friday. Had a great day climbing with Mervyn at Cyrn Las on Main Wall (HS).

Saturday. Got stuck on the last pitch of Great Gully (VD) and had to be rescued

Our previous decision to retreat half way had proved to be wise. The pitch that had
seemed difficult when wet before had been straightforward this time on dry rock, but
there was a lot more of the same to go.

Great gully
Typical conditions in Great Gully
(click on image to view in Flickr)

All went well until the penultimate pitch, whereupon the rain started. My confidence
evaporated in the face of polished wet footholds and the simultaneous disappearance of
any protection. The delay caused by my insistence on needing a top rope was something
that we could ill-afford. Nevertheless, Mike did the necessary and Andy belayed me up
what persisted in feeling quite hard even without the worry of being a long way above
gear. Confidence ebbed further as Mike struggled with the crux in the depths of the
cave above. At one point he seemed ready to give up but one last heroic effort
overcame the problem. When eventually my turn came, I climbed bwith interestb up to
reach the sling at the right end of the ledge, grabbed hold of it with both hands and
took a rest. Being unable to see anything other than the sling, I pulled hard as I
shuffled my feet up the wet rock b one big effort, the weight of two rucksacks pulling
back and needing extra force b yes, I can do this, the sling digging into my handsb&

At which point, there was a bang that to me sounded like a gunshot and I flew
backwards and down. I registered that there was no connection between my hands and the
rock and waited for the gully bed to meet my backside. Instead, and to my surprise,
the rope came tight and my right knee banged into the rock just below.

As Mike said, I had let go of the sling. At least, the sling had jumped and presumably
snagged again, the shock loading of which pulled it out of my hands without any
awareness on my part. The fact that it had only slipped so far then caught meant that
logically it wouldnbt come off again unless I were to pull outwards again rather than
down. That may have been a rational conclusion, but my brain had at this point
abandoned all connection with the rational world and I now looked up at the dimly
visible sling lurking in the corner of the roof and convinced myself that it was held
there by nothing that I could trust. Probably the only time that Ibd pulled on gear in
my climbing career to date had led to the first time that Ibve felt really frightened.
I rubbed my knee and restored circulation to my hands while deciding that I couldnbt
go back up. Itbs worth noting that I could have inspected the sling by temporarily
clipping to the static hanging rope that had been left there, if I were that worried,
but that would have involved thought on my part.

My sudden discovery that I had apparently lost the ability to prusik up the rope and
that the belay and exit above were such that hoisting wasnbt possible without some
complex rope-work, was a blow, best summarised by Mikebs bOh Buggerb. I had apparently
also lost all ability to think by this stage.

Several hours later, and by which time I was shaking continuously with the cold, the
Mountain Rescue arrived, in the form of Kim, the lightest of their party on the end of
a long rope. My chattering teeth were apparently a good sign, as itbs when you stop
shivering that youbre in trouble. We spent a fair while waiting, as all radio
communication had ceased. Eventually, we were hauled up, mostly hanging in mid-air for
10 metres or so, then up the rest of the gully a few feet at a time on a nine to one

I can only praise those volunteers that give up their spare time (and often their work
time) to help others. Once theybre on the scene, they take over completely b you just
do as youbre told, and are glad to do so. They took impressively good care of me,
helping me to warm up a bit, then leading the way off the mountain in what were
atrocious conditions. I was practically blown off my feet several times, yet the wind
had relented from earlier in the evening. The rain had eased to a heavy downpour while
I was still in the gully and thankfully had reduced again to continuous rain while we
descended. Nevertheless, the whole team remained cheerful throughout, without a hint
of the grumpiness that would have been entirely excusable and that Ibd certainly have
had if Ibd been called out that night..

You can read about an earlier attempt at Great Gully, and
another account of this rescue.

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