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Helicopter rescue at Gimmer Crag

Helicopter rescue at Gimmer Crag


Postby dav2930 » Sun Oct 24, 2021 3:27 pm

Date walked: 28/08/2021

Distance: 5 km

Ascent: 648m

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The Saturday of August bank holiday weekend and Karl and myself were heading for Langdale. Seriously? What were we thinking of? Brains had obviously deserted us when we planned this trip, as we simply forgot all about the bank holiday :roll:. By the time we'd set off from Penrith we were well aware of our blunder, but it was a lovely morning and a good forecast and it just seemed too late to change our plans. So we forced ourselves to be optimistic against our "better" judgement.

Two questions preyed on our minds as we drove along the shore of Thirlmere. 1- would we be able to get parked at Stickle Barn?; 2- would Gimmer Crag be so festooned with ropes that we'd have to queue to get on the climbs we intended to do?

The first of these questions was answered when we arrived at the NT car park beside the Stickle Barn, at about 0900. Bags of room. No problem at all. The warden even let us park all day on a 4-hour ticket as I only had 20p and 5p pieces and the machine kept rejecting the 5p's. What a sterling fellow! Ok, so far so good. No reason to regret our brainless plan yet. The sun was shining and we were raring to go, so off we went up the path to Gimmer Crag.


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The thought of slogging up to Gimmer weighed down with ropes and climbing gear can be off-putting, but is more than compensated by the quality of the climbs there. Keeping to a no-rush policy was key to maintaining good morale, and with glorious, sunny views across the valley, the walk up turned out to be very enjoyable. Plus, there was hardly anyone about. Well blow me down! :o

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Oxendale, Crinkle Crags and the Band, from above Raven Crag


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Old Dungeon Gill Hotel, NT campsite, Blea Tarn and the Coniston Fells


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Crinkle Crags and Bowfell


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Pike o' Blisco


At the cairn where the main path steepens towards Harrison Stickle, we headed left along the level traverse path which meets Gimmer Crag at the "gearing-up ledge" underneath one of the classic climbs, Bracket and Slab. A pair of climbers were established high on that climb, but the ledge at the bottom was deserted. We parked ourselves there, had a bite to eat, and started gearing up. Soon, one climber arrived, then another, then another two. Most of the climbers arriving were part of the same group. One was originally from the States (Ohio I think), and his plan was to do 'A' Route, a nice Mild Severe. Our plan was to head round to the north-west side of the crag to do North West Arete, which would take us to the Ash Tree Ledge, and from there we'd follow 'D' Route to the top of the crag.

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North West Arete (photo by Neil Carnegie)


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'D' Route (photo by Sean Kelly)


These two routes would allow us to climb the full height of the crag in two long pitches. So, harnessed, helmeted and with a half-rope each tied to our backs, we scrambled down under the toe of the crag and up the other side to the van-size block embedded in North West Gully, where North West Arete begins. The sky had clouded over at this point and it felt a little chilly.

P1030275.JPG
Gimmer Crag from its lowest point, heading for the start of North West Arete


A pair were established on Asterisk, just to the left of North West Arete, but no one was on the latter. Incredible :o
So that was the second of our troubling questions half answered favourably. And, icing on the cake, the sky was brightening up again :D

P1030277.JPG
At the start of North West Arete. The climbers pictured are doing Asterisk, a slightly easier climb to the left of our route.


It was actually 'D' Route, the easier of our 2 intended climbs, which was our chief motivator for the day, since neither of us had done it before and it looked (especially from Sean Kelly's photo) and sounded like a great line up the west face. Plus, having lost a little confidence after all the lockdowns, Karl felt that "Severe" was about the level of difficulty he could actually enjoy.

So why were we about to start up a VS? Three reasons. 1- North West Arete is probably the most aesthetically satisfying way of getting to the Ash Tree Ledge, above which 'D' Route starts; 2- it's not high in the grade, and 3- Karl had a bone to pick with it. The last time we did this climb, a few years ago, Karl had "run out of steam" near the top and had to take a rest on the rope. It's a very long pitch - 42 metres - and there's a short section just a few metres below the top where the footholds run out and you just have to use friction for your feet while reaching for the finger holds. This was where Karl's strength ran out. Since that occasion, Karl had mentioned a couple of times that he wouldn't mind trying it again to see if he could do it cleanly (i.e. without resting on the rope). Hence, here we were again.

We uncoiled the two half-ropes, put on our rock shoes and tied on. After a little uncertainty about exactly where to start, I found the line and followed easy rock to a ledge and a runner, then headed up the wall to a horizontal crack under a little rectangular overhang. A couple of steps to the right led to a wider, vertical crack with good holds and a good runner. The crux followed above, up the left side of a bigger overhang, with an awkward pull just out of balance. Above that was a reasonable foot-ledge to stand on, so I thought I'd take a photo.

P1030278.JPG
Looking down the first third of North West Arete, from just above the crux - Karl belaying. The pair on the right are about to start Detour (VS), I think.


From there a few steps teetering across the top of the overhang led towards the arete itself, all on good holds, and into the sunshine. It really was great to be on this beautiful climb again; the moves were flowing nicely above the exquisite exposure, nothing too hard, I couldn't help expressing my enjoyment. The rest of the pitch followed the arete, mainly on the left side, until the aforementioned frictiony bit brings you onto the crest, which is followed to the Ash Tree Ledge. By the time I'd set up the belay here there wasn't much left of our 50m ropes!

Communication can be a problem on very long pitches like this, so to avoid having to yell into the wind at the top of our voices, we had our walkie-talkies. With dignified restraint, then, I was able to tell Karl it was his turn to climb, and he in turn to tell me he was about to start climbing. I couldn't see him, but his progress was indicated every time the ropes slackened and needed to be pulled in. With gratifying regularity, the ropes were coming in. Once he reached the arete, past the crux, I could see his shadow progressing up the shadow of the rock, cast on the wall to the right, where a young woman was absorbed in leading what I think was Detour (VS). As Karl's shadow got higher on the wall to the right, he suddenly came into view below, at the start of the frictiony bit. How would he manage it this time? Without hesitation he was across, onto the crest of the arete. Very pleased to have settled his score with North West Arete, Karl climbed past me and found a safe spot to stand on the Ash Tree Ledge.


P1030281.JPG
Karl at the top of North West Arete - no rope-rests needed this time!


From the Ash Tree Ledge a short scramble up to the right led to a higher and smaller ledge at the start of 'D' Route. Close by a young chap was about to set off seconding 'F' Route - a fine looking VS at the top of the grade. I was tempted to suggest to Karl that we did this instead, but I didn't want to risk spoiling his day. 'D' Route would do for now - and would you believe it, no one else was on it! August bank holiday weekend in Langdale - not a problem after all. Our concerns had been based on a false assumption, and I was very glad we hadn't altered our plans because of it :)

Steep but straightforward rock led up to a neat little under-cling traverse left, which looked trickier than it was, but could have been better protected. This led into the main crack-line, which was steep but pretty straightforward and well protected. At the top of this are two possible finishes; either left up bulging ledges or right to join the final crack of 'A' Route above the Lichen Chimney. I went for the latter, as it looked like the most natural continuation of the crack-line. Starting it felt slightly committing but a steep pull soon establishes you at a more comfortable angle with lots of good holds leading to a big block belay the top of the crag. Karl followed up very nicely, no problem at all. He really enjoyed it.

P1030282.JPG
Karl enjoying 'D' Route


We sat on the grass in the warm sunshine, looking out at the superb view. Buzzing with the satisfaction of having completed two fantastic Gimmer classics in perfect weather, with minimal fuss, our feelings were evident in each other's faces; life doesn't get much better than this.

Eventually we coiled up the ropes and headed up to join the little path which traverses along the top of the crag to reach the descent route. Back at the gearing-up ledge, we were surprised to see most of the group we'd met in the morning. They were all looking up at a higher ledge, where a couple of others were standing, and above which a rope was draped in a loop. Everyone was very quiet. Something was wrong. Sensing our obvious concern, the American explained that there'd been an accident. One of the group, a young woman, had started leading up the first pitch of Bracket and Slab. Some distance up, she fell, and as she fell, her leg had caught behind the rope, which flipped her upside down, so that she continued to fall head-first. The runner above her (below her before she fell) had held, but her face had hit the rock and her teeth were smashed. She had also suffered a neck injury, so was being kept immobile on the ledge she'd been lowered onto, until the helicopter arrived. A MR team was also on the way up from Mickleden. We could see a Landrover parked on the floor of the valley.

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The scene of the accident


Soon after all this had been explained to us, we heard a distant helicopter coming in from the south-east.

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Rescue helicopter coming in


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zoomed


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Getting close


As the helicopter got nearer we noticed the orange smoke of a flare being let off by the MR team on the slopes below.

P1030289.JPG
Flare being let off as signal to helicopter by MRT


Soon after that the first member of the rescue team arrived at the gearing up ledge. He asked each of us in turn if we were ok. As on onlooker who was not part of the group I felt a little guilty for being there. We'd instinctively hung around, partly in case we could help in any way, which of course we couldn't, and partly because we wanted to witness the rescue.

P1030290.JPG
Eying up the situation


The MRT member then scrambled up to the ledge where the injured climber lay. The helicopter rose higher and came in closer to the crag.

P1030293.JPG
Into position


Out of the helicopter emerged a figure being lowered on a winch.

P1030295.JPG
Rescuer emerges on winch


P1030296.JPG
being lowered...


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nearly there...


The rescuer on the end of the winch eventually came level with the ledge and the other team member already there signaled up to the winch operator to stop lowering. He couldn't quite get on the ledge, so more signaling got the helicopter to move in a couple of feet. It was amazing how accurately the pilot was able to position the helicopter.

P1030300.JPG
At the ledge


We expected the casualty to be winched straight up into the helicopter, but instead the "rescuer", who must have been a paramedic, unclipped from the cable and attended to the casualty, while the helicopter angled away from the crag and circled around the valley. Assuming that the helicopter would eventually return to winch the casualty and the paramedic back up and fly them to a hospital, we felt it was time to go. We donned our packs and wandered off soberly along the path back to Stickle Barn.

Of itself it was the most perfect summer evening you could imagine. The brash sunlight of the day had mellowed into embers of copper and gold. The only sounds were the plaintive bleating of the herdwicks and the gentle thudding of the now distant helicopter encircling the head of the valley. It was as if the atmosphere itself had absorbed the ambivalence of the day's events; two polar extremes of human experience blended and subdued in the vastness of nature's perspective. For us, it had been a day of unqualified joy; a draught of the finest wine as we'd lounged in the soft grass at the top of the crag. But our intoxication was at the same time a state of ignorance. Blissful while it lasted, undoubtedly, but closed to a wider reality; closed even to what had happened only a few hundred feet below us. Just by a stroke of bad luck, the sense of well-being and elation familiar to all climbers after a good day on the crag had been denied to the person below, and replaced only by pain and suffering. We could only hope that the unfortunate climber would make a full recovery. In the soft dissonance of the evening, as we descended into the shadows of the valley, we were acutely aware of the fine line between joy and disaster.

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dav2930
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Re: Helicopter rescue at Gimmer Crag

Postby trailmasher » Sun Oct 24, 2021 6:47 pm

A great report dav and a fine day for climbing :clap: just a shame it was marred by the unfortunate accident and can only hope that the young lady is going to be alright with no long standing problems :(
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Re: Helicopter rescue at Gimmer Crag

Postby Mal Grey » Mon Oct 25, 2021 8:19 am

Great description of the climbing and the wonderful-sounding Gimmer crag. I never really climbed much in the Lakes, but know the area well.

I hope the young woman makes a full recovery.

Its important, I think, to remember how good the day was, despite the later incident, and you do that very well with words and photos. I was once involved as a witness/helper in a serious MR incident on Snowdon, and for a long while it overshadowed the day, though the person involved did recover. It was only much later that I remembered what a stunning winters day we'd had up until the accident.
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Re: Helicopter rescue at Gimmer Crag

Postby dav2930 » Tue Oct 26, 2021 7:33 pm

trailmasher wrote:A great report dav and a fine day for climbing :clap: just a shame it was marred by the unfortunate accident and can only hope that the young lady is going to be alright with no long standing problems :(

Thanks TM. Yes indeed, let's hope so.

Mal Grey wrote:Great description of the climbing and the wonderful-sounding Gimmer crag. I never really climbed much in the Lakes, but know the area well.

I hope the young woman makes a full recovery.

Its important, I think, to remember how good the day was, despite the later incident, and you do that very well with words and photos. I was once involved as a witness/helper in a serious MR incident on Snowdon, and for a long while it overshadowed the day, though the person involved did recover. It was only much later that I remembered what a stunning winters day we'd had up until the accident.

Thanks very much Mal. Gimmer is one of my favourite crags in the Lakes. I think you're absolutely right - such incidents at the time can seem to eclipse an otherwise great day, but in reality all that was good about it stands in its own right, without in any way diminishing the awfulness of the incident. That's the sense of true ambivalence I was trying to convey, which you've understood so clearly from your own personal experience. Good to know the person in your case recovered; I share your hope that the outcome in this one is equally positive in the end.
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Re: Helicopter rescue at Gimmer Crag

Postby past my sell by date » Sun Oct 31, 2021 9:41 pm

Sad about the accident - but these things happen - fortunately with much less serious consequences as a rule than before modern gear and rescue helicopters. But you've reminded me what a wonderful clean crag Gimmer is - just festooned with manageable routes - even KG isn't that hard with modern protection and sticky boots. My leader put about five small wires into the crux traverse :lol: :lol: :lol: And almost all the Langdale crags are South (ish) facing
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Re: Helicopter rescue at Gimmer Crag

Postby dav2930 » Mon Nov 01, 2021 11:31 pm

Yes back in the day that fall probably would have been fatal. Langdale is unusual in having so much climbable rock mostly facing south so nice and clean! Some years ago now, but I remember KG feeling not that difficult and wondering why it had such a reputation. Will have to try to get Karl up it! :)
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Re: Helicopter rescue at Gimmer Crag

Postby johnkaysleftleg » Tue Nov 02, 2021 1:30 pm

Great report which really conveys the human emotions of such a day. I remember walking up to Corrie lagan on Skye with Grace and Nicola on a blissful day. While driving back to our cottage several emergency vehicles were headed the other way down Glen Brittle, apparently a woman had been killed instantly by a huge lump of falling rock the size of a fridge somewhere on the Cioch buttress. Hard to make sense of things like that.
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Re: Helicopter rescue at Gimmer Crag

Postby past my sell by date » Tue Nov 02, 2021 4:58 pm

dav2930 wrote:Yes back in the day that fall probably would have been fatal. Langdale is unusual in having so much climbable rock mostly facing south so nice and clean! Some years ago now, but I remember KG feeling not that difficult and wondering why it had such a reputation. Will have to try to get Karl up it! :)

would be bloody hard in nails and with no wires to protect you
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Re: Helicopter rescue at Gimmer Crag

Postby dav2930 » Wed Nov 03, 2021 9:45 pm

johnkaysleftleg wrote:Great report which really conveys the human emotions of such a day. I remember walking up to Corrie lagan on Skye with Grace and Nicola on a blissful day. While driving back to our cottage several emergency vehicles were headed the other way down Glen Brittle, apparently a woman had been killed instantly by a huge lump of falling rock the size of a fridge somewhere on the Cioch buttress. Hard to make sense of things like that.

Many thanks JK. I think I remember reading about that fatality on Cioch buttress. You're right, it is hard to make sense of things like that. I guess there'll always be an element of risk in the mountains and if we survive we're just lucky!

past my sell by date wrote:
dav2930 wrote:Yes back in the day that fall probably would have been fatal. Langdale is unusual in having so much climbable rock mostly facing south so nice and clean! Some years ago now, but I remember KG feeling not that difficult and wondering why it had such a reputation. Will have to try to get Karl up it! :)

would be bloody hard in nails and with no wires to protect you

You're right of course; modern gear makes all the difference. Mind you, Dolphin top-roped the crux pitch several times before he led it in 1948, and he wore "rubbers" rather than nails; and he placed a couple of pegs. Even so, it was a very bold lead for its time.
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Re: Helicopter rescue at Gimmer Crag

Postby past my sell by date » Wed Nov 03, 2021 11:03 pm

But it was Joe who placed the (infamous) peg I think
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Re: Helicopter rescue at Gimmer Crag

Postby dav2930 » Thu Nov 04, 2021 10:28 pm

past my sell by date wrote:But it was Joe who placed the (infamous) peg I think

Oops, yes it was! Caused quite a scandal and Pete Greenwood spat on it when he came to do the third or fourth ascent. They were the days! :roll:
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