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Winched into the sky from the mountain of the fairies
by dogplodder » Sat Jul 04, 2015 10:58 pm
Route description: Ben Tee, Kilfinnan
Corbetts included on this walk: Ben Tee
Date walked: 22/04/2015
Distance: 10 km11 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
My friend Mary had an accident cycling to work on Christmas Day when she hit black ice and broke her shoulder. It was fractured in two places but recovery was good and by early April she felt ready for a hill and we climbed Beinn a' Bha'ach Ard with her husband and son and her shoulder coped well.
So a couple of weeks later the two of us decided to head for Ben Tee since it was a hill neither of us had climbed and it didn't look too difficult. Ben Tee's proper Gaelic name is Beinn an t-Sìth meaning 'mountain of the fairies' and Hamish Brown describes it as "such a shapely cone that it is instantly recognisable from anywhere around the Great Glen or along the Garry. Its isolated situation makes it one of Scotland’s finest summit viewpoints". We got a good view of it on the road from Fort Augustus as we drove to the usual start point for the ascent from Kilfinnan.
We parked on a patch of grass just before the road crosses the Kilfinnan Burn and followed the faint path diagonally up the steep hillside. Cuckoos were calling and it was a glorious blue sky day - even better than it was forecast to be.
Car parked on grassy patch towards the farm
First sighting of Ben Tee
Mary having a breather and enjoying the view
Loch Lochy and Ben Nevis
When the path reaches a slight dip there's a choice of following a faint path left up the hill or of continuing straight before contouring round and then left up the lump you thought you'd avoided by not going left in the first place! We did the latter but returning on my own I came down the more direct path. From the top of this heathery knoll we picked up a more clearly defined path which contours the slopes high above the Kilfinnan Burn and its wooded gorge. This was to be the scene of the winching drama a few hours later.
The path leads to a stile which is on its last legs in terms of helping anyone over the fence and is in potential danger of injuring someone unless it's fixed.
The path leads on to the open moor then disappears so we made our own way across tussocky grass, heather and bog in the general direction of Ben Tee's east ridge. If there was a path we didn't find it, but we did find a path starting much further up on the return.
For April it was surprisingly warm and we found this part of the walk quite hard work and were glad to reach the ridge. When we did the views were stunning.
NE up the Great Glen to Loch Ness and Meall Fuar-mhonaidh
NW to hills of Glen Quoich and Glen Shiel
Mary on the ridge
Walking round the snow
After her accident on ice, walking on snow didn't come high on Mary's wish list so we worked out a route that avoided it. This took us along the west side of the ridge missing the first 'top' and was possibly a bit further but avoided all the snow apart from a narrow strip that took a couple of careful steps to cross. Once on top we had a great view south over Sron a' Choire Ghairbh to the Aonachs and Ben Nevis.
West over Glen Quoich to Cuillin ridge
North over Loch Garry to hills of Kintail and Affric
Mary at Ben Tee summit (901m)
Me at Ben Tee summit
We had lunch in the sun enjoying the views then took a more direct line down the ridge finding a path which skirted the edge of the snow and which we had missed on the ascent. We both had evening appointments so didn't waste time and were soon over the moor and down at the stile knowing another hour would have us back at the car.
I was slightly ahead of Mary on the path contouring the slope above the gorge of Kilfinnan Burn and had just side-stepped a muddy patch when I heard her call out. I turned to see she'd fallen in what looked like a simple slip on mud. I was worried she'd hurt her shoulder but she said her shoulder was fine - it was her ankle. Her left foot had slipped and when she fell back her boot remained stuck in the mud, wrenching her ankle. She'd heard a crack and thought it was broken.
This brought an immediate flashback to Moira's accident five years ago. Was this going to be another rescue?
The first thing we did was get Mary more comfortable. I gave her two Ibuprofen to take the edge off the pain and a drink of water as hers was finished. Then we got her survival bag out of her rucksack and slid it carefully under her, enabling her to ease herself slightly above the muddy patch on which she'd landed. Next I phoned emergency services and said we had a suspected broken ankle and were situated at the foot of Ben Tee above a steep section down to the road. Mary found the exact coordinates of where we were on the map and relayed them to me to give to the woman on the phone. Later when the rescue guys came they were surprised this was how we got an exact fix on our position and had presumed it was from the GPS on our phones.
I was told to give Mary nothing by mouth (I admitted I'd already given her Ibuprofen), check she wasn't bleeding and make her as comfortable as possible. Then I had to find something bright I could put at a high spot that would be visible to rescue services. We tried to elevate the ankle on her rucksack but by this time there was hardly anything left in the rucksack so that didn't work too well. But at least she was warm and dry and we knew help was coming.
Where Mary had fallen wasn't visible from the road as we were on the side of the gorge behind the heathery hill we had climbed at first on the way up. So I went up to the top of the knoll from where I could see the loch and and put my rucksack with its orange cover in a prominent place.
I then alternated between manning that point and keeping an eye on Mary, who was remarkably calm and uncomplaining. After what seemed like only 10 minutes I heard sirens from the A82 on the east side of Loch Lochy. I went back to my high vantage point and could see the ambulance with blue light flashing coming from the Fort William direction. About 10 minutes later it appeared on the minor road below but despite my repeated instructions about stopping before crossing the burn it disappeared off to the end of the road. It came back again and parked by the farm. I could see two men getting out and moving tentatively over the grass on the far side of the burn but they were on the wrong side and wouldn't be able to reach us that way. Since they first appeared I'd been waving my poles like a crazy woman but when I got back to the car later and looked up I don't think they would have seen me against the heather unless they'd had binoculars. It was easier for me to see them.
Meanwhile emergency services had spoken to mountain rescue about our location and they had advised that a helicopter would be needed. They phoned back to say a helicopter was coming and would I stand somewhere visible to wave them in. So back to my lookout post with my waving poles. I don't remember the exact timing of things but probably about an hour after the initial phone call I heard the helicopter approaching from the north. I waved my poles, it acknowledged with a flash of lights, circled and came in to land on level ground about 5 minutes from where Mary had fallen.
Mary had already said she was happy for me to take photos so I checked with the rescue guys and one was fine with being in photos, the other would prefer not to be, so my photos will respect that.
Assessing the injury - the mud where she slipped to the left of picture
Gas and air
The rescue services are a different group from those who rescued Moira but I found these guys just as professional and caring. I made a comment that at least we weren't still "up there" looking up to the top of Ben Tee - and was told that actually it would have been better for them if we had been. Then I said "Well at least it's not a winching job" to be told "It IS a winching job" at which point I decided to risk no further comment. Although the helicopter had landed only 5 minutes away they judged the terrain to be too rough to stretcher her to it and risk another fall and further injury. They must have decided that as soon as they landed as they had brought all the necessary gear for winching when they first approached. The weight these guys carry is quite something. I had to lift one of their bags and it took all of my strength just to move it a few feet, never mind carry it any distance.
The main difference for me between the two rescues was that they involved me more in what they were doing to Mary, asking me to support her weight while they were putting the splint on her ankle and to help transfer her to the stretcher (put on the uphill side of her rather than risk any slide down the slope) then finally to pack up all her stuff including the boot they'd taken off her injured foot. In Moira's rescue the dogs and I got a ride in the helicopter but this time there was no suggestion I should accompany Mary. They wanted me to carry her gear off the hill but I said I would prefer not to carry an extra rucksack and set of poles on the steep descent. So they asked me to carry her stuff to the helicopter, which I did until we got close then because I didn't have ear protectors (which I'd been given during Moira's rescue) he took the stuff from me. Somewhere between base and helicopter I lost my camera lens cap but compared with breaking an ankle that's not even worth mentioning.
Carrying stuff back to helicopter
Scenic spot to be waiting
All trussed up and ready to go
I've used up my quota of 25 photos so rather than leave the tale dangling I'll add the winching photos in a separate post.
The Dutch guy Tim who would be winched up with Mary told me where to stand as the helicopter came over. Then possibly because of wind direction he switched me to the other side. It was like being in a tornado of flying heather and twigs and I'm surprised I got nothing in my eyes. It looked to me like a textbook lift until they almost reached the door and the stretcher swung under the belly of the machine bumping into it which Mary said was sore on her ankle. Then Tim put his hand over her face and she was worried he'd break her glasses! This was presumably to protect her face as they were hauled on board.
Once safely inside, the helicopter wheeled out over the loch and was soon out of sight on its way to Raigmore, leaving me alone on the hillside. After the tension, drama and noise it was eerily quiet and still and all that was left for me to do was get myself off that hill.
I had already phoned Pete to tell him what was happening so phoned again to say Mary was on her way and should be landing in about 40 minutes. Pete then phoned Rob to tell him so he could be there to meet her. One of the things Pete said to me was "What if you fall and break your ankle?" (not such a daft question since two of my pals had done exactly that) so I promised I'd be careful. What had happened to Mary certainly focused the mind on where to put the feet and I don't think I've ever made such a careful descent!
Once back at the car I phoned Pete again telling him I would go straight to Raigmore. As I drove I was praying Mary's pain wouldn't be too bad and that she'd get good care at the hospital. I had a CD on of Acclaim - an Inverness choir doing their Christmas concert - and when it got to a piece called "Breath of heaven" the tears streamed down my face. The words and music were so moving and beautiful and made me think of my mother who had died a few weeks earlier - but I think it was due to what had happened to Mary and it was all the trigger I needed.
When I got to Raigmore she was being manipulated under sedation so I didn't get to see her until the next day. But I sat with Rob for a while and told him what had happened. Mary's ankle was dislocated and broken in 3 places with the added complcation of fracture blisters meaning almost a week's delay before they could do the necessary surgery. She was in hospital for two weeks (during which time she celebrated a special birthday!) and was admirably positive and cheery throughout. She's now out of plaster, making a good recovery and talking about getting back to the hills again. Some women you just can't keep down.
So lightning does sometimes strike twice - for Mary having two accidents involving fractures in quick succession and for me being caught up in a second helicopter rescue. As far as I was concerned, for it to happen again, 'embarrassing' didn't even come close and I wondered if anyone would ever agree to walk with me again! But on a more serious note I was again most impressed with the quality of our emergency services, which are second to none, and with no financial cost to the person involved.
Now for the photos of Mary being winched into the helicopter and arriving at Raigmore.
by dogplodder » Sat Jul 04, 2015 11:06 pm
Loch Lochy in evening light
by dogplodder » Sat Jul 04, 2015 11:09 pm
by Sgurr » Sat Jul 04, 2015 11:17 pm
btw, some of the photos are superb, you sure picked a good day for it.
by Mal Grey » Sat Jul 04, 2015 11:23 pm
by Gordie12 » Sat Jul 04, 2015 11:54 pm
I wouldn't bother sticking anything on the "Meeting Up" thread - don't think you'll get many takers
I had planned to do Ben Tee off the back of the Loch Lochy Munros but in the end I didn't do the add on so will need to go back for this one.
On a good day it looks like there are great views.
by ancancha » Sun Jul 05, 2015 12:49 am
Incredible Sgurr's comment about the rescue services not being thanked and appreciated
by Huff_n_Puff » Sun Jul 05, 2015 7:02 am
I completely agree with your comments about MR they provide an amazing service.
by SAVAGEALICE » Sun Jul 05, 2015 8:46 am
by spiderwebb » Sun Jul 05, 2015 9:14 am
Must confess I find it incomprehensible that people don't thank the services, not only given the circumstances i.e. being rescued, but the bottom line is its just pure and straight bad manners and rude. And they do an amazing job
Looks a lovely walk too, just shows that biggest isn't necessarily best and great walks and views can be found off the main peaks
by The Rodmiester » Sun Jul 05, 2015 10:37 am
by dogplodder » Mon Jul 06, 2015 10:08 am
Sgurr wrote:Blimey, that was a report and a half. I see the dateline is April. How is Mary now? Went to hear a talk by a local MR team many years ago, and questions revealed that for whatever reason (? ashamed to be rescued, ?wrongly thinking they could have got themselves out of difficulty) quite a few people NEVER THANK MR. Which I find incomprehensible. Makes me think I need to be more careful where I put my feet.
btw, some of the photos are superb, you sure picked a good day for it.
Thanks Sgurr. I waited a bit to report on this to make sure Mary was well on the mend. She's doing well. But can't understand folk not thanking MR! I mean we say thank you to someone opening a door for us - just don't get the mentality of that at all.
by basscadet » Mon Jul 06, 2015 11:23 am
Probably horrible at the time, but glad everyone is on the mend now, and a good story to tell in the pub/bothy/wherever..
by Beaner001 » Mon Jul 06, 2015 11:43 am
I aim to include this one with the two Loch Lochy Munros at some point.
by BlackPanther » Mon Jul 06, 2015 12:06 pm
Some of you may not realize, that I accidentally witnessed Mary's rescue that day. We were returning from a climbing trip in Loch Laggan and spotted the rescue helicopter hovering over the slopes of Ben Tee. We stopped in a layby and watched for a few minutes. Kevin snapped some photos - hope you don't mind me adding them here.
So that's how it looked from the distance. The copter getting ready to winch:
Mary being winched:
The copter on its way to Raigmore:
Good to hear Mary is recovering well I totally agree, some women you just can't keep down.
I have never had a close encounter with the mountain rescue (lucky so far) but having heard/read some of the rescue stories I can't imagine not saying a simple thank you to those guys. They do a fantastic job.
PS. The shonky stile should be fixed. I agree it's a potential leg breaker. We did Ben Tee in winter and you should see us getting over the stile when it was covered in ice