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27 February 2012

A near-death experience

Not my own though. So don't worry. Yesterday I went hiking; my flatmate managed to talk me into going along with the mountaineering club, which didn't take much work because I did want to go, I just didn't want to spend money on new gear. This was about the third proper hike up a mountain that I have done (I think maybe school camp back in second form might have involved a couple of big hikes but I don't really remember them) and the weather has never been nice for me. So I wasn't really expecting too much. The weather started of OK, then got worse, then worse still, and then it got really, really bad. The range of hills was in county Mayo and we climbed up about 700 metres, to walk along a ridge a short way and then descend at a different place to where we went up. By the time we got to the top the wind was so strong that it could have blown me over and there was a sea of fog all around us, so you couldn't even see what the drop was like and how bad it would be to fall. That wasn't really so bad though, the biggest problem was that my waterproof gear, including my big ski jacket, couldn't stand up to that much rain and I was soaked to the skin. Finally the water soaked my soaks and then trickled down into my boots until they were waterlogged. The final bit of going up and then the walk along the ridge was absolutely awful.

Finally we began to go down and before you knew it the wind had died down, which was great. The walk down is easier and faster, and I had to go fast to stay warm because whenever we stopped I began to freeze. However, the slope was really slippery and it was so easy to just slide down a few metres, but once you started sliding it was really hard to stop. Somebody knocked a rock loose and it picked up speed and began to bounce down the mountain. I don't think we were even halfway down when I heard something loud and turned around to see one of the climbers tumbling down the mountain. I can't actually remember now what I heard and saw - I think he was not making any noise, but maybe other people were screaming a little. People had to dive out of his way so that he wouldn't take them down with him, he was going incredibly fast and was actually bouncing. I think what I remember of it might be exaggerated, but I'm pretty sure that by the time I saw him he was going  head over heels and bouncing a lot. One of the very experienced climbers tried to grab him but mostly missed. The girl that was in the lead dove for him and caught on to his legs, so then they were both sliding down. He slipped from her grasp but she must have slowed him down a lot because then he stopped finally, wedged into a little creek. It looked like she was going to start falling to but she managed to stop herself.

I think that for the poor guy's entire fall I was just saying 'oh my god oh my god oh my god' over and over again. When he stopped I began to go down to him, but there was a girl up behind me absolutely freaking out so I couldn't figure out if I should go up or down. It looked like the girl's boyfriend could manage her though so I headed down, because the guy that fell still wasn't moving. A couple of others, including the girl that was in charge, were already there by the time I reached them and I could see his hand moving so he definitely wasn't dead. He was covered in blood but next thing you know, he was talking and asking us to get him out of the creek because he was freezing. He managed to roll over and didn't seem to have broken anything, amazingly enough, but he had a couple of huge gashes on his face and one on his wrist. We slowly began to patch him up and clean the blood off and eventually got him out of the creek and tried to keep him warm. The poor guy kept saying sorry, I don't think he even realised at that point how lucky he was. He's probably going to have an awful week, it must have been so scary. The girl in charge will probably be feeling pretty terrible too.

The main part of our group still had to get down of the mountain before we froze, so as soon as he was OK we left him there with a couple of the leaders and a storm shelter to wait for mountain rescue. We still had more than an hour of walking to get down the mountain and most of the group had slowed right down because they were so freaked out. I, on the other hand, sped up because I just wanted to get off of that mountain. How bloody unlucky is it that my first climb with the mountaineering club included the worst weather that anybody can remember and somebody falling down the mountain? Apparently that is only the second such accident that they've had in 12 years, and they climb every week. The guy has a broken wrist and is in hospital. Hopefully it won't put him off climbing. It hasn't put me off, although after getting off the mountain last night, after I was dry and warm, I got the shakes pretty bad so I reckon I must have been a bit shocked. It has put of my climbing partners though, so I'm going to need to find some more. I would really like to experience a hike that is properly enjoyable at some stage. With clear enough weather that I can take photos of the view. 

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