This is another story of the type of adventures that can be had by any ‘ordinary’ person who makes an effort to get out and do something different rather than sit and mope around at home. I have entitled it ‘Three In One’ as it was like having three mini-adventures in one weekend.
Again there is no heroism nor derring-do on my part, just the simple thrill of being in the right place at the right time with the right people and experiencing an adventurous taste of something that other people do as a job or calling - in this case mountain rescue!
As we’d wandered the hills, it had become a part of the norm for my friends and myself to see the mountain rescue groups going about their business, and we were always grateful to know that those dedicated men and women were standing by to help in the case of an emergency. Nevertheless, we didn’t take advantage of the fact and were gaining our mountaineering experience in as safe a way as possible - happy they were there but hoping we’d never need their help!
My brother-in-law, Rodney, shared these incidents with me and, as often happens in such cases, one minute we were happily going about our wanderings, the next we were caught up in the unexpected. I have been involved with many rescue groups since, but I’ll never forget my stumbling efforts to do the right thing, the anxieties, the emotions, the mistakes, the people, and the glorious triumphs of that weekend.
Here is the story.
It was a long weekend in the British early summer of 1965. Rod and I drove up to the mountainous region of North Wales on the Friday night and camped at Little Willie's farm at the foot of Tryfan, in the Ogwen Valley. Although we had planned to wander up Yr Wyddfa the next day, and our starting point was over in the next valley involving a long drive around the end of the Glyders Range, the other two days would be spent in the Ogwen area and that’s why we’d set up camp at Little Willie’s farm.
Early on the Saturday morning we set off up the Pyg Track and over Crib Goch on our way around the Snowdon 'Horseshoe' (a horseshoe-shaped series of summits, each connected by a long rocky ridge). The summit of Crib Y Ddysgl was passed in great spirits and soon we’d arrived at the top of Yr Wyddfa. On that day the summit of Yr Wyddfa, the highest in England and Wales and better known by its more popular English name of Snowdon, was covered in thick cloud and it was very cold and windy.
Whilst having some lunch in the Summit Hotel, there was a sudden flurry of quiet excitement and, within seconds it seemed, we were roped in as members of a rescue team by Fred, a friend we'd met a few weeks previously when we'd given him a lift up from the south and had done a few climbs with. Now Fred was working in the Summit Hotel.
I recall taking Fred to one side and reminding him that Rod and myself were not experienced in the job of rescuing people. He, in return, had explained that Rod and I, along with two other lads, were the most experienced people in the hotel, due to the other patrons being tourists who had come up on the train just to look at the view, and that we must do our best to lend immediate assistance at the accident scene.
Rod and I joined the two other lads and I know that both of us were a bit scared and apprehensive at what we'd see and whether we'd be good enough to help. We’d known that there was every chance that we could get asked to help on a rescue one day, and had done a bit of basic training between ourselves. But this was the real thing and I was quite happy to stand back and let one of the other chaps take over if they were more experienced than myself.
Luckily for us - and the patient - the other two chaps were Rangers and had been out on a few rescues on the Yorkshire Moors. So, apart from not knowing the area very well, they knew a bit more of what to expect and do than Rod and I did. It was soon agreed that I would lead the little party to the accident scene and then we would all work together until an evacuation of the patient was affected.
With this plan in mind, we set off down the track.
Immediately below the summit of Yr Wyddfa, at the start of the Watkin Path descent, is a steep face. The Watkin Path zigzags down this face for the first few hundred feet before easing off at Bwlch Y Saethau. The path down the face is very loose and dangerous to the unwary.
A teacher had a number of lads in his care and had taken them up the top of Yr Wyddfa. Deciding to go down via the Watkin Path, and obviously no aware of the dangers, he'd let the lads run down the zigzag path. But one of them couldn't stop at the end of a zig (or was it a zag?) and went head first over a fifty foot cliff.
All we knew as we descended the path was that somebody had come up to the Summit Hotel with a message that help was needed for an accident. We couldn't see anything down there due to the thick cloud all around the summit.
We plodded on down, being careful not to hurry in our eagerness to help, then suddenly through the misty gloom, we could see them just below. There was only the teacher and the injured lad, what had happened to the other boys I never knew.
The lad was, miraculously to myself, still alive though very badly injured. I can't remember what all the injuries were, what stunned me was the state of his face. He had landed on his arms and face as he hit the ground and his face was absolutely smashed in. I won't go into details of what his face looked like, but it made the four of us shake like mad with shock, and I remember going very weak at the knees before I could pull myself together.
Our plasters and bandages wouldn't have even started to help him, but we tried to scotch the worst bleeding as best we could. The lad was conscious and seemed to know what had happened.
As usual, once there's something to do I soon forgot my apprehension and fear. As the path was very steep we sent Rod half way back up between us and the summit to help pass messages on. He would have a rest up there while we assessed the situation and wrote a note regarding our requirements, etc. Then one of us would take the note as far as Rod and he, being fairly fresh, would carry it on to the Summit Hotel. The first messenger would carry on up slowly as back-up in case Rod had an accident. We thought this would be a bit safer than two lads trying to hurry up the whole way together. Rod’s waiting place was still within earshot of us so I could call him down if needed.
As we were writing out the note a platoon of army guys came upon the scene from below. Their officer offered the help of his men to carry the lad up to the top, but we suspected back injuries and refused to let him be moved. He then offered to spread his men in a line between us and the summit so that it would be easier to pass the message up. We thought this would be very handy as we might have had to pass on more than one message, so agreed.
The note contained a report of the lad’s injuries and how he'd fallen fifty feet head first. It urgently requested immediate evacuation for him off the mountain to the hospital. Meanwhile, we were also making the patient as comfortable and warm as possible.
We gave the note to the army officer and, to our amazement, he didn't take it up to the next soldier, but proceeded to shout the instructions up at him from the note. The wind was roaring noisily all around and we suggested that he pass the note up to his No. 2 and his No. 2 could pass it on up to No. 3, etc. But he scoffed at the idea and told us that his soldiers had been trained to do this.
Foolishly we allowed him to carry on and for the next ten minutes we could hear the 'A for apples,' 'B for bakers', 'C for Charlies, etc. going up the face and out of hearing range.
Have you ever heard of Chinese Whispers???
We'd covered the lad with all our spare clothing and water-proofs. The teacher sat at the lad’s head, one of the rangers laid along his left side for extra warmth and the other laid along his right side. I covered his legs as best I could by lying above them so as my open shirt and jacket hung down each side of them and I was supported by my elbows and slightly bent knees. Then we settled down to wait for the main rescue group. I didn't know that my position would have to be kept for four and a half hours of pure agony. Rod stayed dutifully where we'd sent him. He knew we'd get a message to him if he was needed.
Eventually Fred, at the Summit Hotel, received a message from the army guys that had supposedly been passed up from us. In the confusion, wind-noise and excitement the message had changed by the time it reached him. The message he received told of a fifteen feet fall, few injuries, and evacuate when possible for a check-up at hospital. Fred passed the message on down to the Rescue Center.
If I recall right, the Rescue Center had two other (though minor) rescues to deal with at the same time, and a RAF Rescue helicopter had been called in. Having now been informed that there was no immediate urgency to rescue our lad (thanks to the bungled message), it was decided that they’d attend to the other accidents first in the hope that the cloud had lifted around us by the time they’d been affected. That would enable the rescuers to use the helicopter to reach us instead of them having to walk up from where the helicopter would be forced to drop them below the cloud base, therefore saving their energies for any further accidents in the day.
Meanwhile, Rod stayed at his post, the army guys were having a good time shouting at each other, Fred got on with his work at the hotel, and us four tried to keep the patient as warm and as happy as possible.
We found out that his name was David and he was 16 years old. We told him of adventures we'd had. We sang songs and recited ditties. We described our respective towns, families and jobs, etc. and, most important, exuded confidence and knowledge. We were all aching through laying on the lumpy rocks and my elbows and knees were sheer agony. I didn't want to ask the lads to rotate positions just in case David's body temperature went down even slightly as we moved.
David turned out to be a very courageous young lad and, in spite of his terrible injuries, managed to smile a few times through his so-badly smashed face.
During the long wait I was far from the great hero I'd planned to be in such a situation. I’d felt extremely sorry for David lying there all smashed up, I’d felt sorry that it should happen to such a young lad, and I’d had to fight hard with myself to hold back the tears that kept trying to burst from my eyes. Through my job as a lorry driver I’d already seen quite a few horrific sights at traffic accidents, and fortunately the police and ambulance men had always been quickly on the scene to deal with the situations. But up to that time I hadn’t seen anybody of David’s age so badly injured. To see that young lad so horribly smashed had seemed very unfair to me, and the remoteness of the cloud-covered, windswept, grey and forlorn mountainside hadn’t helped. Nevertheless, I’d fought down my emotions and had tried to keep a brave face, not necessarily so much that I didn't want to be laughed at and scorned by the others, but just as much because David would have probably felt more demoralized at seeing one of his ‘rescuers’ crying!
The two minor rescues were affected with no trouble, but the cloud still lay low on Yr Wyddfa where we were. Finally the rescuers had to fly up to just below the cloud and walk the rest of the way up to us. The helicopter pilot flew back down to flat ground near the road in the Nant Gwynant valley to wait for the leader to call him back again. After four and a half hours from when we’d reached the patient, the rescue group arrived.
We were all very cold , tired and stiff, but the patient was still in good spirits. A few groups had come up the path and stopped for a look before moving on up into the mist above. And each time we’d probably all felt a bit more lonely as they passed on by to leave us glancing back down into the gloom and wondering when the Rescue Group would come.
Due to the roaring of the wind we hadn’t heard the helicopter come up into the valley below us. I was almost at my wits end with the agony in my elbows and knees when I saw another group of people coming up through the mist. They were not like the usual noisy groups that staggered up the hills, this group had a quiet confidence about it. Then I saw the litter and knew pure relief - it was the Rescue Group at last!
Among the group were Mr. Briggs (who is a rescue leader legend in his own time), a Doctor, the Nant Gwynant Ranger’s daughter, and a number of other famous Welsh Mountain Rescue names. They quickly took charge and the patient was soon heavily bandaged, wrapped up warm, and strapped into the litter ready for the trip down the mountain.
Mr. Briggs wasn't very happy with us as the accident was far more serious than he'd been led to believe. We showed him the original note and explained what had happened with the army chaps. He was very nice about it, though suggesting that maybe we should stick to the correct procedure of delivering notes in the future - which we heartily agreed to do. The army chaps had quickly moved off.
In all fairness to the British (and any other) Army, I personally didn’t look to see if the soldiers were from any recognised regiment. They could have been from a crack regiment, or they could have been from some village Territorial Army sub-group. The fact is that we should have stuck to the tried and tested procedure - which we didn’t!
I climbed up the track a bit and called for Rod to come down, then we both rejoined the rescue group. They had just started down and we all took it in turns to man-handle the litter and its patient down the mountainside. Finally, upon entering Cwm Llan we came out from the cloud and could see the valley stretching away below us.
Mr. Briggs called up on the two-way radio and soon we could see the helicopter coming up the cwm just under the cloud while the rescue group quickly prepared the stretcher for lifting. Then the helicopter came right up beside the mountain, lifted the litter and patient up off the path and whisked him away down to Bangor hospital.
Through all this final activity I'd been too busy to worry about those tears that had been threatening to flood my eyes. But again they threatened - this time for the happiness that I felt now that young David was on his way to better help than we were able to give him.
It was also very moving to see the efforts that those rescue lads and RAF Rescue helicopter crews made on behalf of injured (and dead) climbers. It was wonderful to see the RAF boys wave thanks to us as they started to fly away and to receive the thanks of the rescue team.
After the 'copter had gone it was relatively quiet and we all split up in small groups as we descended the path to the valley. Rod and I were invited to afternoon tea by the Ranger’s daughter, and the others went their ways at the bottom. The Ranger’s family looked after us very well, then the daughter gave us a lift back to our car.
That evening we all met again at the Gorphwysfa Hotel, where Rod and I had began our mountain walk that morning, and had one humdinger of a party. Once more we were all thanked for our efforts, and I recall that Rod and I had felt so very proud to have shared the day, and the final triumph, with those folk. Finally, after swapping addresses with a few of them, we headed back to our tent, well content with our exciting day. I was shocked yet somehow elated at some of the sights and emotions I'd experienced during the emergency. It certainly made me more aware of how easy it was to lose a guy if you weren't careful.
The next morning we had a lie in then decided to saunter up an easy route on my favourite mountain, Tryfan. We were wandering up towards Heather Terrace when, at about 2250 feet, we heard what sounded like a call for help above the noise of the wind. On many previous occasions we'd heard similar sounds, only to find, upon seeking out the sound, that it was nothing more than the bleating of a sheep or goat being distorted as the sound was carried to us by the wind. Having realised that the bleat of a sheep or goat and a call for help could sound very much the same on windy hillsides, Rod and I had long decided to investigate any sounds that we couldn't identify. On this occasion it was lucky that we did.
We followed the sound and soon realised that, this time, it was a call for help. As we rounded a shoulder of rock, there, some distance in front of us, were two girls standing on a small ledge about forty feet above the Terrace, clinging to the rock-cliff for dear life. One was fairly composed, but the other was hysterical. Nobody else was in sight!
Rod and I climbed up an easy line at the side of the cliff, yelling encouragement to the two girls. We quickly set up a belay and I moved out along the ledge. I placed a couple of sling-behind-rock running belays (climber’s safeguard against long falls) to protect us on the way back and reached the hysterical girl first.
As there was no easy way off the ledge for a non-climber at the other end of the rock-face, the other girl was trapped by her more terrified companion from getting back past and going for help. She'd been frightened to get too near in case her friend fell and took them both.
The hysterical girl grabbed at me with the strength of fear in her muscles and it took all my own strength to hang on, but I finally managed to get a sling around her waist and hook her to the main rope. Then, by keeping her between myself and the rock, we inched our way back to Rod and safety. The other girl had been very brave and had waited patiently while we’d helped her friend, but she burst into tears as I reached her on my second trip out along that ledge. Nevertheless, we soon had her off with no trouble.
The girls had soon recovered and I’d asked them how they'd come to be there. They told us that they'd started up with some 'expert’ mountaineers, who'd finally led them out on the ledge. When the girls couldn't move on for their fear, they'd been abandoned by those blokes. I couldn't understand why the blokes had taken them out across the wall in the first place as there was a perfectly good path nearby and it has remained a mystery to me ever since. I must admit that wild horses wouldn't have dragged me out on that tiny ledge without a rope at the time.
I knew that we’d have to take the girls back down as there were still some spots where it would be easy for them to lose the path and get into trouble again. But, when I informed the pair of my decision, and in spite of their frightening ordeal, both girls said that they were still very keen to reach the summit if it was at all possible, and if there was and easy path. Knowing how I’d originally been given such a wonderful start to my adventurous life (see my story ‘In Memory of Mr. Greer’) and having the desire to do the same for others, coupled with a feeling that Rod and myself should make every effort to show these girls that there were some trustworthy climbers, I decided to abandon our plans to climb and take them on up. We all reached the summit and arrived back down safely.
Monday, our last day of that long weekend and we'd agreed to take the girls up to the summit of Yr Wyddfa after they'd expressed their fierce interest. Having already had the epic up there on the previous Saturday, Rod and I weren't excitingly keen. We hadn't really expected them to turn up and had tentatively made alternative arrangements to climb on the Milestone Buttress of Tryfan.
At the appointed time arranged, the girls arrived with their parents, who were on holiday with them. The parents were introduced, and Rod and I were thanked by them for helping the girls the day before. They told us how the girls had been looking forward to going on that holiday for months and how they had only met the mountaineering ‘experts’ a few days earlier. They also said that they were pleased the girls had now met someone safe who would take them to a couple of summits. Well, we weren't the safest nor best by far, but we couldn't have been any worse than those so called 'experts', so we took a bit of praise, offered to take the four parents with us (they declined) and Rod, the two girls, and myself set off.
We drove round to the Gorphwysfa Hotel, left the usual note (who we were, where we were going, etc.) on our dashboard in the car and walked off up the Miners Track. This track is very scenic, going right up inside the 'Horseshoe', past lakes and old mine workings with steep cliffs and hills all around. It finishes up a steep slope actually called the Zigzags (not to be confused with the zigzagging track of the Watkin Path), then a last pleasant slog to the summit.
The girls were thrilled with the views unfolding around every corner and we made good time due to their keenness to see what was next. We passed Llyn (Lake) Llyddaw and Glaslyn (Blue Lake) and were just starting up the Zigzags, when we came upon a man and a young lad.
They were on their way down after an early start when the lad, his son, had twisted his ankle badly while running down the slope. The father had taken the lad’s boot off, the whole upper foot and ankle had swollen up and they couldn't put the boot back on. The father was just wondering what to do when we came into view.
The two looked the part, with the right clothes, hats, boots, and a bag with food and water, but they had no first aid kit. I took off my sack, found my first aid kit and put a tight wet bandage on the lad's foot. The lad was quite happy otherwise. I decided that it would be just as quick to help the lad back along the Miner’s Track as it would be to run down and call out the Rescue Group. There is only one bumpy part down from Glaslyn to Llyn Llyddaw, the rest is fairly smooth going so I knew that the lad would be safe.
It was agreed that Rod would carry on up slowly with the two girls while I helped the father to get his son down, then I’d go back up and join up with them.
The father and I helped the lad down to the shore of Glaslyn, had a rest, then took it in turns to support him on down the Miner’s Track. Finally we arrived back at the car park and the father decided to take the lad to the hospital himself. I left them to it and started up once more. By then it was almost mid-day.
As was usual by that time of day, there were a lot of people on the Miner’s Track, and it was sad to see the ladies slogging up in skirts and high-heels and the men in their best suits and winkle-picker shoes, each with expectancy written on their face as if the summit was just around the corner. One group even asked me why I was wearing heavy clothing and boots. No doubt they had understood the reason if they reached the bottom of the Zigzags in one piece.
I plodded back up past the lakes, then on up the Zigzags and eventually met the other three on the ridge between Yr Wyddfa and Crib-Y-Ddysgl. They’d been to the summit, had lunch, had a good look round and were on their way down.
The girls were brimming with elation and keenness so I suggested that we carry on down via Crib Goch, explaining about the very sharp Crib Goch ‘knife-edged’ Ridge that we would have to negotiate (although I didn’t always mention the fact to novices, there is an escape route if the need arises - a slightly lower path where the ridge can be very safely by-passed), and the girls had agreed to give it a go. We’d all gone over Crib-Y-Ddysgl, carried on to the Crazy Pinnacles, easily negotiated the ‘knife-edge’ across to the summit of Crib Goch, then had dropped down to the Pyg Track, and so to the car.
By then the girls had been very tired, but they’d said that it had been more than worth-while. They took our addresses and, as arranged, their parents were waiting at Capel Curig when we dropped them off. The parents said that we were only half an hour late, but that they hadn't really been worried because they knew the girls were in good hands (the fools). But it was nice to have some satisfied 'customers'. Rod and I had headed home, both agreeing that it had been a real worth-while trip.
The girls wrote to us for a while and, by the sounds of it, became accomplished fell (hill) walkers, but our paths were never to cross again. We also corresponded with the two Yorkshire Rangers for a spell, then gradually lost touch as we all moved around. And I never did hear how the father and son got on.
As for young David, I sent a big parcel of adventure books up to him in Bangor hospital, but I never heard anything back from him (Oh! to be young!). Nevertheless, the Rangers, who kept in touch with the teacher, wrote and told me some of the news.
It turned out that, while David was in hospital, he'd passed blood in his urine. Apparently he’d had a dormant kidney disease that may have killed him before the age of forty had it not been for the accident or something similar. Happily he recovered, but I was never to hear any more of him.
As previously mentioned, I've now been involved in many rescues since, but never three in as many days as occurred on that weekend - and it all happened to me because I didn’t want to sit at home and mope about.
Don’t waste your precious life on following the paths to drugs, crime, boredom, frustration, and useless exploits - be determined, get out, meet good people, and have some real-life & worthwhile adventures to remember!
Next story - Well in the Mire.
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