A week ago, nature let me down. Quite literally. Whilst out prospecting for new routes (climbs) on a small cliff near the beautiful hamlet of Porthgwarra,a small granite handhold, that I was pulling on, parted company with the rest of the crag and (because gravity did it's usual thing) I fell 3 metres onto that most unforgiving of materials, Cornish Granite, feet first.
(The scene of the Fractured Heel Incident. The green line is a new climb I had managed to do just prior to the incident and which I have named "Hairline Fracture", graded HVS5b. The red line is what I was trying to climb, the dot marking the point I was at before the hold snapped - note the hard granite landing. Tentively called "Sudden Impact".)
Instinctively I knew something wasn't right as I felt a dull ache coming from my right foot straight away, a sensation not too dissimilar to one I had felt a couple of years before when I managed to dislocate my ankle. As with any injury, I hoped it was just going to be a bad sprain. My mind raced and my First Aid training/experience took over....RICE - Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation....I wouldn't be able to do any of those things until I could get back home, but I could put my foot into the ocean, which would help reduce the oncoming swelling. I was on a set of low-angled slabs that led directly into the sea, so I 'bum shuffled' towards it and, taking my climbing shoe off, stuck my foot in. The cooling effect of the water brought instant relief and I began to take stock of my situation.
Having an injured foot is, quite frankly, a pain in the arse. It prevents you from doing pretty much anything we usually take for granted. Next time you have a couple of minutes, have a think about all the little journeys you do in normal daily life...go to the fridge for milk, to the bathroom, out to the garden to put out the washing, etc. Now think of the situation I was in. I was down at sea level with an injured foot that I didn't want to put any weight on. The coastal footpath was at least 75 metres above me and 200 metres away. The car park was another 1500 metres away and, if I got that far, I would still have to get to the West Cornwall hospital in Penzance; and then back home to Newquay. What would you do?
Some people would call the Emergency Services and I considered this as, miraculously, I had a phone signal! (This isn't always the case in Cornwall, especially on the coast at sea level). Then I thought about what that might involve. Definitely a helicopter (either the Royal Navy SAR helicopter from RNAS Culdrose, or the Cornwall Air Ambulance, or both!), the Coastguard, the Cornwall Rescue Group, an Ambulance and a Policeman. Mmmmmm. That seemed rather a lot of fuss and inconvenience for a lot of people, especially as my injury wasn't life-threatening. I remembered stories of people who had decided to walk up Ben Nevis, then because they were 'a bit tired', sat down and dialled 999 for some assistance. The local Mountain Rescue Teams were not happy! This thoughtless act meant that valuable assets were not available for a more deserving, and life-threatening, case. I decided against this course of action and would attempt to get myself to the car park under my own steam.
I crawled back up the slabs to where my gear was and pushed everything I had into my small rucksack, then I gingerly put my trainers onto my feet. My right foot still hadn't started to swell that much due to being immersed in the sea for about 20 minutes, so it was fairly easy to get on.
Next was to decide on how to get up to the coast path. Normally access to the vast majority of cornish sea cliffs involves an abseil, but luckily enough, access to this cliff was fairly straight forward, with only grassy slopes and an easy scramble up ledges. I surmised that using my knees would get me up the rocky bits so I shouldered my rucksack and hobbled off, in search of the easiest way up. It took a while, but I made it onto the grassy slopes without too much difficulty or putting myself in more danger, a good memory and route-finding skills paying dividends. Yes, I did have to crawl on my hands and knees occasionally, but needs must and all that. Next stop, the coast path. It wasn't far away and the ground was fairly level, so I felt confident in hopping on my left leg. I trialled it first to make sure it was 'do-able' and off I went.
I made it to the main coast path without doing myself any more damage, but it was hard work. I remember sitting on some grass on the edge of the path and thinking about the next part of the journey. The coast path, heading west towards Porthgwarra, is a straight forward affair, however, there are a couple of rocky sections and areas where the path has been worn down to a narrow trench that would need careful negotiation to prevent further injury to my foot. It was going to take a lot of determination and effort on my part to get to the car park. I sat and thought about the situation some more and slowly a ting of doubt began to enter my mind. It was now obvious that the injury to my foot was worse than I had originally thought. It had begun to ache and the pain had increased as time had gone on. I thought about taking my trainer off, to allow the foot to swell, but I wanted to try and keep it protected as much as possible. It was a long way to the car-park and I might have to crawl the whole way. So far adrenalin had kept me going. I remembered how I felt after being blown over in the Cairngorm mountains a couple of winters ago. Despite not being able to walk, I had made a conscious effort to get myself off the hill and back to safety, but after an hour or so I had barely managed to crawl 100 metres. I had felt so alone and helpless and I had begun to realise the seriousness of the situation. It was cold, windy and it was beginning to get dark. The chances of anyone coming past was slim. Even though I had managed to put on a duvet jacket, as the adrenalin had begun to flush away and I had begun to shiver. That was Scotland in Winter. Now it was Cornwall in Spring. I had no need for a duvet jacket....but I could do with some help.
to be continued.........