You can go into the mountains a thousand times without incident, but no one expects an accident. Climber, walker, open-water swimmer, and director of the Women’s Trad Fest, Gilly McArthur, recalls one moment when the unexpected happened and how a drama didn’t end in a crisis.
My name is Gilly McArthur and I have enjoyed the outdoors for most of my life. I was lucky enough to be introduced to hill walks and forest walks with my mum and dad and later took up hillwalking and, later in life, climbing. This led to me absolutely falling in love with trad climbing and the sport quickly became woven into every aspect of my life.
A few years ago, myself and my husband, Charlie, went on a dream trip, climbing around the United States. We climbed in Yosemite, Idaho, Smith Rocks and eventually to Utah. I’ve always been fascinated to go here and fully got involved in the special art of climbing the area’s splitter cracks. My skills and fitness built up and I was climbing really well.
I was attempting a climb called Pente, an amazing, long crack climb. Very near the top, and with the rope now feeling heavy, I pulled up a long loop of slack to clip some protection high above my head.
As I was reaching with the rope, and without warning, my foot popped from the crack. My body arced away from the rock in a long, long fall. As the rope came tight I smashed into the rock. I screamed in pain. I knew I had done some damage.
I was lowered to the ground and into the soft desert sand where I was relieved to be able to wriggle my toes. But the pain in my back was searing. A rescue was called. I was taken to a local hospital where an X-ray revealed a broken back and ribs. From there a three-hour journey in an ambulance took me to a spine unit in Colorado.
Ten days of MRI, CAT scans, observation and treatment followed. Aside from the pain and discomfort, it was a time of stress and uncertainty. But there was one thing that kept the worst of that uncertainty at bay.
The first thing I was asked when I got to the local hospital was What is your insurance cover like? I had my BMC insurance card, the hospital phoned up and checked and everything was fine. At that point they knew I was covered and covered for the amount that allowed me to be taken to the spine unit in Colorado.
Thanks to that, the service was incredible. I can’t even imagine what the journey would have been like without it, or the cost. Ten days in hospital, scans, physiotherapy, intravenous morphine. I don’t know what the final bill was but I found out that a single paracetamol tablet cost 50 dollars. I really can’t imagine what the final statement read.
I fully believe in the positive power of being in the outdoors, physically and mentally. I spend a lot of my time encouraging people to experience the outdoors. I speak a lot about cold-water swimming and I am a director of the Women’s Trad Festival.
Today I have totally recovered. The accident, which might have ended my ability to enjoy the mountains, worked out in the end. I went back to Utah again two years after my accident, got back in the climbing harness and led long splitter cracks once again. And the bottom line is that it all goes back to having BMC insurance when I needed it.
It gave me complete peace of mind at a time when I had no mind to spare.
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