In late February, Mark R was soloing Parsley Fern Lefthand Gully when he was knocked off by a chunk of falling ice. The result was a terrifying slide down the gully – all captured by his helmet-cam. Watch the footage and read our interview with Mark to find out what went wrong.
People have always had accidents in the hills. But now, people are having accidents with their head-cams still running. This is giving rise to a whole new genre: point-of-view incident footage.
Mark was knocked off Parsley Fern Lefthand Gully (grade II) by a chunk of falling ice at the end of February, and subsequently rescued by Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team – in a stunning 30 minutes after the incident.
During the rescue, the team noticed he was wearing a helmet-cam, and afterwards he offered the footage to the team, and the BMC, to help others understand just how accidents can happen. Sharing such an intense and personal experience online is pretty brave, but Mark felt other climbers might learn from his experience.
Mark, 47, is a lifelong climber, and is currently keen on winter mountaineering, primarily in Snowdonia. His job, rather ironically, is a safety consultant. “You have to laugh sometimes,” he told us, “but, seriously, even with experience of risk assessment and making decisions, sometimes things just happen. When it all happens so quickly, you just try not panic and hope there’s some luck with you,” he explained.
So thanks to Mark for sharing the film, and read the interview below about the context for this extraordinary footage.
WATCH: Parsley Fern slide on BMC TV
Read our interview:
This is an incredible – and scary video – when did it happen?
This video was recorded on my headcam on Sunday 24 February 2013, not too long after we’d stopped for a bite of lunch.
What route were you on? Were you alone?
The incident occurred in Parsley Fern LH Gully. I chose not to climb alone for safety and the camaraderie of other people. There were three in our party and we ascended Sargeant’s Gully, with a further four taking an alternative route. I wasn’t climbing with my usual partner, who didn’t make it out for this weekend. Our party of three progressed up the gully and sometimes the gap between us was bigger than I’m used to. The second two of us made it to the more vertical and ice covered step, where I waited a little distance below.
Where did the falling ice come from?
The guy in our group above me was trying to get good axe placement. I’d already felt some smaller bits come down and was keeping a watch above me. Then it happened: a sizeable chunk of solid ice flew straight down towards my head. I had little time to respond.
What was going through your mind as you fell?
“Oh shit,” was probably my thought, but the speed at which events took hold meant I knew it was going to go some distance. There was no feeling of panic, more a concerted effort to protect my head and neck and be aware of what was below me, where I was heading and what I could do to slow and stop myself before I got to the more serious rocky outcrops.
Did you try and self-arrest?
Even though I’d been practising self arrest earlier in the month, the angle of this slope was much greater, and very little time was left to respond quickly enough before I was taking some bounces.
I don’t know what happened to the better axe (heavier head and sharp pick) in my right hand, as it didn’t appear in the video once the fall started. I must have had the other axe knocked out of my hand and it can be seen in the upper part of the fall.
Once both axes were gone, it was arms, hands, legs and feet in the less consolidated snow on the slope to try and slow my speed. Fortunately I slid into a rocky outcrop on my left with a bit of a thump, which took some of the momentum out of my decent, resulting in a bit of a spin, but I could still look for opportunities below for a point to stop. It finished with a drop onto a bit of a ledge or hole where my pack and crampons took enough hold to stop me.
What happened after you stopped sliding?
I was a little dazed but, critically, not unconscious. Interestingly, I had the foresight to check the cam was still attached and just hoped the vid had recorded that: it wasn’t one for repeating! Time seemed a little different. I knew I’d lost my glasses somewhere but I could see movement of someone below and gave them the thumbs up to show I was conscious and not too badly injured. I already knew there was some damage to my ankles which were fairly painful if they were moved.
How were the mountain rescue alerted?
Our other party had seen the incident and made best efforts to get to a point where they could get out a call on a mobile. I’m not sure of all the details since it soon became apparent that there were already MRT members in the area.
How long did they take to get to you?
It seemed pretty quickly to me. Everything was under control and I was more securely fixed to the ground and being kept warm. The doctor lowered in and was there checking for neck and spinal injuries, asking the relevant questions and giving me a few painkillers to take some of the sting out of my bruises and breaks.
From my perspective, I don’t think there is anything the MRT didn’t do which they could have and that just shows how good they are. The helicopter was there, creating a tremendous downdraft. I was supported by two harness loops, and then it was lift off to Bangor.
How are you doing now?
Annoyingly immobile and bruised, but mentally fine. I’m getting used to injecting myself with blood-thinning drugs to prevent clots forming, and planning how to get my fitness back once the bones have healed and the cast and support come off.
If you had the day again, would you have done anything differently?
This is a difficult question. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I think I’d have preferred to have my technical axes rather than walking axes on the steeper harder ground. The other reason for this is that the blue axe had been borrowed on the day and seemed quite light and didn’t give me as solid a placement in the ice as my sharp steel-headed heavy axe.
If I’d have been with my usual partner, we’d likely have discussed the route and options more, perhaps used a rope if we had one or opted for the easier right-hand variant. If everything had gone well on the day then it’s unlikely there would have been much I’d have done differently.
Perhaps I should have taken a moment to cut more of a step to stand on while I waited for the guy to get up the section above me. Mind you, I might not have even seen the ice coming towards me which may have caused even more of a problem. It’s all about decisions at the time.
Elfyn Jones, BMC & Conservation Officer for Wales and member of the Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team, commented:
“I think the key message here is that accidents do happen, but that Mark was well equipped, wearing a helmet, and that probably saved his life.
The other climbers in the area did exactly the right thing. His friend dialled 999 and asked for the police as soon as they saw the fall, and he was lucky in that two members of the mountain rescue were climbing nearby.
The team got to him within 30 minutes. Of course, we always try to be fast, but this time we were quicker than usual! The team had just finished a training exercise in Llanberis when the call came through and the helicopter was just about to head off on a training mission.
It’s just a shame his head-cam ran out of battery before he was winched into the helicopter!”
For information on how to climb more safely on Snowdon, and to learn more about the work of the volunteers of the Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team, visit www.llanberismountainrescue.co.uk/
Winter guidance from BMC