In an emergency call 999 and ask for Police then Mountain Rescue

Fiona’s Rescue Story from 2014 on Isle of Skye

Fiona’s Rescue Story from 2014 on Isle of Skye

30th July, 2021

My accident happened in 2014 when I was 25. I am now 31 years old, from Glasgow and work as an Accountant for the Scottish Government. I am a keen hill walker and have been since I was very young. I have climbed over 100 Munros and done some hiking and climbing abroad including Kilimanjaro, Tour of Mont Blanc and 7 peaks over 4000m in the Mont Rosa range in Italy.

I was with 3 friends in Skye, we had travelled up from Glasgow to see some of the Island and our main objective was to climb the Inaccessible Pinnacle, which rises from the summit of Sgurr Dearg.  I had climbed Sgurr Dearg the year before and on seeing the Inn Pinn, it became my ambition to go back and climb it. Having been on instructor led climbing courses and completed some climbs in our local area, we felt confident to attempt the Inn Pinn.

Our day started off with fantastic weather in mid May, we made a quick ascent of Sgurr Dearg and enjoyed lunch at the summit. We then put our harnesses on completed the climb of the Inn Pinn, doing the thrilling abseil off the other side. This had taken a bit of time as we enjoyed the views and took pictures and soaked up the feeling of completing the climb. We were keen to descend before dark came in, so decided to descend a different way from our ascent route.

We entered a gully and faced with a lot of scree, we ran down one of the chutes, confident in this technique and being physically fit. I felt my momentum was travelling too fast and put my hands on a boulder to stop myself. Unfortunately this boulder was balanced on top of the scree rather than being embedded in the ground, and the impact caused the boulder to move down the scree as if on marbles.  This swept me with it, dragging me downhill under its weight for around 30 feet.  I was knocked unconscious during the fall.

When I came round, I felt confused and unaware what had happened. I was aware my left leg felt odd but was not aware of what had happened. My friends showed obvious relief I had woken up and helped me to sit upright, as I was currently facing up, with my head downhill and feet higher uphill. I had cut my chin open quite badly and there was a lot of blood on my face and neck.

It was clear to my friends my left leg was trapped under the boulder and they could not move me, although from the angle I was at I thankfully couldn’t see the full picture. We called 999 to ask for mountain rescue, as my friends could not move the boulder due to its size, and there was a risk in trying that it would roll over me, causing more serious damage.

Mountain rescue mobilised while my friends tried to keep me as comfortable as possible.  A hiker who had planned to bivac on the ridge noticed the commotion and came down to help. I later learned this person to be Joe Smith, who sadly died in 2016 in Glencoe and had been a member of the mountain rescue there.  I was immensely grateful for Joe giving me his sleeping bag and mars bar and will never forget his calm nature and kindness in helping us.

Once the mountain rescue arrived they assessed the situation, and administered morphine. They quickly secured the boulder with ropes to ensure it would not move further. They made me feel immediately more calm and took control of the situation in a very professional manner.

The key thing was to get the boulder off my leg so I could be moved from under it, and airlifted to hospital. A pulley system was created, and 8-10 of the rescuers went higher up to ‘pull’ the boulder up using the ropes, while 2 stayed with me to move me out of its path. Thankfully the morphine was working by this point and I felt little pain when they moved me.  The rock had been on my leg for 4 hours before it was moved, so there was a lot of worry about the impact and crush injury. I was airlifted off the mountain quickly and taken to Broadford Hospital.  It was around 11pm by the time I got there.  I was hopeful of my injuries not being too severe, but after an xray it was confirmed I had broken my tibia and fibula.

I stayed overnight at Broadford, and was transported by helicopter early the next morning to Glasgow Royal Infirmary where I could receive specialised trauma and orthopaedic treatment. I was told my leg was in a bad way and I had to come to terms with the risk I may lose my leg below my knee. I was told I would need an operation to put an IM nail into my shin bone and several screws. I underwent the operation and was in hospital for just over 2 weeks before being discharged. I was warned due to the tissue damage there would likely be further developments with the injury.

After 4-5 weeks the skin on my leg had continued to grow darker, the tissue had been badly damaged due to the weight of the boulder (mountain rescue estimated this to be around 1 tonne) and needed to be cut away. This left me with large open wounds, and the risk of infection was high. I received expert care from the NHS, with one nurse in particular (Emma Sharp) going above and beyond to change my dressings 4 mornings a week before her shift started. I had chosen to continue with my ICAS classes to do my chartered accountancy exams, and this was only made possible due to the kindness of this nurse.

I was offered a skin graft to speed up the healing time, however refused this as was keen to let it heal naturally if possible without causing more scarring. Over the coming weeks and months my leg gradually began to heal and I could start physio sessions. 9 months later I was ready to give up my crutches and began building up walking again.  I am left with a lot of missing muscle from my left calf and a lot of scare but very pleased to still have my leg in tact!

I am not sure what the outcome would have been without the rescue team, I can only stress the severity of the situation I was in and had they not acted so quickly and effectively I am very aware I could have lost my life that day.

I will be forever grateful for the help they gave me that day, particularly as this is a voluntary organisation and this was a Sunday evening when probably they could have been relaxing at homes with their families.

It was a long road to recovery but the care and professional service of the mountain rescue team allowed me to keep my leg and eventually recover.  I have since climbed over 50 Munros, Kilimanjaro and other long distance walks.  I have regained my confidence in climbing and even re-climbed Sgurr Dearg, led by one of the rescue team, Jonah Jones.  This was a massive step for me in my recovery and regaining confidence.  I have done what I can to raise some money for the rescue team and the amazing work they do.

I know some of my friends have been in difficult situations on the hills, and without the support of the rescue teams there would be far more unfortunate endings.

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