In an emergency call 999 and ask for Police then Mountain Rescue
I was aged 54 at the time, having moved to Scotland from England in 1984 for work. This move was attractive to me as I had hillwalked in North Wales and the Lake District; but not much in Scotland. Fortunately, I met a great bunch of guys who are all now lifelong friends and with whom I have had many adventures in the hills and mountains.
After finishing work in London I had flown up in the late evening of 12 May to my home in Edinburgh and then had driven up early the next morning to Skye to meet my friend Mike. We intended to climb Sgurr nan Eag (peak of the notches) and Sgurr Dubh Mor (big black peak) in the southern part of the Cuillin range. The plan was to meet up with other friends (a group of up to 15 from various parts of the UK) in the evening and complete a variety of walks and routes, stay overnight in the bunkhouse at the Sligachan Inn for a few days; and all meet up for beer and food in the evenings.
It was a long early morning drive for me, after a sleepless night. Mike and I met at Spean Bridge and drove to Skye arriving around midday near Glen Brittle. It was an absolutely glorious day. We were well equipped for summer mountain walking, including spare clothing, waterproofs, head torches, mobile phones (no coverage then), map and compass. Mike also had a Garmin GPS and small medical kit.
We did not take helmets, however, in retrospect that would have been a good idea for scrambling in the Cuillin. We set off and managed to successfully scramble the peaks Sgurr nan Eag and Sgurr Dubh Mor.
We were on our descent from the main ridge when the accident happened. I was tired from the exertions of the day and looking forward to getting down to the Sligachan Inn to meet up with my other friends and enjoy a beer. I would say that I had lost my concentration at that point and was quite weary after the day of scrambling and walking the mountains; exacerbated by travel from London and a busy work schedule.
As we descended from the lochan at the top of Coire a Ghrunnda we encountered a slab section; at around 2000 feet; which gradually became steeper. The Coire is a notorious area; dark and foreboding with very difficult terrain that is challenging to negotiate, especially in poor weather.
At this point Mike suggested we traverse off the slab and as I started the traverse I lost my footing and started to slide down the slab. Mike tells me the sight of his friend sliding down the slab, desperately trying to grab a handhold; and disappearing out of sight off the end; was one that will live with him to the end of his days. My fall occurred around 7pm.
Mike tells me he then rapidly traversed the slab and made his way down to where I had landed; all the time terrified at what he was going to encounter.
I had fallen about 35 feet off the end of the large slab and landed on my back.
Mike’s first sighting of me was lying unconscious, on my back on a small outcrop, with my rucksack under me. Luckily, the outcrop had stopped a further fall and it appears my rucksack had saved me from additional severe injury.
Mike tells me that he recalls how, despite the horror of the situation; he managed to control the panic and to think through the best steps to take next.
Mike was very careful not to move me; he checked my limbs for any obvious signs of breaks and wrapped me in a space blanket and spare clothes; to keep me warm. There was considerable blood from cuts and grazes and Mike carefully bandaged the worst of these to prevent further blood loss; although we have many laughs now at his bandage tying skills!
Mike now was feeling more positive of a good outcome so he took a photo of me after his administrations; but, was careful not to tell me he had this photo; until I had fully recovered a few months later. It makes for a gruesome viewing!
After around 15 minutes I regained consciousness and Mike told me I was coughing up blood onto the surrounding rocks. Needless to say; he was extremely concerned for my well being and his major concern was the possibility of internal bleeding. For me it was a weird awakening, initially I thought I was still in a dream, light and colours were so incredibly vivid.
He was reluctant to leave me but knew immediate help was required. He blew the emergency signal on his whistle and also called out for help.
He ensured I was properly awake and explained what had happened, all the time reassuring me and checking that I was lucid and that I understood the situation.
He explained that, as there was no reply to his calls for help; he needed to leave me briefly to find assistance. I was conscious and in pain and at that time I didn’t think I was going to make it.
Mike then left for a short period.
He tells me he ran up and down the rough terrain searching for help and luckily he eventually encountered two walkers. Mike gave the walkers the coordinates from his GPS and one agreed to head downhill to Glen Brittle to notify mountain rescue; whilst the other headed back up the ridge to try for a mobile signal.
Mike then returned to tend to, and comfort me, and to keep me warm. We knew it was then a waiting game.
At approximately 8 pm, an hour after the accident, some of my friends (Gavin, Alan) and two others with them (Noreen, Colin) appeared above us. It was surreal! They had clearly followed the exact same route and you can imagine their astonishment and horror at discovering us below.
Gavin and Alan decided as a precaution to run down to Glen Brittle to check help had actually been called by the stranger. In fact, the MR had been called but had for some reason been searching the adjacent corrie. Luckily, Gavin was able to give them accurate coordinates, as there was apparently some confusion as to the location.
Noreen and Colin (who I did not know at that time) stayed with Mike at the scene and all three snuggled beside me keeping me warm and awake. I realised I had a serious injury and had been told by Mike that MR help was on its way; that in itself was a relief to me. I could not move and did not know what the damage was. Mike, Noreen and Colin brought invaluable calmness and reassurance. Noreen had only recently started walking munros and it was hard to believe this was her first day on Skye in the Cuillin! The conversation, comfort and support by them was a great help that is hard to put into words.
At 9.45pm a coast guard helicopter from Stornoway arrived overhead. It had picked up some of the MRT lower down; to drop them as close as they could to the accident site. However, because of wind and updraft problems the helicopter could not get in close enough to manage a pick up. You can imagine the dismay for all at the scene watching the helicopter having to retreat and fly off towards the islands. Gavin and Alan, when they realised the helicopter could not make a rescue pick up, met up with the MRT members who were dropped by helicopter lower down and they all then climbed up to me, Gavin leading the MRT. The time now was about 10.30 pm. Two other members of the MRT had arrived earlier as they happened to be out on the ridge when the call came through. One was a medic and was able to apply some strong painkiller medication. George Yeoman from the MRT carried a stretcher on his back all the way to the accident scene, no mean feat. In the meantime, Mike had been patiently holding the fort at the accident scene, now in darkness at 11 pm.
Everyone was well equipped and all had head torches. The team put a brace support on my neck and then carefully slid me onto the stretcher. The team and all my friends then took it in a relay to carry me down in a conveyor belt style over the massive boulders and rough terrain; and out of the corrie to a spot where the helicopter could winch me off on a line and take me to Broadford hospital. This was very challenging and required intense concentration, strength and stamina.
After this drama the helicopter crew then kindly returned and lifted my exhausted friends to the safety of the rescue base where they were warmly welcomed with hot soup and a wee dram. The time was approximately 6 am.
Mike then relayed the events to the local police constable and the rest is history.
The rescue was led and managed brilliantly by Gerry Ackroyd, at the time, Team Leader of Skye Mountain Rescue team.
Along with Mike’s comments above, Gavin, many weeks later, documented the events of the day and some of his detail I have taken in my summary above. Here is Gavin’s verbatim last few paragraphs covering the day and the rescue; which ended with me arriving by helicopter at Broadford hospital on Skye.
“At around midnight, it was like party time in the Appalachians with guys and girls all wearing headtorches and coming from all directions to the scene of Larry’s fall.
Within two hours there were no less than 23 people involved in a strenuous manual handling exercise carrying Larry in a heavy stretcher back down over seriously rocky terrain to a point where the Stornoway helicopter was able to come in to pick him up at around 3.30am and take him to the hospital in Broadford for emergency treatment – all this after an amazing display of pyrotechnics, lighting up the whole corrie with red flares to pinpoint our location. One of the rescuers remarked that the folk on Rhum would think we were having a high level rock concert ! After dropping Larry in Broadford the helicopter came back to its original low level drop off point and, in a series of shuttles, carried the weary climbers and rescue team back to the Mountain Rescue HQ in Glenbrittle for hot soup and sandwiches.
“As the helicopter carried Noreen and the boys into Glenbrittle at around 6.00 am the sun was rising in a glorious display of “natural” pyrotechnics over the Minch.
“Larry, having fractured his pelvis in two places was transferred to Raigmore via air ambulance in Inverness for surgery the following day, is now, amazingly, only a few weeks away from getting back to work. “
After arriving at Broadford hospital where the A & E department had been alerted, X-rays were taken of my head, spine and pelvis and stitches sewn to the gash in my neck. Approximately 7 hours later, I was on another helicopter (air ambulance) to Raigmore for emergency surgery that evening to my pelvis and transfusion of two units of blood to top me up.
I left Raigmore hospital 10 days later where I had received fantastic emergency treatment and care. The medics said I had hard bones that certainly helped the recovery! I was on crutches for 3 months, and another 3 months in general recovery during which time my head injuries were monitored.
12 months after the accident I joined a group (including Mike and Gavin) climbing Ben More on Mull to mark another friend’s last Munro. After that I recovered my fitness and in 2008 I went back to Skye and joined a group led by MR member and Skye Guide, George Yeomans, and completed all the Cuillin tops. This helped me shake off some of the dark memories of that night and rebuilt my confidence. George pointed out the accident site to me as we went back up to Coire a’ Ghrunnda to do the same two summits I had completed on that eventful day. It was hard to believe I had survived such a fall and it was an emotional moment.
In 2010 I completed all the Munros and in May 2015 ( to mark 10 years) I went back again to the Cuillin and joined Jonah Jones (Skye Guide) who took me up Sgurr Alasdair (Alexander’s peak) and Sgurr nan Gillean (peak of the young men). The following day I met up with Gerry Ackroyd again in Glen Brittle but in more pleasant and convivial circumstances for a coffee and a reminisce!
To summarise, my life was saved by my friends; Mike, Gavin, Alan, Noreen, the Skye Mountain Rescue Team and Stornoway Coastguard. I should also mention the stranger (who I met later – John) who initially ran down for help. Thanks to Colin too, who was with Noreen and Gavin at the scene and who I only met that one night.
Considering it was Friday, 13 May, I was indeed very lucky to have had such a great crew around me that day.
I am still walking the hills now but very careful on descents; as I have been since 2005.