I hurt myself recently. I took a tumble while running up above the city in the Wicklow hills and I ended up with 12 stitches in my knee. It’s going to take me several weeks until I’m fit again, but far from turning me off mountains, it’s actually made me love them more.
As a recent recruit to adventure, I have missed out on years of trekking and hiking and have been playing catch-up when it comes to learning the skills that come with playing in the great outdoors. I’ve been fortunate to hike with experienced, sports people who have been very generous in passing on their wisdom. I have also taken a couple of navigation courses, including my MS1 – and last year I took a really good First Aid Course with Adventure Training Ireland.
I wanted to be useful if someone got hurt when we were out on the hills or rivers. To be honest, it never occurred to me that I’d be using those skills for a self-rescue. I also failed to realise the value of all that knowledge I was soaking up while hiking, climbing, paddling and running with super-skilled people who not only lead the way, but explain the how’s and why’s of doing what they do. A big thank-you to Pat Falvey, Tony Nation, Ronan Friel, Con Moriarty, Mike O’Shea, Ian Taylor, John O’Regan, Donnachadh McCobb, Adrian Hendroff, JuJu Jay from Mud Sweat & Runners, the lads and lassies at Great Outdoors, my mates in the Coast Guard, Irish Army and Mountain Rescue, Adventure Training Ireland, the Irish Ramblers, Mountaineering Ireland, Le Cheile AC, the Eastern Bay Swimming Club and the Wild Water Kayak Club – among others – whew!
I’d spent a morning practising map-work on Camaderry in Wicklow and after lunch I headed for the familiar loop-trail around Spinc Mountain. I was picking up the pace in the afternoon and attempting to run the loop, to boost my fitness. I pushed up the 600 steps beyond the upper lake in Glendalough and in beautiful sunshine cleared the top of Spinc to begin my descent. Smiling as the trail dropped in front of me, I ran into a cool breeze. I was sweating and hot, and glad of a break from the sun as I ran into the shade of the mountain. The smile was snatched quickly from my lips as my feet hit a lonely slick of ice, a shower of rain, frozen onto the eroded wooden sleeper trail and hidden from the early sun. I wobbled, and flew at full speed forwards and down onto my knees, slicing into a lone, unlucky rock.
Instinctively my hand reached down to a stinging in my knee and several thoughts collided; it felt strange, the usual tension of skin on muscle was missing and I felt I was hugging a warm, sticky sponge. Looking down I saw my hand was red, and my running pants bulging below the knee, like a plastic shopping bag full of water. I don’t like blood and I should now be panicking. Instead I was zapping through an invisible checklist; I was injured but how badly, would I faint, could I stop the bleeding, did I have phone signal, what strappings did I have with me, how much food, water, where was my foil blanket, could I spend the night if I needed to, and if I decided to walk out – what was the most efficient way to go? If I went back the way I came, it would be shorter, but if I needed help the steps would be a problem for any rescue team coming after me. If I pushed on ahead, I’d make the gently sloping zigzags, the ground was more accessible and if I needed it, a jeep could reach me quicker.
I quickly strapped my knee, took a couple of ibuprofen, lengthened out my walking poles, and using them as crutches, headed down towards the valley and the zigzags. It may have taken 10 minutes before I was back on my way and I was so relaxed I stopped to take some photos of the mountain along the way. An hour and a half later I was down in the car-park and bound for A&E where a super friendly triage nurse bandaged me from knee to ankle while I waited the next 5hrs for 12 stitches in my knee. I’m not complaining. We know our hospitals are under pressure and I’m very happy with the job they did when they got to me. Dr Tom, you’re a saint, and thanks to your fine work, my leg is healing really well, without a trace of infection.
I’m annoyed at being injured, being restricted from training, unable to do things I want to do for the next few weeks, but overall I’m grateful for my experience. What could have been a disaster, turned out to be a minor inconvenience and I’m really impressed with the way I coped – because believe me, I never considered myself to be that practical or useful! I really thought I’d flap, panic, holler and cry. When I was doing my first-aid, I commented that I’d never remember what I was being taught – and Donnchadh from ATI assured me that it’s common-sense knowledge that comes back to you, when you need it. He was right. I’m also intrigued that all those words of wisdom from my climbing buddies had sunk in so thoroughly. I remember walking chin deep through heather with Ronan Friel chatting about always knowing where you are, and how to plan your exit routes in case of danger.
I really didn’t think that all that information had become so naturally a part of me. It gives me a whole new appreciation for the benefit of being informed, of taking courses, and taking responsibility for your own safety and the safety of others, when you’re taking part in adventure sports. Whatever I paid for those courses – they came cheap, when I consider what could have happened. Now I’m committed and inspired to go and learn a lot more.
I was on my own when I fell in the hills, but people on the ground knew where I was and when I was due to return – one of the first rules of being out there in the open. I may not have done everything right, but I know I did enough right to get me down and out safely. I never expected to fall on my well-trodden, familiar, Spinc – but thanks to all the knowledge that has been passed on to me over the past couple of years, I was prepared for the unexpected.
I’d recommend it.