The fall in an avalanche – my survival story

The snow moved and we lost balance. I fall back on the rocks and started tumbling. My friend died instantly with the fall, but I found out about that seven days later in my bed in hospital. We were caught in a bad snow storm as the weather unexpectedly turned bad.

Visibility turned nil

I was conscious during my fall but I couldn’t feel those hits against rocks. My rucksack fall off, my ice axes banged my head as well as my googles. I was lucky they didn’t kill me. I landed hundred metres below. My crampons were still attached to my winter boots “Gosh, I fitted them well” – that was my first thought when I stopped on the ledge. I sat down and spit blood. It wasn’t good and I couldn’t breathe. I lied back and unzipped my jacket. The time has stopped for me. After several seconds I started breathing. “Uff, I am alive. But what that blood is doing on the snow?” “Whose blood it is? There is just me here”. “Andy!! I shouted. Again and again”. Silence. We had an accident.

I took my phone of my jacket (I am glad it wasn’t left in the rucksack) – no reception. I messaged my climbing club (other members of the club were on Ben Nevis. We decided to go to Aonach More that day) “Help, help, call ambulances!”. Maybe at some point I got the reception and they can read my message.

I could move my hands and legs, but I was scared to take the hat off and anything else, in case part of my head or arm falls off! The blood was definitely mine. My leg was a bit wobbly in my knee but it could’t be broken as I could stand on it. “It is the ligament probably, I just must be careful”.

I decided to continue walking down but the snow got deeper, wind stronger, I had no googles and no gloves. I knew what was up there and going down was unknown. I looked up. I judged around 150 metres to climb on turf and ice. I didn’t even intend to go on the snow again. But turf and ice was a safe option. I could do it. “Only 150m”.

…The books I have read went through my head. “Art of freedom” – Kurtyka was close to dying in Himalayas and Simon in “Touching the void” had a broken leg and spent 6 days inside the mountain. I wasn’t aware that my sacrum bone was broken. I was focused on surviving. “I still feel flapjack in my stomach and It is not high. I can do it”. We were just caught by a bad snow storm this morning.

I made my situation trivial in comparison to other situations I have read about and that helped me to survive.

My rucksack ready for the adventure

I started climbing – the turf held my ice axes perfectly, the right knee was wobbly but overall I felt strong. I felt calm. But scared. I knew I can die here. I thought of my children, my business, my mum and friends. They all seem so far away. The more I climbed the more serious it was but I was calm. I set up small goals and ticked them off when passed each one. Every right step was a celebration in my head.

There was just me, and I had no idea when Andy disappeared, maybe he went to call for help.

Half way up the mountain I took my phone again – yes! I have got the reception. I called Rescue “Help! My head is bleeding and I may be dying here. I am on the West of Aonach Moor. Help me”. The phone died. “I am now on my own”. No one will find me here, the wind and snow was blowing like crazy. I couldn’t even hear anything. Even if they sent the helicopter no one knows my position.

My phone died to soon because of the cold and I didn’t have time to share my location.

I continued climbing till I started crawling. I wanted to stand up but the wind pushed me and I fall on the ground. I did it! I climbed this section and now I just need to walk through the mountain to get to Gondola station and find help. “Why are you laughing, you are dead anyway” – the voice in my head. But it was irrelevant. My legs felt strangely weak. I couldn’t put them higher when I was walking. I barely could walk.

I was setting small goals to move forward. It was easier to make a progress with my climb and later walk.

Ski station in front of me. Everything closed due to severe weather. I decided to follow the ski track below the chair lift. After another half an hour I saw a ski operator hut. Closed. I tried to brake the glass window but my hands didn’t have enough strength any more. My hands were freezing cold as I lost my gloves. (The feeling in my fingers came back after three months).

A closed cafe with steps leading to the door … “I cannot climb the steps and fall asleep” – my legs felt weak and I barely could move them. “I will die here, I must keep moving”.

My situation got worse. As I continued my crawly walk I knew I was getting weaker and weaker. I thought of my children.”I can’t give up now”. I am thirsty. How to get to Gondola station?

I saw another ski lift next to my right and decided to walk there and try to maybe cross that too and get closer to the Gondola station… But the snow was too high. I struggled with my legs. I crawled back to my original ski track under the chair lift and continued crawling down.

“I must be careful not to get wet here while walking backwards”. But I was already wet. I was supporting with ice axes and walking facing the mountain. The snow was stable and I managed to make a progress with my crawling.

I had many thoughts in my head. But I stayed calm and was thinking very logically. I knew that probably even if I find a place to curl and fall asleep they will find me dead. Did I regret anything? No. I have seen so much in life and I have lived it fully. I never give up. Ever. And I won’t. But I judged the situation clearly and knew that it was pretty bad.

In that moment the little problems such as frozen hands, broken pelvis, injuries, wet clothes and hypothermia were irrelevant. What was relevant was the ability to survive.

End of the chair ski lift. So soon? what’s next? Am I just going to crawl that very steep bit? But there was another ski lift hut. One of the chair was tied up to the door with a blue string. I pulled the string and – I opened the door! The door was open and there were two radiators and two bottles of Fanta! I couldn’t believe it. “I will survive now”. The electricity was working. I warmed my phone and managed to call the rescue. It took me 4.5 hours to get there. “You are where???? They asked. They couldn’t believe how far I have reached.

I didn’t want to leave the little hut. I was cold and at that moment I couldn’t walk. The rescue had to convince me that the snow cat is warm. That was pretty funny actually. I drank full cap of tea and got painkillers. I have been taken down by Gondola and then to the hospital with an ambulance. People from my club were down there so happy to see me. “Where is Andy? I asked” They were still searching for him.

Me after the fall. They did CT scans and X-Rays to find out my sacrum bone was badly broken.

The mountain rescue couldn’t believe what I have climbed and where I got with a broken sacrum bone in my pelvis and partly torn ligament plus a few holes in my leg, elbow and head. They said only few people would do what I did. I cried. I was told my mind is very strong.

“There was just pure ice! How did you get that far from West Face? – “I climbed and the ice and turf actually made me safe”.

My friend has been found three metres under the snow seven days after the accident. Fifty mountain rescue teams were searching, our climbing club and family. I was lucky to survive.

I spent 6 weeks in bed and 3 months walking on crutches. As soon as I could I started doing yoga to stay stretched and strong. I never gave up. I never do. And I never will. My Children learned how to cook and do the washing. My friends were like angles. Even with Coronavirus around they were helping me.

This accident happened on the 28th of February 2020. I have made to full recovery since then.

I climb mountains, I am a mum, I make mistakes, I am not perfect. But I did something incredibly well in my life – I healed myself with the same attitude as I survived the fall. Today I don’t even remember I had a problem.

I can live my life fully. I dance, I hike, climb walk, love and follow my dreams without any unnecessary burdens. I make mistakes. But it doesn’t mean “giving up”. It means I become stronger. It means I improve and move on. I don’t hold on to the past. I learn from it.

Today I am telling this story of my fall because that is how I felt when I suffered from ED. I felt helpless but I didn’t want to give up. I let go of my fears and managed to survive. Without giving up, without looking back.

It is truly important that today you believe in yourself. It is important that you make the plan to recover and let go of past beliefs which proved to be wrong. I fully recovered and I believe I know how to do it. You may have your ways to climb up that mountain but the principle is one – to reach safely to the top.

When you fall – stand up and don’t give up. Stay calm and don’t panic. We have just one life – we learn on our mistakes and these are not to pull us down but to make us strong.

Love and light

Catherine

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