Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Accident on the Cyfrwy Arete

The Cyfrwy face of Cader Idris. The route takes the left ridge.
Climb the Great Gully. A casual remark of Mr. Syme's revealed the fact that Mr. Warren was a rising surgeon on the staff of the London Hospital. Another casual remark disclosed the name of the small village where Warren and Syme were staying. I should at this moment be wearing an artificial leg but for this lucky series of accidents, beginning with the nailed boots which Syme was wearing and which had effected our introduction. On the following day Lindsay felt like a rest, so I set off alone and climbed the east ridge of Cyfrwy, off which I fell two days later. It is an interesting climb, not very difficult judged by modern standards, but quite amusing. The steep face looks sensational but is really quite easy. The best thing on the ridge is a miniature Mummery crack which calls for skill if one wishes to climb it without disproportionate effort. On August 28th I started for my last climb. Lindsay was not feeling fit, and he left me near the top of Cader Idris. I decided to descend the east and to climb the north ridge of Cyfrwy. I was carrying a short rope which I had brought along on the chance that Lindsay might join me. The day was perfect.

The burnished silver of the sea melted into a golden haze. Light shadows cast by scudding clouds drifted across the blue and distant hills. The sun flooded down on the rocks. I slid down the crack and reached the top of the steep face of rock above " The Table." The usual route dodges the top fifteen feet of this face, and by an easy traverse reaches a lower ledge. But on that glorious afternoon I longed to spin out the Joys of Cyfrwy, and I found a direct route from the top to the bottom of this wall, a steep but not very severe variation. It was one of those days when to be alive is " very heaven'. The feel of the warm dry rocks and the easy rhythm of the descending motion gave me an almost sensuous pleasure. One toyed with the thought of danger, so complete was the confidence inspired by the firm touch of the wrinkled rocks. In this short span Between my finger tips and the smooth edge, And these tense feet cramped to a crystal ledge, I hold the life of man.

Consciously I embrace, Arched from the mountain rock on which I stand To the firm limit of my lifted hand, The front of time and space ; For what is there in all the world for me But what I know and see ? And what remains of all I see and know If I let go ? I was glad to be alone. I revelled in the freedom from the restraints of the rope, and from the need to synchronize my movements with the movements of companions. I have never enjoyed rock-climbing more. I have never enjoyed rock-climbing since. But, at least, the hills gave me of their best, full measure and overflowing, in those last few golden moments before I fell. A few minutes later Lindsay, who was admiring the view from Cader, was startled by the thunder of a stone avalanche. He turned to a stray tourist, urging him to follow, and dashed off in the direction of Cwfrwy. And this is what had happened. I had just lowered myself off the edge of  'The Table'  There was no suggestion of danger. Suddenly the mountain seemed to sway, and a quiver ran through the rocks. I clung for one brief moment of agony to the face of the cliff. And then suddenly a vast block, which must have been about ten feet high and several feet thick, separated itself from the face, heeled over on top of me and carried me with it into space. I turned a somersault, struck the cliff some distance below, bounded off once again and, after crashing against the ridge two or three times, landed on a sloping ledge about seven feet broad.

The thunder of the rocks falling through the hundred and fifty feet below my resting-point showed how narrow had been my escape. I had fallen a distance which Lindsay estimated at a hundred feet. It was not a sliding fall, for except when I struck and rebounded I was not in contact with the ridge. The fall was long enough for me to retain a very vivid memory of the thoughts which chased each other through my brain during those few crowded seconds. I can still feel the clammy horror of the moment when the solid mountain face trembled below me, but the fall, once I was fairly off, blunted the edge of fear. My emotions were subdued, as if I had been partially anaesthetized. I remember vividly seeing the mountains upside down after my first somersault. I remember the disappointment as I realized that I had not stopped and that I was still falling. I remember making despairing movements with my hands in a futile attempt to check my downward progress. The chief impression was a queer feeling that the stable order of nature had been overturned. 
The tranquil and immobile hills had been startled into a mood of furious and malignant activity, like a dangerous dog roused from a peaceful nap by some inattentive passer-by who has trodden on him unawares. And every time I struck the cliff only to be hurled downwards once again, I felt like a small boy who is being knocked about by a persistent bully—" Will he never stop ? . . . surely he can't hit me again . . . surely he's hurt me enough.-When at last I landed, I tried to sit up, but fell back hurriedly on seeing my leg. The lower part was bent almost at right angles. It was not merely broken, it was shattered and crushed. I shouted and shouted and heard no reply. Had Lindsay returned home?

Would I have to wait for hours before help came ? Solitude had lost its charm. I no longer rejoiced in my freedom from intrusion. On the contrary, I raised my voice and called upon society to come to my assistance. I set immense store on my membership of the Human Club, and very urgently did I summon my fellow members to my assistance. And then suddenly I heard an answering cry, and my shouts died away in a sob of heartfelt relief. And while I waited for help, I looked up at the scar on the cliff where the crag had broken away, and I realized all that I was in danger of losing. Had I climbed my last mountain? During the war the cheery dogmatism of some second lieutenant home from the front was extremely consoling, for the human mind is illogical and the will to believe very potent. And so when Lindsay arrived and replied with a hearty affirmative when I asked him whether I should ever climb again, I was greatly comforted, even though Lindsay knew less of broken legs than the average subaltern of the chances of peace. 

Lindsay was preceded by an ancient man who keeps the hut on Cader. He examined my leg with a critical eye and informed me that it was broken. He then remarked that I had been very ill-advised to stray off the path on to " rough places " where even the natives did not venture. He grasped my leg, and moved it a little higher on to the ledge. This hurt. He then uncoiled my rope and secured me to a buttress which overhung my narrow perch. Then Lindsay staggered on to the ledge, gave one glance at my leg, turned a curious colour, and sat down hurriedly. He suggested breaking off a gate and carrying me down on it. The ancient manor of Cader hazarded a tentative suggestion in favour of sacks. I demurred, for a sack may be appropriate to a corpse but is not conducive to the comfort of a wounded man.

Lindsay, by a lucky accident, remembered Warren's address, and so I sent him off to find him. He left me in charge of the tourist who had followed him, and departed with the man of Cader. Lindsay's chance companion was useful while he stayed, for I was lying on a sloping ledge, and was glad of his shoulder as a pillow. Ten minutes passed, and my companion remarked that he thought he ought to be going. I protested, but could not move him. His wife, he said, would be getting anxious. I hinted that his wife's anxiety might be ignored. "Ah, but you don't know my wife," he replied, and, so saying, left me. He consented to leave his cap behind as a pillow. A month later he wrote and asked me why I had not returned it. This struck me as unreasonable, but—as he justly observed —I did not know his wife. I fell at 4 pm. About 7-30 p.m it became colder, and shivering made the pain worse. About 7.45 p.m. the old man of Cader returned with some warm tea which he had brewed for me, and for which I was more than grateful. Half an hour later the local policeman arrived with a search party and a stretcher. Luckily the ledge ran across on to easy ground, but it was not until midnight—eight hours after my fall that I reached the Angel Hotel. My leg was broken, crushed and comminuted. Twice the preparations were made for amputation. Twice my temperature fell in the nick of time. At the end of a week I was taken home, and lay on my back for four months, much consoled by a Christian Scientist who assured me that my leg was intact. But it was to the faint hope of the hills that I turned for comfort in the long nights when pain had banished sleep. 
Four months after I fell I left my bed bed and began to walk again with the help of a splint My right leg was slightly crooked and was two inches shorter than the left. An open wound on the shin did not disappear for eleven years, but in spite of these and other defects, Warren's skill had left me with a very serviceable leg. I began to ski again fifteen months after the accident. Unfortunately, I wasted two seasons trying to ski with ordinary bindings, and it was not until I secured spring bindings that I began to feel reasonably confident. My toes were very stiff, and in Huitfeldt bindings it was impossible to fall forward with any real pleasure. Two years after my fall I climbed the Dent Blanche. I ought to have chosen an easier and shorter expedition, for I was very heartily sick with pain and weariness long before I reached the top. But the moment of arrival on the summit stands out—unique in my mountain memories. Nothing mattered now that I had finally routed the fears which had haunted me for two long years. I could still climb, could still say

I have not lost the magic of long days, I live them, dream them still . Still am I master of the starry ways, And freeman of the hill. Shattered my glass ere half the sands were run,I hold the heights, I hold the heights, I won .

Arnold Lunn: 1924 

First published in ' The Mountains of Youth.'