Page last updated at 11:31 GMT, Monday, 7 April 2008 12:31 UK

'I don't remember landing'

By Steven McKenzie
Highlands and Islands reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Mountain rescue teams are expected to report another busy winter and spring in the Scottish hills.

Call-outs over the weekend included a search for missing walkers in Sutherland and two separate rescues on Ben Nevis.

An experienced climber has told the BBC Scotland news website how conditions in the mountains can catch out the professionals.

Mountain rescuers in action (Pic: Mick Tighe)
Rescuers had to battle through heavy snow. Picture by Mick Tighe

They make an unlikely mountain accident statistic.

Mike Pescod is a professional guide, while Willie Anderson is a veteran search and rescue team member.

However, a series of events led to the pair being treated in neighbouring hospital beds.

Mr Pescod's story gives an insight into the efforts which are made to save mountain casualties.

On a December morning in 2004, the professional mountain guide and two clients started out for Aonach Mor - a 1,221m Munro in Lochaber - on what was intended to be day one of a two-day session.

Mr Pescod said: "I was with two clients who I had not climbed with previously.

"They were looking for a refresher on some skills on the first day and then a bigger climb on the second day.

"We met at 8am and had a discussion about how things would go. The forecast for the first day was snow and blowy, but worse on the second day, so we decided to do that day later on."

Second day

From the Nevis Ski Range gondola they headed under Coire Dubh into Coire an Lochan and did some refresher training on ice axe arrests.

Mr Pescod said: "At the time there was some spindrift at the top of the crags. It was windy at the top, but not in the corries.

"We spoke about climbing up to the top by the bounding ridge at the south end of the corrie.

"Because we had agreed to put off the second day until later, we thought we'd try and do more on the first."

Tony and Mick had only travelled a short distance when Willie was blown off the top of the hill and fell about 100m and landed almost at the feet of the two others
Mike Pescod

His clients seemed competent and the three talked about the potential risk of avalanches.

The 35-year-old guide said: "We were taking time to look at the snow conditions and dug a pit to carry out an avalanche assessment."

With the refresher training complete, Mr Pescod considered the potential of tackling an area of ice on a climb called Forgotten Twin.

He said: "I saw the look on the fella's face - I picked up on the joy on his face and that did influence my decision to climb it.

"I put the clients in a safe place and went up to the buttress and began sorting anchors for a belay.

"I glanced up and saw an avalanche coming towards me. I made a lunge for my ice axes. I'm not sure if I got there or not.

"I've got a memory of being taken down a little bit of slope and then an image of being in free fall.

"I don't remember landing."

Mike Pescod lying injured (Pic: Mick Tighe)
Badly injured Mike Pescod receives treatment

His clients were shaken but immediately went to Mr Pescod's aid. He was unconscious for 10 to 15 minutes.

He said: "An ice screw held me on the slope and prevented me from sliding further.

"The clients were brilliant and cut a ledge for me to lie on and stabilized the situation.

"They found my mobile in my rucksack and raised the alarm. They knew where we were.

"When I came round, they were trying to get my harness off because they thought it was causing me pain."

It would be five hours before help reached them.

The first to answer the call for help were Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team member Willie Anderson, head of ski patrol Tony Cardwell and Mick Tighe - a highly experienced climber and, at the time, a rescue team member.

Neck vertebrae

Mr Pescod said: "Tony and Mick went down the gully, while Willie, who didn't have his gear with him, headed back towards the ski area with the intention of going from there to where we were.

"Tony and Mick had only travelled a short distance when Willie was blown off the top of the hill. He fell about 100m and landed almost at the feet of the two others.

"It was very lucky he didn't hit them. He had some scalp injuries and fractured one of his neck vertebrae."

Mr Anderson was later carried by stretcher from the scene.

Meanwhile, Mr Pescod's clients thought it best to move him from the avalanched gully as the weather was worsening. They dragged him along the slope, rather than risk picking him up, for fear of causing further injuries.

Royal Navy helicopters
Royal Navy helicopter crews stationed at HMS Gannet, Prestwick, regularly attend call-outs in Lochaber. They reported a 30% increase in call-outs for all areas last year
RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team also had one of its busiest years for call-outs in the last 10 years. The team was called out 39 times in 2007 - up from 24 in 2006.
Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team volunteers cover one of the busiest patches for rescues in Scotland

He said: "I could see they were quite distressed, but they weren't going to leave me.

"Mick Tighe appeared first, wading through the deep snow.

"It was so deep it had taken him an hour to walk a distance that usually takes 10 minutes.

"He checked me over and knew I had broken my pelvis and was concerned about my back.

"Tony came next and there were more abseiling down the route."

He added: "They couldn't get a line into my arm for morphine and instead gave me an injection, which was great.

"I was lifted out on a stretcher vertically, rather than horizontally, and this relieved some tension on my back."

Mr Pescod was taken to Belford Hospital in Fort William.

Medical staff cut off his clothing and wrapped him in warmed towels and blankets in order to raise his temperature.

In the bed next him was Mr Anderson, and the pair exchanged some smiles.

It was hoped to transfer Mr Pescod to the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow by helicopter, but the weather was too bad and he was taken by ambulance.

He was in the Southern General for six weeks - four of them in a horizontal position to let his pelvis heal.

'Scraping the bottom'

His right pelvis was fractured in three places and he also sustained a fractured vertebrae which required bone grafts and nails, a broken left ankle and a broken rib.

He had to wear a cast for nine weeks.

The avalanche also hit him hard mentally. He said: "I was scraping the bottom in terms of confidence."

It was five months before he was able to go up and down hills and nine months before he could tackle an indoor climbing wall.

And it was more than a year before he was able to complete a grade five climb in Zero Gully on Ben Nevis.

Praise for rescue helicopter crew
29 Feb 08 |  Highlands and Islands
Kinloss rescue team's 'busy year'
29 Feb 08 |  North East/N Isles

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