Lying there, having just escaped death, time ticked by slowly and probably 5 minutes later Ptor came rushing over to me. “I found him. He is OK” he screamed up the hill. Then he frantically pulled out his shovel and began to dig me out. A few more minutes later and they were all there.
As I watched them all dig, I thought about the go-pro on my helmet and how real and awesome the footage was going to be. To have captured the skiing, the slabs breaking away, all the tumbling and finally the rescue. How vivid was that going to be?
They dug more and more. I warned them about my left leg and helped them dig out my arms. My left arm was held in by the ski pole and most likely I had hurt it. The right leg was dug out slowly and was fine.
Slowly they worked on my left leg. It felt ok and part of me was hoping that maybe it wasn’t broken. Except it was lying at a weird angle and supported by the snow. The way the toe was pointing up towards my face seemed odd yet it felt ok so maybe it was. They dug it out slowly supporting it with their hands. I kept hoping beyond hope that it would be ok.
Then it flopped over. Like a dead floppy fish. It looked like the bottom of my leg was completely disconnected from the upper part. Ptor picked it up slowly and extended my leg. He held my foot away with some traction and we maneuvered into a better position. Luckily there was no blood flowing out of the boot or anything to suggest that it was a compound fracture.
At this point it was very obvious that I was broken and there would be no way for me to travel back to camp 1. So a rescue was needed. Ptor pulled out his first aid kit and threw it to us. For some reason there were no satellites in range so he needed to go and ski lower to where we knew he would get service.
Ptor wanted to help with the bandaging of my leg, but we forced him to ski off and get the rescue started.
It appeared to be a fracture of the tib fib we needed to figure out how to apply some traction. The traction would help pull the bones away from each other and perhaps prevent any further damage. Once the upper leg was nice and supported with ski poles we tied some cordellet around the foot and pulled the ankle away from the knee. Bracing myself for the pain I encouraged them to pull harder. Once they had some good traction with the rope they then tied the ends to the poles. It felt pretty decent, the bones were well pulled away from each other and over the leg was stable.
With the injury dealt with, we started to manage my comfort. Placing skins under my legs for warmth, down jackets under my bum and moving me forward so that we could re-arrange my backpack. Then it was time to wait. While waiting I reached up to turn my Go-pro off and realized that I had lost it in the slide. Damn that would have been some great footage.
“hey Bjarne, when do you think the helicopters will rescue me?” it was 1:45 and there was lots of daylight left. It seemed like there was no way that the helicopters wouldn’t have time to rescue me. In my overly optimistic way I guessed
” Probably a little too early but I am hoping 4:30”
“ I guess 6:30.”
“6:30 seriously, come on that is way too long from now.”
“ well at least it is longer than we hope. That way it will be a relief when they come earlier”
His justification made way more sense than my optimistic view, mine would only lead to bitterness as we waited way past my guessing point. While his would provide a cushion that might keep us in a less stressed mood. It was good we had both guesses. It turned out neither was even close.
It was hard for me to see the size of the avalanche, but I knew that I had been lucky to end up on the side of the flow, that was what allowed me to keep my head out and some breathing room. Looking down the next 15 m into the terrain trap I was very lucky to not be down there. The debris looked to be 3-6 m deep and would have been a burial spot for me.. Overall I had been really lucky, and survived with only a small injury, anything worse at this elevation and I would have been in far worse predicament. Instead I was sitting with a broken leg, with manageable pain, a sore left shoulder and nothing else really.
Over the next few hours I kept imagining the sounds of helicopters. I would perk up and feel like I heard them and then be let down when I realized it was nothing. Luckily the sun was out and we were all relatively comfortable.
4:30 came pretty quickly with no helicopters in sight and we started to realize that perhaps the rescue would not happen today. So we needed to plan for an overnighter. Around 5 we sent Daniel down to camp 1 to grab the required bivy gear. All of a sudden it was just Bjarne and me. 2 people alone at 17000ft waiting for something that may never come.
The sun had disappeared and the cold slowly started to set in. Luckily for me I was all wrapped up but I could see that Bjarne was getting colder. To keep warm he devoted his energies to digging a snow cave for the night. By 6 my hopes were dwindling, 6:30 I still had some naïve dream and by 7 I accepted the night ahead.
My thoughts ran in circles, reenacting the event, getting mad at myself for my mistake, accepting what had happened. Breathing deeply to deal with the aching pain. Relaxing and trying to pass the time.
By 9 pm the stars were out and a beautiful night surrounded us. Which was gorgeous but also meant that it was cold and getting colder. By now the cave was big enough for us both to get into. So we put the backpacks on the ground, and anything else that could be used for insulation. Sucking up all my pain I crawled backwards into the hole and attempted to get comfortable. Bjarne, came in and we both cuddled to maintain any extra warmth we could. By this point I was shivering but at least I had his warmth and mine. I was starting to worry a lot about the toes on my left foot. Since the leg had swollen in the boot there was a lot of pressure on the foot. I worried about frostbite.
Lying there shivering I focused on moving my toes and time slowed…. Bjarne was giving me a bit of warmth but nothing was really going to warm me up. My feet were near the door and the cold air kept cooling them down. Uncomfortable, cold, shivering I lay there hoping that Daniel would return soon. Finally at 10 I saw a headlamp.
Daniel peered into our cave, “ I brought some sleeping bags, a tent, stove and some water. Mirghani is also following with some more stuff and a toboggan to take you down tomorrow.”
Relief spilled through my body, which didn’t stop the shivering but at least it reassured my mind. Daniel started melting some snow while Bjarne helped me get a sleeping pad under my back. It felt so nice to not have the heat sucked out of my back.
Since the ski poles went past my foot by a good 25 cm I realized I needed to cut the bottom of my sleeping bag off. So I cut out the bottom and eased the poles through. Daniel guided the pole through the bottom and soon enough I was in a sleeping bag… Ohh wow what a relief. I was not going to freeze.
Although I was more comfortable I was still shivering and moving my toes to keep them warm.
Daniel and Bjarne set up a tent and used one sleeping bag to stay warm while Mirghani joined me in the cave. The temperature in the cave would be much warmer than the tent and I felt bad for the boys but there was little I could do in my state. They at least would be sleeping while I knew I wouldn’t.
Breathing deeply to relax and maybe overcome the shivers I began the longest night of my life. 11 pm I focused on trying to sleep but it never seemed to come. Moments lasted FOR EVER. I kept checking the time, quite often it was only minutes between checks, moments felt like hours.
When experiencing moments of duress I have always been reassured by the fact that time never stops. It doesn’t; but somehow it was moving really slowly this night. 11:30, 11:38, time crept slowly forward. But the moments wore on, so many thought loops that kept repeating. Thoughts of Tracey and my kids. Wondering what Charley and Aiden would think about this recent adventure of mine.
Since I hadn’t had a painkiller in hours the ache was like a heart beat. A constant underlying pain punctuated with heartbeats of stronger more intense pulses.The pain was bearable but it required me to breathe deep and relax. Also to fully accept it. Nothing was going to change the amount of pain. The only thing that could change was my acceptance of it, to not fight it and somehow minimize it. All I could do was focus on breathing away my pain.
2 am crept by, 2:12 felt like an hour had gone by 2:32 another entire day finally it felt like I had slept… I checked my watch wishing for 4 or 5…. 2:48… well at least I had slept. More breathing, and hopes of sleep. I kept wiggling my toes and was reassured since they felt alive and normal.
3:15, a small nap, more shivering 3:30. Oh relief it was almost time to get the boys up and into action. Finally 4 am, more relief in that we will be moving forward soon. I guess the relief was enough to relax me enough because I finally managed a small 30 minute nap. 5 am and the boys all started to move around. We would be doing something different than lying, shivering and wiggling my toes.
Mirghani got up and started to get the toboggan ready. He had a pretty decent idea and I was interested to see how it would work. He had cut a 45 gallon barrel into two halves and then tied the halves together. This way they formed a canoe shaped vessel that they could tow me around in. They had ropes in the end, plus a couple of handles on the sides.
They filled the bottom of the toboggan with the sleeping mats and placed a backpack for me to lean up against. Since I did not want to jar my leg we figured it would be easier to have me facing up hill, then any bumps would be on my back and bum, instead of on my broken leg. It meant that I would have no idea what was coming up, no way to anticipate anything.
By 6 am we had loaded me into the sled and I was wrapped up in my sleeping bag. The first section was really bumpy since it was all the avalanche debris. The only way with toboggans is to flow with terrain. Luckily the first bits of terrain were mellow and allowed the boys to gain confidence with the system. I could trail my arms and provide stability in case of rolling over. It was hard stomach work, keeping myself upright but overall there was not much pain in the leg.. For two hours it worked really well through the mellow morrainal terrain, but then the terrain steepened and I knew it would get really hard on the boys and the hazard of the toboggan taking off and really injuring me increased dramatically.
The place we were at was perfect and I kept bugging Mirghani about calling to arrange for the rescue. He kept saying that there was no way that they could rescue us from where we were. Which made no sense to me, I use helicopters all the time and I understand their limits. This pickup would not be pushing their thresholds at all. He was very resistant to this, and I could not understand why.
Finally I forced him to give me the Sat phone so I could phone Liver and discuss it myself. He passed me the phone and I immediately realized that it had been locked out. Someone had punched in the wrong code 3 times which meant it was locked from use. Useless.
So we were sitting at the perfect pick up spot, with no way of letting them know we were ready.They started to scout out the easiest snow slopes down through the rocks. A small 100m step lay below us, something that you would not even notice when skiing but something that grew into a monumental challenge when tobogganing an injured person. So they all scouted out a zone and decided on the best approach. They hiked down, to drop off the bags and then came back up for me.
Using Bjarne as the anchor, with ice axe and crampons, plus Mir and Daniel in the front they would lower me the length of the rope, 5m, then Daniel would support me while Bjarne would re-set. Then they would slowly lower me again, mostly over snow with the occasionally small rock. Thankful that I could not see behind me and the disaster potential of them letting go.
The first step took at least an hour and my partners were getting more and more run down with each effort. The boys were being super troopers, having bivied at 5000m, eaten very little food and yet were still power houses getting me down the mountainside.
They slowly lowered me off small rocks, sidehilled me across snow slopes, maneuvered my awkward body around all sorts of hurdles. Finally looking down the valley I could see the base camp people working their way up. It looked like 4 or five, which would be a huge help with these downhill challenges. We could see Ptor skinning away and soon enough he was upon us. Asking if we needed anything from camp 1, if there were any essentials that he should grab. All I cared about was my kobo reading book and my journals. So asked him to grab those. !5 minutes later the crew of camp folks showed up, the cook, the camp facilitator,and one of the cops.
I started sobbing a bit, some pressure was removed. With so many people around it would be far easier to get me to where we wanted. I had built about a lot of resolve and calm and it was time to let some of the worry out. Small tears of gratitude flowed down my face.
Then out of nowhere we hear the buzz of a small machine. We all stopped to listen, ears tuned we discuss wether it was a heli or small plane. Most were convinced that it is a small plane but I couldn’t decide. The sound faded as the plane went up the Garol valley. Bummed we continue on, then 5 minutes later it got louder and louder. And definitely a helicopter. Relieve washed over me… most of this ordeal was almost over. The helis got closer and closer, soon enough the army helicopter was doing a fly by.Then I saw that they were looking for a place to land. I tried pointing 20 m up the hill but they didn’t seem to like it. They tried hovering nearby and couldn’t decide where to go. Then they flew away, “please don’t leave” I thought. They flew lower down the slope and landed on the crest of a moraine. All of a sudden I was being rushed down to the helicopter. I started to untie the knots that tied me to the toboggan. A bit of a frenzy with so many people around but they managed to lift me up and into the helicopter. Before the door was closed I made eye contact with Daniel and Bjarne, and thanked them. Then the props spun faster and we were up and into the air.
Now the pressure was completely off and I began sobbing. Thanking the pilots between sobs. It had taken 23 hours since my accident but finally we were in the helicopter and heading to a hospital. Wow what a complete relief. It was so sad to admit that this great adventure was over, watching the village of garol from far above, following our trail in from the air I was saddened. Sad that it was over, that I had screwed up. That I was leaving the boys, not finishing the goal with them.
From there I landed at an army base, was rushed in to a hospital, x-rayed, casted and sent off to an orthopedic surgeon. I did not want to be worked on in Pakistan so I opted with traveling back to Canada and seeing Dr. Heard. 4 days later and I was finally flying home. Somehow I managed to convince the stewardesses that I needed 3 seats and I was able to go sideways on all my flights. Then I landed in Calgary and was in Banff and undergoing surgery 6.5 days after my accident.
Here is my X-ray with the new hardware in my leg.
Two months later and I am walking and dreaming of my next adventures. What a wild adventure that was!