Ice Axe Found in Sticil Face... Rescue Story
by Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC Jan/2011
This news story has been read 13,626 times
Sticil Face Crux; Deep Breath
© geoff.comley, Dec 2010
An ice axe has been found stuck in the classic route of Sticil Face on Shelterstone in the Cairngorms...
What started as a simple UKC forum post to help return a lost ice-axe to its owner has morphed in to a compelling story of adventure in the mountains.
When UKC User Mark-abz took a huge fall from the crux of the thin ice classic Sticil Face, little did he know that his misadventure would be of such interest to the wider climbing community.
He was rescued (full story below) and is now recovered from his fall, but the accident could easily have been a serious one and it is due to the hard work of the Mountain Rescue, Mark's son Alex and of UKC forum user 'Gripped' that Mark's situation wasn't much more serious.
Mark told UKC:
"I would really like to thank those people that helped on the day plus the Cairngorm Mountain rescue."
How the UKC story started:
'Graham S' posted the following message in the UKC Forums:
We found an ice tool at the top of the crux pitch on Sticil Face yesterday. I would like to return it to the rightful owner - correct description of the tool, including colour of tat attached to it will be deemed sufficient to identify the owner. I will return for no fee other than postage and a full account of the story ;-) PM for return. Hope all members of the party are relatively unscathed. Regards.
A few posts later 'Gambit' made a UKC Logbooks discovery:
Just seen this on the on the Sticil Face log:
"Thin conditions. Fall from top of icicle pitch. Airlifted out to Inverness. Absolutely no recollection of what happened. 2 ropes, a rucksack and axe left for some lucky soul.
mark-abz - Lead dnf - 02/Jan/11 with Alex"
And then 'Gripped' gave us the blow by blow account:
"I handed Mark's ropes and rucksack into Aviemore police station, I also handed in a sleeping bag which I borrowed off a kind stranger, this was used to keep Mark warm while we waited for the RAF, many thanks.
This is what happened, he seems to have gotten away with just a bit of a bashing so it should be okay to tell the story, and all because as usual I struggle to get out of bed in the morning, that five extra minutes of 5am snoozing caught me up in it all!!
We came down Castle Gates only to see a party just get to the start of Scorpion ahead of us, so that was out, another team were on the Sword and my mate had already done Route Major twice before, so we headed down to look at Sticil Face, the crux looked lean, my mate could lead that! A father and son team were just setting off up it, we deliberated, then figured that it weaved a bit and had two finishes so we shouldn't get in each others way that much.
We racked up and I lead off moving up easy ground to the first stance where Alex (the son) was belaying, his father had just reached the stance below the crux. Alex followed him and I started off when Alex neared about 2/3's the way up this pitch. I arrived at the belay just as Mark was setting off on the thin crux. I built my belay and my mate started up. Mark was high on the crux pitch by this time, when he fell, maybe 50 foot'ish, passing by us on the stance, stopping just on/over the lip of an wee overhang, maybe 15 foot'ish away. He was unresponsive, upside down and blood was visible on the snow ramp.
I called down and my mate Rob reversed back to the safety of his stance. I used my ropes to get down to Mark as quickly as possible as I wanted to get him upright asap and make sure that his airway was clear. Getting him upright was a real struggle, heavy bugger!!! But I got him upright with help from a sling and then I clipped him to me as I was worried the ice screw that had stopped him might pop. If he had gone any further the only way would have been to abseil to him. He had a deep cut to his jaw and was unconscious. I knew this was an airlift job so Rob left to get high and find some mobile reception. Alex got going on his whistle, it wasn't very loud, maybe a new one is needed!
A few minutes followed and Mark started to come around a little, movement in his arms and stuff, groggy head movements, but not much, I egged him on to help me out, placing my axes for him, bumping him up with my legs and so on while his son gave tension on his rope. After a struggle we got him to the ledge and sat him down on ropes and a rucksack to keep him off the snow. A man appeared below us and tied a sleeping bag to my ropes (which I had pulled through), this would keep Mark warm while we waited for the chopper. He was in and out of consciousness and delirious but breathing which was a big relief. Part of the time he seemed to be sleeping like a baby, snoring away quite content!
The chopper came quickly but it buzzed around doing other things, even passing us by but not seeming to notice us on this large cliff. Maybe they had another job on. Eventually they came back our way, as some-one in the basin set off an orange smoke bomb. The helicopter touched down briefly to talk to them and then it came to us. A paramedic was lowered to us, clipped into our belay, the chopper left, then the paramedic checked Mark out, bandaging his chin up and fitted a neck brace, he had pain in his arm as well. The helicopter returned, Alex was airlifted out, followed by the paramedic and Mark together.
I was left to abseil for my gear, there was no way I was leaving that behind!
I also coiled Mark's ropes and put them in his rucksack. I cleared my gear down to the first stance, lowered the rucksacks from here and released my ropes with them into the coire, off they scooted to the boulders. I soloed down the easy ground and then into the coire. I packed up on terra firma with the last light, had a nice cup of tea from my flask, enjoyed the silence of the coire and walked out with everything via Coire Domhain. When I got into mobile reception I had quite a few messages on my phone from various police stations and my mate who was worried over my where about's, maybe thinking I'd hitched a ride with the Yellow Bird.
Sorry Mark but I ate a load of chocolate bars in your pack on the walk out, I was famished and effing knackered!!!
I hope you can get back on things quickly. I'll be back out as soon as I can, Scottish winter climbing is the some of the best."
All's well that ends well and luckily for Mark he has no serious injuries.
Accidents can happen to anyone in the mountains and we have a great deal of thanks to give to the rescue services. Anecdotes like this one prove just how small a community it is that we live in.
And lets hope Mark has got his ice axe back and will get to use it again this season!