Headhunted on Skogshorn

After the underwhelming climbing experience on Siluetten two days prior I was keen to try a route that would stay in my memory a little longer. Kruttårnet-Lettvinten looked a good option. It was the longest route on Skogshorn, totalling 470m and 14 pitches, and followed a prominent ridge via a fore-summit at mid-height. It looked well-suited for a solo attempt because of it's amiable grade and stretches of easier ground that could be covered quickly by myself. The harder pitches lay in the upper half, where the Skogshorn rock quality was generally better, and therefore likely suitable for back-roping if necessary. The route could also be escaped from the top of Kruttårnet via a scree gully should I not fancy the harder pitches, and consequently not overly committing.

The South Face of Skogshorn

As with Overaskelsen and Siluetten some of the rock was loose on the initial pitches. Particularly the first pitch. I made best efforts to climb primarily with my feet whilst keeping my hands angled in a manner that facilitated climbing whilst guarding against an unexpected slip. Largely it was a matter of choosing the line of least resistance rather than following an absolute line and after the initial looseness the climbing became easier.

Beneath the start of the route

Better rock after the initial loose pitch

Kruttårnet-Lettvinten lay in the middle of Skogshorn's South face and its open environment provided some fine views in all directions. The deep cut chimneys of Lanciakaminen and Skogshorndiederet still contained remnants of bleached white ice that begged some attention come early winter. To my the left the eastern aspect of the Central Pillar also looked ripe for some exploration during the summer months.

The Central Pillar

The fore-summit of Kruttårnet provided a good opportunity to take some rest and admire the upper half of the route, which followed a steeper wall of clean-looking rock. It looked inviting, with just a few small white patches towards the very top.

The upper half of Kruttårnet-Lettvinten

Further examination from directly beneath the next pitch highlighted some fast dripping water through a corner system higher on the route. Without closer investigation it was difficult to judge how much of a problem this seepage would pose. The next pitch was 4+, followed by a couple of easier pitches, followed by a second 4+, where presumably the wet rock lay. All reversible I anticipated, should the route not be in adequate condition.

Residual snow blanketing the scree slopes beneath the upper wall meant it was impossible to leave the ground with dry soles. I decided the sensible approach would be to start climbing in my approach shoes and then change to my rock shoes at first opportunity once above the snow line. The climbing became harder than anything previous after only a few moves so decided to place a large nut and clip my four metre cordelette to it. The difficulties looked short-lived and so anticipated being able to easily strip the gear from a little higher.

I hear a whooshing sound from above. As though a fighter jet is about to fly over the mountain a second later. I instinctively look up out out of curiosity, only to be immediately struck in the face by something large. Big enough to cause me to sag under its impact. It has left me dazed momentarily but I largely have my cognition, albeit not all my senses as my left eye vision has diminished to a barely usable level. The left side of my face is numb and painful. I'm bleeding but I don't know where from. What has just hit me? Ice? Yes, it must have been a remnant of ice from high on the face.

In a matter of seconds everything about the day has changed and it is obvious that I need to go down. I clip myself to the large nut using a quickdraw and remove the rope from my bag in order to made a short abseil. I'm just about to unclip the quickdraw to start my descent when I realise my belay plate is still on the back of my harness. Evidently I am either in shock, am disorientated, or am suffering from lack of visual feedback. I make the short abseil to the snow-covered scree slope from where I can make my escape down the gully that neighbours Kruttårnet.

By this point left eye vision is now a uniform blur of white light that is unable to distinguish between even land and sky. I am effectively blind in one eye. I take a picture of my face and peer into the LCD screen with my good eye to examine the damage:



The blood at least looks to be focused around my forehead and away from my eye. All things considered, the eye itself looks normal, which is a moderate relief at this stage. I'm also taking quiet comfort that my vision took a couple of minutes to fully degrade rather than being immediate. Seeing white is also feels better than seeing black.

Without delay I start descend the gully. The first 100m are still covered in snow, meaning I need to kick steps. After maybe 50m I stop to make the inevitable call to 113 (ambulance) to discuss my predicament. I'm confident that I can extract myself from the side of the mountain but I know that eye possibly needs urgent attention. I want to give them as much notice as possible. I know they will likely send a helicopter but know there is no chance of it plucking me from my current location as I am closely bounded by cliffs on both sides. As I end the call see that the screen of my mobile phone is covered in blood as my left ear is also bleeding.


The loss of vision in one eye has not only affected my ability to judge distances but also gradients. I make a concerted effort to descend with my good eye facing outwards so that I can better see the forthcoming terrain. My walking poles provide much needed assistance in aiding my judgement.


The phone soon rings but I am unable to answer because my fingers are wet from the snow and unable to swipe the screen. I try to dry them on my clothes but fumble my phone in the process. It skates down the final few meters of snow before coming to rest on the scree. I retrieve it and soon the phone was ringing again. Again I try to swipe the now cracked screen, this time with success. It is an ambulance team positioned close to Ulsåkstugu on the gravel road below. A helicopter is on it's way they tell me.


For the large part the angle of the gully remains kind during my descent. A couple of times it steepens to necessitate down-climbing, which makes route-finding harder and judging distances to foot placements all the more precarious. With extra caution these pass without drama.


By the time I hear rota blades I am towards the base of the gully. Three or four passes are needed before the helicopter can see me. This is despite me describing my relative whereabouts over my mobile and also wearing bright green. I'm a small dot on a vast face. The helicopter settles down on flat ground beneath it to await my arrival.


Once out of the gully I move faster over the easier ground with greater confidence. I bound up to the helicopter without need for the staff to leave its company, climb aboard when instructed, and belt up independently. I am at least glad to have been able to help myself up to this point.


The helicopter makes a brief flight to the ambulance a few hundred metres lower. Maybe the shortest helicopter ride I will ever take. Following a provisional examination it is decided that I should be driven by ambulance to the Gol legevakt for a further exam by a doctor. I spend the journey dripping saline into my eye from an intravenous bag. The doctor at Gol feels that a detailed examination by an ophthalmologist is needed and so I am to be driven by taxi to Ullevål Sykehus in Oslo (my place of work) for an examination the same evening.

On the plus side my vision has started to improve whilst in Gol. I have progressed from being barely being able to see a hand in front of my face to being able to count fingers. I can make out basic features such as doors and lights in the room and eventually my vision is good enough to clean my face and find some food in my bag. Congealed blood is concentrated around the left side of my face at my forehead, ear and side of neck. A coverage extending a foot in diameter indicating the size of the impact. My left eye looks angry. It is bloodshot and the pupil fully enlarged.

It is 8pm by the time I reach Ullevål. Everything is fortunately looking ok after an exam. There is evidence of an initial bleed in the front of the eye but this has long stopped. I have a pupil fixed in dilation but am told this usually settles in weeks to months. Shortly after 10pm I leave in a taxi for home with strict instructions to do nothing to raise the heart rate for the next week in order to avoid possible further bleeding. I'm very much grateful to the staff that helped me through the day and also relieved. Also to my girlfriend Anna for flying back from Stockholm the same evening to look after me.

24 hours after impact

I felt somewhat fortunate to have avoided a more substantial injury to my eye but there again felt unlucky to have been hit unaware in the first place. I think I'll put it in the 'shit happens' box. Most climbers I think see falling debris of worrying size at some point in their climbing lives. Most see it fly past them or are able to react. Maybe a belayer could have alerted me in principle but in practice I'm almost certain that in this case they would have been tucked against the rock beneath my legs and able to see nothing. In hindsight the obvious error was looking up when hearing the whooshing sound but that was largely a instinctive response of curiosity. Hopefully this is my bad luck dealt for a while at any rate.

Comments

  1. Hi Lee,

    Have you tried this route again after the accident? Could you say somenthing about climbing Kruttårnet - Lettvinten in a team of two? How hard is it to find where should I place a protections?
    Greetings, Kirill.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry about the slow reply. Have been away from internet for the last month. Would think good protection might be quite hard to find on the first few pitches as a lot of loose rock. Sure it will be fine thereafter.

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Pakistan Debrief: What worked and what didn't

Vinstradalen, Oppdal

A Rough Guide to Climbing at Dover