A recent story in the UK newspapers highlights the importance of carrying and using an ice axe on tricky terrain that is covered in snow or ice, especially if it is steep. The report in Britain’s Telegraph newspaper notes that a 50-year-old walker was out in the hills in January (remember this was one of Europe’s coldest and snowiest winters in years) when he slipped and fell off a high hill in poor visibility. As luck would have it he was carrying an ice axe that he had only recently bought for climbing Mont Blanc. He was able to arrest his fall, which saved his life. The report is not clear whether he used a proper self-arrest technique (it just says he stuck out his axe) nor does it say what kind of ice axe he was using. Either way, it seems clear that without it he would have been in serious trouble.
The bloke, a certain John Wrightson who has been walking in these hills for years and knew the route he was on really well, also showed real character after the fall.
This is an age when people set out into the outdoors completely unprepared and then call out the rescue service at the flimsiest excuse – “I was tired” is one of the reasons that heard increasingly often by people who have called mountain rescue teams out in the mountains in the UK these days. Instead of just calling for help, he took care of himself:
After catching his breath he decided it would be safer to climb back to the summit rather than heading towards Red Tarn. “I did think about calling the emergency services because I was in difficulties, but I would never put them through that.
Instead he set off back through the blizzard and made his way back home. Although the walk is a fairly simple one in clear weather it took him almost twice as long as usual because of the poor visibility. As for the moral of the story – the bloke concludes that from now on, he’ll be taking his ice axe with him all the time.