The Wizard, Aimee, Ed, Ethan, Gabby, Jamie, Matthew and me. Plus a bunch of unexpected but very much appreciated guests.
When the Wizard invited me out to do K-Main again I was in 2 minds. I don’t like repeating canyons too soon, I rarely do the same canyon more than once a season. Getting to know them too well takes a bit of the adventure out of it for me. But he had an awesome crew assembled, and it’s K-main and they were going in via the Slot.
I really wanted to check out the slot.
I knew Ed was super keen on it too so I OKed an invite for him and Ethan and jumped aboard the K-Main train.
With fires raging across the state it was definitely a factor we considered before heading out but with more favourable conditions predicted and with Kanangra-Boyd so far unaffected we felt comfortable with the decision to head out
We weren’t the only ones with that plan. Pulling up to the car park I passed a group of 3 heading out towards the entry track. There were also cars I recognised, I’d forgotten friends had planned a trip out here too. Later Gabby confirmed the group were doing K-main but had departed a few hours earlier.
Anyhoo, in dribs and drabs the rest of the crew arrived and after the usual meet and greet we hoisted packs and set off in good spirits.
We reached the cliff above the start of the main wall just as the party of 3 were setting up ropes and had a bit of friendly banter with them while we harnessed up before heading further around to the top of the slot.
But lets not get ahead of ourselves
We traverse around to the top of the slot. And what an awesome looking slot it was.
I help the Wizard rig up and he sends me down first
Ethan and Jamie followed
Jamie was just heading down to start setting up the next anchor when we heard one of the most horrid sounds I’ve ever heard, the unmistakable sound of a body falling onto rock. There followed silence. It probably lasted a fraction of a second but it seemed like an eternity. My heart sank as I feared the worst. We were 60m down a 150m waterfall. Then a scream and a god-awful moan.
It might sound odd but that moan was like a relief valve being set off. At least he was alive, if in all sorts of trouble.
Then the girls in his group began screaming for help. We called out desperately trying to reassure them we were coming.
Looking up I saw Jamie’s son Matt was on rope and descending. At the time I thought he was too far down to get him to stop so belayed him down.
Up top others in our crew had mobilised to see what they could do, but for now I was oblivious to that.
The calls for help seemed to becoming from below us and with Jamie being a paramedic our first thought was to get him down to the injured person ASAP. The abseil line was set up and he was getting ready to go but luckily training kicked in and we stopped to talk through the situation.
Are you sure they are below us or even if we could get across to them?
Not really. We’d be better approaching from above.
We call up that we will ascend. The others call down and agree it’s our best option and ask us to send up the spare rope in case they need to set up lines to get down to the injured party. They let us know Aimee had set off her PLB and Ed was going to where we knew there was mobile reception to phone through details as we knew them.
Again I was thinking we needed to get Jamie up so he could respond if necessary. Now I’m going to admit I was making some big assumptions at the time. For whatever reason I had assumed Jamie was a member of vertical/access squad, even when he said he hadn’t prussiked for a while I didn’t register that wasn’t the case. In hindsight I probably should have went up first and set a top haul but hindsight is as handy as a hat full of dandruff when you are neck deep in a shit sandwich.
A 55m prussik isn’t fun at the best of times so I tried to set him up with an assisted system where a little redirect meant by pulling on the rope from below in time with him stepping up I could give him a little help. Coordinating that is a bit harder than it sounds but eventually he got to the top.
It was about then the chopper arrived, I was blown away about how quick it had responded. But to be honest I have a poor concept of time anyway so I have no idea how long it had been. I’d been told about the down draft by friends in the rescue crew and got Matt and Ethan to hug the walls in case debris came tumbling in. To keep a 9t machine in the air requires 9t of air to be pushed down. It’s bloody awesome.
My turn up the rope. Ethan said he wasn’t confident in his prussik skills. Once up top I planned to set a up a haul system to bring Matt up anyway and we decided it would be best to get Ethan out the same way.
After watching Jamie I got an idea to improve my prussik technique. Is now the best time to test a new technique? Bugger it, it would be quick and simple to convert back if it wasn’t working so why not. To my relief it worked well and if I’m totally honest I very nearly enjoyed the ascent.
I’m greeted at the top by Gabby and we go about setting up a 3:1 haul system.
Now this is stuff I know and I went into autopilot as we threw ourselves into the task at hand. We had limited space so would need to reset time and time again (pretty sure we went up and down the 3m of hill 254gazillion times) but we got Matt up reasonably quick and easy.
That may have made me a little over confident and I got Ethan to bring mine and Jamie’s packs with him.
By this time my office boy hands were blistered ( Well the blisters had well and true burst by then, There was big chunks of skin missing. note to self pack gloves even if you don’t use them to abseil) and I had resorted to tying a VT prussik from my harness to the haul line and basically throwing myself down the hill as Gabby assisted. (pretty sure I did this an extra fuctillion times) but even that got a bit much and I converted the system to a 9:1.
This made hauling much easier but much slower, which gave us an extra complication. Ethan’s harness was starting to cut circulation in his legs. Hang syndrome is a very serious hazard. We got him to a ledge where he was able to stretch out his legs and get blood flowing. While he did that we hauled the bags up separately. The old hindsight chestnut again, I should have done this to start with.
By then Mark and Jamie were back and between us we got Ethan up the rest of the way, stowed our gear and made our way around to see if we could help at all. The chopper was dropping another paramedic and a doctor as we arrived. We helped cart their gear down.
Rounding the corner I see our mate Jen was one of the first responders. I would have been reassured no matter who was in the cavalierly but I was doubly put at ease to see Jen’s smiling face.
We were put to work, both us and our gear recruited to help set anchors for the haul system while waiting for more ground troupes to arrive.
TBH I was honoured they put their trust in us to do that but will say they definitely double checked all our work and changed a knot or two to comply with their standards
Once the ground crews arrived we were pretty much just spectators and moral support. and once more volunteers were confirmed to be on the way it was suggested we leave to make room. By that stage t was about 7:30pm and they had 50m of haulling to get the patient to the top. Not to mention His two friends still down on the ledge.
I wish the injured person a speedy recovery and hope his party members are not too traumatised. I know it would have shook me up something terrible.
Now I haven’t put any details of the incident into this write up. The reason for that is even though we were close by and assisting a lot of it is hearsay and some of the stuff reported on social media already isn’t right. And to be honest it’s not my story to tell.
Hopefully when the people involved recover they will be comfortable enough to share the facts as I think there are some good learnings to be had from it. For now I’m just thankful it was a rescue and not a body retrieval and I’m in total awe of the response from the rescue crews
I’ll add some thoughts on things from my perspective about how our group responded
- Practising self and assisted rescue techniques is essential. Knowing how to do stuff is very different from being able to do it when the pressures on. Being well practised means that when the heat is on things become second nature. Certainly helps keep you calm
- Stay calm and talk through options before committing yourselves to a course of action that might not be the best one. Your first priority is making sure you are not putting your self in danger or making things more complicated for rescuers. We very nearly committed ourselves to the next abseil. Jamie’s paramedics training and my experience as a workplace responder meant we were able to pull back to discuss our plan and make the much better choice of ascending and approaching from above.
- PLBs are great but if you can get reception and make a call as well it gives the rescue teams a far better chance of mobilising exactly what they need from the start. (Consider getting a SpoteXe or Inreach between your group of friends). Both our group and the other set off PLBs, interestingly responders stated having 2 units go off at the same location gave them confirmation the situation was urgent and not just someone lost. This somewhat contradicts advice I had previously that you should only set off 1 as 2 is unnecessary and may confuse matters
- Having a spare safety rope/pull cord/ fiddle stick set up. is a “very good idea”.
- I’ve always tended to lead abseils on the trips I do, for what ever reason people put their trust in me going first. In the continuing debrief our group is going throu it was suggested by one member that while several of our party are just as proficient at setting anchors and abseiling when it came to rigging haul systems they all turned to me. And so perhaps it would have been better for me to be the safety guy at the top. I had full faith in the people behind me but its definitely something each group should consider. Whose skill set best suits what role in the party?
- The rescue personnel are bloody awesome
Oh and a massive thanks to each and every member of our group. Your quick thinking, level headedness, team work and just the way you lot looked after each other, at the time and in the following days, is a credit to each of you.
PS most of the photos above were provided by Gabby and Aimee, even thou I didn’t credit each individual one and rescue crews OKed and even encouraged the documentation.
Oh except the photos in the slot they are mine. Unfortunately for them the girls didn’t get to do the best prussik ascent ever, or sumfink
PPS There has been a bit of noise on the socials about whether the earlier group should have aborted their trip to come back to help. What a load of bollocks.
- a. Their first priority is the safety of their party
- b. They were 200 vertical meters , several abseils, scrambles and swims further down
- c. At least 1 of their leaders ascended the pitch he had just descended but realised the incident was too far back up the canyon for them to get to
- d. They heard the calls for help. They probably also heard our calls we were coming to assist
- e. We were 25m away with no easy way to get across. By the time I ascended 1 55m pitch and got my party members up First responders were already onsite. By the time the other party could possibly have made it back the ground crews had arrived and things were getting crowded. We got thanked and it was politely suggested we leave. What exactly was the other party going to do other than get in the way?
- f. Unless you are there with the limited the info at the time and were part of the decision making process I think it takes a fair bit of arrogance to criticise. Sure, ask the question of why they made the decision they did and decide for yourself what you would or wouldn’t do in the situation but to pay out on them when you have no idea what it’s like to be in that situation….. As some one who was there and who went through the decision making process of whether it was safer for us to continue down or ascend back up to try and assist I have full respect for them and the decision they made. Deciding to risk people on ascent is not a decision that sat lightly with me and I know it put pressure on those at the top. Ascending puts you on the rope a lot longer than descending. There is also a lot more moving around so edge protection is so much more crucial. In the end it was the right decision for us. it might not always be the best option thou.
- g. Some people need to realise no matter how much they carry on like a dick online it wont make theirs any bigger
Peace, love and mungbeans. Flynny