Malcolm Watts’ tale from the boot room explains why a HF Holidays’ leader is always useful to have near – especially on a guided walking at Selva holiday.
Read on for his tale, caution this tale contains adventure, injury and heroism:
“‘Oh, b*****!’ I don’t often swear. And I wouldn’t normally do so on an HF holiday. But the ground had disappeared from beneath me at an alarming rate. And my shoulder had made contact with the rock with a sickening thud.
‘Ow,’ I groaned. ‘That hurt!’ ‘I’m sure it did,’ said an American voice behind me. I just lay there. Things did not look too good.
The local bus had taken us from the town square in Selva out of the valley to new scenery high up in the mountains an hour’s drive away.
Then we’d set off – first up a long steady slope that took us to the foot of the cliffs that soared overhead and then along a balcony path across the scree.
This was the challenging section. At times I was almost on my hands and knees. One false move could prove disastrous.
It was one of those walks where, looking ahead to where you’re going or back to where you’ve been, you wonder whether there actually is a path that human beings could tread.
Were we really going to find a way across those acres of limestone scree? How on earthhad we managed to find a route beneath the foot of that cliff? What chance did we have of making it to the refugio in one piece?
But, of course we did. We were experienced walkers after all, well equipped, expertly led and (for our age, i.e. the late 50s) in the peak of condition.
A walk like this might have been challenging but it was well within our capabilities.
And the scenery was spectacular – towering cliffs above us; glimpses of lush valleys down below; snow clad mountains higher up, the clouds brushing the tops of the peaks.
There was the photograph of a lifetime in every direction, memories to carry to the grave.
Whatever risk there might have been in coming up here was infinitely worth it. There was even the thrill of seeing a helicopter climbing up the valley and circling frighteningly close to the mountainside a mile away, a heavy load slung beneath it.
Crash! The helicopter disappeared from view as the ground came up to meet me. Other members of the group gathered around in seconds.
Peter, our HF leader, was summoned from further down the path. I lay back on my rucksack. ‘Can you move your legs?’ ‘Where does it hurt?’ I certainly wasn’t going to be getting up again in a hurry. ‘Do you want a drink?’ ‘Are you warm enough?’ Oh dear! I’d turned into one of those casualties on the mountains that you read about in magazines.
The challenge was going to be getting me down.
But an injured man on a mountainside is no problem for an HF leader, especially when he has the help and support of a dozen or more willing volunteers. He checked me out for serious damage, put my injured arm into a sling and worked out the best route back to civilisation.
A collection of helping hands got me on my feet as quickly and as painlessly as they could (well, not quite painlessly), someone carried my pack, they gathered up the remains of my camera and, with Peter holding my hand for support and encouragement, we were off.
Down we went – over a thousand feet of bare mountainside to the gondola station. How long it took, I don’t know.
But together Peter and I negotiated the rocks and gulleys, the steep declines and the stretches of scree, stopping every now again for me to push my glasses back up my nose before I lost them as well.
At one point the scree carried me and I started to slide out of control. Peter stood there, immovable, and I ground to a halt.
‘Thank you,’ I said, mightily relieved. ‘You are my rock.’ ‘Of course,’ he replied. ‘That’s my name.’
And so we made it down – down to the gondola station, down to the bus stop in the village and down to the medical centre in Selva. And that was where the fun began.
‘You’ve fractured your arm,’ the doctor told me. He must have guessed as much from the cry of pain when he pushed the x-ray plate beneath me and twisted my arm as far as it would turn.
‘You may need a small operation when you get back to England.’ And, ‘Drop your pants, I’m going to give you an injection.’ Just at that moment Sarah entered the room with the insurance documents.
They put me in a complicated sling that would keep me secure till I reached home but without preventing me from boarding the plane on Saturday.
‘Right, now you have a drink,’ said the doctor. ‘My friend will take you.’ And, with neither Peter nor I having a clue what was going on, his assistant led us to the adjacent café (where I promptly collided with the door and nearly passed out with the pain).
‘This is my special drink,’ the assistant told us. Champagne, sparkling water and … some secret ingredient that passed me by in all the excitement.
It was, so she and Peter assured me, delicious. And it went down well with the slices of pizza they brought over for us to eat.
At last we were able to say our goodbyes without offence. We were to be back at the medical centre at 9.00 the following morning to check I was okay.
For now we quickly got ourselves ready for dinner. The briefing meeting had just come to an end as I stepped into the lounge and, although the whole of the HF party gave me a round of applause, I knew it was Peter and the rest of them who really deserved it.
Postscript: I didn’t need an operation as the doctor had thought. And, most important of all, we made it to Mayrhofen and back this year in one piece.”
Thank you Malcolm for sharing your tale, we’re glad you were well looked after and weren’t put off!