Articles - Diary of a fall: "One second I was on the rock the next I was in a heap on the ground..."
Edale Mountain Rescue Team carrying Rick Nash to safety. Photo: Trev Lawton
Rick Nash - Posted on 15 Nov 2010
I couldn’t possibly have predicted the consequences as I pressed the ‘send’ button. Paul opened the email and read: “Do you fancy climbing in The Peak District this weekend?” To which he replied: “Are you sure? It’s Father's Day on Sunday.”
We decided to abscond from Father's Days to travel to a friend’s place in the Peak District to do some climbing. We drove up on Saturday morning of the 20 June 2009 from Salisbury and, as we arrived, it started to rain. We popped to Burbage South where Paul insisted on climbing a Severe in the rain, which we completed just as the heavens really opened up. It was now time for the usual look round the shops in Hathersage, a cup of coffee and then down to the pub.
During the evening's festivities we hatched a cunning plan. If it was raining on Sunday we would go sailing on Carsington Water. As it turned out the weather was glorious, it was the start of the hottest two weeks of the year, so we decided on a trip to Stanage Popular End and, after completing an easy warm up, it was my turn to lead.
I opted for Gargoyle Buttress (VS 4b), well within my grade and, as I found out later, I had actually done it before! I set off placing my first number 1 Friend. I wasn't too happy with the placement so moved it, tugging on it a few times muttering the infamous word “bomber”. I paused to consider placing another piece of gear but, as I was traversing left, I was only 12 feet from the ground and I had good piece in I decided not to. I could see a good gear placement six feet to my left I headed for it. I managed to go a little bit too high so I started moving back to the good bit of gear I had already placed, that’s when it happened.
I fell off!
To this day I still do not know what happened. One second I was on the rock the next I was in a heap on the ground.
The immediate aftermath of Rick's fall, with climbers, doctors and the Edale MRT on scene at Stanage Popular. Photo: Trev Lawton
The one "bomber" piece of gear I had placed ripped completely out and I landed on a gritstone slab 12 feet below me. Initially Paul thought I had just twisted my ankle and ambled down to me, he then saw the full horror. I had totally knocked my left foot off its joint. It was now pointing towards my head and bone was sticking out of the bottom of my leg.
To his credit he did not panic and rushed down to me applying pressure and shouting for help. By this stage I was shouting a few colourful metaphors myself – something along the lines of “boy, that’s going to smart”!
If you are going to have a rock climbing accident I can highly recommend Stanage. Within seconds lots of people had turned up, two of whom were doctors (although one was a Gynaecologist!). A chap called Gerald held onto my head and kept talking to me. It seemed we had a common interest - we both wrote software. I had been doing it most of my life but could I remember at this particular moment in time how to do it?
I don’t actually recall a lot of pain, just being uncomfortable, although Paul tells a different story. As I landed I had fallen backwards into a dip with my legs up and my head resting on a rock. I kept trying to move as I was in an uncomfortable position but was told not to.
The Edale MRT, friends and assorted climbers help pass the stretcher down from the crag to flat ground ready to be loaded into the Air Ambulance. Photo: Trev Lawton
Around 10 minutes later the Edale Mountain Rescue Team turned up and it was at this point I was given some gas and air, which made me feel a bit happier. There was some discussion between the doctors and the MRT, along the lines of “I need to check him over”. It wasn’t long before the ambulance turned up and gave me some morphine, which I can highly recommend. I then heard some chap say to me: “Hi Richard I am the doctor from the Air Ambulance,” followed by “I need to put your foot back on”. This really hurt but it meant I could then could be put on a stretcher and loaded in to the helicopter. I was somewhat disappointed to find out that I would not be hoisted in using a wire.
A long row of people lined up along the path and passed the stretcher down the path to a flat area. Paul commented later that it was the first time he had seen Stanage on a hot day with no one on the rock. A wheel was placed on the stretcher and I was wheel-barrowed to the helicopter. I was then placed in the helicopter and sent to Northern and General Hospital Sheffield.
Into the Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Rutland Air Ambulance for the short journey to Sheffield Northern and General hospital. Photo: Trev Lawton
I believe that I finally arrived in A&E around one and a half hours after the accident. Once in A&E they cut all my clothes off - luckily I had put on clean underwear that morning! I was then to spend the next 48 hours with no clothes, until my wife could bring some clothes from our home near Salisbury. They also had to cut off my brand new rock boots!
At the hospital my feet and legs were x-rayed. I had smashed up my left ankle bone, in addition dislocating loads of other bones in my foot. Just for good measure I had also broken my right ankle. I went in to theatre and I woke with a very interesting arrangement of scaffolding on my left foot. I had to go in to surgery a couple more times that week. I spent the week on lots of drugs which made the days fly by.
Awaking from the initial surgery to an interesting arrangement of scaffolding on my left foot. Photo: Steve Towers
On the Thursday they took me in to theatre to take an artery and some skin from my left arm to attach onto on my left foot. I then had to spend several days in a room on my own, with the radiator on and a heated blanket on my left foot. Unfortunately this coincided with the hottest part of summer during Wimbledon week. Which would have been great if I liked tennis.
After spending two weeks in Sheffield I was transferred to Salisbury hospital, where I had to have more operations on my left foot. This time they took a muscle from my back, some skin from my right leg and glued it onto my left foot, this operation took six hours. I spent a further four weeks in Salisbury hospital before I could finally escape.
As I laid there for hours in hospital there were many high and low points. The highest being able to go the toilet for the first time for weeks without having to use a bed pan. The lowest having to pay to watch daytime TV!
In total I had 10 operations, six weeks in hospital, 12 weeks in a wheelchair followed by two months on crutches - all from falling 12 feet off an easy 4b route!
Rick Nash recovering in hospital. Photo: Steve Towers
As I write this it has now been 18 months since the accident and I can now walk unaided. Although I managed to inherit my nan's walking stick! I can hardly bend my left foot and have a limp, which I will always have. I am able to cycle long distances and have been to the Peak district several times, off-road. This is very good considering one doctor in Sheffield said I might not walk again. I have just had yet another operation to "thin down my ankle" and I am hoping to be able to get my winter mountaineering boots back on. You never know, you might see me around in Scotland, falling off an ice route....
If it had not been for the excellent work of Edale MRT, the ambulance and the Derbyshire Leicestershire and Rutland Air Ambulance, things would have been much worse. As it is I still have my foot attached and it could have been very different. There are not enough words to express my thanks to them and I will always be in their debt.
Rick kindly waived his fee for this article and photos so Climber Magazine has made a donation to Edale MRT in lieu of that payment instead and we wish him all the best in his ongoing recovery and determination to get back out in the hills. Find out more about the Edale MRT's work at www.edalemrt.co.uk