“Lowering myself from ledge to ledge I muttered ‘One wrong move here, Ed, and you’re a goner.’ I found myself on a small ledge with no way out: one side an overhang, the other a gully with a big drop, wet and dark.”
This is part of our series of reader submissions on getting lost and lessons learned the hard way. To read more entries, and to find out how to submit your own, see this page.
By Ed Jones
It was a beautiful June day on the summit of Carrauntoohil, and there was quite a party up on top. An American took a photo of me under the summit cross, whilst I waved the Irish flag that lived beneath it.
Retracing my steps down from the summit, meeting people coming up, I would tell them “Only another ten miles to go!” Ha-ha! Near the top of the Devil’s Ladder I confidently strode towards what I thought was the ‘rocky outcrop’ mentioned by my guide. My alternative descent route was through ‘Heaven’s Gate’ (two big rocks) and then down the north-east side of the mountain. “It must be just down here a bit,” I thought, and continued till I found what I thought was my ‘track’. The ‘track’ was not very well defined and I accepted it was probably seldom trod and continued on what was an increasingly difficult route.
My photocopied guide had mentioned “sheer drops to your right”, which were there all right. A few slips on wet ground and my confidence in the route, guide, and my own abilities was dwindling. “You know, I bet this isn’t the path, I’m far too high up,” I thought. “I’ll make my way down a bit… well, that’s the way I want to go!”
After a few dead ends and precipices, I doubled back and headed for the only visually inviting target: the path I’d come up on.
Lowering myself from ledge to ledge I muttered “One wrong move here, Ed, and you’re a goner.” I found myself on a small ledge with no way out: one side an overhang, the other a gully with a big drop, wet and dark; back up, the steep rock face I had just dropped off. If I tried to climb back up and slipped I would more than likely drop to my doom. Surveying and analysing my ledge, I concluded it would be safer not to make a move.
I took out my whistle and gave it three sharp blasts. People stopped and looked up from below. I blasted out three more toots and shouted “I’M STUCK… HELP!” I waved my red woolly hat above my head and received the same signal back from the folk below. They seemed like ants 400m beneath me.
I heard the call “I’m coming up for you,” and soon enough someone arrived – a man hailing from Norway. I forget his name, as you do when you are stuck on the country’s highest mountain.
“I am below the ledge you are on but I can’t get up any higher,” he yelled.
“You would only be stuck like me if you did,” I replied.
“I will try to see if there is another way on this side,” he said.
“I don’t think so – it’s a sheer drop and a damp gully.”
We soon realised it was useless. We had no rope, but the Norwegian’s girlfriend had a phone and called Mountain Rescue. My Norwegian friend said he would move down a bit to meet the rescue team when they arrived, and asked me to be patient. I was feeling kind of nervous, thinking I was stuck on a big mountain, but also excited that rescue was imminent.
“We swung in and out, off overhangs, into moss and onto loose rocks, which we ushered away shouting “BELOW!” as they fell”
I broke out my binoculars to see how many people were looking at me from below… there was always someone looking up, which helped to prevent me from feeling alone, even though I was. But I also thought that they were just waiting for me to fall! My Norwegian friend shouted to me periodically to ask if I was OK. To amuse myself I used the binoculars to view sheep on the opposite mountainside, then counted them; I scored 47. Then I rated the sheep for precarious positioning. I was getting a bit bored.
Finally the little toy truck arrived far below. Four ants emerged as I furiously waved my red hat, and was eventually spotted. The ants waved back and shouted.
An eternity passed until I caught sound of my rescuers above me.
“I’m here. Go to your right a bit – OK. I can see you now, can you get up the side there?”
“No, there’s a big drop next to it.”
“OK, we’ll come down the gully to you.”
Another age passed till I saw a figure enter the gully above.
“What we’ll do is abseil down. I’m not coming any further without a rope.”
Crumbs! They needed a rope just to get to me!
Another age passed as more ants arrived from below. Eventually Tim – who I put at around 50 or so – came swinging into view on the end of a thin white rope. He made his way down the gully to my right and clambered onto my ledge. I put my helmet on, courtesy of Tim, and harnessed onto to his rope. Tim instructed me to make my way to the gully. We readied to descend into no-man’s land.
Looking down was a tad scary, but look I did to ready myself for what was next. Tim went first, controlling the descent with a switch on the rope. We swung in and out, off overhangs, into moss and onto loose rocks, which we ushered away shouting “BELOW!” as they fell. Down two biggish drops; only one more to freedom. Finally touchdown, into a reception of soaking-wet moss. We were greeted by six of the ants, which had now become people – they gave me choccy and water.
“Thank the almighty that’s over with,” I thought. I regained my composure and enquired about the operation as we made our way down to the three awaiting trucks. My Norwegian friends had disappeared, which was a shame; I wanted to buy them a drink at least. On the drive down to the team’s HQ a chap in the back of the wagon had a call from the papers. He told them of my rescue on the mountain: “An English visitor was stuck on a ledge… he could have got off and down very quickly but would have come to a very sudden stop, which would not have been beneficial to his health.”
Many thanks go out to the 16 kind folk of the Kerry Mountain Rescue team and to the unknown Norwegians whose alarm raising and rescue attempt will always be revered. Seriousness aside, after my ordeal one rescuer said, “What’s your last name?… OK that’s called Jones’s Gully now.” Ha! A part of Ireland’s highest mountain named after me!
The following year, I completed the Offa’s Dyke Path and raised over £200 for Kerry Mountain Rescue – many thanks again guys.