Double fall in West Waterfall Gully
November 30, 2020
Cockermouth Mountain Rescue Team was called out at 15:50 on 29th November to assist a party of three males descending Pillar. The group had become disorientated whilst attempting to descend from the mountain, ending up in West Waterfall Gully in fading light and clag. One of the group had fallen approx 50ft and sustained a serious head injury, a second member then fell a similar distance whilst attempting to help his friend.
Initially it was not clear where the incident had taken place, with the emergency call stating Buttermere, however as the initial Team vehicles were dispatched, it was established that the casualties were somewhere below Pillar Rock over Ennerdale.
Upon confirming the location the Team Leader requested support from a HM Coastguard Helicopter and Rescue 936 from Caernarfon was dispatched to assist.
The first vehicle arrived at the base of Pillar at roughly 16:40, and a party of three began to ascend via Pillar Ride. As the group were climbing they heard shouts for help in the forest below, subsequently the second Team vehicle was diverted to locate the source of the cries. At 17:05 a casualty with severe head injuries was located in the woods, attempting to walk for help. He was treated at the scene by team members, transferred to a NWAS ambulance and taken to hospital for further medical attention.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Team had continued to climb Pillar where it became apparent that the second casualty and final member of the group were stuck high on either side of the West Waterfall, adjacent to Pillar Rock. Team members accessed the fallen casualty, who had sustained back, rib and hand injuries in his fall, via Green Ledge. He was secured and treated on scene whilst the HM Coastguard Helicopter attempted to move in to winch, unfortunately the conditions and proximity to Pillar Rock made it impossible, so R936 retreated to refuel in Blackpool, intending to return once the casualty had been moved to a more accessible location.
A twin rope system was set up, and the casualty was lowered in a stretcher down the technically challenging West Waterfall gully to the combe below. By the time the team had extricated the casualty from the gully, Rescue 936 had returned from refuelling and was able to access the combe and winch the casualty aboard, before onward transfer to a land ambulance at Bowness Knott.
Whilst the injured party was being lowered down the gully, his uninjured companion was located cragfast above the gully. He was secured and raised back to safe ground then walked off the mountain to the Team vehicles waiting in the valley bottom.
Team Leader Andrew McNeil said;
‘This was a complicated rescue with a lot going on. Three casualties, two of which had significant injuries following lengthy falls, and a third cragfast in a precarious location, all in a very remote, steep and loose mountain environment, at night, in fog. We had 22 team members on the hill and every one was needed to deal with what, in effect, was three separate and very different rescues.
‘Casualty care and a long technical stretcher lower down West Waterfall Gully, a crag pick off and a raise to safety of the uninjured cragfast casualty, and a search with casualty care given to the third ‘walking wounded’ who had somehow managed to get himself off the mountain, through the forest almost to the forestry track, with a very significant head injury sustained during his fall.
‘HM Coastguard Helicopter, Rescue 936 from Caernarfon stayed on scene with dogged determination to assist, despite thick fog rolling in and out, eventually managing to return after refuelling in Blackpool and winch the stretchered casualty onboard during a brief clear weather window.’
This was the Teams 29th callout of 2020, it lasted roughly six hours and involved 22 Team Members, the North West Ambulance Service and HM Coastguard from Caernarfon. Cockermouth Mountain Rescue Team wishes all casualties a speedy recovery.