The 5 intrepid Bruts, a group of aging trampers proud to be on their 33rd consecutive annual week-long tramp left the Waimak Falls hut at 8.15 heading back down the rocky trail. They criss crossed the river towards Carrington hut, on the confluence of White and Waimak rivers and 6 hours from the road end at Klondyke corner.
Memories of that ‘corner’ buzzed in my head like yesterday the 1987 Coast to Coast was an outstanding but brutal event.
The haphazardly marked track, led us on an easy half day walk. Before the much anticipated, significantly more strenuous goat track up to Barker hut, the highest hut in the National Park, the following day.
We hiked through a glorious panorama of alpine delight, hebes, snow tussocks, Spaniards and the very special white floating gentians. Vistas to take the breath away, mountains, waterfalls springing mysteriously from the near vertical rock face, massive rocky outcrops. At every turn there was another photo opportunity. We were walking on air, on a glorious late summer morning.
The tumble was unexpected, unusual and with over 50 years of tramping, a first of any significance.
Into the mountain beech forest, steeply above the river the track ran past a beautiful mossy waterfall. I’d paused to take a photo which became a video, I turned to take the first step and catching a slippery rock fell. My right boot wedged between two rocks. Poles, pack, flailing arms and legs, fortuitously landing on my pack. Caste, I felt for pain, but nothing except soreness in the lower right leg.
-What a rooky this fall was totally caused by not preparing – camera away, poles to the ready prior to taking that first step!-
My tramping buddies were quick to untangle and hoist me unceremoniously onto the track. And now the leg was getting much more painful. Gingerly I stripped off my gaiters and felt the area just above the ankle on the outside of the right leg a bit lumpy and sore but optimistically I was going to get up and work my way into walking. I figured walking/hobbling the hour to Carrington should be a goer.
Shortly after, I got up awkwardly to take those first few steps, a striking wave of nausea knocked me back to the track.
We’ve got pretty darn good at having an ‘out clause’ for just such a predicament- 3 of us carried PLBs. There’s a first time for everything- we pushed that button and waited with anticipation … 40 minutes to be precise. These rescue heli teams are just the shizz. What and outstanding service. It’s hard to describe how it feels when the cavalry arrives, 15minutes travel time from Greymouth, to whisk you to safety.
Peet the paramedic jumped effortlessly from the chopper, unable to land due to the steepness of terrain and confidently waded the river to scramble up to our tenuous position.
He looked like he knew his game, a true professional and that played out over the next couple of hours. Examination of the leg nothing really conclusive. Set up a cannula and shortly the comfort of Fentanyl!
The helicopter had gone to jettison cargo to be better equipped to winch Peet and myself. While we waited I was ungracefully maneuvered to a space further along the track, clear of trees to prepare for lift off.
The boys sorted my pack, kept some food and soon the chopper was thumping the air, creating a gale like wind vortex. Josh the key winch handler and third man of the rescue team stood on the skid and swung the winch hook toward Peet, as potential danger loomed for the helicopter rotors with proximity to the steep hillside. Our packs quickly and efficiently lifted into the chopper.
Peet unglamorously fitted me into a full body harness attached the winch and soon we were swinging above the river. I looked down to see the four remaining Bruts cameras flashing – a unique moment in our history. Eyes wide shut, fear of 200kg slung on a thread like rope, but faith in the rescue team kept it real.
What seemed an age just hanging outside the door before being dragged to safety. Down to the landing site near Carrington Hut to collect the gurney and other assorted gear. All set and lying comfortably, headphones on to dull the racket and keep in the dialogue. Our super skilled pilot ……name… lifted off Christchurch Hospital bound. Blessed with a view as we followed the Waimak over huts Carrington and Anticrow, Bealey Lodge, Lake Grassmere and down the torturous Waimak Gorge. The Canterbury plains and in just over half an hour we were flying past the airport and over the city.
Christchurch Hospital ED, XRay, broken Fibula and cast applied. A copy book extraction. A remarkable rescue. This rescue was a case study on how we gain enormous benefit from such a reliable, timely and professional service. Just outstanding and so reassuring to know it instantly swings into action on the push of a button!
Hats off to the true professionalism of the ROA Mining Rescue Team based in Greymouth.
A MIGHTY Thank you.
Written by Stu Bruce who lives in Waikanae, and has been tramping for over 50 years. An Advocate for always carrying a PLB whenever tramping in New Zealand’s stunning wilderness regions.