Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Exhale and Inch Your Way Up

Experienced tall-peak mountain climbers know to look out for crevasses. They know well, some from personal experience, and some from mourning the deaths of fellow climbers and acquaintances that a misstep leading out of a relaxation of diligence could result in a fall into a crevice, so deep, dark, cold and closely embracing they will never see light and life again. Some have fallen and managed to dangle from a rope long enough for companion climbers to rescue them. On the odd occasion some have managed through sheer physical stamina and strength to rescue themselves.

Sometimes, a fascination for the unknown and a relentless search for dangerous and exciting experiences end in tragedy.

Seth Rowe, 30, a married father of two young children yet in their infancy, was one of the lucky ones. He had his experience, one that will surely be seared into his memory, and through sheer serendipity, lives to tell his story and to resume being a father to his two young children. It is more possible that he could have been one of those people who mysteriously manage to 'drop off the face of the Earth', for all anyone knows what happens to them when they're never again seen, but Fortune smiled on him.
"I had gone into one [crevice] and looked around and thought it was pretty cool. I always keep an eye out for [First Nations] artifacts … I would love to find an arrowhead, or anything, and these spots that I go to - I'm skinny, and I can get into places where others can't. Unfortunately, nobody could on this one."
"I just plummeted. My strength just left me. I couldn't feel my hands anymore, and when you can't feel you're hands, you can't grab the rocks."
"It pinched in so quick it actually brought me to a stop right at the ground. Intermittently I had been yelling, 'hello, help' … I could hear things moving around, and it wasn't human sounds, and I'm bleeding and hurt and started to get kind of worried." "I knew I had no way to defend myself. Ever put a ring on your finger and it won't come off? That's the same thing. I was pretty screwed."
"I've been in some pretty nasty spots in my scope of work. [Death could have ensued] I just shut that part of my brain off."
"Every last bit of it [his extraction from the narrow rocky crevice] was pain. I knew going up was going to be excruciating, and I got through it by just thinking, 'It's got to be done, exhale as far as you can and slowly inch your way up'."
"These guys [firefighters and mine rescue teams] saved my life, and they had to work and work and work to do it."
Seth Rowe, Glen Huron, Ontario
Embedded image permalink
Clearview Fire Department
Out with some friends to hike the the Bruce Trail on Saturday morning in a section of the Nottawasaga Bluffs Conservation Area, they were reconnoitering some of the fissures in the Niagara Escarpment. His friends decided to call it a day, but Rowe thought he would just go on to have another look at an area that he'd once before come across. One misstep was all it took, as he found himself slipping inexorably into a crevice. And he just kept slipping further in, the dripping cold dark walls closing around him, the light of day disappearing.

The process left him battered and bleeding, his skin on his back and chest badly abraded. And he felt cold, very cold, since at that depth, dark and hidden where sun and warmth do not intrude, there is still ice. His chin had struck the ledge as he fell, knocking his head back. He jammed his knees into the crevice in a vain effort to break the fall. He proceeded beyond a second tight spot, scrapping the skin off his chest and back when he fainally came to a stop after hitting the final tight spot.

He found himself mired, unable to grip his way up, some 20 metres under the ground; trapped in a narrow "pinchpoint" with barely room for his width to be accommodated; firmly caught in a trap he was unable to manoeuvre himself out of.

In total, he ended up in that tight enclosure, in the dark and the cold, for 22 hours. Life can seem so unfair; intrepid mountaineers travel thousands of miles from their homes to face the commanding siren call of nature and attempt to mount the world's tallest peaks. He was a mere few kilometres from his home in central Ontario, and had meant to be out for an afternoon hike, nothing more, in an environment he was fascinated with, and had become somewhat familiar with. 

He had seen a 'slit' in the forest floor. Curious, he approached closer, when the ground under his feet gave way and he plummeted into the hellhole he swiftly found himself in with no way to extricate himself. Hours passed and he began going into hypothermia with the shock of his fall, and the trauma of being wet and freezing, and sleep began to overtake him. Sleep is an enemy at this point; the 'little death' morphing into the 'big sleep'. And he was entombed; he would die and his skeleton would never be found, his family deprived of his presence.

Looking up at the dim appearance of surface light he thought he could see the form of an animal hovering at the entrance to his catacomb. He took inspiration from sighting it to try again to call for help. And then as it happened someone had been passing by and heard his dim voice. Gilbert McInnis had taken the wrong trail when suddenly he heard a faint "hello!" emanating from a gap in the ground. "It wasn't a loud voice ... it was kind of muffled", he said later.

The local Clearview Fire Department arrived at 8:30 p.m. and they were soon joined by firefighters from across the province, all acutely aware of just how complex the problem would be to extract a hypothermic man from an awkwardly inaccessible granite slit deep underground. Toronto firefighters hung from harnesses to chip relentlessly away at the granite walls by hand. First responders themselves were succumbing to hypothermia, crouching in the narrow crevice, attempting to persuade Rowe to remain awake.

After a while, dawn hours snaked by as the trapped man was slowly yanked up to freedom through the jagged, narrow gaps in the cold rock wall. The pain being experienced by the trapped man was so intense, with the previously sheared walls of his chest and back being abraded once again by his movement in reverse, that his screams of agony unnerved his rescuers who were forced to ignore his pain and to continue efforts to save his life.

He recalls having a conversation with a firefighter who had an Australian accent, who was trying to keep him from sleeping. "He asked if I came down with a helmet or any rope. I said no. [He said] that’s either incredibly brave, or incredibly stupid. He said, 'well, I hope this is not your last caving experience and you’ll be more careful in the future'. I said, 'Right now I’m not going into another cave again'."

"Where I came out was not where I went in. These caves have a million entrances, vertical fissures that run for miles. I’m always on the lookout for new ones – you can look for years, and you’d still be surprised at how many there are."

Victor Biro for National Post
Victor Biro for National Post   Seth Rowe shows the abrasions on his back after being rescued from a granite crevice.

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