My fall on the GR20

Tony Hall

Posted: Wed, Aug 4, 2010, 11:58

On Friday 16th July, I learned the hard way just how easily accidents can happen; a moment’s lapse of concentration can have serious consequences. It goes to show that we have to always be vigilant and properly prepared when hiking in the mountains.

Having done the fist 9 etapes to Vizzavona last year, this year we were planning to do the southern 6 etapes, followed by the mare e mare centre. The first day is a very easy hike from Vizzavona to E’Capannelle and I was feeling fit and confident. Perhaps too confident. About half an hour away from E’Capannelle, on a simple path in the forest, I somehow put a step wrong and tumbled headfirst onto the rocks in a stream. For a few moments, I was lying face-down, unconscious in the water, before my wife and some other hikers helped me get my head out of the water so I could breathe.

I was covered in blood, bleeding badly from my head and I could see that one of my fingers was dislocated in two places, but apart from that I didn’t seem too badly damaged, so I managed to get myself out of the water (which was very cold). The people who had stopped to help were amazing and knew exactly what to do. My wife pressed towels on my head to try to stop the bleeding and they covered me with a space blanket and a sleeping bag to try to keep me warm. The guys helping had a GPS and knew the numbers to dial for assistance – something we had been very slack about this year, but will remember always for the future. After some time a (para-)medic arrived by helicopter and took over the medical stuff. The helicopter could not land as we were in the trees, but somehow they managed to winch me out of there, and were even able to bring my wife and our packs. I will never forget that wind from the helicopter rotors – like a hurricane all around, so that the whole forest floor seemed to be whipped up around us, in our eyes and mouths.

The rescue services were fantastic and the staff at the hospital in Ajaccio were great too. They stitched up my head (12 stitches), reduced the dislocated finger (without anaesthetic – ouch!), CT’d my head and X-rayed the rest of me. There was nothing broken, just a lot of bruises. They kept me in for 2 days for observation and i.v. antibiotics. On the 3rd day they let me out and on the fourth day we took the train back to Vizzavona and started again……

Probably not a really sensible ting to do, but it was good to go back to the place where it happened. I could see that the accident had been due to an unfortunate (although avoidable) set of events. I had been clambering over a large boulder and the path required to go slightly to the right on stepping down. I think I must have caught my backpack on the wall to the right and it knocked me slightly off balance to the left. I then stepped down with my left foot and the rock below was angled slightly to the left, throwing me further off balance. I guess because it was the first day, I was not quite used to the weight of my pack and so I fell to the left. A few meters earlier or later and this would not have been a problem, but unfortunately just at this place, was the edge of the stream and so I fell over the edge and down the rocks.

But all’s well that ends well. Finally we were able to finish the GR20, including two great side-trips. We stayed two nights in E’Capannelle and did the circuit via the high-level variante up to Mte Renoso, round to the pozzines and back along the low-level GR20 (now going south-to-north). It’s a long hike and the high-level route is not very well marked in my opinion (only cairns, no waymarks) but it is worth the effort.