I sat down on a rock and waited for the pain and wave of nausea to subside again. There were a couple of hundred metres of loose, gappy, rocky limestone still too navigate before I could get to the gentler sloping grass field. The sun was beaming in a cloudless sky, I was on my own and my knee was buggered.
The day had started off so well...
We were in the Burren for a weekend of Mountain Skills training and we were lucky enough to have a weekend of stunning weather. We had a long day ahead of us, this first day. A short classroom session, with tea and scones, and then we were off for a full day on the hills, not due to come back down until after dark, to practice our night navigation skills.
Full of high jinks and good spirits we arrived a the foot of the hills, grabbed our gear, locked the cars and headed off. We spend a bit of time with maps and compasses to refresh our skills and then we headed off towards the summit of our first hill. They're not very high, those hills in the Burren, but the scenery is lovely and the views, on a day like that day, are stunning, the water of Galway Bay glinting brilliant blue in the sun and stretching out across to Galway and Connemara.
We spend twenty minutes re-acquainting ourselves with our maps and compasses and then took bearings and set off for our first little summit. Because of the exercise we were doing, and our naturally different hiking speeds, we began to spread out a bit, but most of us were within sight of each other and we were, at this early stage in the day, still eager and strong. It was a perfect day. And then, about half-way up the hill, it happened.
I placed my foot on a solid-looking rock and just as I lifted my other leg and my whole weight was balanced on that one foot, the rock toppled under me and I landed awkwardly, a tearing pain and popping in my knee and I landed on my hip. I probably swore, but after the pain subsided, I got up and took a tentative step or two. ok... Two of my team-mates had caught up with me. "Are you alright?" "Yes I think so, just twisted it a bit". Two more team mates appeared. Annoyed at myself, I told them I was going to put a wrap around my knee just in case, but I would have to pull down my trousers to do so, so they should carry on and I'd catch up. After a couple of 'are you sure's' off they went and I put a stretch bandage around my knee thinking, in my denial, that that would do the trick and I'd be fine.
Eager to catch up with my team-mates I set off again but after a few paces my knee buckled again and I realised that no, I was not going to be able to carry on up the hill, and I was a fool to even think so. The most sensible thing to do would be to get back down to the road, make my way back to Kinvarra and sit out the rest of the day. I sat down on the sun-warmed rocks and waited for someone to realise I hadn't caught up yet and to come check so I could tell them I was going to go down.
The west of Ireland, on a day like that day, is transformed, and there is no place I would rather be. I'm beginning to feel quite sorry for myself, I was so looking forward to this weekend. There are 300 or so metres of rocky ground I have to traverse down before I can get to a low wall beyond which lies a gently sloping field which will be easier going and which will bring me to a road. Then I just have to follow this road for about 1km before I get to the junction to the main road back into Kinvarra, from where I plan to hitch a lift back into the village. Then, I suppose I'll just sit in the sunshine at the docks and wait until the rest of them come back that evening. I am still in denial at this point as to how badly I've injured my knee at this point.
After about twenty minutes of waiting, I finally hear someone call my name and I hail them over to where I'm sitting. It is one of the guys from my team, coming back to check on me. I tell him I've decided that I need to finish for the day and that I will go down and wait for them in Kinvarra, that I've hurt my knee a bit and there's no point carrying on and making it worse, as well as slowing everyone else down. He wonders if he should accompany me, but no, I say, there's no point you having to cut your day short as well, it's a beautiful day, I can make my way down - I point out exactly how I will go - and I'll see them for dinner that evening in Kinvarra. He has a walking pole with him that I borrow and after a few more 'are you sure's' from him and 'yes you carry on, I'll be fine's' from me he heads back up to the others. I'm downplaying the situation and he's happy to believe me. Of course, it turns out, this also means the rest of my team-mates and the person in charge who is running this mountain skills training course also don't realise the extend of my injury.
As I watch him head off I decide to sit for another five or ten minutes in the sun before setting off myself. It is only a little after noon and I have plenty of time.
Godf*#@*#*damnit!! The pain is so bad I literally can't see for a second and I sit down and try and breathe until the pain starts to subside again. It is the third time my knee has buckled on me, I've been making my way down for about an hour and a half and I've only gone about two-hundred metres or so. I feel like crying. I feel abandoned and alone. Why oh why did I say I was fine going down on my own. Why oh why did someone not insist on coming down with me, I was obviously injured. I'm angry, I'm annoyed, I'm full of self-pity. I have about fifty metres to go on this rocky, fissured, horrible ground before I get to a point in the stony wall where I believe I can get over, onto a gentler field. When the pain settles down again to a manageable level, I steel myself and set off again. There is nothing for it, I need to get down this hill, my team-mates are god-knows where at this point, and I'd have to be practically half-dead before I'd ever let anyone carry me off a mountain in any case. I like being self-sufficient, capable and safe in the hills. I'm also stubborn and I know I can do this. It just hurts like hell.
I will find out later that I have quite badly torn several ligaments in my knee (mcl and cruciate), and I will have a few months of crutches, resting and rehab ahead of me but thankfully (so far - it's only been 5 weeks since) no surgery. Back on that hill, despite that buckling, I was still fooling myself that it was only a bit of a twisted knee and I'd be fine once I got to the road and had a bit of rest.
By the time I get to the sloping field, I am sweating with pain and effort, but I feel like the hardest part is over. I've spend about an hour and a half covering less than 700 metres. My phone rings. It is my team mates, checking in with me for the second time. Are you feeling any dizziness, they ask and I choke back a laugh. A bit late for that really.
The previous time they called, about half an hour earlier was just after I had sat through a stab of searing pain and I was shaken and shaky on the phone. They had asked if I wanted someone to come down to me but no, I'd said, I would still have to get myself down, even with help and I was managing.
The hard part's over, I tell them now, I'm in that field now and I'll soon be at the road and then I'll be fine. I'll see you this evening. I hang up and leave them to it. Even though I had assured them from the start that I would just go down myself and I'd be fine, I still feel annoyed that no-one insisted they accompany me down, for safety and moral support if nothing else. (And in fact, when we debrief a few days later, back in the office, we agree - in that typically Irish, indirect way without explicitly discussing it - that should have been done.)
It takes me another hour and a half before I traverse that whole field and make my way along the little road to the junction with the main road. By this time I'm pretty fed-up and not in the mood to hitch a ride and having to make small-talk, so I ring a cab instead. I'm only about a 5 or 7 minute ride out of Kinvarra. I get back to the village, head straight for the chemist for the strongest painkillers they have and stand around aimlessly for a few minutes. I don't really feel like checking in to the B&B. By now I've long accepted my knee is buggered, it is many hours yet before any of the rest of them get back and I just want to get home. It is half three. I remember that my daughter's mother-n-law to be (we all get on very well together) lives about 10 mins away and I decide to ring my daughter to see if she know's if Mary is at home by any chance. 'Hi' I say when she answers the phone, 'what you upto?' 'I'm at Mary's' she says and then I finally cry. She comes and picks me up and I get made a fuss over and on Monday I pop into the sports injury clinic and get my diagnosis. I won't be doing any more hiking for a few months. It's been five weeks now and I'm still recovering but all's well that ends well and although it will take some time, my knee should be ok in the end.
So that's my story this time, and needless to say, if you are out hiking and get injured and you're not alone, don't do anything silly. Err on the side of extreme safety always. Know your limits.
In my case, everything I did wasn't unconsidered. I've been hiking many years and am pretty independent minded and believe in being self sufficient as much as possible. I am used to being on my own and to dealing with things on my own. I'm pretty realistic about myself and my limits. The weather was absolutely perfect, still, sunny, excellent visibility. It was just past noon. I was at just under 200m elevation and from where I started to the crossroads was only about a km. The terrain was challenging in particular for the first few hundred metres (for someone with an injured knee), but not steep or unmanageable. I had clear visibility and knew exactly what to do, but also am very realistic about my own limits. Although I made my own way down, I also knew I could call my group at any time and they would get to me within half an hour. I was near a road. I had plenty of time and I took my time, slowly and carefully. In all my years doing outdoorsy things, I have never injured myself doing so until now and I definitely learned some new things about myself from the experience. Most importantly I learned that there are some things I'd really rather not do on my own.
Hi, I'm Misja.
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