Sprained Ankle on Crib Goch

Sprained Ankle on Crib Goch

Sprained Ankle on Crib Goch en route to run the
14 Welsh 3,000 ers
Sprained Ankle on Crib Goch 

Sprained Ankle on Crib Goch

By David Betjemann

Snowdon & Bivvy Out

As a rite of passage many of the pupils at my school completed the Welsh 14 Peaks. This is a walk with the object of encompassing all the 3,000 foot mountains in Snowdonia.  There was a strong outdoor ethos at the school following the principles of Kurt Hahn and “Muscular Christianity”. As a result there were some fairly competent mountaineers and orienteers amongst the older pupils. 

Because of this 3 of us wanted to try and run the 14 Peaks. The other 2 had already walked the route but I hadn’t. Our Geography teacher, who was also a very experienced outdoor instructor and holds the Mountain Instructor Certificate, agreed to the plan and offered to rendezvous with us at various points providing food and logistical support.

We set off up Snowdon on Friday evening. The omens were not good from the start. Snowdon is well known for making its own weather, being an isolated massif on the on the South Western side of Snowdonia near the coast.  As a result the showery Westerly air-stream was bringing dark clouds and rain to the mountain.

Pyg Track on way up Snowdon

We ascended the Pyg Track and bivyed outside the café on the summit. It was still raining and I had a damp and sweaty night owing to the fact that I had a 4 season sleeping bag and my bivy had to stay firmly zipped up to keep the rain out. We set off as soon as it was light enough to see without head torches. It was still raining and we were enveloped in thick mist, but thankfully there was little wind.

We managed to traverse the summit of Garnedd Ugain with no difficulty as the path is fairly smooth and easy to follow. As the 3 of us approached Crib Goch things started to become more rocky and precarious.

Between us there was quite a lot of mountain and rock climbing experience and so the ridge offered little difficulty, but it was very slippery. I don’t even remember going across the Pinnacles as the mist was so thick we had no view of the drop. The ridge started to level off and the pace picked up. Then, bang. I went over on my ankle.

I had rolled both ankles a few times so I knew what it was like but this one was bad. I instinctively grabbed the rocks as I stumbled to avoid falling off in to the void. I was in a lot of pain. I knew what this meant. The 14 Peaks were finished for me, but more to the point I was wondering how the hell I was going to get back to the valley.

Crib Goch in the mist

Shout for Help

I shouted to the guys up ahead who were rapidly disappearing into the fog. Head in hands I waited for them to backtrack to me. Ian was the first on the scene. 

It was a miserable picture. Thick with rain, mist and disappointment. Ian gingerly pulled off my Walsh Fell Shoe and peeled off my wet sock. There was no obvious sign of a break but it was beginning to swell. As aspiring outdoor instructors we all had a basic knowledge of First Aid and knew we should suspect a break. Everyone looked at each other. All knowing what this could mean. 

Ian put on a crepe bandage and asked if I could get my shoe back on. I agreed to have a go. It was painful but I did it. There was a short discussion and we decided that the first thing we needed to get on some safer ground. I slowly hobbled along the ridge. The other 2 were in close support but not really in a position to offer much physical assistance due to the nature of the terrain.

On better ground we briefly stopped again. I seemed to be hobbling well despite the pain so after a couple of paracetamol and a drink it was decided that we would be better trying to make our own way down rather than sending someone down to get help. It was before the days of mobile phones and it would at the very minimum 3 hours for any help to get there. We were all just wearing running kit and although we still had our bivy gear, none of us relished the prospect of sitting on the ridge in the rain for 3 hours.

The Descent

So we started the tortuous descent.

Anyone who has descended from the end of Crib Goch to Nant Peris will know how trying this route can be, even without a suspected broken ankle. There are no paths and the ground is steep an often boulder and scree covered.  The way down follows a blunt ridge towards the huge cliff of Dinas Mott. In the mist it is all too easy to walk right off the top of this 300 foot cliff! Avoiding this we set off leftwards down a very slippery rocky area. The clean air in this area promotes the growth of lichen which doesn’t promote much friction. 

Progress was slow and painful. Every step sent a shooting pain from my ankle. Once we could see a clear way down the other 2 picked up their pace knowing that I would make it down without any further assistance.

I eventually emerged from the relic forest and on to the valley floor. I was now relatively safe, and although the way ahead was on good paths or tarmac I was still a long way from the car park where we were going to meet the member of staff for breakfast and to swap over our heavy rucksacks for daysacks.
The guys were well stuck into their porridge when I staggered in to Nant Peris. My ankle was swollen now and beginning to bruise. After a quick assessment we came to the conclusion that although you should always suspect a break, my ankle wasn’t. It was just sprained. 

Although I was safe, my attempt to run across all of Snowdonia’s highest peaks was over. 

The sun began to break through the clouds as Ian and Pete set off again to carry on with their attempt. All that awaited me was a day in the camper van with my foot up, an ice pack pressed on it to keep the swelling down. After they had gone we drove round to Ogwen where we were to fill their water bottles and provide lunch.

They made good time to us and after a quick bit to eat, set off over the Carneddu in good spirits.

They eventually made it to the end of a rough track at the north end of the Caneddu near Y Drum where the route finishes. Despite the excitement on Crib Goch, the rest of the day had gone quite smoothly and they eventually recorded a time of 10 hours 30 minutes.  No mean feat as it is 26 miles with 10,000 feet of ascent and most groups struggle to do it in 24 hours!

The sprained ankle was the direct result of wearing fell shoes on some of the roughest terrain in the British Isles. Further compounded by the underfoot condition. 

There is a place for light footwear in the hills but it has to be treated with caution and requires a high degree of experience and judgement. The footwear choice may have been ok on a dry day on that ground or easier ground on a wet day. Boots would have made the whole venture impracticable, so we should have waited for a dryer day to get away with fell shoes.

Comment from MountainSafety

Thanks very much to David for sharing his story. As David says, the right footwear for a different day.


The subject of fell shoes is not really covered yet on this site, but the following link is appropriate

Body images & text copyright David Betjemann 2013. Title image copyright Andy Luke 2013