Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A letter to: Langdale and Ambleside Mountain Rescue

A wonderfully moving letter from the Guardian.

We had seen you in action before. One sunny afternoon last year we parked by the drystone wall at the top of the pass and scrambled up Side Pike with the kids. We could see your white Land Rover parked across the valley floor. We enjoyed a stunning view of the rescue helicopter hovering by the Stickle Tarn cliffs.

My dad was there too, and we peered at your website on his laptop later to read about that call-out. There was a nasty rockfall and a broken leg, it seemed, and the rotors buzzed a hapless walker off to the hospital.

You in the mountain rescue team didn't get the chopper ride, I'm sure. I bet you had to walk. To your families asking, when you got back, why so many weekend and summer evenings were broken up by you disappearing.

A few months later, we met close-up. My father wasn't there with us to watch that time or to point out the names of the peaks, or the route of the climbers' traverse across the screes. But you were there, and you came to say you had found him.

Thank you for coming to the house at midnight to say in the gentlest way you could that your team had found my father's body. You had done your job already on the fells. You know you could have left this news to the policeman, and gone home to bed.

So, thanks.

Thank you for telling the newspapers how experienced he was on the mountains, and patiently explaining that he was well-equipped for the wintry conditions. And thank you for coming to the inquest, and for saying those things again.

For bringing out your detailed notes and GPS coordinates and explaining what you found - the rucksack, ice-axe, mp3 player and him. "An accident in its purest form," the coroner concluded, and my father dead long before you found him in that snowy gully.

You gave him dignity in his death, and you were, in a sense, his last companion. Sometimes, in the middle of something, I remember that my father died quite alone. A sudden noise may have rung out from high on the corrie wall, 1,000ft above the road, but only the Herdwick sheep and the frost were there to hear. Each of our warm bodies will cool one day, and his was chilled to the temperature of the snow in the shadow of the setting March sun when you arrived. Thank you that he did not stay there alone.

Thank you for the effort you made to bring him down.

That was a night of international phone calls and a long drive through the dawn. A night to change my bearing. A night to start to weigh the family in new units.

I wonder how you remember that gloomy Easter night. The empty car in the layby. Your dog scenting out on the fells. Quartering the icy outcrops and scree, until one of you saw something dark that wasn't rock and a shout called out on the hill, and the team could stop at last.

I was glad that you came to the funeral too. My dad had moved to live among those mountains, and now his body lies within the glacial sands and stones that underlie the churchyard at the foot of the fells. "In His hands are the depths of the earth; the peaks of the mountains are His," says the headstone.

And you'll be on those peaks somewhere. Some of you are probably up there now, searching.
You didn't achieve your aim that night; no one could have done so. But your work magnifies the beauty of the hills.

Thank you.

Chris Pyle

A great tribute and a lovely memorial. My own father died 6 years ago around Easter while on a long distance walk from Leeds to Liverpool. Like Chris’s Dad, he lived and died for his walking. He suffered a heart attack rather than an accident. In the past while out walking together, my father and I had also witnessed mountain rescues and we were always very grateful for these brave and selfless volunteers.

My Dad’s ashes were scattered over Snowdon rather than buried. He was a lifelong atheist so while he would not have agreed with any biblical sentiments behind “In His hands are the depths of the earth; the peaks of the mountains are His” but I think he would have liked the idea that the peaks of the mountains are still his.

Leo Pyle (father of Chris) was also in real life a really decent bloke who even helped protect dissidents in South American fascist regimes. Check tributes here and here.

You can support Langdale and Ambleside Mountain Rescue here

Hat-tip Col. Roi

Update: It is a small, small world.  I have found out that a good friend of mine from 1980's Leeds University co-wrote a book with Leo.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for reproducing Chris's article, and for your comments and links. Leo was certainly "a decent bloke" and so much more (but as his wife I'm partisan)- if you link to his brother Hugh's website for April 2008there's a link to Chris's memorial tribute at the funeral. Incidentally, Leo publically cut up his labour party card (photo in local paper in Henley)as a protest against the Iraq war.

John Gray said...

It was a pleasure to post Chris’s letter and it must have been a privilege to know Leo.