STRANDED! Night of Terror on Kerry Mountain

Aug 1, 1991 | Archive

A Dublin housewife, Freda Griffin, spent a frightening 18 hours under the peak of Carrauntoohil on Saturday night and Sunday morning. She became trapped on a ledge when mist came down. She was returning from the summit when a wrong turn put her into new territory. Mrs. Griffin had set off on the climb with her Galway born husband Donal. They were experienced in mountain climbing and had first met on a mountain climb in Wicklow.

Describing her worst moment she said “I decided that I would have to climb back up to the top and I was making great progress and all of a sudden I came to a great big rock. There were two footholds at the side of the rock and I was able to get one foot into the lower hold and I tried to bring my left foot up into the second one and I couldn’t make it. So I was stuck like that off the ground with one foot up in the foothold and the other foot half way up the rock. Below me was a lake – I will never till my dying day forget that black lake – all sheer rock all the way down. I thought ‘this is it, I’m finished’. I sais ‘Jesus, if ever I needed you, I need you now’, and I really felt that this was the end.

“It wasn’t bright enough to see as this was about 10 o’clock. I put all my weight across onto my left foot, very gingerly, knowing that this could be the last move I was ever going to make. I got myself across. When I got one foot across I had to bring down my other foot and very, very slowly I brought the second foot across and I got across into grass again. That was really the most horrific moment for me. Then I lay up against the grass and I could actually hear my heart jumping.”

Explaining how she lost her way, Freda said “Having got to the top I got lost coming down. I came down the Killarney side. I came down thinking that I was going to the top of the Ladder, but I went down to my right instead of my left. I followed the natural slope.” She could see the light from the torches of the Mountain Rescue Team long before they reached her. Some of the Team members had climbed to the summit in the dark and worked their way down to where she was.

She spoke of the rescue. “The Rescue Team linked me down, one person held me by the hand and the other man linked me. They kept on contacting the other groups at different parts of the mountain. There were about four groups. They would contact each group and as we would descend another part of the mountain another group would meet us and each would come with flasks of tea, sandwiches, and radios to keep in touch with their base camp.”

Of her time trapped on the mountain, Freda said “I knew it was very important to keep awake and to keep my mind alert. I was doing little exercises every ten minutes. I would get up and run on the spot. Even when I got hot I continued because I was never so cold in my life. I hadn’t eaten since 1 o’clock. The Rescue Team offered me food and I couldn’t eat it. I made up for it since!”

Freda was very full in her appreciation of the Rescue Team. “They were so well organised. Every half an hour I had a different person on each arm and there was somebody in front picking out the way down because I had a rope tied around me and there was somebody behind me taking the weight from behind. They were brilliant. They kept the humour as light as possible. they were great fun. It took us two hours to get down. They were very relieved they didn’t have to tie me down as stretchers are very rigid. The communications were very good. They brought me down to the other side of the mountain down by the lake. The helicopter could land there. The helicopter took me to Tralee around 1 o’clock on Sunday.

Her husband Donal spoke of the worry he felt when waiting for news of his wife. He said “I was fairly positive that my wife would be okay but I began to imagine pictures of her being injured. After a while things were looking bad. I was in the front of the yard and I heard a crackle of a message coming through from one Rescue Team to another ‘bring her over a stretcher’. I wondered if she was dead. There was no more word. About three or four minutes later another message came through which I didn’t hear but a Rescue Team member called Tim who was the co-ordinator got the word back to me that she was very cold but she was okay.”

On Tuesday night the Kerry Mountain Rescue Team was in operation again. Two 16-year-old girls staying at a hostel in Killarney were rescued from a ledge. They were uninjured.