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Valentin Pahon: The story of my rescue in Olympus

Date: 23/07/2018
Valentin Pahon: The story of my rescue in Olympus

« Shtwok!». I‘m falling in the wet snow after this sudden sound, the body completely twisted. I understand something is wrong : I can’t move my right ski without feeling a pain in the knee. What happened ? We went down from Christos Kakalos refuge, on the plateau of Muses, after 4 days spent in the mountain. With this morning wind, the snow was very hard and our skis scratched a lot on it. Suddenly, soft snow. No freeze this night at this altitude. I was surprised and one of my skis didn’t turn. The right knee is broken.

I continue to ski the next 100 m on the left ski, then I’m stopped by a rocky bar under us. I can’t ski to the left because of the pain on my right leg to bypass it. My friends help me to remove the skis and I try to walk. I collapse on my right leg at every step, with an intensive pain. We decide to stop here, sit on a sunny rock, and to call rescue. We are at 2200 m of elevation, 1200 m above the road of Prionia. There is no phone network here. My friend Renaud climbs back to the refuge, in order to use their radio, while my other friend Prune stays with me.

Few hours later, we see black points moving on the snow far under us : the rescue team ! The ascent is long for them, they reach us at 18 o’clock. This first team is composed by 6 volunteers of Hellenic Rescue Team, exceptionally based in Petrostruga refuge for a training week-end. They give me additional warm clothes, because I’m a little cold, and this will get worse after sunset. The rescue team lay me down a plastic tarp held by a rope and they belay me on pines and on their mountain axes to bypass the rocky bar, then to go down the steep slopes under it.

In the beginning of the night, few other people join us. One is the keeper of Petrostruga refuge, and he brings back a solid stretcher to increase my relative comfort and the insulation from the cold snow. Getting me down lasts a few hours since the task is far from easy : I’m slipping while rescuers sink into the wet snow. They speak to me, keep me conscious, ask if i’m hungry or thirsty or cold. Further, we must pass a 5 m height cliff, the team belays me in the dark. I’m afraid by the emptiness, looking for the light of rescuers many meters under. At 23:00, we finally arrive to an advanced rescue point where people have lit a fire on the path to Petrostruga. We take a break, we eat, we drink. I’m warming up. Then we go, helped by a firemen team which still carrying me during 5h on a narrow path in the steep forest.

Petrostruga refuge. 4 o’clock. I can undress in front of the wood-burner, then sleep 4 hours. The following morning, rescue team finish the descent with heat and sun to the parking of Gortsia, where an ambulance brings me over to the Litohoro medical centre.

What happened seems incredible to me. Many images disappeared from my memory because of the duration of rescue, because of cold and tiredness. When I waited for the rescue, I couldn’t imagine how the relief was complex below me, and I now realize how difficult it was for the rescue team to go down me without damage. It was a big operation with a strong and very kind rescue team.

Valentin Pahon, French skier

Valentin Pahon: The story of my rescue in Olympus

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