Near Death Experiences – Part 2

In my first post on near-death experiences (NDE), I recalled two incidents where I was knocked unconscious and would never have known if I had died (which was by no means unlikely). The following two incidents are quite different. In both cases I fell off a cliff and was fully conscious till I hit the ground below.

The first incident occurred on a solo cross-country ski trip in the Snowy Mountains of Australia. My friends and I had driven from Sydney through the night to arrive in Thredbo early Saturday morning. Our plan was to catch the chairlift up to the snow and then ski cross-country to the summit of Mt Kosciuszko, Australia’s highest mountain at 7,310 feet. However, the weather forecast was bad with strong winds and low visibility predicted in the summit region and my friends decided it was not a good idea to go. I was not happy, having driven all night to get there, and told them I would go on my own without them.  Not my brightest moment, although I had done this trip before and knew the route.

Mt Kosciuszko on a clear winter day

I skied the approximately six kilometres to Mt Kosciuszko without any problems. As I ascended to the summit, the wind became much stronger and the clouds blew in, reducing visibility to around 10 metres or less. I reached the summit, and then turned back, skiing so I thought back down the same ridge I had ascended. Visibility was very low and not too far along the ridge, I suddenly found myself airborn and falling fast. I had skied off a cliff in the white-out. I fell for long enough to have time to think about whether I knew of any cliffs on Kosciuszko or how high they were. There was no fear, and my life did not flash before my eyes, I was simply focused on figuring out whether I was in for a big fall. I landed in a deep drift of powder snow without any injury. 

I assumed I had skied off the north side of Kosciuszko (as it later turned out correctly) and that if I skied down the valley I was in I would come within a kilometre or so to a line of snow poles that marked the track from Seaman’s Hut back to the top of the chairlift. So I set off down the valley still with very low visibility and soon enough reached the snow poles. I started to ski east following the snow poles and the visibility was just enough that I could see the next snow pole from the one I was at. However, the snow was deep and after a little while the snow poles ahead of me disappeared under the snow. I tried skiing as far as I could keeping the last snow pole in sight but I could not find another. It was now late afternoon and I was concerned that I might have to spend the night on the snow. I had come out in a shirt and wind jacket and was carrying no additional warm clothing.

Then two more skiers appeared. They had also been trying to follow the snow poles back to Thredbo. With the three of us we were able to use our packs and items of clothing to extend the search area much further while marking the route back to the last pole. We were lucky and found the continuation of the snow pole line. And were able to get back to the chairlift just before dark in time to catch the last chairlift down.

If I had not come across the other two skiers, there would have been quite a chance that I got lost again in the snow and probably would not have survived the night.

In the second incident, I was descending a canyon in the Blue Mountains with two friends. I was setting up a rope to rappel down a waterfall about 15-20 metres high, and it was very slippery. As I walked out to the lip of the waterfall to throw the rope down, I thought “if I slip I will just grab the rope”. I did slip, and I grabbed the bottom end of the rope, not the upper part closest to the tree the rope was looped around. The waterfall was close to vertical. As I fell, I bounced off a couple of rock ledges which may have slowed my fall. I landed in a shallow pool at the bottom of the waterfall that had a flat rock bottom and was about 1 foot deep. By chance, I landed with my body absolutely horizontal, and got up and walked away with some bruises. If I had landed at any other angle I would have been dead or severely disabled. I yelled to my friends up top: “you don’t need a rope for this one”.

One of my friends on the final waterfall in this canyon

In this incident, the fall happened so fast, that I don’t recall having any thoughts whatsoever. I was just in the moment, experiencing the ride and finding myself lying flat in a shallow pool before I had had a chance to think of anything at all. In this type of NDE, everything happened quite fast, and if I thought at all it was practical thoughts like do I have any idea how far I will fall?  And in both cases, stupidity was the cause and sheer luck resulted in survival without injury.

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