Cliff Rescue

Sometimes living here there is a need to do things that normally I just wouldn't consider. Take the other day for example.


It had not been a good day ; one of the little billy goats had suddenly developed chronic diarrhoea for an unknown reason. The vet was called in but we could not find a cause. During the afternoon, despite treatment, the little thing went into shock and died. So that day I was hole digging again.

Late that evening it was time to gather up the other goats and pen them for the night. Despite having been seen just an hour before with its mother one of our little female goats was missing. Being only a few months old we were quiet worried and started a search. It was not long before the goat was answering our calls and we located it. The problem was that the goat had fallen some 90 feet down into the quarry that is adjacent to out property and was stuck on a ledge. I'd bee damned if I was going to lose two goats in one day !

I entered the old quarry via the main gate and attempted to fight my way through the bramble and thicket of twenty years disuse. However the goat was about quarter of a mile away from where I was, the bramble was way over my head and I was making really slow progress and to cap it all when I had finally got there I would of had to have climbed the cliff to get it. I decided upon another course of action. Time was of the essence now due to the fact the sun had set and I had only about an hour of light left.

I decided that the only real plan of action was to climb down the cliff to get it. The cliff face is loose shale. The shale making it extremely crumbly and impossible to actually climb, no hand or foot holds at all ; it just crumbles away. To use ropes was the only practical answer. A stout rope was therefore fetched and we proceeded to the top of the quarry.

Now I've never done this sort of thing before. I've never been climbing, never abseiled either. Luckily my dad, who also lives on the farm, is an ex commando and knows about ropes far better than I ever will. In short order I had a 'bowline' arranged about me. One loop of rope under each thigh with a third round the waist. So long as you keep your weight reasonably spread onto those three loops you can't fall. All the rope goes to a single knot that sits in front of you. The rope was passed once round a tree to form a brake and the line was lightly held. My own weight pulling on this loop around the tree was sufficient to lock it tight and prevent myself from falling. (I hoped).

It was next necessary to do something I've never done before, something I've occasionally wanted to do I admit, but preferably not in twilight without safety line or safety gear. Still, someone had to do it or the goat was going to be a goner ; even if it didn't fall further a predator would most certainly welcome a nice supper. I had to walk backwards over the edge of the cliff, slowly tipping outwards till I was horizontal, a most interesting feeling. Then walk under the overhang ! Then as the rope was slowly paid out round the tree I walked backwards down the cliff. About half was down this was complicated by the thick brambles growing out from the shale of the cliff and also by the upper branches of the tress situated near the bottom of the cliff.

Once this had been passed and the goat was actually in sight below me the next problem was encountered. We ran out of rope. I was tied off to a tree and the family disappeared to search for more rope and also, as it was now getting really dark, for torches. I was left ... hanging around as you might say.

More rope was found and spliced onto the end of what was already in use and so down I went further. Finally I reached the ledge and there was the goat ; unconcerned and happily eating the brambles. On a second rope a canvas sack was lowered and in went the goat. Eventually ! Have you ever seen a ventriloquists act where he tries to put the dummy in a suitcase ? And the dummy supposedly struggles and shouts and fights to get out ? Well this is what the goat did. In the dark and not being able to hold a torch, the rope, the goat and the sack all at once I had a bit of a struggle. Every time I got a bit of goat in the sack it seemed that three others were trying to get out at the same time. Finally the sack was closed and the goat must of been inside because the sack was 'Baa'ing pitifully.

The signal was given and up went the sack. The sack complained all the way, especially when it caught on a bramble bush and had to be yanked passed it. Meanwhile I had problems of my own, dangling there on the end of a rope I was helpless when rocks started to fall, dislodged by the movements of the sack. I ducked and dodged but really didn't stand a chance as I couldn't see what was coming in the faint moonlight that I was working in. I had no head protection and was quiet worried as I was peppered with small stones that a bigger one might arrive. It did. But luckily for me it hit just above my knee and not my head. Some choice complaints were made to the air around me but these bear not repeating here.

The report came down that the goat was fine and well and in the Land Rover. The report went up that the sooner I was in the same place the better. I slowly hauled myself up on the second line that had taken the canvas sack while the slack was continually taken on the 'bowline' around my waist and legs. At least that way I could rest whenever my arms were tired. After fighting my way back up past branches and brambles I finally made it to the top, negotiated the overhang was the hardest bit but I got there in the end. It had taken over two hours for the rescue.

The goat was examined and proved to be in fine health with no injury what so ever. In fact the goat had been a little pig and had a bulging stomach from all the nice untouched bramble she had eaten !

A quick check of myself showed that the rock had been big enough to cause a crush the surface of my leg. Luckily it had missed the knee cap or I would probably have had it broken. Anyway, kept a field dressing on it over night with lashings of antiseptic and its healing nicely. You should see the bruising !

So all worked out well in the end and I've had my baptism of cliff work. Its fun ! I'd like to try it again some time, though in the day time, and with safety equipment too preferably. The goat is fine and is completely unconcerned by the experience.

It just goes to show that you never know what you'll be called on to do next on the farm.

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