The start of our honeymoon was blissful: beaches, snorkelling and romantic restaurants on the island of Saint Kitts in the Caribbean. Clay and I met five years ago at university in Indiana, and married on 13 July this year, before a week-long holiday. Halfway through, we decided to climb Mount Liamuiga, a dormant volcano nearly 3,800ft high. We arrived at the base at 9.30am, expecting to find a visitor centre and hire a guide, but there was just a small plaque marking the start of a trail, so we set off on our own. On the way up we were surrounded by lush rainforest that made me think of Jurassic Park. There were monkeys in the canopy, occasionally dropping half-eaten mangoes. We reached the summit around noon and ate our sandwiches looking out over the ocean and surrounding islands.
Walking along the rim of the crater, we spotted another trail leading down into the basin. It was very steep, perhaps 80 degrees in places, with ropes secured to trees and rocks to form a chain. Clay wanted to go down and take some pictures: the crater was spectacular, over half a mile across and full of vegetation. I followed him a little way, but I’m very cautious and quite scared of heights, and the thought of the return journey, clambering over large boulders, was particularly scary; so Clay went on alone.
A few minutes later I heard a noise like a branch snapping, followed by what sounded like something rolling down the mountain. I thought Clay had dislodged a rock, but when I shouted his name there was no response. Uneasy, I waited a minute and shouted again – still nothing. And then, from somewhere much further down, I heard a faint cry for help.
Trying to suppress my panic, I scrambled down as fast as I could. Terrified of what I might find, I kept going, screaming his name. When he responded, the sound of his voice filled me with relief and concern: he sounded stricken. Finally, I spotted him. He was curled up on the ground, facing away from me; I could see blood behind his right ear and on his back. “Clay,” I called. “What’s wrong? Have you broken anything?” He kept repeating, “I don’t know. My head hurts.”
The front of his shirt was covered with vomit and blood, with more blood pouring from his nose and head. He kept saying, “Where are we? What’s happened?” I tried both of our phones – no signal. We’d only encountered one other hiker that day, and he’d been heading down. I had to stay calm for Clay, but inside I was freaking out. No one knew where we were.
I couldn’t leave Clay on his own, so I asked if he could walk. Amazingly, though he must have fallen 50ft, with my support he could stand. Clay is eight inches taller than me and 60lbs heavier, but I got behind him and pushed, and it took an exhausting half hour to reach the summit again. I had to keep reminding Clay where we were and what we were doing; he just wanted to lie down. Every 10 minutes or so he vomited bloodily – we would later learn blood was running down his throat from his nose, but at the time I worried he had internal injuries that could kill him. I had to push those thoughts away and focus on getting help.
Once we’d cleared the crater the descent was easier, though Clay stumbled more frequently and leant heavily on me. His breathing became more laboured and his skin clammy. I kept shouting for help, but we didn’t see anyone. About halfway down I managed to get a signal and call an ambulance; by the time we reached the bottom, it was waiting for us.
In hospital Clay was diagnosed with a fractured skull and jaw, though no one seemed concerned about his persistent runny nose. It wasn’t until a week later, when he was transferred to the US, that a doctor recognised cerebrospinal fluid had been leaking from his brain into his sinuses and a drain was put in.
Clay has no memory of what caused the accident. A rope must have broken, and we thank God the outcome wasn’t worse. Clay’s fractures are healing, and though he’s deaf in his right ear we hope that will pass. When I climbed into the volcano to save my new husband’s life, I proved that love is stronger than fear.
• As told to Chris Broughton
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