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The closest you've come to a disaster while hiking?


Mike L
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My last backpacking trip to the Sipsey Wilderness (late April) I came within a foot or so from stepping on a 3-1/2 foot rattler. My buddy behind me yelled to "Just move, don't ask". Fortunately it was moving too and not laying in wait for the first leg it could bite. But still... way too close for my liking. What's your story?

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Three years ago, I broke several ribs while on a solo outing. It was supposed to be a multi-day loop hike. I was hiking in full pack when I slipped on some wet rocks and did a full-on forward face plant. As I hit the ground I heard the unnerving sound about my chest of "pop pop pop pop"! I jumped up as fast as I could and in excruciating pain, stood there to make sure I could breathe OK and did not have a pneumothorax. After several moments, it was apparent that I hadn't punctured my lungs (thank goodness) but the pain was really nasty - especially in full pack! I retreated back to my truck and called an end to that hike. I'll never hear the end to that adventure from my wife and family...

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15 years ago in the Canadian Rockies--came down with an infection in my elbow (cellulitis = infection that invades your body core). This was two days before we were scheduled to fly back to the U.S. Ended up going to the emergency room the evening we got out from 10 miles out in the backcountry. Had 17cc of pus, etc drained from my elbow, put on keflex and told to come back the first thing next morning--had another 12 cc of same stuff drained then. Told to see my doctor ASAP upon my return to the U.S. He put me in the hospital, where I remained for 3 days with my arm in a soft cast & getting IV antibiotics. I am only glad I was able to walk out the 10 miles with my full pack--a day later in the process and might not have been able to. Only serious health issue I have ever had while backpacking/climbing over 30 years.

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VERY NEARLY got rim rocked(unable to go up or down) in Herdina Park in Arches NP as a solo hiker on my first day of thru-hiking the Hayduke Trail(it's mostly a route and I was doing it before Skurka's HDT mapset was available, I was hiking about 2 wks behind him)where others simply don't go. I chose to climb up into Herdina Park instead of following completely in the wash as the HDT creators suggested for the route. I would have died if I wasn't able to get up two pour offs I went down, one completely vertical of a 30 ft height and another only 20 ft in height at a 80* angle but extremely slippery with loose sand. I thought I could get out of the Herdina formation down to the washes below. I scouted ahead thinking there were only these two pour offs to navigate. What I couldn't see ahead was a third completely vertical 40 ft high pour off not doable unless I had technical climbing gear.

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Before I descended the first two pour offs I carefully evaluated if I had to go back up them that I in fact could without climbing gear. I convinced myself that I could. It was much harder than I thought it would be. It took me more than 3 hrs to eventually get up those two pour offs after falling many times from various heights on many attempts which could easily have ended in me being seriously injured. The 30 ft pour off I descended and got back up with the help of an old rotten tree. It was dangerous though. I fell repeatedly climbing up the 30 ft pour off each time risking serious injury. I fell from the lip of the 30 ft pour off several times before eventually finding a way over it. I took my shoes off to get a better grip on the sandstone surface. There were precious few holds. Fortunately there was deep sand at the bottom of both pour offs. I eventually got over the 20 ft pour off's lip onto safe ground but with nasty rock rash and gashes on my arms, chest, and legs. I was bathed in blood. I felt no pain though; I was so glad to be alive!

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  • 2 months later...
CarolinaTrecker

About a year ago, over spring break, I went on a backpacking trip with my girlfriend in the Pisgah national forest of the NC Mountains. We weren't staying too long, only two nights and three days, and the weather was supposed to be a little chilly, but pleasant. We reached our first camping spot on a bald for the first night, and everything was great. During that day of hiking, I began to feel light headed and kind of flu-like symptoms, but I decided to drink more water and forge on. The next day, we began to hike around 9 in the morning and by about noon, the weather began to take a nasty turn. The temperature dropped about 20 degrees, and dark and heavy cloud coverage began to move in. Just as the weather darkened, so did my physical condition. My symptoms got worse and I was starting to lose endurance rapidly. We had set up camp by about 6, and the precipitation hadn't broken yet, even though it was still getting colder, so we decided to stay the night. We awoke the next morning to wetness. It began raining during the night, and we had made a rookie mistake - we pitched out tent on a decline. Most of our gear was damp. I emerged from the tent to find accumulation of snow/sleet on the ground and tent. It was time to go. We packed up our things - the water added very unwanted pounds - and set out. My pack, by this point, felt like it weighed 60 pounds, and I felt horrible. We barely made it back to the trailhead, taking an absurd amount of time to hike a relatively short distance, before it was full on snowing. Moral of the story: we expected a great couple days of backpacking in pleasant weather and it turned into me getting the flu and the weather turning nasty.

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Last weekend I had my first real "disaster" while on a backcountry trip.

While descending a point called "K2" just north of Capitol Peak, arguably one of the hardest 14ers in colorado, a climber just ahead of me had the rocks literally disintegrate under his feet. I did not witness the fall, but from what i understand, he was on the correct route and one of the other people from my group had just traversed the same section. I heard the rockfall, which was very loud and much more sustained than a normal rockslide. I hurried to the top of the point and yelled down to the people below me asking what happened. They pointed to the area in the gully below, saying someone fell. I called down asking if i should activate my beacon, not knowing their condition and injuries, and they called back up yes. Just after this, a second rockfall came down the mountain and the person in the gulley was able to get up and dodge it. At that point, the severity of the situation set in, and according to the people around me, i "went nuts", barking orders at others who were still stunned and scrambled down a minor ridge where if i set off any additional rockfall it would fall in an area away from the climber. Halfway down the minor ridge, i realized the the fallen climber was my friend Justin who i had been climbing with all day, but had gotten ahead of me (if you check out my report here, you can see some photos of him). Mentally I almost lost it, seeing him sitting there with blood stained rocks all around him. I mentally set myself apart from the situation, similar to what i do when i'm free climbing exposed ridges, and continued on.

My first step was to move him out of the way of additional rockfall to a "safer" spot at the edge of the gully. In reality, i don't know if it was really a safe spot, but it was the safest spot i could determine without having him climb out of the gully. I had him sit down, and we evaluated the injuries. He was fully conscious and talking, and had already done a self evaluation. From wilderness first responder class, the ABC's are the most critical things to care for first. His airway and breathing were unaffected, and he was conscious, so i skipped to circulation, and went after the severe bleeding from his head. Luckily he had been wearing a helmet, which was smashed, but his face had been cut and was bleeding badly. I always carry a quick-clot, so i applied that and had him hold it while i taped it as well as i could with Lukotape. After applying that, i determined that the other bleeding injuries were less severe, and his wrist was broken, so i needed to traction (straighten) and then splint his wrist before doing anything else. He had already covered his wrist up with a jacket, and in retrospect i should have removed the jacket and shirt from the break to apply gauze to the wound and inspect it before splinting it and wrapping it, but i didn't want to undo any clotting that was already happening with the shirt, so i decided to wrap the area with the shirt covering it. After checking for feeling in his finger tips (which he had) i had him help me traction the arm, and then hold it still while i splint it with my trekking poles because no one on scene had a SAM splint (which i now will carry). After stabilizing the arm and checking again for feeling (which he still had), i then went after the other bleeding issues from his non-broken arm/hand and his legs, wrapping them with band-aids or gauze and taping them with lukotape, and then finally slinging the arm with tape (went through nearly a whole roll of Lukotape after everything was done). He told me he was cold, so i wrapped the rest of the jacket around him.

He was fairly stabilized, and i was happy enough with the job to get him out of the gully to a safer area above the ridge where i could re-evaluate him. There was a professional guide in the area that had a rope, so he tossed the end down for me to tie around Justin and to help him get up out of the gully. With the guide pulling the rope, and me holding him from the side while he walked, we were able to get him up, and we walked back up to the top of the major ridge.

I started getting info from the guide and others on what was happening with search and rescue. Even though Justin could walk slowly and was conscious, he had lost an unknown amount of blood, and was still bleeding slightly from his head and arm. I told them we needed to evacuate him with a chopper, and the call came back that they were scrambling a high altitude blackhawk chopper from the HAATS national guard unit in gypsum, CO. The guide went below the ridge to scout out a potential landing site, while I and another hiker helped Justin walk down the loose, blocky rock that covered the mountainside. While we were walking, i kept checking Justin's consciousness with questions and "simple songs", offering him water and another jacket of mine. After getting down to what the guide thought was the best spot, Justin was feeling better, so i re-evaluated him, checking the rest of his legs and finding a puncture wound that was underneath his sock. he also stated that he was feeling warm enough, but his hands were still very cold. Because both of his hands were damaged, we used beanie hats instead of gloves to make makeshift mittens, and found a few hand warmers to lightly tape to his hands under the taped up beanie hats.

At this point, we had a confirmation that the HAATS team would be there in approximately 30 minutes, so i sent off everyone that didn't need to be there, and waited with Justin for the helicopter to show. When it finally did, instead of following my beacon that i had activated, it went for the coordinates that the guide had called in for the initial rescue, flying around the wrong side of the mountain. After finally flagging down the pilot, he swung around to see where we were at. He then flew back down the valley to the disbelief of everyone there. We weren't sure what was happening. Maybe they didn't like the landing spot or something, and we were afraid that we might need to hike down another mile to the closest clearing, a 1000' feet of elevation loss below us. A few minutes later the helicopter returned, and it started trying to land just below us. We walked down to the front of the landing zone, watching the helicopter pilot trying to land on the only flat portion of land in that area. Finally, with one wheel set down, one of the airmen motioned for us to come to the helicoper. We ducked at well as we could because of the spinning rotors, and when we got to the helicopter, i saw the the platform was higher than my hips even with the wheel touching down. I told Justin to step on my knee for a boost, and as he pushed off my knee, i pushed him up, and he rolled into the helicopter. The airman gave me a thumbs up, and i ran away from the helicopter, which took off moments later. After the fact, i found out that they had decided to drop off some of the SAR people fom mountain rescue aspen to make the helicopter a little lighter, and picked them up on the way back to Aspen. Normally the operation of the helicopter is to drop him off at a waiting ambulance at the local airport, but because of the bleeding, one of the SAR members asked the pilot to go straight to the hospital.

Justin ended up needing a plate and screws inserted into his arm, stitches on his head, and 3 hours of surgery to clean him up once he made it to the hospital. I was left to go pack up all my stuff plus Justin's overnight stuff, luckily a dayhiker agreed to carry Justin's overnight stuff, making it manageable to get the rest out on my own.

-Ted

Edited by tmountainnut
spelling mistakes and added link
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Ted,

Wow! Sounds like you did everything right. Hope your friend Justin is well on the way to recovery and that all injuries heal as they should. Your experience points out the need to be sure to carry the gear and supplies for the "what if" situation. You probably wouldn't need all of that if you day hiking on easy trail and terrain, but definitely should in Capital/K-2 area. Lot of loose rock, steep terrain, and objective hazards. I have always made it a point to maintain first aid certification (wilderness first aid courses many times over the years, and try to keep CPR certification current).

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tmountainnut:

Absolutely incredible response on your part, excellent job!

Thankfully your advanced training paid off. But even with all the training in the world, you never really know how people will respond in an emergency situation until it actually occurs. Great work on your part,don't let anyone say you should have acted differently.

If I ever go mountain climbing, I want you along just in case!

Gary M

Olathe, Kansas

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Thanks. I thought my story would be appropriate for the topic.

The worse thing to happen to me was a hurting my foot badly when i was a raft guide. I had to be carried out, but it wasn't too far to the car from the river.

I'm a huge advocate of carrying a personal locator beacon (i use an ACR resqlink), and being informed (Wilderness First Responder or at least basic first aid). Relying on search and rescue and others is not the best plan because the likeliness of running into someone like me in the back country is slim.

Gary, I've thought about organizing a few "TrailGroove" hikes, maybe even an easier mountain, in either Colorado, Wyoming, or Utah. If that happens, i'll let you know. :-)

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