Rescue on Giant Mountain.

Neil

New Member
#1
The following is the report of the rescue that Alistair Fraser and I were involved in. Had we been 5 minutes further down the trail at the time of the accident the outcome would have been a lot different because the victim and her partner would have been the last people on the mountain.

Alistair and I were descending the Ridge Trail on Giant after a very satisfying day. We had started at the Owl's Head Lookout trail-head on Rte. 9N and bushwhacked Green before ascending the north trail on Giant. We had completed the out and back to RPR by 2:30 and I was looking forward to an early finish. Friends of mine were staying at Mercy cabin and I was envisioning a post-hike visit with adult beverages. Then an early start for Henderson and the Santanoni Range the next day to cap off day three of a weekend.

The trail was quite good higher up, packed snow over a hard ice foundation and we made excellent time on the descent. We were both wearing K-10 crampons, which bit into the ice wonderfully. Gradually, snow gave way to ice and the trail became a river of it but the K-10's kicked butt. I was glad not to be wearing microspikes or Hillsounds. Then, just below the upper switchback section I saw a massive and steep ice flow, which gave me pause. Alistair was about 5 minutes ahead of me because I kept stopping to take pictures. I decided to use a protruding and angled tree trunk as a step and very carefully began lowering my foot down on to it. I knew I must not miss that 4-inch trunk or I'd go sailing.

There were two young women on the other side of the flow, maybe 15 feet away. They were descending extremely delicately and were about 10-15 feet above the actual trail having traversed the ice flow. The one lower down wore micro-spikes. Just as I was lowering myself onto that trunk the one in MSR snowshoes lost her footing, fell and began to slide. She was instantly moving as if she had been shot out of a gun. It was a terrible sight to witness. She shot across the trail and flipped over and went out of sight but the sound of her hurtling through the woods and her screams were horrifying. And then, all was deadly quiet. Fearing something very bad I moved across the trail until I was directly above her and she was lying perfectly still, head uphill, face down. Then she lifted her head and I could see she was shaking and crying softly.

I instructed her friend to stay on the trail and using trees to hang onto I carefully lowered myself to her. I crouched beside her and began asking questions. She was fully conscious and after I introduced myself, explained I was a chiropractor with wilderness first aid training I noted the look of relief that flooded her face and then I went to work.

The only pain she reported was in her left ankle. What a miracle! I got her pack off and handed it to Alistair who had bushwhacked up and across from the trail. Luckily he was within earshot when it happened. I removed her snowshoes and in a difficult setting summarily evaluated the ankle. It looked like a grade two sprain of the ligament(s) on the outside of the joint. However, besides pain when I passively stretched those ligaments she had pain upon resisted eversion and extreme tenderness over the end of her fibula. She might have had a fracture.

I informed her of what I was finding but was also shooting the breeze about where she went to school, how many peaks she had done etc. and she was obviously 100% functioning at the brain level. In such a setting my favorite combined neurological and orthopedic test is to instruct the victim to get up. This she did and I put her snowshoes back on for stability. I informed her that depending upon her ability to bear weight we had various options that ranged from our assisting her in walking out (assisted self-evacuation) to being flown off the mountain.

It took 5 minutes to go ten feet and I did what I could to keep that left ankle in eversion when she bore weight so as to keep the damaged ligaments slack. Whenever she put weight on it with the ligaments under even moderate tension she winced in great pain. At this point a walk-out was looking impossible so Alistair and I discussed deploying the SOS function on my Spot device. I went down to a flat area next to the trail where the victim's friend was now waiting and Alistair took over in walking the injured hiker down towards us. Daylight was fading.

I was about to push the SOS button when I saw the friend was looking at her phone! This would be much, much better and I called 911, got patched through to the DEC dispatch and was able to explain the situation in detail. Help was on its way! I then phoned my wife and Tom Haskins to let them each know why my Spot track would not be moving for a while.

I told the friend to put all her warm clothes on before she got cold (as opposed to after) and went back up to help Alistair who was doing a fantastic job. We got her down and sat her on a big fallen tree and immediately got busy gathering birch bark, dry pine snaps and pieced of dry wood. I cleared away a few inches of slushy snow down to the ice layer and placed several pieces of wood down for a dry foundation. The girls had dryer lint and I had several pieces of the same mixed with paraffin. Between that and the birch bark we soon had a cheerful and warm fire going. Alistair had found a 16 foot long and 3 foot wide piece of durable plastic with bubbles like bubble-wrap at a clandestine camp while getting wood. The girls were sitting on it, the vic with her foot elevated. The fire required a lot of attention to keep going and threatened to go out a few times but we kept it burning brightly and nice and hot.

It took about 90 minutes from the time of the 911 call for the ranger to arrive and she of course was extremely competent. After about 30 minutes she had the victim in a splint and an improvised webbing harness and she wore a similar set-up that she hooked to a carabiner that was attached to the rig on the victim. She wanted to get down to the Washbowl and she decided to use the tarp as a sled (brilliant idea!) and we folded it up and sat the victim down on it. The ranger, behind the “sled” and attached to the victim, acted as the brakes. I had a thin rope around the fold at the front end and I steered, pulled and cajoled the contraption as necessary. Alistair, wearing two packs, walked alongside and pushed, pulled and guided us as required. It was hard work but very effective. The victim was able to help maneuver herself over and through the steeper rocky sections with her arms and hands. It was raining and very windy. It had grown dark well before the ranger had arrived.

As we arrived at the Giant's Washbowl a team of 4 more rangers was arriving from the trail-head. What a welcome sight! They had plenty more gear and a real sled. They wrapped the victim in a full body hot pack and prepared to evacuate her down to rte. 73, which was full mile of some extremely gnarly trail away. Alistair and I escorted the friend out and upon arriving at his truck realized just how tired and worn out we were.

We drove around to the 9N trail-head and retrieved my vehicle and headed back to Tom and Doreen's for a cold beer and recounted our (mis)-adventure to them. We were scheduled to meet a hiking partner who was out of cell phone range at 6:30 the next morning at the Santanoni Range trail-head. But were now too worn out and tired to do the planned hike. Via Facebook I was able to contact someone who I knew was going to the same trail-head at 6am and she agreed to let our partner know what had occurred and explain why we would not be showing up. This saved me from having to get there myself at 6:30 the next morning.

Finally, we went to bed thinking of what had gone before and what kind of ice we would find on Noonmark and Blue Mountain the next day.