It Was A Dark And Stormy Night…

26 03 2012

I’m in the middle of teaching a ten-day Wilderness First Responder course and reflecting on a recent injury to a friend and the value of being prepared.

It was a dark and stormy night…..

Actually it was bluebird powder day. Clear skies, 8” fresh light powder. Tim, AT and I had just topped out at 8000’ on top of the peak. We were psyched. Below us lay 1800’ of untracked powder.

Hot soup and tea out of our thermoses provided much need hydration after the ascent. A  few quick bites of food and we felt the energy coming back as we pulled off our skins, re-checked transceivers and pulled on goggles.

Our plan was to negotiate a traversing icy slope under a rock band and ski an 800’ bowl. Then we’d skin back to the top and finish the day in one of the 1600’ couloirs.

The traverse and side slip was an icy, crusty field. I was relieved to get down to the top of the powder bowl. It looked awesome. I heard a yell and whipped my head around. AT was airborn in the middle of his second cartwheel. He had caught an edge and fell, hard. One ski on, one ski already ejected. He came to rest mid-slope in some softer snow. Tim was just below him. It was a gnarly fall.

AT was sitting there. “Hey you guys just go ahead and I’ll ski down the easy route”, said AT. Hmm, I thought, not a bad idea – that powder sure looked good. But a better idea  would be to wait for AT.

“Is your head okay? Want me to get your ski?” asked Tim.

“Naw, I’m fine and  I’ll get my ski and skin to the top and wait for you guys there”, responded AT.

AT was still sitting there.

“AT are you injured” I asked. “Yes I tweaked my knee” AT replied and then tried to stand up to climb up to his ski. No Go. He slumped back on the snow with a yelp of pain. He couldn’t weight bear on his left leg. RutRo.

Tim and I worked back up to AT. We did an assessment of AT, our situation and our resources. It was early in the day, clear weather. Could we support AT to go down 1600’ of steep terrain and get out to the road and retrieve our vehicle? That seemed like the best option. With the gear in our packs we fashioned a splint to support him during the descent. We split up his gear, Tim carried AT’s skis and I carried his pack, and we headed down. Tim found the route, I broke trail and AT glissaded slowly and in control. He could go about 10 feet and would need to rest. It took us hours to reach flatter terrain where we put one of his skis on and with our skis on we could support him between us and ski to the road. AT worked hard. He was in pain and even with layers and warm drinks he was cold. His knee hurt, but his condition was stable. We did the best we could.

We finally got him into the vehicle and back to the cabin. A couple days later he got medical care and learned he had fractured his tibia – the shin bone right below the knee. I talked to AT last night.  His doctor cleared him to resume to full activity. He swims every day and is looking forward to an epic backpack trip this summer.

Upon reflection I feel fortunate our evacuation went well. Here’s what I think contributed to the success.

It was early in the day giving us plenty of time to get out.

The weather was clear and cold. We didn’t have to deal with adverse conditions.

We had just enough gear to fashion a splint, and stay reasonably warm, fueled and hydrated.

We all worked well together and had training and experience in wilderness first aid and in leadership. We efficiently weighed our options and crafted an evacuation plan

AT’s injury, although painful, was not life threatening, did not involve a spine or head injury allowing him to assist in his evac.

Our route was straightforward – go down, go out.

What do I wish we had done differently?

It’s always a trade-off regarding what you can carry and what you would like to have in an emergency. We built the splint out of the pad in the pack, ski straps, and zip ties. It wasn’t ideal but it worked when we needed it.

In hind sight was there another option to get down the icy slope. Yes, there is almost ALWAYS another option.

I’m glad AT is doing well and I am thankful for all the awesome training and experiences we three have which enabled us to take care of the situation.

See you out there!

Written by: Roger Bailey, River House Outdoor Program Supervisor

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