To Hike Alone

Fall seven times, stand up eight. ~Japanese Proverb

One of my favorite things about living in the Pacific Northwest is the scenery. The mountains, the skies, the Puget Sound, all these things and more provide the perfect backdrop to my life. As a traveler and adventurer, I always stay busy hiking or kayaking around the area. 

Just the other day, I decided to reunite with nature and go for a jaunt on Blanchard Mountain in northern Washington. According to my hiking guidebook, the giant boulders, bat caves and fabulous views on Oyster Dome are well worth the steep 6.5 mile hike. Just what I needed to test my endurance.

After a 1.5 hour drive, I parked my car and started my route on the Pacific Northwest Trail just off State Route 11 (Chuckanut Drive). There were a few people along the trail, but for the most part, it was a pleasant and quiet hike. Even though it wasn’t snowing, the 1,900 foot elevation gain certainly made it cold as I neared the top. After a few hours, I decided to take a break near an ice-age interpretive sign by the Talus Trail junction. I climbed on top a boulder to take some photos and greeted a young couple doing the same – their names, Christina and Anthony.

As they went on their way, I sat by myself enjoying the view. I didn’t stay too long as I was losing light and it was getting colder. It was about 10 minutes later when I started my way down off the boulder that I took one step to the left and SNAP! I fell in a split position with my right foot bent 90 degrees at the ankle. The snap was loud and it hurt like hell. I started to yell for help. Fortunately, Christina and Anthony hadn’t gotten too far away and responded. When they arrived, they climbed back on the boulder and managed to get me down, but that was as far as I would go. Walking myself out of there was out of the question.

This was the last thing I needed.

Stranded on a mountain, unable to move. A person’s worst nightmare.

There were a million things running through my mind.

It was rather fortuitous that Christina was carrying a GPS device. She later told me that she was conducting a project for her university class on satellite tracking. Divine intervention, huh? We both tried using our phones to call 911, but with spotty coverage and our batteries draining it was becoming increasingly difficult, so in one short exchange, Christina managed to give the GPS coordinates to a 911 responder.

Anthony, worried about how badly I was shaking, started back down the trail to get some blankets from his car. Christina stayed with me watching over the phones and keeping my mind off the pain with light conversation. It was well over an hour before the first crew made it to us. They bandaged my ankle and started to build a fire. The second crew brought a litter (rescue basket) strapped me inside, and placed my ankle in a vacuum splint. The third crew, which consisted of 15 volunteer firefighters and EMT’s were the people who did the actual grunt work.

  

Let me tell ya’ these guys worked fast!

By this point I was going into shock, and that together with the onset of hypothermia was not a good combination. They placed heat packs underneath my armpits and wrapped me in a waterproof down sleeping bag. After surveying the terrain and calculating how much rope they needed to belay me down the first part of the trail, we started our descent off the mountain. There was a “brake team” in the back and “survey team” in the front, along with the team that carried me on the sides. They took turns, changed positions, rested, and swapped between rope and wheel–all this with headlamps and night-vision goggles.

It was quite the task force and a comical bunch too! Cracking jokes and making fun of the situation at my expense was the best way to keep my mind off the situation, I’m sure. 🙂 When they found out I was alone and managing rather calmly despite the excruciating pain, they called me a “badass!” – A compliment in my book! 😀

Six hours later, around 8 p.m. after the team warded off a bear somewhere in there, I reunited with the first crew again and shuttled in an ambulance to Skagit Valley Hospital. A series of X-rays confirmed that I did indeed break my ankle. An oblique break in the fibula, to be exact. I’ll be out for the next six weeks with a follow up in two weeks to determine if I’ll need surgery.

It’s hard to get around on crutches and as usual, you never realize just how much you take your body for granted until you can’t use it properly. As for me, not being able to walk has certainly made a difference in my daily functions and I’m not even gonna’ get started on the crazy side effects of Vicodin! I’m on my own most days, but thankful for the friends and strangers who’ve sacrificed their time helping me out — just proof of the people worth keeping in your life.

When I think back on it all, I laugh at how I manage to find myself in such predicaments. This experience hasn’t discouraged me from hiking solo again…I mean, this is what I do! I gotta’ live life! Although this does mean I won’t be wearing my Manolo Blahniks for a while.

Bummer.

   

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18 thoughts on “To Hike Alone

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