Oct 23, 2014

Posted by Jo W. in | 10/23/2014
I am continuing with my story from this past summer, as I was cycling from Baltimore, MD to Portland, OR with my 4K for Cancer team. You can read the previous installments here:

Part 3- Into the Tetons and the Best Hike Ever
Part 2- Back to Jackson, WY
Part 1- Life Updates

In my last post, you could probably sense the tension building and can guess what happens next. What comes next in my story is probably the most thrilling moment of my life. In both a terrifying and exhilarating way. 

Where I left off last time was nearly 10,000 feet above sea level, precariously perched on the ledge of a mountain in the Tetons. My small group of hikers just split up; Chris and I were staying put while the other three continued to climb. We agreed to meet back together at 6, at the latest. It was only four, and I had an uncomfortable feeling about staying so high up the mountains so close to dusk. We did not have the foresight to bring headlamps and getting stuck in the mountain after dark would be potentially dangerous. Although I wanted to start heading down soon, the other hikers really wanted to reach the summit. 

As the sun was getting lower and the temperatures cooled, the mosquitoes started coming out. They were relentless. We kept moving from one place to another, trying to avoid them, but they would return in swarms. The later it got, the thicker they came. Thankfully, I brought a few long sleeved layers and a bandanna to protect most of my exposed skin, but they were still driving us nuts. When I couldn't stand it anymore, I decided to head back to the trail in hopes that there would be fewer mosquitoes there. We left a message for our three friends who were still climbing so that they would know where we were. 

In order to get back on the trail, we had to descend down that grassy slope that I felt sketched out by, cross a boulder field, and a stream. Chris let me head down first and waited until I was safe distance away to avoid getting hit by loose rocks. I started down the steep slope very slowly and carefully. I knew that there were some patches that were slippery and a lot of the rocks were loose. When I cleared the trickiest section, I hollered to Chris to start descending. I continued on and started to retrace the path I took climbing up. The slope wasn't as steep at this section, so the steps I took were bolder and I didn't step as gingerly. 

It's when I let my guard down that accidents happen. I took one misstep, hopped slightly, chose a poor landing spot, and landed on my ankle wrong. I heard a dull pop and screamed. I knew instantly. 

There wasn't immediate pain. More like a gradual awareness of it combined with fear that made it worse. Panic started to creep into my mind as I realized the implications of my injury and my physical location so high up the mountain. So inaccessible. 

Poor Chris. He was out of my line of sight, though close enough to hear my scream and my calling out to him. I must have scared him nearly to death, which made me feel worse. He got to me as quickly as he could, and tried to calm me down as he assessed my injury. I had already tried to elevate it on a rock, which was not easy because I was sitting on quite a steep slope. I tried to move it a bit, but that made the pain nearly intolerable. 

Chris asked me if I thought I would be able to stand on my ankle. I didn't think that I could.

Carrying me out was out of the question, since we were seven miles from the trail head down some pretty steep terrain. Not to mention that boulder field full of loose rocks and stream that we would have to cross to even reach the trail.

Getting rangers/medical personnel to hike me out was also not possible for the same reasons. And it was getting closer to dusk and by the time they reached me, it would be completely dark. 

The only option that I could see would be to get airlifted by a helicopter. The only problem was contacting Search and Rescue and have them locate me. There were a few factors that wasn't working in my favor: I was in deep into Garnet Canyon. I didn't know how to describe my location since the other half of my hiking party was navigating and were currently out of reach. We all had low cell phone battery and very spotty service. Night was approaching, so time was of the essence. 

I fought to keep the negative thoughts out of my head. When you're stuck in a situation that can potentially get much worse, you can't help but think "what if". I tried to stay positive, make jokes, take selfies. Anything to keep my mind off of the pain and the deep shit I was in. We would figure a way out. 


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