Nov 5, 2014

Posted by Jo W. in | 11/05/2014
Wow, I am the worst... Sorry to keep you all in suspense after my last post about two weeks ago. I had a busy weekend traveling down to Maryland to see my 4K teammates, been busy with exams (as always), and was just plain lazy over the Halloween weekend.

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. Here are the previous parts to my story if you need to catch up:

Part 4- The Part You've Been Waiting For
Part 3- Into the Tetons and the Best Hike Ever
Part 2- Back to Jackson, WY
Part 1- Life Updates

So here was my situation:

1) I was 99% positive that my ankle was broken
2) I was in a hard to reach location on the side of the mountain, approximately 7 miles and 3,000 feet in elevation from the trailhead
3) Three of my hiking buddies were MIA because they continued on ahead and were going to meet us later. At least I wasn't alone and was with Chris.
4) Both our cell phones had low battery and almost no cell phone service.

After assessing the situation, the next logical step was to call for help. The location I was in wasn't the best, so Chris walked around the area trying to get better cell reception. After a few tries, his 911 call went through. He explained the situation and was transferred to Search and Rescue. Since we weren't the ones planning the hike, we didn't really know how to describe our location. In my current state of mind, I could barely recall anything. All I remembered was the name of the peak across the canyon: Desolation Peak. That name stuck in my mind for some reason...

The dispatchers tried to pinpoint our location using the cell phone signal, but it kept cutting out. The call was dropped, but at least someone knew we were out here. Chris tried to call again and again, but the signal was lost. The other hikers in our group had phones with them, so we were hoping that when they met back up with us, their phones would get a call through.

At that point, the swarms of mosquitoes were coming back. It was also getting chilly as the sun sunk behind the mountain peaks. As we were waiting for our friends to find us, the reality of my injury sunk in. Of course I wouldn't be able to complete the cross-country bike ride with a broken ankle. I thought how ironic it was that although I never got injured on the bike (while my teammates had countless mishaps, even flipping over handlebars), I had to get injured on a rest day. Although I didn't know the extent of my injury, I was determined to stay with my team until we got to Portland, even if I had to hobble around on crutches and ride the support vans every day. I was going to continue the trip, nonetheless.

After what seemed like at least an hour, our friends finally made the descent and found us. They looked very concerned, so I tried to make things more lighthearted with jokes and laughs. I hated to make everyone so worried about me. One of my friends had the best cell reception, and was able to reach Search and Rescue again. He was able to describe our location better, and they said that they were on their way. 

It was a long wait, but we finally heard the unmistakable sound of a helicopter overhead. It made a few passes in the canyon as they assessed the best way to reach me. Two rescuers were dropped off and hiked over to meet us. They took a look at my ankle and tried to see if I could bear weight on it. Just lifting it from the rock it was propped on was painful, and I was too scared to try to walk on it. There was no choice but to fly me out, so they began to prep for a short-haul. I thought they were going to lift me up into the helicopter and fly me down. Nope. I was going to be harnessed, lifted, and flown down essentially dangling from a helicopter. Needless to say, there are some risks, but I had no choice. Part of me was thrilled to able to fly down the Tetons in such a manner. I mean, this is (hopefully) a once in a lifetime experience. And of course part of me was scared shitless. I couldn't help but think about how this could go terribly wrong...

First, my ankle was protected in an air splint. I was getting pretty cold, so one of the rescuers gave me his jacket. Then the harness went on and a helmet. One of them was going to fly with me and support my leg while the other stayed behind to hike down with my friends. The helicopter slowly approached us with the ropes and they were attached to my harness. I felt them lifting slowly, bearing my weight in the harness, and I was airborne! 

The ride down to the valley was probably five minutes long, but it is an experience that I will never forget. Let me tell you, the view was spectacular. The sun was setting as I was lifted above the peaks of Garnet Canyon. My view stretched for miles across the valley, and I could see the lakes that we hiked around earlier. I tried to take it all in while I could. The wind was also very strong and very loud, almost to the point that it was deafening. I was just glad that I had on an extra layer to keep me warm.

The helicopter slowly lowered me in a field, where there was an ambulance, stretcher, and many first responders ready to unhook me and load me into the ambulance. There were also a few onlookers gawking at the girl dangling from a helicopter. After I landed and safely in the ambulance, I was headed to the hospital in Jackson, WY. I was a bit worried because my friends were still on the mountain and they had to hike down in the dark. I also didn't have my cell phone on me, so I didn't have anyone's numbers and wouldn't be able to reach them. I tried to relax as the EMT inserted an IV, took my blood pressure, and chatted with me.


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