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injured when hiking solo

PostPosted: Mon Sep 12, 2016 11:16 am
by Thebrenner
HI... I've been a little reluctant to post this......AND I'm also curious how other solo hikers handle mishaps out on the trail. I also know this is one reason many people don't hike solo....AND for me hiking alone is part of the whole experience and I really look forward to my time in the Sierra by myself. These are the precautionary measures I take. Reconn form on my car dash and left with friend at home. Detailed itinerary left with several friends. Pre and Post text message to one friend when I enter and exit the trail .(details discussed on what to do if they don't hear from me and when) Nightly SPOT updates. I also have the ability to send off a second SPOT message to one friend saying I'm late and they should expect to hear from me in two days. Very detailed and specific instructions have been given to this person...when what and how...with area specific phone numbers for SAR.
In addition to the SPOT I also carry a whistle and a signal mirror. AND I think I use my common sense as much as I can. But still even when we are careful things happen!

All that being said.......the following is a story of what happened to me this summer:

As I was hiking back down to the trail from the Hutchings drainage in an impossibly fabulous mood I came to a boulder in my path. I could see the trail two feet away. Why I decided it was a good idea to STEP OVER the boulder rather than go AROUND the boulder, I’ll never know. BUT step over it is exactly what I did, or it is what I attempted to do. AND without even realizing what was happening I was falling and my head was connecting with my beloved smooth granite slabs. CLINK, the sound of my trekking poles, SMACK and THUD the sound of the right side of my head hitting the rock. AND hitting the rock HARD. It happened so fast that I couldn’t react couldn’t; attempt to save or right myself. Blood. I can feel the blood running down my face and running down my leg. Metallic. I can taste something metallic. PANIC. SHEER PANIC.
“Oh, ****, no no NO, That is it. You’re hike is over.” I immediately want to go home. Home to the safety of my couch. Coaching mode comes next. “You’re ok. You’re ok. Take it easy. Ok. Ok. Breathe. Breathe.”
And then, “I cannot tell anyone about this. I will never be able to hike solo again. I can hear the, “I told you so’s “ echoing between my ears.”
Panic again: I’m still face down on the ground, the weight of my pack preventing me from getting up or turning over. I’m like an upside down turtle flailing around. At another time this could be funny, Hysterically so. But not now. Finally, I right myself. I wipe the blood from my face with my filthy bandana. There is a lot of blood. Face and head wounds bleed a lot making you think they are much worse than they really are. I alternate between, PANIC, “****, ****. Do I need stitches? ****, What about my EYE. Is my retina still attached? (I have had two detached retinas) ****. Goddamn it.” Why swearing helps I’m not sure, but it does.
Back to Coaching, “you’re ok. Breathe. Breathe. It’s ok. It’s ok.” And finally Assessment. “Let’s get to the water and clean yourself up.” Then we can make a decision on what next.
I hike a ½ mile up the trail to the creek. I wash my face. At this point I’m not concerned with my leg. I’m concerned with my eye. I am shaking, shaking, shaking. Am I going into shock? Back to assessment: I get my small signal mirror out and look at my face. There is a bump on my head and two abrasions; they look superficial, although I cannot tell for sure. My eye is turning black and blue. There is also a bump under my eye. I test my vision. I can see. I soak my bandana in the cold water and then put it on my eye. I clean the abrasions and put Neosporin on them. My legs are scratched up but that is from bushwhacking a few days back. I have a new skinned knee, but that is nothing new.
I drink water. I think about taking Advil but decide this is a bad idea. I’m concerned about a concussion. My heart beat eventually stops thumping loudly in my chest and I’m left with just the sound of the water. What to do next?
Assessment: Yesterday there was a trail crew working here, they told me where they are camping….. If I need help I can hike to their camp. Ok that is a good plan. Plus if I really need something I can blow the hell out of my whistle and where-ever they are working on the trail they will hear me. But I can walk, so I don’t need anything. It is also 12 miles to Vogelsang High Sierra Camp, I can hike there and get help. I don’t think I need stitches, and I have steri strips in my first aid kit. It looks like the bleeding from my face has stopped.
I wonder again if I have a concussion: I don’t have a headache. I don’t feel like falling asleep. I test myself. “who is the president? It better not be Trump” I answer. Where are the last three places you camped? List all the places you’ve camped since you started your trip 12 days ago. Can you count backwards from 100? ****, that is too hard even when I haven’t fallen. “What day is it?” hmm I don’t know, but I didn’t know what day it was yesterday either, so that’s not a good test.
I think I’m ok. Yeah, I’m ok. I still have my sense of humor. All my limbs are attached. Nothing is bleeding. I don’t have a headache. I’m not sore from falling. I’m not nauseous. I don’t feel like throwing up.
I take a picture of myself with my phone. I continue to do this every few hours to monitor what is happening with my eye and face. I start to hike again. I continue to assess throughout the day, giving myself various puzzles and questions to answer. I monitor if I’m sick to my stomach or nauseous. And I hike.
Eventually I calm down and I focus on how LUCKY I am not to be laying on the side of the trail unconscious. Or waiting for search and rescue with part of my eye out of its socket, or a bone sticking out of my leg. I could have knocked my teeth out. I run my tongue over my teeth again and again to make sure they are all still there. This could have been really, really, really bad! I think of all the ways it could have been worse and the gratitude I feel brings me to tears.
And I hike. I just keep moving. I want to get as close to Vogelsang as I can….just in case. It is a LONG hike. When I pass the trail crew camp there is nothing I need so I keep moving. I pass another camp a few miles later, but do not see anyone. Still, I don’t need anything so I continue moving. I make it all the way to the top of Vogelsang Pass before I decide to camp. It is 7:30. I am not bleeding, I’m not nauseous, I’ve named all the states, and perhaps every place I’ve ever camped in my whole life. I don’t have a headache. In fact, I feel surprisingly good.
Just as dusk is turning to dark two hikers make their way up to the pass from the North. They stop and chat with me and I learn that they are Yosemite Park Nautralists taking a few days off. They ask me what happened and I tell them, unloading my burden. I can tell they are assessing me: “What’s your name? Where do you live? Where did you start your hike? When? Can you show us on the map where the trail crew is camping? Where did you fall again? What did you say your name was?” They shine their headlamps into my face and tell me the cuts look superficial and I have a great story to tell.
And yet, yet I’m afraid to go to sleep that night. “what if I die in my sleep.” I think about going home, and wonder what that would get me. Then I remember I have a black eye and I don’t want to tell anyone what happened so I can’t go home….at least not until my eye heals.
I wonder what my mom would say……would she want me to keep hiking. I decide the answer is yes, she would. If I stop hiking I will be afraid and I don’t want to be afraid. If I stop hiking, my last memory of hiking will be of falling and that, that is unacceptable. I fall asleep thinking of this and of gratitude. Immense gratitude. And in the morning, in the morning I wake up and it is a beautiful day. And I, I have bloody dry abrasions on the side of my face and one hell of a black eye.

Re: injured when hiking solo

PostPosted: Mon Sep 12, 2016 12:41 pm
by maverick
Well, that is quite a story, and one that ended very, very well. Thank you very much for sharing your experience with us, it is an ordeal that any of us here may have to deal with some time in the future. :thumbsup:

My first choice would have been to activate my SPOT for a rescue, the second choice would have been to go to the trail crew so they can assess the severity of my injuries. Folks activate their SPOT devices for much, much less significant reasons, like being lost or to tired to continue, your situation warranted immediate medical attention, and even though things turned out well, it should not be used as a reason in the future to not activate your SPOT, your decisions could have resulted in a much different outcome, you could have sustained some internal injuries that could have been life threatening, like tearing a larger blood vessel, injure your liver, spleen, kidney's, or rupture a blood vessel in your brain, which you would not have been able to self diagnose unless you had a medical background.

Forget pride next time and what others might think or say, it's your life, and no one should shame you into making a decision that could cost you your life.

Re: injured when hiking solo

PostPosted: Mon Sep 12, 2016 12:46 pm
by Jimr
Sounds like you did everything right. Hiking in the wilderness comes with potential risk. Hiking solo adds a bit more potential risk. We have to assess the cost/benefit to identify the level of risk we are comfortable with. As the days go by, you may find yourself reassessing your level of acceptable risk. It may change or not, but it will likely be on your mind for awhile.

A good thing to get out of this is to solidify in your being that regardless of what mom or anyone else may impose or think or fear about your activity, don't let it get in the way of doing what you NEED to do in a self-rescue. The more this is realized within you, the easier it will be to make the right decision should your faculties be diminished. The answer is always "save myself now, deal with mom later".

I'm glad it turned out o.k.

Re: injured when hiking solo

PostPosted: Mon Sep 12, 2016 3:13 pm
by giantbrookie
Glad everything turned out right. As others have said it sounds like you did everything right and kept your head. I suspect if you'd been with someone at the time you were hurt it would have helped your mental state a lot. I think it is human nature to get a lot more scared about injuries when alone, as I will try to convey with my own stories of getting hurt in the mountains alone and with folks below...

I don't do much in the way of solo hiking, but I did sustain one moderately injury while alone, 3 mi off trail from where I dad and I were camping. I sustained a hairline fracture of my ankle after I landed badly after an enormous sideways leap to avoid a huge rolling boulder that would have otherwise crushed me. I remember seeing my lower leg bend funny upon landing and dreading the inspection I made of myself---I was hoping there wouldn't be anything jagged protruding and there wasn't. I had to do some awkward class 3 snow climbing with one foot, then some slithering, crab walking, and crawling across big talus boulders, before I could get to a place where I could more or less hop on one foot the 3 miles off trail back to camp. I guess I was not worried about my injury because it was overshadowed by the very narrow escape I had dodging that boulder which would have been a totally fatal encounter solo or not. When that boulder dislodged just above me I was in fact certain I was going to die. I anticipated the feeling of getting crushed, but made my do or die leap to give me a chance. Accordingly when the leap allowed me to escape the boulder but I was injured upon landing I was still very happy to be alive, even though I knew I had messed up my ankle. I figured at that point of the game, even if I'd seen a compound fracture, I would have resolved to crawl out to safety.

I've had several other injuries when I've been with someone and was also with my brother when he was hurt and it was clear in all of those cases that the mental state was much improved because of being with someone. One of these was when I broke two fingers (also hairline fractures) when I took a fall at Harriet Lake. I was concerned that the swelling of my ring finger (one of the two broken ones) might result my circulation being cut off (because of my wedding ring) and my eventually losing the finger, but I was two days from the car so I decided we'd just continue on with the trip (for the next three days--the finger's circulation ended up being OK). It was comforting to have others around, to be sure. Once on a trip with my wife in the middle of nowhere (the beautiful Lake 10232 below Mt Goddard) I had this log break, and one end bounce up and hit me in the face when I stepped on it funny. I knew from the impact that I had sustained some sort of facial damage. I noticed a bunch of blood starting to spatter on the rocks below me. I turned to my wife and asked "does this look as bad as I think it does"? She looked at me in stunned silence with the look of shock on her face. While not the reaction I wanted to see, nonetheless, being with someone when this happened was much better for my mental state than if that had happened solo. We still had 5 days to go on that trip and we finished them. I don't think the nose was actually broken with that shot, but it may have ripped one of my nostrils a bit--the cut was right on the "seam" so there is no unusual scar. I didn't look good for awhile with a black and blue bloody face for the duration of the trip.

In a more accessible location I took a very hard fall and sustained hairline fracture of my thumb. However, in addition to being with my family, I was at a very popular destination 2 mi from my car---awkward drive it was though, shifting with my left hand. I remember that my being with my brother when he took a fall once really helped his mental state. We were descending the "lesser" Mt Morgan and he took this tumble. I saw it and was fairly sure something bad had happened to my brother's ankle. We were about 6 miles from the car, it was getting a bit late, and my bro was pretty freaked out. He said later that my calmness in checking out his injury (turned out to be only a moderately sprained ankle) and then helping him hike out was crucial to his sanity, which gets back to the mental aspect of solo hiking and injuries---that one is more likely to get freaked out if hurt while alone.

Re: injured when hiking solo

PostPosted: Mon Sep 12, 2016 3:19 pm
by Teresa Gergen
If you had a hiking partner with you and you stepped over the rock and the same thing happened, what would have been different? Yes, it's comforting to have someone else there with you -- for you. Not so much for them. Your SPOT can be just as emotionally comforting.

Can't count the number of times I've walked away from a situation like this, climbing solo, dealing with the first aid kit and the adrenaline at the same time, realizing just how lucky I am at the moment. I CAN count how many times I couldn't walk away, despite realizing how lucky I was not to be dead -- once. That's when you set off the SPOT.

You did everything perfectly. Your mind and your training and your preparation never let you down. That's why they're called accidents - you didn't do anything stupid. Being outdoors is dangerous. So is sitting around being sedentary inside. This is life.

Battle scars, "souvenirs" you'd rather not have acquired, and good dramatic stories generally accumulate at a slower rate than the good times.

Re: injured when hiking solo

PostPosted: Tue Sep 13, 2016 9:32 am
by RoguePhotonic
Getting decent medical knowledge will go along ways to help you when things go bad. Having everything in place to have people come for you is great but in the moment the only one who can help you is you. After my bad mishaps a suture kit is now added to my first aid to sow up wounds in the field.

Re: injured when hiking solo

PostPosted: Tue Sep 13, 2016 9:37 am
by balzaccom
Hmmm. I seemed to have lost a post here. That's a great story, and I think the comments here are "spot" on. And I wanted to compliment you on how well you told it. Your description of the moments right after the fall are perfect---been there, done that!

One question/bit of second guessing: Do you really leave a trip note on your car dashboard? We always avoid letting people know how long we'll be gone, just on the off chance that some knucklehead will use that information to either break a car window, or call a friend about our empty house. We do let our kids know when and where we are going...

Re: injured when hiking solo

PostPosted: Tue Sep 13, 2016 9:55 am
by Wandering Daisy
On long trips I leave a note on my car window, because I do not want the FS people to tow my car! I left my car for three weeks at North Lake. I honestly do not think anyone would use this information to break into my house - but then, there is family at home anyway.

I tend to fall flat on my face at least twice on every trip. Somehow, I never have been hurt. I must be good at falling down. Last trip I hit my head on a tree, just lightly. Also caught my toe on a rock and fell face first on another trip - cut and bruised my chin, bled a bit and later in the day my big toe turned black. Amazingly, it did not hurt much. I pack pretty light, so never have felt pinned down by the pack.

I always take my trekking poles on day hikes when solo. This way, I can at least limp back to camp if I sprain an ankle, or use them as a splint. Trekking poles also help me to NOT fall down.

Re: injured when hiking solo

PostPosted: Tue Sep 13, 2016 11:13 am
by dave54
I used to travel solo off trail a lot, usually without an itinerary. Not as much now. I am uber cautious when doing so. Walking a mile out of my way to find an easier creek crossing or avoid a rock face traverse, when if with someone I would not think twice about it. I never had any serious injuries while hiking. Mountain biking solo though, I thought I bought the ranch one time. I had actually left a detailed route description and personal description in my vehicle and with my wife. I was descending a steep 4wd road that also had a side slope, loose gravel on bare bedrock. Really tricky, and in hindsight should have hiked-a-bike. About halfway down the tires went out under me, I tried to correct, and instead endoed over handlebars. The bike and myself became tumbleweeds down the rest of the hill, and when I came rest I was seriously stunned, with my torso through the bike frame and my bodyweight basically pinning myself under the bike. I laid there several minutes assessing myself and decided no broken bones or serious wounds. I extricated myself from the bike and found numerous abrasions and scrapes on my legs and one arm, and my helmet was shattered (it did its job!), but no facial or head injuries. The bike was still ridable with the front wheel slightly tacoed and could not shift. Sat alongside the trail for some time, half hour or so, letting my pulse rate and mental status return to some semblance of normal. Cleaned myself up as best I could and finished the ride SLOWLY and CAUTIOUSLY.
I now walk the bike through most gnarly descents, and buy a new helmet every couple years whether it has impacted or not.

Re: injured when hiking solo

PostPosted: Tue Sep 13, 2016 7:42 pm
by Thebrenner
Thank you all for your great comments! I agree I was very very lucky. It's good to read how others have handled slips, falls and pokes with sticks.
I forgot to mention that I also took a picture of my head and face every few hours to monitor for any enlarged or weird pupils. Maverick your points are well taken, perhaps it would have been a better idea to check in with the trail crew.
JimR exactly! I spent the rest of my trip, 7 more days reassessing my level of acceptable risk.
Grainbrooke yes mental state while alone is a huge factor. Immediately after this happened I felt very lonely. The following day I hiked out to Tuolumne and made a bee-line for the backpackers picnic benches where I just sat there soaking up human connection and soon felt much better emotionally.
Teresa I'd love to hear your story of the one time you had to use your SPOT.
Rogue Yup, I remember reading about your finger and then watching your video of it. I actually thought of that while I was assessing myself.
Blazacom thx for the compliment. AND yes I do leave a RECONN form in an envelope inside my car on the dash, you cannot see the date of my return unless you open it up.

Hope to have a TR posted soon on this summer's adventure.