Nichols Peak - and more of the story

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Nichols Peak - and more of the story

Post by tomcat_rc » Mon Feb 18, 2008 7:48 pm

Sunday February 17, 2008

On Saturday Rachel and I had hiked in Death Valley - hiking Pyramid Peak - with lots of newly blooming wildlflowers - trip report and photos will come at a later time.
Alice, Kathy and Nathan had hiked the group hike up on the Whiskey Flats Trail and Bull Run Falls.

We decided to get together and do a hike on Sunday that we failed to summit from last week. The idea was to again head up the south ridge leading between Heald and Nichols and bag one or both of these peaks.
What we did not realize was - the upper portion of this route sucks. It is a combination of heavy bush whacking and large block boulder scrambling up and down bumps and saddles trying to get to the ridge between the two peaks. Progress was slow and Nathan again had to turn back around noon. The four of us continued on and finally reached the skyline ridge around 1:30pm. We decided Nichols was a better choice than Heald. Heald would have been a northern slope and added slippery snow into an already long day. The route from the saddle to Nichols had a good use trail and was nicely ducked. We made the summit a short time after 3pm and spent about a half an hour celbrating and enjoying the peak.
We had a better route planned down that actually is truer to form of the description described in Ruby's book. It was a fast pace down and within an hour we were neary to the old mine road at about 4300ft elevation. We were still in a drainage but with good route and minimum hardships. I was leading and suddenly from behind me I heard Kathy state:

"Oh no - I have broken my leg"

I had not heard her fall or slide so I was not sure I had heard correctly; but it quickly became obvious that something was wrong. Alice and Rachel were right behind and we all handled the new developments as a team making a lot of good decisions(IMHO)

After splinting and stabilizing her we then discussed our options. There was now about 45 minutes or so of good salvageable light left. Since Rachel is the fastest of our group, she was the obvious choice to run the rest of the route down(appr 2.5 miles) back to vehicles and get a rescue going. We marked a waypoint and then gave Rachel the GPS so she could give an exact location to SAR. We also assessed what we had left in clothing, water, lights, etc. so an accurate detailed report could be given to any rescue party and to prepare us for what could be several long hours. Although it got colder as the sun set and the night came along, we had enough to keep the three of us(Kathy, Alice and myself) warm for the circumstances.

Rachel called 911 from the highway and Kern Fire was able to get a fast and efficient rescue operation going. Even though they had several missions ongoing, they were able to dispatch a helicopter to fly in from Bakersfield. This was a thankful and very pleasant surpise for us because a manned ground rescue would have been considerablely longer and more complicated from where she was stranded.

Remarkably from the time Kathy broke her leg until the time she was lifted into the helicopter was 2 hours. This was a remarkable effort by a lot of people and I especially want to thank them all including
Kern County Fire Department(station 71) Captain John and his team of 6 on the ground were calm, organized and professional.

Kern Fire Helicopter Team - Ryan was the team member that ziplined down to assist Kathy - he has only been on the team for a year. Thanks again Ryan.

Kern County Sheriff Department. Deputy(Snr Deputy?) Stevens waited for Alice, Rachel and I to hike and drive out even after the emergency crews were gone. He is an old friend and an assett to the Lake Isabella area. He really cares about the people in his community.

There are probably a whole lot of other people who were involved that I did not meet or get a chance to say thank you to as well.

Kathy was taken by ambulance to Kern Medical in Mt. Mesa and stayed overnight. X-rays confirmed that she had a break in the tibia and the fibula. She had nothing but praise and nice things to say about the staff and treatment while she was there. And I am sure it is not just because of the heavy drugs they gave her. Today (Monday Feb 18th)she was ambulanced down to San Juaquin medical. They performed surgery including a plate to repair the "spiral" fracture in her leg.

oh by the way notes:

I am glad they were able to use a helo for extraction. We were looking at a possible litter and carrying her out to the road. The drainage we were in was heavily overgrown at the bottom and would have required clearing some to get her through that. I was partially clearing some during the usable light while we waited in case that was to be. I remember telling Rachel when she came back (see below) - tell them we will need a saw and some water please.

The only real mistake that I saw we made. Somehow we let Rachel get away without my keys to the truck. When we discussed this after it was over; we all agreed that we had thought about keys several times prior to her leaving; but somehow collectively we missed it when she was leaving. She realized this when she got down to the ranch house about a mile down the road. Although the rancher did not have a phone he did take her partway back up to get back to us and the keys. We were able to give updated info on our situation and it only cost us about an exta 15 minutes. So if that was the worst of our "mistakes" - I can live with that.

Of tremendous value to the S&R effort was an "exact" location of where we were. Thinking to take a GPS reading before we left and relaying that info probably made a difference on being allocated a helo at a time when many rescues were ongoing in Kern County.

Let that be a lesson to so many who underpack for a planned dayhike(and I am guilty of this as anyone). Plan for the unexpected and make sure that you are prepared to deal with unforseen situations that may arise.

picures posted on my smugmug for the days hike:
wish I had taken more at the time or some of our rescue and after - but it was not the time or place. ... #256047825
Last edited by tomcat_rc on Mon Feb 18, 2008 9:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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I can quit anytime I want - I just choose not to want

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Re: Nichols Peak - and more of the story

Post by Snow Nymph » Mon Feb 18, 2008 8:31 pm

Glad you guys were able to get Kathy out so quickly! Good teamwork!

I get teased for carrying such a big pack for a day trip, but if I have to spend the night out, at least I'll be comfortable. The SPOT would have been handy in this case.

Looks like a lot of flowers in DV. :) We didn't see any in Anza Borrego this weekend. :(

Heal quickly, Kathy!
Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free . . . . Jim Morrison" onclick=";return false;

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Re: Nichols Peak - and more of the story

Post by Shawn » Mon Feb 18, 2008 8:44 pm

Ditto on the good teamwork. Your prepardness, skill and experience obviously made a h-u-g-e difference. Glad it worked out okay.

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Re: Nichols Peak - and more of the story

Post by ridgeline » Tue Feb 19, 2008 6:18 am

Wow! 2hrs from time of the break, great teamwork you guys.
Can you imagine the same situation solo?
That would have been one long cold night

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Re: Nichols Peak - and more of the story

Post by Rosabella » Tue Feb 19, 2008 6:48 am

Wow! What starts out as a promise for another great dayhike can change so completely in just one step.

Sounds like everything worked like clockwork as far as getting Kathy comfortable, distpatching Rachael for help, etc., but that only happens when everyone keeps their cool and works together - kudos to all of you!!!

It is a little spooky.... thinking how quickly something like this can happen. I've been reading more about the SPOT that Cori mentioned, and have been considering getting one; I think I will.

BTW - I love the hiking pole splint you came up with.... waaayyyyyy cooler than the carboard re-do at the ER :D

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Re: Nichols Peak - and more of the story

Post by Lewis » Tue Feb 19, 2008 10:18 am

Wow Tom, exciting story.
Kathy must have been in a lot of pain, do you guys carry "strong" pain killers in you medical kits?
[The only real mistake that I saw we made. Somehow we let Rachel get away without my keys to the truck. When we discussed this after it was over; we all agreed that we had thought about keys several times prior to her leaving; but somehow collectively we missed it when she was leaving.
I keep a extra key hidden on the vehicle attached with a beaner, and make sure to tell the person I'm hiking with of it's location if we are ridesharing.

"I'll hike with anybody,....... I'm not proud"

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Re: Nichols Peak - and more of the story

Post by Moondust » Wed Feb 20, 2008 10:44 pm

Woohoo, I finally found my password and got back on here :)

We weren't carrying anything strong in the pain relief department. I gave Kathy 800 mg ibuprofen to help with the pain and swelling. I've had a broken arm before. If you find a fairly comfortable position and don't move, the pain of a broken bone can be quite tolerable. But when you need to move, it is excrutiating. Kathy was a trooper. Every time we needed to move her, she told herself "It's only pain" and dealt with it.

We talked about the hide-a-key concept on the way out. I've never been comfortable with the idea, since I'm not sure the key could be hidden well enough if some thief was looking for it. Just like most things, pros and cons.

Moondust aka Alice

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Re: Nichols Peak - and more of the story

Post by Sierragator » Thu Feb 21, 2008 5:42 pm

Best wishes for a full recovery to Kathy. I broke my tib/fib in 2000 up near Treasure Lakes and had to be choppered out. One of the most frustrating things was my mind being way ahead of my healing leg on the desire to get back out there for hikes. The motivation to rehab made me a stronger hiker after the broken leg than I was before. Get well soon Kathy!
Therefore we are all, in some sense, mountaineers, and going to the mountains is going home."

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Re: Nichols Peak - and more of the story

Post by Trekker » Fri Feb 22, 2008 3:17 am

Tom, glad you guys were able to get your friend out safely! Thanks for posting the trip report; stories like this and Ellen Coleman's on the Whitney and San Jacinto board are really very helpful from a real-world standpoint in understanding how to deal with these situations should they, as they unfortunately do, come up. It is one thing to read about what to do, and another thing entirely to have it actually happen! The little details hidden among the big picture are sometimes the real gems of knowledge in these unfortunate circumstances.

Interestingly, I often take local solo day hikes in the local mountains in the San Diego area where I don't feel the need to use trekking poles. Last week I started thinking that I might want to have them along in case of a sprained ankle, or in the worst case scenario, to use as a splint in case of a break. Your experience has convinced me of the wisdom of this line of thinking! :nod:

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Re: Nichols Peak - and more of the story

Post by BSquared » Fri Feb 22, 2008 3:51 pm

A Sam splint is very light and quite handy. I always throw one in my pack for overnighters, and occasionally for day hikes—maybe I'll make that less "occasionally" and more like "always," now!

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