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Posted by sollydog, 06-29-06Tuesday June 27, 2006
Started up from Trail Camp at 0815 hours with the goal of summiting Mount Whitney then dropping down the backside to head along the John Muir Trail to Bishop Pass. Weather that morning was clear, blue skies with no winds. Since we are planning on camping and staying out for about 14 days my pack weights 70 pounds, and my two boys (13 and 15 years old) packs are 35 and 40 pounds. We all have ice axes, crampons, webbing (for making Swiss seats), carabiners, eight plate and 100 feet of line.
Around 0915 hours the weather started changing to cloudy skies with thunderclouds rolling in. By 1000 hours it was raining, hailing with thunder and lighting, winds about 40 knots. Due to our heavy loads we made it just past the cables when the storm hit and decided to turn back for Trail Camp rather then tangle with Mother Nature.
Just after passing through the cable section my boys stated they heard someone calling for help. I yelled up the cable section and asked if help was needed, and the answer was yes. Dropping my pack and telling my boys to stay put, I proceeded up the cable section (12441 feet) where this 52 year old women was found slumped and disoriented. With the storm getting worse and the temperatures getting colder I made the decision that we had to get her down the mountain to at least Trail Camp.
A couple of other hikers, Bob and Darren, we also on their way down and wanted to help out. Thankfully they were there, because I used them to a great extent.
Being a firefighter/paramedic I examining the woman and found her to be orientated x 4 (person, place, time and situation) but lethargic and fading fast. Skins = pale, cold and wet. (Note: that all her clothing was completely soaked). It was obvious that she was suffering from hypothermia and altitude sickness. With the help of Bob and Darren, we stripped off all her clothing and used my 15 year old's polar fleece clothing. Darren giving up his hiking socks and just wearing liners for the trip down the mountain.
Having redressed her, I placed a Swiss Seat and attached a life line which Bob belayed. Darren was willing to take my pack so that I may deal with the patient at this time. Taking the lead I dragged, carried and pulled her along the multiple switchbacks and snow fields. During this time her orientation level was decreasing and she was pretty much noncompliant, unruly and dead weight.
Due to the crazy conditions this year, my wife made me take (rent) a satellite phone so that I could report on our hiking status (also, that the kids were well). Little did I know that I would be using it to call for a SAR team and medical chopper to life-flight her out.
Multiple times on the way down I was in contact with the SAR team who stated that due to the weather condition they were unable to get a chopper up at this time. We would have to get this woman down the mountain by ourselves. We finally made it to Trail Camp at 1500 hours and her status now was lethargic, cold with decreased level of consciousness. We once again stripped her of all clothing and placed her in her sleeping bag with hot water bottles that Bob and Darren were boiling.
I reported to SAR that the weather conditions at Trail Camp were clear with winds at 10 - 15 knots. They stated that a chopper was on the way up and would be transporting the patient. By 1615 hours she was on her way to the hospital.
Lessons that people should take note of is that in the mountains weather conditions can change in a flash. Always carry extra clothing (or multiple layers). Drink fluids and then drink some more. Eating is also important to help fuel the body.
Luckily for this woman I was there and able to help out and good citizens like Bob and Darren were willing to give their time and effort. Otherwise, she most likely would have died within the next couple of hours.
Posted by Memory Lapse, 06-29-06Great job Sollydog - you were obviously well prepared and didn't put yourself or your children in harms way to save this lady's life.
The world needs more good Samaritans like yourself.
Posted 06-29-06Sollydog, if there was ever a person to get lucky on their time of need it has to be this woman: (1) To have a person with your background and experience right there on the mountain (2) That your boys were able to hear her calls for help through the storm (3) That you had a SAT-phone to call SAR. (4) And that you had some extra help from other hikers.
I have been thinking a lot about your annual Sierra trip (With a hint of jealousy, as I sit at work in front of my computer!): Were you really going to use that SAT-phone and was it really that inconvenient? Would you and the boys have to use the crampons and ice-axes? What kind of weather were you getting up in the Eastern Sierra's with all the pre-monsoon conditions we have been getting in Southern California? Now I know!
Your recommendations are right on. Thanks for the great post!
Posted by TheGiantMan, 06-29-06Hi there sollydog. I just got back from Mt. Whitney yesterday after an overnight trip up the Whitney trail. There was eight of us hiking up Tuesday morning from Outpost Camp, and we ran into you at the switchbacks on the way up. We were at the cable section and made it past them by going outside the cables and then back up before the big rock. We saw you and your sons climb around the rock in the snow. We kept climbing until we heard the thunder, which was about 10:30AM. At that point we all headed down, passing you along the way. Just before the thunder, the guy at the highest point in our group saw an electrical arch between his hiking poles! On the way down one of us twisted his ankle and fell over on the switchbacks. It took almost 20 minutes before he could walk. He was in a lot of pain but managed to get down. We didn't know what we would have done if he could not have walked on his own.
We had no idea that there was a woman behind us calling for help. We never saw her. I'm really happy to hear that you helped her - that was nice. We made it safely back to the paking lot by 5:30. We were disappointed that we didn't reach the summit, but glad we were all alive. Also, we wondered if you and your sons kept going or turned back. The weather was not getting any better, plus there was smoke in the air from a fire.
I would also like to report that there is some snow between Outpost and Trial camp that except for one spot isn't too difficult to pass. That one spot is very narrow and if you were to slip you would fall down a steep snow covered hill. The long snow field before the switchbacks was exhausting to cross. The patches of snow on the switchbacks were also kind of harry, especially at the cable section where we had to walk outside the cables and then back in and up a rock. So the reports we heard about "snow free to the switchbacks" was not true.
Posted by booger, 06-29-06Any idea of the circumstances that got her into trouble?
Posted by scotthiker2, 06-29-06Way to go sollydog!
This brings up a question. Why doesn't SAR use horses or mules when they cannot get a whirlybird into an area with trail access? It seems like that would go a long way towards helping to move someone. Might take a few hours to get there, but that may be better than hoping for a storm to end.
Posted by Kurt Wedberg, 06-29-06Nice job sollydog! Thanks for helping out another climber in need.
scotthiker2: I think horses were banned on the Main Whitney Trail in 1971. If you dug around enough you could find information about it. For a situation like this one it would sure be nice to have them available though.
Posted by cabrera05, 06-29-06sollydog-
i have an extremely ignorant question to ask, How did you heat up the water bottles, if there is no fire allowed on the trail? i would love clarification on that aspect of the rescue.
Posted by summit scott, 06-30-06My best guess would be a gas stove.
Posted by graham, 06-30-06Sollydog,
You, your kids, Darren and Bob showed great character in helping a hiker in need of help and under difficult weather conditions. It's great to know that there are folks like you around. Major kudos to all!
What a difference a day or two makes. I hiked up Whitney 2 days before your adventure on Sunday (6/25) under very mild and comfort weather conditions (just a t-shirt and a sun shirt was all that was needed). I did notice some small rain clouds over the western sierras, but nothing in the Whitney area. On the drive home that night there was a thunderstorm front moving thru the Cajon pass area with occasional rain squalls and lots of lightning in the Big Bear & Baldy area. As you mentioned, the weather can change in a flash.
I hope you get a chance to finish your planned hike up to Bishop Pass. Sound like a fantastic trip, except for that 70 pounder you're carrying, ouch, major bonus points!
Posted by Steve G, 06-30-06Sollydog, We met you the day before as we were getting acclimated, looked at your new camera for a bit. Thanks for helping that person. All climbers I'm sure are thankful that someone with your experience is on the mountain. There were quite a few people that were anxious to get off of the top last Tuesday June 27th. We got down to trail camp just prior to the chopper arrival.We were worried that something had happened to one of the boys, Myself and five other first timers learned real quickly what it was like when caught in the middle of a storm at 14,000 feet. We did not see the storm coming in behind us and when we did, because we were almost there we decided to drop our equipment and make a run for the top(quarter mile) Big Mistake....Worst place to be! It was strange to see a storm hit that quickly and suddenly. Thanks to the experienced hikers we met they advised us to do the following: sit twenty five feet apart, discard your poles, get as low as possible covering up and covering your ears. (If someone is struck, at least one of you can preform CPR) Now envision this with shorts and no jacket hail, snow, wind,lightning blasts. We're talking really close, loud, blasts, There is absolutely nothing you can do, Now we are extremely cold , wet, scared, tired, and a few other things. (Could have used that potty pack that Caroline so politely explained how to use, without making me blush to much.). It was an amazing adventure. Hikers must know that at this time making the snow crossings is pretty serious without crampons. I packed mine up & down, never used them, but the front two climbers used theirs and had softened up the slippery stuff. (I can't imagine doing the glissading down the chute)...Watched a couple of guys climb the chute as we took the switch backs, getting tired in the middle of that section would be a real problem. I bet your sons are really proud of you... Thanks again.
Posted by scotthiker2, 06-30-06Kurt,
You are probably correct regarding the horses and I am glad that is the case (from a recreational standpoint).
However, that would not stop me from allowing them in the area if lives were at risk.
Posted by Kurt Wedberg, 06-30-06scotthiker2,
Yes I think we are thinking along the same lines as far as using horses for rescue.
As far as using them for recreation... that's a good separate topic that I'm sure would get lots of comments both for and against. Lets see if anyone bites on it...
Posted by scotthiker2, 06-30-06Kurt,
Not sure if we will get any nibblers or not so I thought I would indicate my opinion on the topic (albeit briefly).
I support horses on many of the trails (limited permits of course) only because I want people (who might otherwise never get out to these beautiful places) to experience this area. As more and more people experience these wild places (over a life time), they will be more difficult to open up to other more destructive activities.
Having said that, I am glad they are not allowed in this area, simply because the area is already highly impacted by hikers.
I wish everyone could put on a day pack and make a trek or two into the sierra during their lifetime. If not, then maybe the next best thing is to get on a horse and see it that way. It sure gives one a greater appreciation for the area than could ever be gleaned from a book, photo, airplane, tall tale, etc.
I don't like the fly's any more than the next person, but as an old girlfriend used to say "horse poopy is about as natural as it gets" or something like that.
my 2 cents
Posted by Memory Lapse, 06-30-06I wouldn't mind horses or mules as long as they issued equine wagbags.
Posted by Steve C, 06-30-06This topic is about the rescue of a hiker. If you want to discuss horses on trails, please start a new topic.
Mt. Whitney Hikers Association
Posted by scotthiker2, 06-30-06Oops, sorry about that.
Good post and rescue! Where did you rent your satellite phone? Found a lot of different rental services online, but looks like a potential for hidden fees.
Posted by sollydog, 07-03-06I got my phone from www.SatellitePhoneStore.com which is based out of Florida. It was $45.00 per week and I purchased the call package of 100 minutes for $98.00 otherwise it was $1.85 per minute. Hope this helps.
Posted by AnotherSteve, 07-05-06How much does the phone weigh?
Posted by sollydog, 07-05-06The phone weights 14.6 oz. (Phone and two batteries).
Posted by thadeus71, 07-08-06Hi Sollydog,
Did you get my e-mail? I hope you and your boys are well. How is the woman we saved, is she OK?
Posted by sollydog, 07-09-06Sorry, I never received your email. I have tried calling her at her home phone (four times) and left messages to see what her final outcome was, but she has yet to return any calls. Anyways thanks for all your help again and for carrying my pack (70 lbs - you are the man).
Posted by takalickinandkeepontickin, 07-09-06Good job. Somebody like you helped me one time when I got bad hyponatremia - all I remember from Trail Camp all the way down to Portal was his face floating in and out of my field of vision like a guardian angel. I walked the whole way - my body was fine but I could not remember my name, where I came from, whether I was married (hey, it's nice to forget sometimes!) etc.... Now I am resolved to help people in a pinch.
I don't know if I'd have the guts to undress a strange woman though. Honestly, to me that would have been the scariest part. I mean, what if she comes to right at that moment and accuses you of something?
I guess that's a chance a good Samaritan has to take.
Anyway keep on helping out, you are like a human embodiment of the mountain's good spirit.
Posted by thadeus71, 07-10-06Sollydog, I must have written the wrong e-mail address down. If you want, give me a call if you hear from her.
Posted by Potamus, 07-11-06This is a message of thanks.
My 12-year-old son and I are LIVING proof that messages from guys like Sollydog and Skinnerhead have great informative value to those who follow them up the mountain.
We headed toward Whitney from the back (Horseshoe Meadow) last Friday morning (7/07). While we have been hiking for years, we are relative rookies when it comes to overnight backpacking. So, before I left, I combed this message board, and in doing so read the stories Skinnerhead and Sollydog had posted.
We camped at Rock Creek Lake Friday night, then headed along Rock Creek and over Guyot Pass on Saturday. Arriving at Crabtree Meadow at about 5 p.m., we decided we could easily make it to Guitar Lake by 7 p.m., eat dinner, then get a decent night's sleep before heading to the summit Sunday morning. (We had an exit pass for the Main Trail.)
The weather was sunny, with some intermittent clouds rolling past. It appeared that it was going to be a nice night.
As we passed Timberline, however, I noticed a dark cloud appearing above the high peaks.
"Uh-oh," I thought, "here it comes." Sure enough, about a quarter-mile short of Guitar Lake, the thunder started to rumble. My son and I dropped our poles under a rock, then hustled down a small ridge to lay low next to some boulders.
First, there was a little rain. Then, a few pieces of hail. Then, a lot of hail. Big hail. Mothball-sized hail.
I held my son close to me under my arm. He was not only frightened, but wincing from the hailstones hitting him.
The lightning was getting closer, with loud cracks of thunder following almost instantly. Next, came that dreaded "hissing" noise that Skinnerhead had talked about. "Like air coming out of a tire," was the way he put it.
I had never heard of that before reading his post, but on Saturday night I recognized it immediately. "Oh, no!" I thought as I pulled my kid closer.
The guilt was overwhelming. I felt I should never have pushed ahead when I saw those clouds.
Why had I put my son in such danger?
Lightning hit right in front of us, at a distance of what seemed like only 50 yards.
My heart felt strange; I wasn't sure if it was from the lightning, or just the intensity of the moment.
After about a half-hour, the storm eased up. But we weren't out of the woods just yet.
I looked at my son. Even though he had been wearing a rain jacket and poncho, he appeared soaked. Worse yet, he was shivering.
That's when I relied on the post from Sollydog, who had rescued a 52-year-old woman suffering from altitude sickness and and hypothermia.
My son had no interest in moving to a lower elevation, and he appeared as though he wanted to go to sleep. He asked if we could set up the tent where we were, and I figured it was worth a shot.
He was able to help me somewhat, and we got it pitched. Thanks to our air mattresses, the floor was dry.
Following Sollydog's advice, I got my son out of his wet clothes and into his sleeping bag. I stuffed all of the dry clothes I had around his feet. Gradually, he began to warm up.
I stared at my watch the next six hours, hoping we would get through the cold, damp night.
By 3 a.m., I felt confident things would be OK. I made a promise to myself that I would do whatever I could to avoid putting my son in danger.
The next morning, I got my first chance.
After that rough night, I wasn't about to rush my son. We broke camp at about 8 a.m., and I figured we would reach Trail Crest by 11:30.
The sky was cobalt blue and clear. I figured that if we got to Trail Crest at 11:30 and it was clear, we would go to the summit.
About halfway up the switchbacks, clouds started to roll in. A short time later, it began to snow.
At Trail Crest, I decided to poll a few hikers coming down from the summit, even though my mind pretty much was made up:
It was not going to happen for us this day.
Three sets of hikers confirmed my hunch. The best advice was to head down.
Having traveled about 28 miles in about two and a half days, my son was a bit bummed. "We're so close," he said.
At that point, a wonderful guy named "Jay" appeared.
"How old are you?" he asked my son. "You're just a kid and you made it from Horseshoe to Trail Crest? Give me a high five!!"
He moved closer to my son's face. "Don't worry, Buddy ... That mountain is always going to be there! You can come back."
Then, turning to me, Jay said, "You have a camera? Let me get a picture of you guys."
I took about 50 pictures on this trip. That one that Jay took was by far the best.
With Jay leading us for about a half-hour, we headed down. Not far below Trail Camp, a thunderstorm hit. With lightning flashing in the sky behind us, we hustled down to the treeline.
Once at the Portal, I turned to my son. "Want to try again next year?"
He smiled and nodded his head. "Yep!" he answered confidently.
I learned a lot on this trip. Thanks to this message board, I also learned a lot before we left.
As I said, the overnight backbacking deal is pretty new to me. But having met guys like Jay and others, I feel like my son and I have joined a pretty neat community.
If people in the "real" world acted like they do in the backcountry, maybe this world would be a little better place.
Posted by Richard P, 07-11-06Nice break from some of the c*** I've just read in a couple of other posts.
Thanks for the story...
Posted by sollydog, 07-11-06Glad things worked out for you and your son. As with me, we will attempt the mountain another time. Mother Nature makes the rules and we just have to follow them.
Posted by Brandon@theStore, 07-12-06Wow, nice save. When you go to take a bite out of the mountain, remember, the mountain bites back.
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