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Sitka Mountain Rescue

That Darn Hole in my leg


That Darn Hole in my leg

'That Darn Hole in My Leg'

Every Search and Rescue mission is unique and you head out the door with a loaded backpack and sometimes, an unsettled feeling.  Will we be helping an injured hiker, looking for a lost hunter, recovering a body or....a number of other situations that could be life or death or simple first aid.  

This story involves a hiker who had badly injured his leg, on a hike on Gavan Hill.  Sitka (Alaska) Mountain Rescue had been called to assist in his safe rescue down the mountain.  The Sitka Coast Guard was also involved in transporting the injured hiker to the hospital. 

Transporting the hiker to an area that a helicopter could drop a litter

This tale would also involve me, and the rescue that almost happened.  More about that later.  I did a blog about my year with Sitka Mountain Rescue (and this rescue): 

'That's What We Do'

The rescue crew headed up the Gavan Hill trail.  It is a steep,  gnarly trail that is well decorated with roots, rocks, steps, stair cases, and ruts, lacking the traditional dirt trail element that is found elsewhere.  

The hiker was doing ok, just needed extra assistance since he had torn a meniscus on the way down.  Luckily, he was at the edge of cell phone coverage into town and Sitka Mountain Rescue.

Sitka Coast Guard - Photo by Bill Greer

A Sitka Coast Guard helicopter would be called in due to the difficult trail condition for a carry out.  The rescue group carried him in a litter, to an area that was barely wide enough for the basket drop from the helicopter, whirling above. 

Photo by the Sitka Coast Guard

I walked ahead of the wheeled procession to get to the next technical area, where I could help with the maneuver.  I took a route to the right, off the trail and made my way............hmmm something just entered into my leg.  It did not hurt, but I was

a little perplexed at what had just happened.  

My initial thought was that I had just brushed against something.  I never saw what, exactly, had entered my leg but it had cleanly made a jagged path into and out of my calf.  

Eyes now focused on my leg, I took a breath and took in the current situation.  Well, lucky me, I was a few feet from a group of Search  and Rescue personnel.  

Oddly, my leg did not hurt and was not bleeding, much.  I was probably centimeters from having something cut, torn or punctured.  Extra duty by someone on the team and I had a nicely wrapped leg and would not need the helicopter to make a 2nd trip.

We discussed Dave's 'situation' and I gave a thumbs up on hiking down the mountain and making my way to a hospital.

The team on Gavan Hill was not large enough to send a person down with me.  They were needed in a more serious rescue effort.  

"Are you sure you are ok with hiking down, by yourself?"

"Why yes".  I believe I was asked in different ways as to my ability to have a lovely hole in my leg, and do a prolonged hike to actual safety.

"Of course, no problem" or something like that was my follow-up response.  

I was handed a 2-way radio and I assured myself that my body could be picked up on the way down if I had 'issues'.   

I had a contact when I reached the trail head and my own ambulance service to zoom to the hospital.  Trina, would be my rescue, transportation and would provide some humor along my interesting course that I was now on.  

I gave Trina a call once I reached the trail parking lot.  I would not have been surprised if she had nonchalantly asked if I would like her to take care of a parking lot surgery.  A short time later, in life, she would be helping take out clients on fishing and hunting trips in the rugged Alaskan back country.  This would include mountain goats, brown bear and I could only guess on bagging a possible Sasquatch. 

She would also be one the only person I have heard of to sit in on a surgical procedure and snap photos.  This story just keeps getting more interesting!  I would find myself laughing, while looking down on a horrifying gash across my calf that looked like I would have an incredible tale to tell.  Nope, just dumb luck walking into branch/stick.  

I had a single request of the doctor stitching me together.  "Doc, I have a major trail race in 6 days and I am crazy enough to run it".  His answer would turn the 'like' into a 'plan'.  He  strapped that wound with expertise and an extra knot or 2 and I did run the Alpine Adventure Run.  Up the same Gavan Hill I had just limped down.  I was incredibly fortunate.  I could be writing a story with a far different ending. 

Leg bandaged up at the Alpine Adventure Race

Leg bandaged up at the Alpine Adventure Race



That's What We Do

'That's What We Do'

Sitka Mountain Rescue doing what they do on Gavan Hill - Sitka, AK

I have been a member of Sitka Mountain Rescue. The life of a search and rescue person can be quite interesting. Below is another of Dave's experiences.

"That's What We Do"

That was the response by Don Kluting, captain of the Sitka

Mountain Rescue Team (SMR) after another successful mission by the SMR

(Sitka, Alaska) and the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard and SMR combined to rescue a 16-year-old girl who had become seriously ill while hiking with a group on the local Gavan Hill trail. She was hoisted by a helicopter off of the heavily wooded slopes of Gavan Hill by the Coast Guard's Air Station Sitka and flown to the airport where Emergency Services personnel were waiting to take her to Sitka Community Hospital. She was released that evening by the hospital.

I am a new addition to SMR and as my first mission, the Gavan Hill 

rescue was an eye-opening experience. I had received a message on my 

pager for volunteers to assemble at the Fire Hall. Teams, gear, and 

directions were already in progress as I stepped into the Fire Hall 

about 20 minutes after the initial page. Being on my first call, I 

wrangled with what I needed to throw into my 24 hour pack. A gear junkie at heart, I had plenty of "stuff" to choose to ride with me on the mountain. Did I pack the right things? Having diabetes causes one to be prepared and to analyze(and over analyze) what to bring on

different outings. I loaded first aid supplies from the Search and Rescue command center(Fire Hall) and was sent out as part of the first team. We arrived with needed medical items and began clearing the 

area for a helicopter rescue.

As the U.S. Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopter arrived, it began to look like something out of a Hollywood script. Truth was that this was reality and our semi-coherent hiker needed to take the first bird out of there. A litter was dropped and the hiker was hoisted up, loaded into the helicopter and transported to Sitka Community Hospital. Mission accomplished.

As I finally connected with a computer to plunk out a story on the 

incredible helicopter rescue, my pager pulls me from the MacBook and 

into a frenetic shuffle to prepare and fly out the door for the next 

search and rescue mission. A hiker has been injured on Gavan Hill and 

will need to be carried down the mountain. It is a different set of 

circumstances than last week and a litter, litter wheel, a large 

number of volunteers, and good ole muscle power will be needed to see this rescue through. Finesse and rope will also be involved as the hiker is hauled down a rugged, winding trail etched into the Alaskan hillside. This will be the second successful mission in one week and was another eye-opening (in more ways than one)experience.

The SMR is a group of volunteers dedicated to providing wilderness 

safety education to the public, and prompt, professional emergency 

services for people who are lost, injured, stranded, or in need of 

rescue primarily within the City and Borough of Sitka. I have 

diabetes, but my active lifestyle creates a good fit with being a member of the team. I joined the team to help the community, forge new

experiences, and learn whatever I can cram in. Have you considered 

being a part of search and rescue?

Below is a Thank You letter written from the hiker who rode our litter 

taxi service.

Used with the writers permission.

I just want to again thank all the men and women of the Sitka Mountain 

Rescue in assisting me off Gavan Hill last Sunday. I would especially 

like to thank Dave Patt, Nils & Lucie for staying with me and 

convincing me it was not a good idea to come down off the mountain 

without the help of the Rescue team. I tore my ACL and probably have 

damage to the meniscus in my right knee. I know now I would have done

much more damage to the knee and possibly sustained other injuries if 

I had tried to get down on my own. I will have to go through therapy, 

wear a knee brace, and eventually have surgery but it could have been 

much worse. It is a very humbling experience having to ask for help 

and being strapped into a litter to be carried down, but everybody was

the utmost professional. I felt totally safe in their care and their

upbeat attitude made the trip down much more bearable. The Sitka 

Mountain Rescue provides an invaluable service to the community and 

you should all feel proud.

Sincerely and always in your debt,

(name withheld)