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last frontier

That Darn Hole in my leg

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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

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2 Peaks Adventure in Alaska

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2 Peaks Adventure in Alaska

2 Peaks Adventure in Alaska

Following the Canadian Death Race in July of 2011, I was open to another adventure, one a little closer to my home in Sitka, Alaska.  Out my window, opposite the Pacific Ocean breaking under my home, I could see 2 prominent peaks near downtown (Mt. Verstovia & Gavan Hill).  Gavan Hill is known for the ever popular and long suffering Alpine Adventure Race.  Mt. Verstovia is known for its wickedly steep, rugged trail that climbs 2550 feet in about 2.5 miles.  

Gavan Hill trail is no less brutal, with about 2400 feet gained in 1.6 miles.  This would be my own custom created event.  A signature event without the aid stations.

Video of the 2 Peaks adventure

I elected to run/walk from a parking lot (Sitka National Historical Park) between the 2 peaks, run to Verstovia, grunt up to picnic rock, zoom down, run to Gavan Hill and of course, up, up, up to a point that I felt was a high point.  Trail does continue from there but I wound be content with about 5,000 feet of gain for the elevation deposit for the day.

This is trail running/walking in SE Alaska.  One of the nastier sections.

The effort would take place in September, about a month after my 23+ mile, 6,500 foot (elevation gain) ordeal at the Canadian Death Race.  This was a momentous occasion as I signed on to run with the I Challenge Diabetes team.  I had recently had knee surgery and  was hoping for one of the easier legs.  That easier leg transformed into the toughest leg as others on the team withdrew or pleaded a little louder than I.  

The timing should have been perfect for the 2 peaks effort, but I managed only 1 hill training run before September rolled in.  Also rolling in was weather.......SE Alaska rainforest weather at its gnarliest. The teeth would bite later in the day.

1st view point on Mt. Verstovia (800? foot elevation)

I set off with a well stocked Osprey running pack.  The blood sugars were good and the day appeared to be in a stable hold.  It might be a decent day, weather wise in the rain forest.  Could it be?

Despite a lack of specific training, meaning, actually running up hills, I made my way up Verstovia.  Slow but sure, a mix of walking and running.  I passed 1 person (if memory serves me correctly), my only link to humanity on either trail.

I had brought along a camera that was lacking in quality and performance but was waterproof.  I shot footage at various stages, knowing that I would eventually piece together a somewhat rough film (see link above).  It would take 21 clips to create the short film that would be my introduction into the world of filmmaking.  I have been working on my first 'real', quality film as I work through the footage of a No Limits Sea Kayak Expedition,  tentatively, named 'Alaskan Waters'.  

Near the first summit of Verstovia

I would reach picnic rock, which is the first summit of Verstovia in good shape.  The Arrowhead is the true top of Mt. Verstovia was jutting just above me.  A more technical approach, which I was not willing to attempt without a partner. 

Goal #2, Gavan Hill

The weather was turning as I made my way down the mountain.  As evidence by my array of photos, running SE Alaska trails is a challenge and requires a major dose of concentration.  I had a lot of trail time and was somewhat skilled at the ballet on rocks.  Having diabetes increased my need for good planning and focus.  I had dealt with higher blood sugars for the first half of the run but would eventually level out.  

Gavan Hill

I hit the trail head of Verstovia and made a right turn.  On to Gavan Hill.

1st viewpoint on Gavan Hill, approximately 1,000+ feet up

A bit more tired, Gavan would require more walking and an onslaught of nature as the wind, rain and a thick,  layer of wetness became the next chapter in my 2 Peaks experience.

Gavan Hill near the first summit

I would glance at my watch and realize that darkness would begin to envelope the mountain terrain soon and the dismal day would usher in darkness quicker.  

Near the top of the first Gavan Hill summit

Reaching the trail head, I shot a final memory of the 2 Peaks experience.  Darkness casting its shadow across the Last Frontier. Deep in the woods the evening came at an alarming rate as I ran toward my vehicle.  There was an encouraging glow of light and life as I escaped the veil of forest behind me.  

7 hours after my first steps toward Verstovia, I slowed my run to a walk and unlocked my car door.  Done.  A tired, but happy thumbs up for another adventure check off the list.

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