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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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Cruisin Alaskan Water

Ethan gazing at Annahootz










"Cruisin' Alaskan Waters"


Touching down in the far outpost of Sitka, Alaska, I exited the plane and snagged one of the two bags from the conveyor belt. The other bag? The one filled with the most vital items for this new adventure? Missing, perhaps sitting idly in the Juneau or Ketchikan airport.


I had approached Sheldon Jackson College (SJC) in Sitka with a proposal to run a kayak trip for people with diabetes. Kayaking was new to me. Unless an adventure involves swimming or riding camels, I am generally game to give it a go.


I was here to ace the kayak route and plot the coming trip. I would be on the water with Ethan Ring from the Sheldon Jackson Outdoor Center. My goal (other than the already mentioned "swimming"), was to absorb knowledge on the fascinating sport of sea kayaking and plan the trip for a group to take place next summer. Ethan would learn all he could about diabetes (I just had to be my usual diabetes self) and what it would take to run a course for people with diabetes. It was a trial run, or shall we say trial paddle.
We would put our minds together during and after the expedition to organize a quality event.


My Perception Eclipse Kayak sat on the shores of Old Sitka a few days later, aimed at the incoming tide of Sitka Sound. The day before had been a scurried one as we shorted gear, filled out paperwork, purchased groceries, discussed plans, and yes, dumped Dave out of the kayak a few times for practice (and laughs). Thank goodness SJC has a pool, as Sitka Sound is on the frigid side.


I pulled the kayak forward and carefully deposited both legs into the bottom of the boat. I had previously done some "bunny slope" kayaking with someone else in a beast of a boat, on a calm lake. This would be different, way different.


I was quite amazed at all the storage the kayak possessed. I should not have been suprised when Ethan pulled out a huge 12-ounce container of Parmesan Cheese. Don't get me wrong, I love Parmesan Cheese, but living with a "lightweight" backpacking mentality, I was thinking more about throwing a couple packets stolen from Pizza Hut than including a 233-day supply.

Ethan had planned a route with some options depending on weather conditions, fatigue and diabetes management. Our first day would cover about 7 miles, the second woud be either 13 or 18, and the third would encompass 4. Sounds like decent mileage if your a strapped into a pair of running shoes, running or hiking or trails, but paddling? With my legs now useless, tucked into the bow of the kayak and unable to save me, I would rely on muscles that I knew about from anatomy and physiology, but had found little use as an athlete involved in leg-dominant activities.

Immersed in the moment and the stunning beauty of the Alaskan wilds, I got into a good rhythm with a dip of the right paddle, stroke, a dip of the left paddle, stroke. Ethan was an excellent teacher and I was feeling comfortable in my new H2O environment.

Our expedition participants were not just limited to both of us. We had a backdrop that provided lots of wildlife. There were numerous bald eagles, along with porpoises, seals, salmon, ravens, crows, cormorants, Sitka black-tailed deer and an occassional load of bear sign.

We pulled into an established site on Magoun Island to finish our first day. The setting was incredible, with a huge bald eagle commandeering a large tree at the entrance to the cove. He was very visible despite being almost 1/2 mile away. Ethan had me so impressed with his mastery of hanging a bear bag, that it became a Kodak moment.

Day 2 would be our day of decision, with two different mileage options, depending on circumstances. We reached Olga Point, a fork in the water, and made the bold choice to go the longer, more scenic route around Hallack Island. It was a glorious day with almost zero signs of civilization. Conditions can change quickly while roaming the sea and today would unveil choppy seas, wind in our faces and at our backs, changing currents and crystal, glassy waters. At the southern end of Hallack Island sits a beautiful kayak campsite. End to a perfect day, Ethan executed another bear bag trick. Dinner was devoured and life was being enjoyed in backwaters Alaska.

Day 3 we slipped out of our idyllic cove and into Sitka Sound. A short but scenic route would complete our loop. As we cruised along the shoreline, admiring the vast life attached to and floating within a few feet of the shore, we stroked past our first kayak-bound travelers. With the sound of pebbles grinding the underside of my vessel, the journey had come to an end. Less than one-half hour after exiting the kayaks,, conditions quickly deteriorated. The safe return of two adventurers and a 230 day supply of Parmesan Cheese.





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