Saturday, July 23, 2005

First Aid: Are You Prepared? Aiding a fellow hiker

I hike an awful lot au' natural. I carry as little as I possibly can. After all, that is the idea behind nude hiking, isn't it? But one thing I never hike without is at least a rudimentary first aid kit for the trail that can address the most common incidents that can happen. When you are hiking miles from assistance or help, you'd be negligent . . . if not also stupid . . . to at least take care of minor injuries like cuts and scrapes, insect bites and the like. But have you ever given thought to more serious accidents and just how you would address them. My small kit came in handy today, along with a little bit of judicious thought of the few small items I do carry that can perform additional services.

The Martha Lake Trail is a reasonably short trail with a pretty alpine lake as it's destination. Two miles in and two out. It can be popular except for the very rough hiking situation that has seen Search and Rescue vans at the trailhead a number of times. Today I started out late . . . one vehicle at the trailhead. Plenty of forewarning on this trail so I hiked in nude expecting an enjoyable hike, some time in the sun at the lake, and out by dusk. I made the lake in just under two hours and started to search for an area to bask for a while before heading back. That's when I saw two young women hikers on the other side of the lake waving their hands in an unmistakable frantic way. I wave back and started heading their way, which took sometime on the tricky and narrow, skree-strewn path. (yes, I did put my shorts on)

When I arrived, one of them was in obvious pain, sitting down and babying an unshod foot . . . the tennis sneaker sitting a foot or so away. The girl's ankle was already pretty well swollen . . . there was no way we were going to get her sneaker back on now. I asked what had happened and I was told she'd gone wading in the shallows and stepped on a hidden snag . . . and now she couldn't put weight on her foot without a lot of excrutiating pain. Should have left that shoe on but that's spilt milk now. The real problem would be how to get her out of there before nightfall.

The considerations during a debilitating (or worse) injury far from reasonably-timed aid is whether to send for that aid or make an attempt to get out under your own power. Cell phones don't work in this valley, nor do they connect at the trailhead. It was a two hour hike back (at best), another hour to the nearest phone and an equal amount of time to return with aid. Six hours and it's already four o'clock. It would be well past dark before any help would be forthcoming. Too much time for these inexperienced girls. They were already panicking over thoughts of bears and mountain loins and darkness. They'd freak! If I could stabilize her foot, it was worth a try at hiking out ourselves.

The first aid kit was, of course, worthless. Bandaids, tweezers and a few gauze pads didn't add up to much. But I always carry a roll of 1 1/2" sports tape . . . the stretch-type that clings to itself . . . because I've twisted ankles before and I know how handy this stuff is, either as a wound bandage or a support wrap.

First order of business, wrap her ankle securely . . . leaving the toes exposed to keep a check on circulation. Then cinch up her other shoe to give her reliable footing on the way back. I had her friend massage her calf muscles (more to reassure them than anything else) while I searched out a good hiking stick for the girl. Then we got her up and did some test walks. It would work if we took it slow. Since I'd come in with only a fanny pack, I shouldered the girls daypack. We got her up on one leg between us, her arms over our shoulders. Slowly, we made it back around the lake to the safer trail leading down and out . . . a place where she could use the walking stick and only myself for support while her friend led on the narrow trail.

It was slow work. We stopped frequently to rest and raise her foot, check the circulation and then encourage her on. At several points I considered carrying her piggy-back but the trail didn't allow for that except at the two stream-crossings we had to make.

Nightfall hit us. I hadn't planned on a night hike but I still carry my headlamp. Out it came and now I had two very scared girls hovering close for physical reassurance. I don't particularly like to hike in the dark and I'm experienced. I could imagine the things going through their minds everytime the wind rustled a bush nearby in the darkness. We slowed down considerably, staying within the bright cone of illumination.

It was almost ten by the time we made the trailhead and I hobbled them over to the safety of their car. I rechecked the wrapping and told her friend not to worry . . . drive normally and stop by an emergency room on the way home just to be sure. They begged me not to leave until they were ready so they could follow me out. I promised with a smile. A while later, we turned onto Highway 2 westbound. They stayed behind me all the way to Monroe where they turned off.

The nice thing . . . I got a phone call a little while ago to thank me again and let me know that she just had a severe sprain, nothing broken, and would be okay (which is why I'm writing this small piece). The other nice thing? Would I go hiking with them some time? It's nice to help people and to be thanked. It's nice to make friends. Makes your day.

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