Thursday, September 20, 2012

Wilderness Rescue

Last week DH and I were on vacation, which proved unexpectedly eventful. My idea of a vacation is to unplug and go someplace scenic, like Acadia National Park, and to hike and bike and eat well and commit crimes of fashion.

Socks and sandals

Alas for my preferences, sometimes things happen. This year we experienced some heavy weather, participated in a wilderness rescue, and (because we were unplugged) learned of the deaths of four U.S. diplomats through the language of flag etiquette. Leaving the politics of the moment aside, diplomats serve their countries no less than military personnel, and their loss is always a somber event, worthy of being marked by flags at half staff.

Flag at half staff

Somewhat counterintuitively, the heavy weather ended up being picturesque. Hurricane Leslie blew by Downeast Maine far enough out to sea that the ocean was stirred up but on land there was not too much wind and rain. (In NJ, there were dangerous rip currents.) That meant no sightseeing cruises, and also strong surf at places like Thunder Hole. Usually the thing only gurgles like an overgrown bathtub, but this time the spray was 40 feet (12 m) high and swept over the lower walkway, which was closed.

Thunder Hole after Hurricane Leslie

Later the weather cleared, Thunder Hole resumed gurgling, and it was calm enough for picnics out on the rocks. I'm always impressed by people who bring elaborate set ups, the better to enjoy themselves.

Picnic on the rocks

It was on a calm day that we witnessed an accident on the trail, a first for me. Two people in a group ahead of us lost their footing and fell about six feet (1.8 m) onto rough granite. As you may well imagine, there were broken bones, broken heads, loss of consciousness, and lots of blood. I've read the shock of an emergency often causes people to temporarily flip their personalities – normally hard-charging extraverts freeze and need encouragement while normally reticent introverts leap into action and give orders. Also, dogs understand when something serious has happened (the group had a big dog) and will obey people trying to help.

That's pretty much what happened: I snapped into emergency mode and organized the group to give basic first aid to the injured hikers – staunch the bleeding, keep them lying down where they fell (they did want to get up, even when not quite awake) making sure their heads were higher than their feet, have someone block the sun and provide shade for their heads, and (after they regained consciousness) keep them talking. There wasn't any cell signal and the rest of their group looked too stunned to move fast, so DH hiked out to the trailhead to call 911 and guide the first responders in. The dog stayed calm, except when another group of hikers with a dog came by – then he looked like he was prepared to defend his family to the death, but he settled down when admonished.

Again, not to get political, but I was very grateful for all the first responders who came when called. The first were park rangers who ran (!) up the steep trail like something out of The Last of the Mohicans (!!!). They had powerful radios, an oxygen tank, bp and pulse ox devices, neck braces, bandages, splints, alcohol wipes, and even treats for the dog. There was much bracing and splinting and bandaging and radioing, during which time more rangers arrived, some with stretchers, others with helmets, ropes, and rappelling equipment. Then EMTs arrived. Eventually 19 men and women were on the scene and one more was watching the trucks and ambulances. There was a long and careful discussion about how to move the injured people out, given the severity of their injuries and the difficulty of the terrain. There also was some paperwork, which made DH impatient. But in short order the injured were strapped firmly to the stretchers, the stretcher-bearers were divided into teams, everyone cleaned their boot treads and set their feet, then – I couldn't watch this part – they lifted the stretchers and passed them from hand to hand down the trail because they couldn't carry them the usual way. It was amazing how quickly they were able to evacuate the scene.

After all that, DH and I decided to carry on with our hike, which we finished in record time. Adrenaline will do that, but overall I can't recommend it. Along the way I took a pic of my handspun Simple Skyp Socks, which had had more of an adventure than I'd ever wish for and held up very well.

Simple Skyp Socks on Acadia Mountain

Happily, the rest of our vacation was tranquil. There's not much to say about it and I'm glad!


Kaye said...

Holy guacamole! Well there's a great story to tell your future generations--hope the hikers all pulled thru!

Kristen said...

Good for you for keeping calm in a crisis! I secretly fear I would fall apart in such a situation, seeing as I do so in relatively minor ones.

Ann said...

Good job keeping your head. I always worry I'd be useless in a crisis. But I hope I'd surprise myself.