Thursday, August 16, 2018 — Miles 122.8–129.9 (7.1 miles for the day)
Mom’s spirits are high this morning. Her feet and muscles are feeling better, and after a hot breakfast, she takes off up the mountain side while I finish packing up camp. We have ambitious mileage goals today (7 up, 6 down, 4 up for a total of 17), and it makes sense to get her started sooner rather than later.
About an hour later, I’m packed and ready to go. The hike is a consistent uphill climb through a beautiful mountain meadow, and I enjoy pushing the pace.
I catch up to mom by mile 3. The incline is steep now and it takes us until noon to push through to the top of the first pass for the day, Searle Pass at about 12,000 feet elevation.
At this rate, we’re averaging about 1 mph, which means we have no hope of reaching our mileage goals. I focus on enjoying this time with my mom instead of stressing about being behind schedule, and we’re having a wonderful time together.
We eat a quick snack, and move on again. By now, a small storm has whipped up and it’s starting to rain. We pause to get out our ponchos, and we huddle on the side of the trail during the downpour. We’re far above tree line and there’s no decent cover. It lightens a bit and mom wants to move on, so we put our trekking poles away to keep our hands warm in our jackets—it’s windy and wet and everything is freezing.
Mom is walking ahead of me and I see her step awkwardly on a large rock. She trips off the trail, and falls heavily with her pack weighing her down. She cries out in agony, and I immediately know something is wrong. She’s crying and shaking and I work frantically to get her pack off and straighten her legs out.
We take a few minutes to calm her down, and then we’re able to assess the damage. She is unable to stand and her ankle is rapidly swelling. By that point a hiker, Matt, has walked up, and two minutes later another hiker, Liam. This in itself is a miracle, because we’ve seen virtually no other people today.
Matt helps us wrap mom’s ankle, and we start to think through a plan. It’s obvious mom can’t walk, but at this point we’re at mile 12 of a 25 mile segment… no easy way out of this. Through a tedious series of events we’re able to move mom and all of our packs a half mile forward to the top of the ridge, with Matt and Liam taking turns carrying mom up the steep and narrow trail. I jog ahead to the next pass, hoping for network coverage but no luck.
From our ridge line we can see a series of back roads in the valley below. Matt takes off down the steep mountainside to get help, while Liam and I roam the ridge for phone coverage. Finally we find a patch with one bar of service, and I’m able to make a call to my dad. He and my brother JT are quickly on the way, though we’re not sure how they’ll get to us.
Then a couple of mountain bikers come by, both EMTs. They assess mom’s foot, and suggest we call search and rescue, if for no other reason to get their input on the best way down.
I call the sheriff and I get passed around to a few different dispatchers, as no one can figure out what county we’re in. Finally someone is able to pin down our position and confirm we’re still in Summit County, so I get connected with their rescue team.
Dan is on point as the rescue coordinator, and he lets me know the roads far below us are all restricted access, private property of a mining company. No way dad will be able to get to us, so search and rescue are on their way. It’ll take a few hours though, and there appears to be another storm moving in. We send the bikers and Liam on their way, hoping they can get below tree line before the storm hits. I then quickly throw up our tent and drag mom into it. Even that amount of movement has her crying in pain, and she’s shaking severely, so I cover her in my sleeping bag and we ride the hour long storm out, the winds threatening to destroy the tent. I still have Matt’s pack with us, and I’m now worried about where he is, somewhere in this storm in the woods below with no jacket of any kind.
Finally the storm subsides, and not long after the first of the search and rescue crew show up—and they have Matt with them! They got permission to use the mining roads, and found Matt along the way. He was able to guide them to our exact location, another miracle. We can’t thank Matt enough for all that he’s done. He’s eager to get back on the trail, and we send him off with plenty of hugs and food and promises to keep in touch.
The rescue team gets to work, assessing mom, loading her into a litter, and mapping out a route off the mountain. I’m amazed watching this process unfold, and feeling immensely grateful to have the experts help us in this situation.
A group of 6 carries the litter and we hike a mile or so down the steep mountainside – no trails – to where their ATVs are waiting below. Then it’s 3 miles of four wheeling, then 5 miles in a truck off of mining property. Dad and JT are waiting there, and they brought fried chicken for everyone.
It’s dark by this point, past 9pm and I can’t describe how relieved I am to get mom off the mountain. All of this was accomplished by an incredible team of volunteers—people with day jobs in real estate and software, who got the call that a woman needed help getting off the mountain, and they came to the rescue. And they don’t get paid for this! There’s no massive bill for us because of their willingness to help. The whole experience is unfathomable to me.
We drive back to the front range, and my family drops me off at our house in Denver just before midnight. Isaac is waiting for me, and I wrap myself in his arms. I wasn’t planning to be home for another 3 weeks, so it’s a random moment to be back here with him in our home.
Isaac and I are not sure if we’ll head back out to the trail tomorrow; for now, I just need a shower and some sleep. Mom will go to the doctor tomorrow and I definitely want to hear the news. Today could have ended differently, and I fall asleep thinking how thankful I am for all of the people that God sent to help us.