So much for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
What was suppose to be a leisurely foray into the wintry wilderness for a breath of fresh mountain air turned into a muddling race against the clock. The morning after witnessing a virtuoso performance by Chris Botti and his band along with the Oregon Symphony Orchestra, I awoke with my usual tear-laden reluctance and got ready to face the day in my usual precaffeinated stupor. Running on Asian time (also as usual), I picked up Ashley about 15 minutes later than ideal, though in my defense I was far more accurate with my ETA window than, say, the cable guy ever is. It’s something I’m accustomed to contingency-planning for all the time, but I regretfully admit it’s not really fair to those who aren’t privy to all the genius that ferments within the confines of my cranium’s padded walls.
Ever the forgiving trouper, Ash, fighting off the morning yawns herself, loaded up the car, and off we went. I was fully prepared to deal with completely overcast skies and afternoon snow showers as virtually every local and national forecast had predicted for the area, but it seems meteorologists have it even easier than the cable guy. Heading down 35 South, Mount Hood stood out in full relief, basking in the blue sky and skirted by a few puffy clouds at its midsection. It was so beautiful it really wasn’t fair to be complaining, though I was a bit bummed that Tamanawas’s surrounds wouldn’t be covered in a fresh layer of snow as I'd been hoping.
On the bright side, the drive into the mountains was far less sketchy than it might have been otherwise, and it meant we could gamble and leave our snowshoes behind in the car. To be safe, we did lug our MICROspikes® with us just in case we hit some slick icy patches. A few yards beyond the slightly erosion-tilted footbridge across Cold Spring Creek, we took a moment to layer down on a day that turned out significantly warmer than we were expecting, and sheer gut instinct told me it was a good time to don my spikes. Ashley followed suit, and after one last order of frantic business to find some privacy along the trail where we could individually leave our, umm, ‘autographs’, we were finally feeling at ease once again (in more ways than one).
About halfway to the falls, we came to a small rise in the path to find a concerned-looking gentleman standing over a large silver heap. It was his wife or girlfriend trying to stay warm under an emergency mylar blanket, he told us, after she’d slipped on the downslope just ahead and severely injured her ankle. Without divulging our backgrounds, Ash and I sprung into quasi-emergency mode: Is she conscious? we asked. Yes. Are you bleeding? No. Does it hurt? Yes. Is it wrapped or splinted? Yes. Do you need something for pain? It’s okay, I took some ibuprofen just a bit ago. Can you feel your toes? Yes. Are you warm enough? Yes. Do you have enough food and water with you? Yes and yes.
The gentleman assured us that some hikers who were heading back to the trailhead were planning on calling Search & Rescue as soon as they could get a cell signal, and after repeated offerings of our rations and spare clothing, he admonished us that they’d be fine and thanked us for our concern. They’d stay put until S&R came: The terrain was too slippery and the trail too narrow for anybody to attempt to transport her back to the trailhead, and indeed one mile never sounded like such an insurmountable distance is it did at that moment.
Reluctantly we moved on, though in secret I couldn’t fully appreciate the winter wonderland we were traipsing our way through, my thoughts repeatedly turning back to the poor young lady’s plight. And though we should’ve been assured about the prospects of S&R arriving on the scene anytime now, I couldn’t say my friends’ recent experience with them engendered very much confidence about that at all (see Rami Jabaji's blog entry for January 4, 2016 and Terence Lee’s blog entry for February 1, 2016). Still, after settling into Tamanawa’s magnificent amphitheater and eating our traditional Nissin Cup O’Noodles, I couldn’t help but convince myself that she’d be long gone, safe and warm, by the time we returned. No such luck.
She’d managed to scoot her way down the trail about 30 or 40 yards, but she wore the toll of the ordeal upon her countenance when we caught back up with them. Several other hikers both coming and going had stopped to see how they might assist her, but alas there was little they or we could do. Indeed, it was the creeping chill of inactivity and the concern that S&R might not be coming after all that compelled her to get moving in the first place, but even the most deliberately orchestrated maneuver down the trail jarred her Ace-bandaged left ankle with cumulatively unbearable pain. She had to stop.
Another good samaritan and I decided to see if we could take her up under each arm and have her touch ground with her good foot every now and then to move things along, or perhaps do a packsaddle carry despite our height difference, but again the trail just wasn’t wide enough to accommodate us three abreast. And although I was the one bearing traction devices, she mulled the situation over and thought it better to take her chances piggybacking on the broad shoulders of the burly 6-foot-2 white guy rather than the sleek 5-foot-7-½-inch Asian dude with the nice camera gear. I guess she hadn't considered the extra half foot-plus of acceleration she'd have to endure if gravity won out over friction, but not everyone really thinks things through quite the way I do. It's what makes me so special. My parents and therapists tell me that all the time.
Unfortunately after a few tens of yards, that arrangement proved untenable, too. Aside from BurlyMan’s own fatigue and limited traction (heh, mere mortal), each footfall sent shockwaves of pain up her leg from her injured ankle. What we really needed was a rescue sled. We stopped again at a wider section of trail after another good samaritan brought a heavier blanket by and apprised us that S&R was assembling a team together out of White River Station or Sno Park several miles to the south. We set her down with her leg elevated and layered her with blankets until she assured us she was plenty warm. With plenty of other help about and S&R on the way, and with Ash and I both cognizant of prior engagements we needed to keep, we parted ways and encountered the welcome sight of orange-clad personnel approaching us about a quarter mile more down the path. Lisa, wherever you are, I hope you're on the mend and doing well. As I told you when we parted, now you've got a great story with a happy ending to tell your children and your children’s children.
After a furious drive and scramble Ash and I both managed to make our engagements in a (just barely) timely fashion. Thank goodness Asian time’s not contagious...not yet, anyway. In my defense, though, my contingency planning can't predict everything...any more than a weatherman can...well...predict the weather.
As for Ash, I love hiking with her. No matter how many forecasts and webcams and predictive models you might consult, there's still a capricious and sometimes frustratingly rare element of luck entailed in being able to witness a scene of truly phenomenal natural beauty. But anytime I'm out there with her, such a thing is barely ever more than an arm's length away.