I feel like trail running is all about having a conversation with your natural environment, whether it’s a mountain, plateau, steppe, or even, a desert… It’s just a few moments, or more likely, several hours, where we get to learn about said mountain, not at all too different from when someone invites us over for dinner. At that best of times, it opens up to you, and you to it, you have a great time together, and you begin to understand one another.
Other times, you fight.
For Mt. Rainier and I this past weekend, our first conversation was like getting kicked out of the dinner party.
The plan for the 3 Day Funathon was stellar, we were going to circumnavigate Rainier on the Wonderland trail, and the best part of all was our team set-up, Adam organized this amazing “crew” team who were on board to help us move camp to the ~50k running destination each day. That meant, no need to pack light enough to run with a pack, or run with the [still heavy] pack, and no need to pay someone else to mule our shit around. It meant there was more money, and room, for fine wines and craft beer, and a fun group of people to form a trail party.
Of course, Rainier was the star guest of the party, but he (for some reason masculine) didn’t feel like partying I guess, because we were kicked out by the first evening of our 3-day funathon.
The day started around 4:45am, then we flung ourselves around the first 35 miles of our route, from Longmire to Mowich Lake. While most people were running in a fairly chill demeanor, I decided to smash back the miles more steadily so I could hit up the camp party more quickly. Adam suggested the route taking 12 hours, which I decided to disregard, favouring 9. I couldn’t wait to hang out with our crew!
The minute I get back we are being evicted: Mt Rainier is starting a fight. Our crew had gone on a 3 mile run to Spray Park, and one member was seriously injured. Search and rescue was being notified just as I arrived home from my run. Rainier didn’t want to play, it wanted us the hell out. For the next 14 hours stretching through the night we helped search and rescue transport our amazing, courageous friend to another party scenario– an ambulance, then a hospital room with disco ball.
What happened?! A friend of ours, who is a trained mountaineer who had just climbed the whole damn mountain a few weeks earlier, went a few feet up loose rock off-trail to reach a ledge, for the endless quest to get a better picture. The three other crew girls waited below– they knew she was trained and capable. But within a few seconds trees were moving above, there was a faint noise in the air, and our friend appeared on the ground above them– with a huge, fright-inducing head laceration… We learned later that her bag strap got caught on the tree, at the same time as her left foot stepped on unstable rock, sending her flying down rock with several touchpoints. Ouch.
She was conscious, but it was tricky to access her up on the ledge, and due to the deep gash on her forehead, people weren’t sure whether she had head trauma. Two stayed on the scene to administer first aid, and one crew member ran back down the trail to get more help.
That’s precisely when I arrived, all gleeful from my run, and ready to party! This state of mind proved very useful, because apparently we were just getting a rescue party organized.
There was no cell reception in Rainier, so we were lucky that Mowich Lake had a backcountry ranger around. Even though he was off-duty, John and his poor girlfriend radio’d and alerted Tacoma Search and Rescue, who deployed their “A Team”. As all seven people came in from the run, we sent out troupes to the scene to deliver warm clothes and food, until the Tacoma Search and Rescue team came and elevated the whole situation, about four hours later. Unfortunately darkness came and slowed things down, and the operations of getting someone into a “litter” (human wheelbarrow) and then hauling them up and down technical trail– are quite slow.
We were so lucky … that there was a ranger around with a functioning radio, that our crew members at the scene had wilderness first aid training with basic supplies on them, that we had tons of warm clothes and food because we were camping, and most of all, that we had a big team full of smart, selfless people, many of whom were trained in hospital or wilderness first aid settings. Due to allof these things we managed to get our dear friend out and into a Seattle recovery party, without head or spinal injury, and instead with broken ribs, nose, and knee issues. Party (intense party!) injuries. She’s the most courageous person I’ve met, and the Rescue team declared her their favourite-ever rescue-ee.
Many things were learned this trip, like how a 3-mile run can escalate to 14 hours of rescue, how a daytime sunshine run can become cold, rainy, and dark, andhow the resources of people and gear involved in camping provides the best safety net for an adventure. But most of all, I learned the exponential awesomeness of the community I am part of, the twelve people I am so lucky to call friends. I saw each person rise to the occasion; running any number of miles, giving an endless amount of skills, clothes and food, and sacrificing whatever it took to the higher purpose of the rescue party. Thank you to Aggie, Broeck, Callista, Megan, Jarad, Adam, Tim, Angel, Jeff, Andy, Vivian for being who you are. 🙂
So, Mt. Rainier kicked us out. We were only slightly disappointed, because we had someplace else (more awesome) to be: we took our crew to the hospital in Seattle, and that joint totally welcomed us– disco-ball, man-in-unitard, tutu-wearing, Snoop-Dog-impersonating, and all…
… time to
1> get wilderness first aid! (If you’d like to take a course with us this fall/winter (2013) in the Vancouver / Seattle areas, email me to get looped in.)
2> donate to your local search and rescue! (If you’d like to come to an event we’ll be hosting in Seattle to support Tacoma Search And Rescue, email me!)
3> pack as though you’ll be out for 10 hours with one other person
4> only hang around really smart people you love and trust in the backcountry