60. June 9: Mile 766.30 Junction to Mt. Whitney
I’ve admittedly delayed writing this. It’s now June 11 and I still have not wanted to rehash this again. I’ve been sitting in the hospital for a couple days now and all I’ve had is time to dwell on what went wrong and why I wound up in the situation I’m in.
Last night was rough. I was able to get some sleep, but only when lying on my left side. Must be due to how the fluid in my lungs is situated or something. All night I had dreams about people offering me rides out of the mountains and it took me a few minutes each time to realize that it wasn’t actually happening.
In the morning I woke up and immediately had to go to the bathroom. I walked 10 feet and had to stop for five minutes to catch my breath. I felt like I could keel over and die right then and there. All I wanted was to poop but I didn’t even have the energy to dig a cat hole to go in sonI just covered my pile of dung with a few rocks (not proper leave no trace).
I knew I had to get out here today. There was no way I was going to get any better staying here. Glowworm helped cook me some oatmeal which I eventually threw up and we discussed our options. Cougar and Dr. McDirty were planning on hiking to Guitar Lake four miles past the Whitney Junction and they had camped a few miles behind us so we expected them to walk by our campsite sometime in the morning; certainly by lunch.
Several people passed us as we both lay down in the dirt trying to rest and wait for our friends. Each person that walked by we asked if they had seen a South African couple and we got a mixed bag of responses. Some said they did, others weren’t sure, and others didn’t know who we were talking about. We knew that there was a ranger station close by and hoped to find someone there who could help. As Noon came and went we realized that our friends may have either passed us without realizing or took the other junction to Guitar Lake and missed us entirely. This was gutting. They had no idea what had transpired after leaving them the day prior and they were completely unaware of the severity of the situation I was in.
In an effort to try to find our friends and seek help at the ranger station Glowworm packed up some food and water for the three mile round trip. I can’t describe how much she did for me these last couple of days. Sticking with me while staggering into camp, getting me water, cooking my food, going for help, and generally keeping me sane. She deserves far more credit for getting me out of her than I can ever give or she will ever accept.
Everything was really contingent upon Glowworm finding help at the ranger station. There are no roads on this side of the mountain and all bail out points are at least 15 miles and involve climbing to at least 11,000 feet before descending to a road or some other access point to civilization. In other words, hiking out was not an option in the condition I was in.
While Glowworm was out I took a nap under a tree, occasionally waking when hikers walked by. Finally, at around 2:00 I opened my eyes to find Dr. McDirty and Cougar hiking into our campsite. I have never been so relieved. And at the same time I could see Glowworm’s bright orange shirt making its way into camp from the ranger station.
Unfortunately, there was no one there, but at least the four of us were reunited. Cougar and Dr. McDirty gave me some medication that they were carrying to help alleviate some of the discomfort and symptoms. We caught up on what had transpired in the last 24 hours and began looking at our options. While none of us wanted to admit it, the only option was to hit the SOS button on Glowworm’s satellite device. I was not getting any better sitting there and there was no way in hell I was going to be capable of hiking out so making the expensive decision to call in a helicopter was a relatively easy one given the circumstances.
I must admit it was kind of exciting to hit the big red button. While the situation was a bit shitty, the entire scene was fairly comical. We made sure to text Glowworm’s dad to let him know that it wasn’t in fact his daughter who was in trouble before pressing. We weren’t completely sure how they would evacuate me. We heard earlier from some other hikers that the rangers used mules to access the area. So the joke around our camp became “Press 1 for mule, 2 for chopper.”
It took a couple hours for the helicopter to finally arrive. The four of us sat there chatting and laughing. I realize that some people may find that insensitively given the severity of the whole ordeal, but it’s what was needed. Anything to dissipate the tension was warmly welcome. The chopper finally arrived and made a few passes over head to find a place to land. Hikers camped on the other side of the creek we were staying next to all stumbled out of their tents to check out the commotion and take videos on their phones of the scene not realizing that I was going to be eVac’d out in a few minutes. At this point we all said our goodbyes with hugs before the paramedics arrived and Dr. McDirty and Cougar went to guide my rescuers to our location while Glowworm stayed back with me.
The rest of the evening is a blur, honestly. And frankly I don’t have the energy to rehash every little detail, but I’ll at least give you the jist. The flight was awesome. There’s no doubt about it. It was unfortunate as to why I got to fly in a helicopter and more expensive than I want to know, but flying over the Sierra Nevada Mountains is hands down the coolest thing I have ever done. I’m just going to let this picture speak for itself.
There was an ambulance at the ready to take me to the hospital and it was about a 40 minute drive to the hospital so I took the opportunity to text my parents to assure them that I was fine and going to be okay. It turns out that the hospital that I was going to was in Visalia, CA which is the town where my only relative in a California lives, my cousin Brett. As I will write in a later post this will be a major help and a blessing for me.
The rest of the night was spent having CT scans and x rays along with being hooked up to oxygen and an IV. It was a wild day; one that I will never forget. Most importantly, though, I want to thank my friends: Dr. McDirty, Cougar, and Glowworm. These people are insanely wonderful. They have helped me in ways that I can never repay. Their kindness and care for me has been overwhelming and it breaks my heart to say goodbye to them for now. I cannot wait to meet back up with them in Bishop. I miss you guys dearly.