I am no doctor; so really, I can´t tell how close my friend came to death. However, from my perspective he was very very lucky.
My three friends Karim, Adam, and Lucy, and I went for a camping trip in the northern part of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Except for some wind, the weather was fantastic and the changing trees provided the perfect backdrop for some serious rock hiking.
After a fun Friday night at our camp ground, we headed for a lake about 25 minutes north the next morning. I´d been to this particular lake many times and explored quite a bit of the area in the past. The road had recently been fixed; what had once been a barely passable level 6 road, is now a relatively smooth dirt path through a remote forest. To my friends, I am known as the one who plans fun mountain adventures and thus I was excited to take them to this beautiful valley.
My friends immediately fell in love with the lake and we quickly began exploring the area. We decided to head around the lake for a little while and then continue straight up the mountain west of us. The hike up is difficult as the mountain is rather steep and littered with boulders of various sizes, some too big to climb over without equipment. In addition, we had to deal with lose dirt and rocks, random tree trunks, and an army of cacti that seemed too eager to teach us a lesson or two.
After climbing over and crawling under massive boulders for approximately 45 minutes, we finally made it to the top. The view was spectacular. Adam found a spot that protected us from the wind and we settled down. After we caught our breaths and refueled on water and snacks, we began talking about everything and nothing. In the end, we decided that life is good and nature is beautiful. What a great day!
We began our descent about 30 minutes later. It was getting pretty warm and I knew I´d get burned to a crisp if we stayed much longer. Adam took the lead on our way down and we followed alerting each other about lose rocks and angry cacti. We made it about 1/4 of the way, when I suddenly heard a sliding noise next to me. Karim had climbed onto the boulder next to me and had lost his footing. With nothing to grab a hold of, he quickly slid down the rock. When he fell over the edge, his backpack caught the rock pushing him forward. He hit a boulder 10 feet below; first his body, then his head.
“Karim, do not move!” was all I could get out. From my position it was difficult to get to him, but I forced myself down the rock as fast a humanly possible. I got there first and assessed the situation. Karim appeared dazed and confused. Adam and Lucy joined me seconds later. Since Karim had already managed to get up onto his knees, we decided to sit him down in the shade. There was no even ground anywhere; just boulder after boulder and we did our best making our wounded friend as comfortable as possible.
Initially, it seemed as if his wounds were our top priority. He denied feeling pain in his back and neck and he didn´t seem to have any broken limbs. I was in charge of his profoundly bleeding finger, which had gotten crushed upon impact. Lucy and Adam took care of his forehead and nose, which were both bleeding badly. I was just about done wrapping Karim´s finger, when I heard Adam say “Oh, no no no my friend, you don´t get to sleep!”. Karim was leaning back, slowly closing his eyes. We couldn’t keep him sitting up for long before we had to let him rest on his backpack. For 5 minutes we did our best at keeping him conscious; we talked to him and asked him questions about his hobbies and school. His condition was rapidly deteriorating and when he stopped responding to pain, we knew he was out cold.
It became clear that we needed emergency help. Without a signal for miles, Adam rushed down the mountain to call 911. Karim´s skin was turning cold and clammy and I was unable to find a pulse. I had been calm and collected the entire time, but was losing my cool quickly. I pressed my hand on his chest, neck, and wrist; still nothing. I could see his chest moving slowly; he was still breathing. “Found it!”, Lucy proclaimed holding Karim´s wrist. “It´s really faint though”.
While Lucy continued to care for Karim, I perched on top of a boulder holding a mylar blanket up in the air. I could no longer see our vehicle at the bottom of the hill; Adam must have not been able to get a signal in the valley. As I rhythmically moved the silver sheet through the air, I wondered how far Adam would have to drive before he could call 911.
Karim slowly opened his eyes. He was dizzy, felt nauseous, and his vision was blurry, but he was alive. Our friend was very confused and began muttering about not needing a helicopter or an ambulance. “You got to be freaking kidding me”, I thought. His finger had bled through the wrap, there was blood on his hands, head, and on the rocks around us, and he was still bleeding out of his nose. “Your ass is going to a hospital!”
The emergency response was amazing! I can´t tell you how long it took for the first cop to show up, but the man ran up that mountain as if he was being chased by a bear. Overall around 25 people arrived to help: an ambulance that drove over 60 miles from the nearest city, two search and rescue people, half a dozen EMT´s and cops, as well as every resident within a 10 mile radius. Adam, fueled by adrenaline, ran back down the mountain to guide the remaining rescue personnel to us. He even carried their first aid bags. Everybody was there, except for the helicopter, which had flown to the wrong lake and didn´t have enough fuel to make it to us. Fantastic! We had no other choice but to somehow transport Karim down the mountain.
With Karim conscious we made it down the mountain rather quickly. His busted foot did not allow him to walk very far and thus he spent the majority of the way sliding down rocks and dirt. Once we arrived at the bottom of the hill, the EMT´s assessed Karim´s condition once again, before we were allowed to take him to the hospital. It took just under an hour to get there; not bad at all.
We placed Karim in a wheel chair and stormed through the emergency room entrance. We were stopped by a bored looking security lady. “Do you have any weapons on you?” We looked at each other, shrugged, and began shedding weapons left and right. 4 knifes, 2 pepper sprays, 1 hatchet, and 1 gun later the security guard looked at us as if we were crazy. Needless to say, we were not allowed in unless we removed our arsenal from the building.
Once inside the hospital, Karim was put into a fashionable hospital gown and neck brace. Doctors, nurses, and EMT´s gathered around him like an army of ants. Initially, I was the only one allowed back there, but once Karim´s most immediate needs had been taken care of, all four of us gathered in the tiny room. I could feel my body coming down from its adrenaline fueled high and was overcome with hunger and thirst. All of us looked tired, dirty, and disheveled. What a day! When a nurse walked in 20 minutes later, she stopped immediately, looked at us, and exclaimed: “My goodness, what is this smell?” We hadn´t showered in two days, had an incredibly exhausting sweaty day behind us, and reeked of campfire. Adam made an attempt to explain our situation; the rest of us just grinned.
Karim spent roughly 4 hours at the emergency room before being released. They scrubbed his wounds clean, applied gauze and bandages, and took a variety of x-rays and CT scans. The final verdict: a concussion, a sprained ankle, multiple bruises, wounds on his head, nose, knee, and arms, and one badly crushed finger.
“Man, you really gotta do a better job at staying alive”, I said before we headed back into the wilderness.