Sunday, July 01: Yosemite
“Don’t worry,she’s still conscious…”
Things you don’t want to hear from a stranger while you are out hiking up around a waterfall: “Excuse me, are you Jim? Your wife’s name is Amy? Let me say first, don’t worry: She is still conscious...”
Today started out so much better than Saturday. We got up at 7 and got a much earlier start into the park. The line to get in was much much shorter, and when we got in, there was still plenty of parking.
We decided to hike up the Mist Trail to the Vernal Falls, and then possibly up further to the Nevada Falls. Our major mistake was in under-estimating the size of the hike. We thought it would be a quick short little hike. Then we would be down, have some lunch at Curry Village, and then do something else in the afternoon.
The hike was longer and higher than we expected. We would have been better off bringing a lunch and planning to eat up above Vernal Fall.
At a bridge below Vernal Fall, I was taking pictures and Amy went on ahead. Mike was watching this woman who was sitting there with a squirrel climbing up her leg and around her arm looking for food.
Michael was more interested in watching the squirrels than in waterfalls, so I figured that he was old enough to stay there for a bit while Amy and I climbed up to the falls, took some pictures, and then returned.
So I set off after Amy. It turns out that the falls were further than I expected, with the last bit being a steep stone staircase, then along a ledge (with a railing) to the top.
The falls were one of the best that I’ve seen. Unfortunately mid-day was about the worst time for photos. Above the falls is super-nifty. There is a nice green pool, with vertical cliffs behind it, and in general a wonderful place to have lunch.
We were worried about Mike being alone, so Amy started down while I was taking some more pictures. I went a short ways towards Nevada Falls, but I met some people coming back who said that it was another 15-20 minutes to the falls, and I didn’t want to take that long.
It was on the way back that a stranger told me that Amy had taken a bad fall but she was still conscious. This was not a very reassuring message.
I hurried down the trail (as fast as I could with the crowds of people), and I found her with a ranger about halfway down the steep section of the rock stairs next to the falls. Apparently she had tripped (possibly augmented by low blood sugar as it was past 2), fallen forward off the steps, done a somersaulting fall down about 15-20 feet of stairs (bouncing off of a tree along the way) before landing next to a large rock off the trail.
She had lots of bruises, a fair number of abrasions, a bloody nose, and her glasses were broken. (Bystanders found one lens, I found the frames and other lens.) Her left temple was tender, her knee was swollen, and she was in general in not too good shape. Fortunately, nothing obvious was broken, but she did not think that she could hike down unassisted.
Amy had asked someone going down to tell Mike what was going on, but who knows if they succeeded. I hung around with Amy for a while, then I went down to get Mike. No one had found him, so I was the first word to him that something had happened to Amy. Just before I got to Mike, I was passed two Search and Rescue guys in yellow shirts headed up.
I got Mike and we headed up to find Amy with the ranger and three yellow shirts (at least one of whom was an EMT). They suspected a possible neck injury, so Amy was in a cervical collar and they were calling for a litter evacuation.
I had expected them to take her down, ambulance her to the Yosemite Valley medical building, and check her out there. But they decided that she was potentially injured too badly for the local place, so the plan was to send her on to a trauma center in Modesto. They weren’t sure which one, however.
We basically just hung out and waited for the litter crew. I’m guessing it was maybe an hour, but I didn’t look at my watch. They put an IV line into Amy, and eventually four to six people showed up. They assembled the litter, put a big air mattress like thing inside, put Amy in, tied her down, then inflated the “mattress”. Meanwhile another guy set up a belay/rapel to a big tree further up the stairs.
When they were ready, they picked up the litter and put a big single wheel under the center to take the weight. It had a large, low-pressure tire to cushion bumps.
For the steep section of the stairs, they “bounced” her down one stair at a time, slowly lowering on the rope, with the 4-5 people stabilizing the litter trying to cushion the drops.
At the end of that pitch, the stairs got less steep, so they had one guy tied in to the litter to “hold it back”, while they went down the rest of the stairs. That was noticeably faster than setting up a new belay.
Eventually they got to the end of the stairs and they could make better time. Mike and I started out in front of them, but it was a pain to make sure we were far enough ahead to be out of their way without being too far away, so halfway down we waited on the side as they went past, and then we followed.
At the bridge where I got Michael, they turned left, went through some junk, and then ended up on a horse path going down that side of the river. I wondered why they went down there instead of the normal trail, but I think it was shorter. We came out to some big water tanks that supply water to the whole Yosemite Valley, where the ambulance was waiting.
We saw Amy off, then we got a ride from the park ranger who had been the first to arrive. He was the “police officer” type of ranger rather than a naturalist. I was surprised to find him putting on his bullet-proof vest before getting in his SUV. I was even more surprised as I sat in the front seat so find some heavy artillery in a rack inches from my left shoulder. He had an M16 there next to what looked like a big shot-gun. This is in addition to the 45 on his waist.
By this point, it was probably between 5 and 6, and Michael (as well as the rest of us) hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. I figured that when Amy got to the hospital there would be some fair amount of time while she was being processed, so we didn’t need to be there at the start. I thought it was more important to get some food in us first.
So I had the officer drive us to Curry Village, where Michael and I shared a medium pizza. (Earlier, a medium pizza had fed all three of us.)
Then we caught the bus over to Day Parking and found our car. I called Dispatch to see where Amy was being taken. At least I *tried* to call them. Just as the person was answering, my cell phone decided that it was a good time for its batteries to die. Unfortunately, I don’t have a car charger for my phone.
Fortunately, we had charged Amy’s phone the previous night, and it was in her purse instead of with Amy. So I called on her phone (after figuring out how to make a call on her fancy smart phone :-), and they said that she was just being loaded on the helicopter (helicopter?!!!!) and that I should call back in 15 minutes.
I found out from Amy later that they had taken her by ambulance outside of the park to a hotel, and there they transferred her to a second ambulance, that took her a very short distance to the helicopter. Then they flew her to Modesto because the drive would have taken too long.
I drove to the west end of the park, then pulled over and called again. I must have been marginally in range of a tower. Just as she started telling me which hospital, the phone dropped the connection. I called back yet again, and this time the call stayed up. I kept having drop-outs, however, and she had to repeat the address a few times before I got it.
After that, I drove to the Bug Resort, checked in (we were in the process of switching from the bunkhouse to a tent), and got Amy’s medicine bag (it wasn’t in the car because we didn’t want it to get cooked in the heat).
Mike and I then drove on to Modesto. It is about an hour’s drive from Yosemite valley to the Bug, and about an hour-and-a-half from the Bug to Modesto. So the whole trip out was like driving from Northborough to Troy.
During the drive, lots of thoughts kept swirling through my head. Would she be OK? Would she need surgery? Would they keep her overnight? What if she had died? etc.
If we spent a minimal amount of time at the hospital, then I figured we would get back to the Bug around 1am. I was fairly convinced that they would keep her at least overnight, so I thought we would have to be back on Monday. I was thinking that three hours of driving so we could sleep in a hot tent wasn’t a great plan, so we should probably look for a cheap motel in Modesto. Then I figured that even if they released Amy that night, we should probably still get a motel and not drive back that night.
We found the hospital without a lot of trouble (I can’t imagine doing a trip like this without a GPS). Strangely, the main lobby was closed (it was about 10:30). I checked with a security guard, and he directly me around the corner. I went in there, and they took me into one of their wards, and there was Amy!
Fortunately, it turned out that she was basically OK, and they were releasing her. She hadn’t broken anything, and her spine and skull were OK. She had a large number of abrasions, and lots of bruises. She was slightly nauseous, and maybe still suffering a bit from shock.
In some ways, she was better than I was because she had been having a “peaceful nap” for the past several hours rather than racing down the highway. :-)
Fortunately, she had independently come to the same conclusion as I that we should spent the night in Modesto. After maybe a half hour she was released. I had to get her new clothes, as her old ones had been cut off of her. Her hiking boots hadn’t made it to the hospital; we didn’t know where they were.
Mike was hungry again, so we stopped at McD’s for a quick snack, then found a local hotel and checked in. I enjoyed a quick shower, and then we all hit the sack.