A New Hampshire Search and Rescue
Imagine hiking through some of the craziest weather in history in the New England States with record-breaking rainfalls and flooding on the Appalachian Trail. Then, meeting new faces along the way whose introductions include, “I’ve heard of you. You are the Lucky Penny that fell.” Wait, hold up, what?!
The Fall on Mt. Cube
I took a minor fall in New Jersey after stepping on a log that lodged loose and rolled at a water crossing. I fell backwards, but my backpack softened the impact. Minor falls are very common on trail; the Appalachian Trail is wet and relentlessly rugged. However, nothing could have prepared me for my face plant on Mt Cube.
The Hexacube was full the night before with eight thru-hikers and two section hikers. We shared the shelter with one of my favorite tramilies we’ve met on trail after a tough day with more rain in the forecast. We had a great night in the six-sided shelter perched on the south side of Mt. Cube, but my confidence in completing this journey was about to take a nosedive. The morning started just as any other day; early to rise, choking down the same old protein bar (by this point in my journey, I had become too lazy to boil water for oatmeal), putting on wet stinky socks that hadn’t dried out from the day before, vigorously stuffing gear in my backpack, doing my morning business, chugging caffeinated celsius mix water, and off we go!
It all came to a screeching halt at 7:30 a.m. The rock slab summit on Mt Cube was nothing that I had not already experienced. In fact, it was probably the easiest NH summit in my memory. Yes, it was wet, but I was extremely confident in my footing in all different types of terrain and trail conditions. I was carrying on a conversation with my daughter (and her boyfriend, who was visiting and hiking with us a couple days). Without a second to react or brace for impact, my foot slipped directly out from under me. My head bounced off the rock with dead weight force. The first thought that came to mind was “I’m not sure I’ll come back from this. This may be the end of my hike.”
I could hear my daughter’s muffled voice, “Mom! You’re bleeding!” in the foreground of the ringing in my ears. It wasn’t my head that was bleeding, but it hurt so bad that I had no idea I broke my nose. All I could do was lay there in disbelief. The cellphone service had been spotty the previous day, but we had two Verizon bars. After realizing I was confused in conversation and not making sense of the gravity of the situation, my daughter called 911 and was connected to a NH Search and Rescue team member.
What I Learned About NH SAR Upon Requiring Emergency Assistance:
- Team members will question your gear list – multiple times. Responders assess if you are an experienced hiker or not.
- If you require rescue and are found to be hiking in the backcountry without “essentials” you could be facing a hefty rescue bill. You have an option to mitigate rescue costs by purchasing a NH Hike Safe Card. prior to your hike. *I did not know about, nor have said card.
- Hikers are expected to know and practice the hikeSafe Hiker Responsibility Code. Rescuers want to know if you are prepared for multiple possible emergency scenarios in the backcountry.
- Having a map or GPS app on your cellphone does not meet their criteria. If you do not carry a laminated paper map, you need to have a charged power bank and charging cord for your cellphone with you.
- Your incident is assessed and reassessed swiftly before they stage a rescue.
- SAR are highly trained, amazing people that love what they do. They take safety precautions seriously.
There were several things to consider in my case. Though I am a licensed clinician and know all the warning signs of concussion or TBI, I am also very stubborn when it comes to asking for help and pushing through to the end goal (in this case, making it to the Katahdin summit). There was absolutely no way for an ATV to make it to our location due to the rugged terrain. I was convinced that I was “okay to just keep hiking.”
Was my injury serious enough to require helicopter extraction? – No.
Should you ever just “shake off” a head injury, no matter how minor you think it may be? – No.
An epidural hematoma (bleeding between the skull and the brain) can be a silent killer.
My Injury Checked These Boxes:
- Initial confusion and dizziness
- Elevated pain levels
- Intermittent nausea; no vomiting.
- No visual disturbances
- No neck/back pain.
- No numbness or tingling in extremities
After removing my backpack and remaining still for a good 30 minutes, SAR agreed I was safe to attempt to hike down to a staged location on private property to be transported to Dartmouth Hospital for a CT scan and minor nose repair. I hiked three miles out from Mt. Cube to South Jacobs Brook. Rescuers met us at North Jacobs Brook, reassessed my injury, and took my vitals.
I was a little (no, VERY) embarrassed to see the private property owners, EMS, more SAR members, and game warden waiting for us. After eight hours of observation, a clear CT scan and headache subsiding, I was discharged and given the okay to continue to hike upon adequate rest.
The Fall Severely Decreased My Confidence & Daily Mileage.
The first water crossing (which was just a small creek compared to what we were about to encounter in Maine) surprised me. I felt vulnerable and paced up and down that creek several times before I finally crossed it. As days passed and more water crossings approached, I found myself feeling less vulnerable. In my mind and heart, reaching the northern terminus was my ONLY option.
Two days after the incident, a reporter copied and pasted the NH Fish & Game Report and praised my efforts to continue hiking. However, they missed the biggest praise and best part of the story. It was my daughter’s ability to remain calm, assess me, and make a good decision to call 911. She strapped my backpack on her front side while also carrying her backpack for two miles until we saw the first SAR team member. I can’t say I would have made it to Katahdin without her by my side. (Maine post to follow)
The Biggest Takeaway
Despite experience and diligent preparedness, anything can happen at any moment in the backcountry. Don’t spend too much time perseverating on fears. Keep climbing your mountains (wherever and whatever they may be) and fulfilling dreams!
Joanne Gigliotti, Lucky Penny on the AT
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