Headfirst Towards Death – A Cautionary Tale
Warning – This post and video include graphic images.
Taking a Header Down the Mountain
This post jumps ahead of the timeline of my current posting by about a week. It also involves some graphic photos of me after I fell pretty hard. So if you have issues with photos involving blood, please skip the rest of this post.
Today was a definite wake up call to the very real dangers of the trail. I was hiking a relatively easy ten-mile hike from a nice campsite just past the decent from Saddleback Junior in Maine to Caribou Valley Road, just past Sugarloaf Mountain. As I descended the north side of Saddleback, the trail became particularly steep and rocky.
I’ve dealt with steeper and more sketchy at this point, but it was still a bit treacherous. I came to a particularly steep section and did as I always do. I assessed the situation, noted what looked like the most logically safe route, and moved forward. The route I selected involved stepping down to a groove in a rock that had a piece of the rock jutting out where I could place my foot, allowing me to the step down to the earth on my next step. As I moved forward and committed to the step, the change in perspective made me realize the place I was stepping was not a continuous piece of rock, but a separate rock in the wedge. The rest all happened in slow motion in my memory.
As my foot approached the stone, I actually thought to myself, “I hope that rock doesn’t move.” Then my foot landed, the rock slid forward, and I couldn’t stop my forward momentum. I pitched forward and landed on a steep slab of rock to the right side of the trail.
I slid forward on the slab a few feet and came to a momentary stop. Then, something let go, and I started to slide again. I slid forward into the woods and downward, face first, unable to stop or control my slide. I suddenly came to an abrupt stop. I could look up to see where I’d come from, but it was a bit hazy.
I got up and immediately assessed my situation. First, nothing felt broken. That was good. Next, there is blood trickling off my head/face. Not good. I groped for my phone and turn on the camera app so I could take a look at myself. I was bleeding from a gash in my head and my cheek. I grabbed my bandana and mopped up the blood and assessed that nothing was critical, none of the gashes were deep. Since I already had my phone out, I immediately noted that I did not have any signal where I was. I thought about whether I should press the SOS button on my inreach. The general rule is that if you are unsure of the outcome, press the button. If you can see a clear outcome, do not press the button. I considered whether I could walk down the 0.8 miles I had left in the condition I was in or if I should call and search and rescue. I decided I could see a clear outcome and decided not to press the button. In retrospect, I did not know at that time if I had a serious head injury, and probably should have pressed it and communicated with them about my situation and then headed down the mountain. This way, had something happened on my way down, at least they would have already been notified. Ultimately, I made it down safely, though there would have been no harm in contacting them initially.
When I reached the river at the bottom, I washed off as much blood and dirt as possible, and then hiked the short distance up to the road to get picked up by The Hostel of Maine. They pick me up and got me back to the hostel, during which time I figured out the closest urgent care was 90 minutes away. Instead, I consulted my partner Angela, who gave me detailed instructions on how to do a self-assessment, and clean things up properly. I got back to the hostel and took care of things myself.
Facing the Terror
Sleep was very difficult that night. Every time I close my eyes, all I could see was the fall. It took me a solid two hours before I was able to sleep, and sleep was quite fitful. When I woke in the morning, I decided the best thing to do was to take a very short hike back up to where the fall had taken (.8 miles), take a few minutes to deal with the terror, and take a few more minutes to search for my glasses, which I lost in the fall. This turned out to be a great idea, since I ran into multiple people I knew on the hike back up who are all very supportive, and ultimately ran into HolyShit just before I got to the fall point. He walked back up to the fall point with me, and actually found my glasses for me as I looked things over. Honestly, I can’t imagine how I took the fall I took, looking at the terrain I was in, and am still alive. I have huge gratitude for my life right now. I descended again, and I’m going to take another day off at the hostel before continuing on.
Below is a photo of my physical condition immediately after the fall. I’ve also included a next day picture of my face later that day after a long cleanup process. I’m feeling much better today, though I’m sure my arms will be stiff and take a while to heal.
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