Injury and Aftermath – Priest Lake to Bonner’s Ferry
You take the high road and I take the low road
Twig and Wolverine head up to Lion’s Head ridge for a burly bushwhack (the infamous heights-filled class 2/3 ridge top scramble) while Sashay and I tackle the more tedious creek bushwhack route (tops off with just a class 2 scramble). Our bushwhack is, frankly, a pain in the ass.
Our route does start with amazing natural rock water slides. They’re steep and fast, slick with algae, and end with a splash in shockingly cold water-carved basins. The route then proceeds as a shoots and ladders game of choosing game trails, losing game trails, following fallen tree bushwhack highways and just plain forcing our way through the chest-high brush.
We bushwhack across the last bit – a short, steep traverse – then drop into the beautifully maintained trails in the Selkirk mountains outside of Bonner’s ferry. I lengthen my stride to get to Pyramid Lake and find us a camp site. I’ve already set up the tent and am puttering around when Sashay limps in.
A half mile ago, while walking the wide, shallow switchbacks to the lake, his knee gave out in a moment of blinding pain. The sharp pain passed, and he was able to limp the rest of the way to camp with a dull pain. His knee is swollen. He sits on a log, tentatively testing its range of motion.
It’s a quiet moment. Some simple backcountry injuries can be quite quiet, almost anticlimactic.
The consequences play out slowly, nothing will happen fast, so there is time to sit and calmly think. The knee was working, now it is not. This could change many things. It could change everything. We will find out eventually. But now, there are some things to do.
We unzip Sashay’s pant bottom and soak it in lake water, use it to cool the leg and lessen the swelling. Sashay takes ibuprofen, also for swelling. We pull out maps. I have paper overview maps printed from the PNTA, and we have Gaia maps downloaded to our phones – between these two we can see a wider corridor than our main map gives us. We immediately see there’s an easy out tomorrow morning. Instead of the 26 miles with a long ridge walk and long descent we had planned, we can take another trail down to a trailhead and a forest road. It’s on the right side of the mountains for hitching easily into our next town, Bonner’s Ferry.
This may mean the end of our hike.
The thought is there of course, bumping up against the rest of our thoughts. But that thought is for later. For now, it’s good Sahsay’s knee didn’t give out on the bushwhack or the steep, trail-less traverse. It’s good our maps show an easy ditch out trail towards town. It’s good we’re at a camping spot with water. It’s good I wasn’t too far ahead of Sashay when it happened. It’s good there’re day hikers and weekend backpackers on this side of the mountains so getting a hitch tomorrow is likely. It’s good the knee isn’t toast, so Sashay can very likely hike out on his own. It’s good our packs are light and it’ll be easy for me to take more weight off Sashay’s.
The hike out and hitch the next day are easy, we get up early and are in town by 9am. Sashay’s knee seems much better, painful but usable. Wolverine and Twig have already found the best tenting spot ($15 bucks a tent in an RV park with great shade, steps from the supermarket) and Wolverine has already bought good shampoo. The treats of your friends hitting town before you.
Sashay starts the process of finding a doctor to consult, a process that will take several days. In this time we will visit all three town supermarkets multiple times. Our trail friends will leave town to keep walking. We will camp and we will hotel. We will go from feeling fresh to feeling stale. We will be hopeful and spin up various plans and contingencies, and as each day slides by we have to decide if it’s time to grapple with that question – is this the end of our hike?
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