PCT Week 9: A Near Death Experience and the Meaning of Tramily
John Muir Trail
Whitney was one of the most exciting moments of my life, but it was one of the most exhausting. I reached camp late that night, with no more energy. Little did I know that it would be the start of one of the most physically and mentally demanding days of my entire life.
Finally, we were on the John Muir Trail, which starts at Whitney and ends in the Yosemite Valley. Just like every stretch of wilderness in the Sierra, it becomes more and more beautiful as you continue on.
Today’s goal: going through Forester Pass, the highest point on the PCT. While Whitney is technically higher in elevation by quite a ways, it’s not a part of the PCT. Forester Pass is one of the most dangerous depending on conditions.
The ascent was long, but after such a good day climbing Whitney I definitely felt strong enough and had enough confidence to push through no problem. While I have a lot of experience it didn’t excuse the fact that I was by myself climbing a pass, everyone else was just a mile or two away from me.
When I reached the top of Forester Pass, I felt incredible. The view was amazing, the adrenaline was through the roof, and I was again proud of myself for what I was able to achieve. It was truly a moment where everything stood still. I was at the top of the PCT.
Forester Pass, a Near Death Experience
This feeling was immediately gone. I realized the task that was ahead of me wasn’t going to be easy. While I was confident, something didn’t feel right. I took my first steps down the mountain. It was going to be a long stretch.
Immediately I started post-holing, falling straight through the snow. It was something I did expect. I got myself up and kept pushing through. One step at a time, one post hole at a time. There was no trail, only boot tracks going straight down.
The next post hole created a moment of fear. I fell straight through. Most of my body was in the snow, deep in the snow. I felt my legs stuck, my body stuck, I realized in that moment the danger I had put myself in. For the first time on trail I looked at the SOS button on my Garmin. I didn’t want to press it, so I calmed and talked myself through the self-rescue out of the snow.
These types of post holes kept coming, each deeper than the next. I was fully stuck, not even halfway down the mountain. All I could do was keep on digging myself out. The cold snow becoming colder. My body was losing more energy fast with every step I took.
More than halfway down now, I look back up and then notice a red streak going down the mountain. At some point in the descent, I had started bleeding after deep post holes into the boulder field under me. I’ve put my body through so much abuse on trail that I didn’t even feel the pain. I couldn’t figure out how bad it was.
Just Keep Moving
The day was going fast, and I now realize the danger I have put myself into. I have less and less energy as I keep bleeding from an unknown area and the post holes get colder. I have no other choice but to keep myself moving. Still miles left before I’m even close to safety.
At some point, I hear voices. I look back and someone is at the top of Forester Pass. I can’t think about it as it’s on me to get myself to a safe place. Behind me a trail of blood. I finally get to a tent site with no snow. I can’t go any further, I can’t reach my friends who are in front of me. I’m alone, in pain, and all I can do now is try to rest for the night.
I awaken not able to feel my body. Half of my body is unable to move, I know now that something is very wrong. I look down to find blood everywhere in my tent. I look at my Garmin once more. I can’t get myself to press the SOS button, even though I know I’m risking my life and it’s no longer safe for me unless I can get help soon.
My worry is no one should arrive until noon at the earliest. I keep myself calm and try to rest a bit. Around 9 a.m., 3 hours before anyone should have arrived at my location, I hear voices coming from trail. It’s Detour and Mountain Goat. The people I had seen at the top of Forester Pass as I descended were two friends.
They come down to my tent and help me up, I still can’t feel my body. Slowly regaining some strength and getting the blood flowing I am able to move. I start my way down slowly. Still bleeding, I’m in pain. The only way to safety, though, is still miles away up and down Kearsarge Pass. It’s a task I’m not confident I can complete.
A Reality Check
I reach the bottom of the pass. I take a break, exhausted from just 2.5 miles of walking. I start the climb. It’s long, it’s steep, but more hikers start to show up. Each checking in on me as I keep climbing. Everything hurts and everything is still bleeding severely.
Finally, I’m so close to the top as more hikers come through. The day isn’t over, though. There is still a very long descent down to the trailhead. But somehow my body keeps moving. It’s all I can do at this point. My body is in full survival mode.
More than 24 hours of intense bleeding and I get to the trailhead where a trail angel had been called to pick up some hikers that were still behind me. Luckily he had room in his car, and shortly after the hikers make it to the trailhead as well. It’s Moonbean and Old Lady. I’m so glad to see friends.
As soon as my body knew I was safe from danger, it shut down. I went into shock. I could now feel all the pain, and my body froze. Moonbean helped talk me through the pain as I broke down, realizing what had occurred. I didn’t just get injured descending Forester Pass. I experienced a very close call with death.
I was rushed to the hospital with a 107-degree fever, an intense amount of blood loss, a very infected wound, and a reality check that I was lucky to survive. If I hadn’t been found early in the day, I would have gone in shock and my body would have shut down much earlier.
The Meaning of Tramily
I was now safe in Bishop, and within a couple of hours, my Tramily is made aware of my accident. The messages start pouring through, as everyone wants to know what had occurred. I hadn’t reached camp with everyone and they had worried for me the night before.
The doctor gave it to me straight that I was lucky to have made it to safety, and that I would be forced off trail to recover. I could barely walk. I couldn’t sit or lay down without an immense amount of pain. I feared the worst.
The first night in Bishop, I stayed with everyone else at the hostel, but I needed more peace and quiet so I moved to the hotel next door. Duces helped me move my stuff next door. As we walked down, I stopped, I broke down in tears, for the first time on trail I feared my journey was over. He stopped and looked at me, he told me stop thinking negatively, that this wasn’t who I was.
Every night in the hotel, my Tramily helped me with food and anything I needed. These people I had met only a couple months, some weeks ago, came together to help me. But in the back of my mind, I thought my journey was over, my dream was over. Every time I thought about trail, I would break down. It didn’t bring me joy. The optimism felt dead.
Everything changed the day before everyone else left back for trail. An act of kindness made me forget the pain for a moment. A care package, a balloon, and a card signed by my Tramily. In that moment, I wanted to get back on trail and I would do everything in my power to get back soon. I would not give up. My optimism grew.
Thank you Stretch, Moonbean, Duces, Yeti Legs, Basecamp, Mountain Goat, Detour, Airdrop, Swig, Severen, Puffy P, Cherub, Big Marmot, Cookie Monster, Dagi, Azul, Romeo, Prism, Shroomboot, Cuppa, Jedi, Chief, Old Lady, Boomie, Fifty, Ian, Yukon, Crush, Build-a-Bear, Mach 5, Spanks, Tuna, Rocket, and so many more who have helped me on this journey. This experience has made me stronger, more optimistic, and more grateful. I am blessed to have such a wonderful Tramily and the support of so many. It’s because of you all that I was able to come back stronger and I want to continue my journey.
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