I’ve always wondered what a real backcountry emergency would be like, and now I know. Summer Remote Studio had its first overnight backcountry trip in the Tetons this week. We followed a common route for us, up Philips Pass Trail. We ate lunch and proceeded to follow the trail through the Jedediah Wilderness and down another drainage into Idaho. Within minutes we were no longer on earth but hiking through snow. The snow grew deeper and we spent the next couple of hours searching for the trail that came and went like a true hide-and-seek game. The snow was knee to thigh deep. Downed trees made movement slow. But everyone remained in good spirits. We found our way old-school with compass, topo quad map and landmarks. We made it into the Mesquite drainage to spend the night.
I was exhausted. My pack was heavy. Not too many summer daylight hours before I was asleep in my tent. At 1 am I was woke by one of the students who told me his tent mate was not feeling well. It was at this point I wondered in the Wilderness First Aid training would pay off. I went through his symptoms. His current overall condition. He was not in Shock, but he was in severe pain. Too much to walk out. I thought about hiking out with headlamp down a trail i had never hiked….He calmed down about within the hour and we made it through the night.
The pain returned in the morning and I was faced with 1 sick student and 9 others waiting for direction. I knew we needed to get a 911 distress call out. And I knew we would need to find a higher elevation to find a signal. I thought that my sick student might be about the have a ruptured appendix. I took another student with me and left the others to break down camp. On the trail going out it was steep and there was more snow. After about two miles we reached the highest point of the trail and finally got a but of service. With the GPS coordinates we could tell them where camp was, we described symptoms, and asked for airlift evacuation .
I hiked back to camp to wait with my sick student and one more who could hike out with me after we sent the group out toward the trailhead. It didn’t take long for the helicopter to start circling and then land at the nearest meadow. A hike further down the drainage. A team of three arrived from Idaho search and rescue and they were great. They inserted an IV into the patient for pain killer, told him (and me) that he had a kidney stone and away they took him.
There were three of us to hike out together since the other students had gone ahead. It was a slow go in more snow fields and making the days mileage twice as long down the same trail. But it was great to reach the cars, and a huge relief to know that we all got out ok. But one of us had a great helicopter ride out over the Tetons into Jackson, safe and with great care.