On January 30, 2016 I spent a warm day ice climbing with clients at the far end of the popular ice climbing destination Frankenstein Cliff. After many laps on various routes in balmy temps, we packed up our gear and began to head back to the cars for some R&R. As we approached the parking lot there was a large presence of Fish and Game waiting in the upper lot. When our guide asked what was going on, the ranger quickly stated there was an accident involving a litter carry on the popular route Pegasus. As soon as I had heard, I quickly raced back in to see if I could be of some assistance.
The fast paced walk to the injured climber seemed to take forever, although the trail was a mere 0.5 Miles down flat train tracks. With little info on the shape of the climber, you're mind begins to race through the possible scenarios and what way would be best way to assist this climber by following Wilderness Medicine, and local emergency procedures. Luckily, I had recently upped my emergency medicine cert to an EMT and thought this fresh information could be helpful in this situation.
When I met up with the litter, I instantly noticed that he had not been carried but instead put into a sled and dragged down the tracks. I thought this was odd as the initial report was a 20 foot fall that caused a loss of consciousness. In all the training I have done, when a person has significant MOI (mechanism of injury) with head trauma, a spinal injury can not be ruled out as they are deemed unreliable to have their spine cleared. None the less, I hopped out of the way of the litter and began to follow it in preparation for the lift into the ambulance that was so patiently waiting in the parking lot.
Once we had arrived at the lot, 2 climbers helped the climber to his feet and sat him down on the gurney. I was quite surprised at this as no care had been taken to preserve C-Spine, an important part of a significant MOI to the head with significant injuries. Once loaded onto the gurney the climber gave us a smile that showed us some sign of good health. As the gurney was loaded into the ambulance, one climber said "Injured player leaving the field" and we all clapped as the ambulance doors closed. It seemed at that time that he was going to make out okay.
One thing that all resonates with me is when I was in my first WFR (Wilderness First Responder) course some years back, my instructor said to me that proper care of the spine "Could be the difference between whether or not he will get to dance with his daughter at her wedding". This saying has stuck with me and always made me especially careful when managing trauma patients.
So the summary of this post is to never underestimate the importance of Wilderness Emergency Medicine. Be sure to take a course if you plan on spending some time in the backcountry, it just may save a life someday.