The unspoken rule of the outdoor world is that if you log enough days outside, eventually something bad is going to happen to either you or someone in your party. Sadly it is the law of averages: the more you get out, the more opportunity you have for something to go wrong. If you are not prepared for when things get bad, you make them worse. The fact is that there are a lot of ways to get into a bad situation in the outdoors and no matter how calculated, cautious, and safe you are, you are never truly out of harm’s way as acts of god/nature have claimed their fair share of victims.
When I think about the days that things go wrong instead of right, I like to refer to them as un-epics. The reason that they have been un-epics is that despite things going wrong, we were prepared for the worst, kept level heads, and managed to successfully extract ourselves from whatever the situation was. A true epic normally begins when you are not fully prepared for your objective or you cut your safety margin down too thin. While an un-epic is never the day you dreamed of, they do provide valuable learning experiences and prepare us as we further our adventures.
When I look at were I am today as an outdoor athlete it is humorous to look at all the missteps I took along the way and how close to disaster I’ve been (and walked away from). I have been the victim of getting a rope stuck at dusk while rappelling a difficult multi-pitch route on an otherwise foreign wall. (By the way, I left my headlamp in my pack at the base of the wall, leaving us stranded on the middle of a wall with it getting darker by the minute.) After some thought, we were able to re-rig the rappel and descend to the route’s base. A few years before that, when I was still a beginning climber, I jammed a prusik in my ATC while rappelling a fairly difficult vertical wall in flip-flops. Needless to say, I was unable to climb upward to relieve the pressure off of the rope and was forced to cut the prusik free to extricate myself from my predicament.
I have un-epiced in other sports as well. For example, when learning to snowboard my friends needed to talk me down from murdering everyone on the bunny slope at Waterville as my patience sank to an all-time low. I have had more than my fair share of un-epics, and I am sure that anyone who has spent time outside with me has a good un-epic story to share (I hear there is some good video too). In hindsight, the reason I am still here today writing this blog is that I surrounded myself with smart, self-reliant partners who always had the worst case scenario in mind and were prepared for it.
This past Friday I once again experienced an un-epic but fortunately not at my expense. Once again I found myself at ‘The Stash,’ this time joined by Luke, Katrina, and Kevin. While skiing our final run of the day, Kevin tweaked something in his knee and found himself unable to put any weight on it. ‘The Stash’ is not exactly a remote place (roughly a half an hour from a fairly large urban center), so we were not in great peril, but you never want to call for a rescue if you are able to rescue yourself.
After Kevin gave weighting his knee a few attempts and decided that he was incapable of extricating himself from the situation, Luke and I went into action. (In all honesty it was more Luke than me, as Luke was more concerned for Kevin and I was probably more concerned with finishing my run.) Luke dipped into his daypack and removed a SAM splint and some accessory straps while I broke a set of ski poles down to make a splint for Kevin’s knee. It was amazing to me how quickly splint building came back to me, as I had not made one since a first aid class I took last spring.
After immobilizing Kevin’s knee we got to the business of extrication. We quickly dismissed carrying Kevin as he easily outsized both Luke and myself. We dismissed him walking out assisted as well, as he could not bear the pain of walking. Looking at what we had with him Luke devised a system of carrying him out on top of his snowboard, using the board as a improvised rescue sled. With Kevin situated on the sled, Luke and I were able to drag him via a pair of MSR snowshoes that were attached to his backpack. Using this system, Luke and I were able to drag Kevin the final quarter mile to the parking lot where our cars were parked.
Looking back at the day, it was a great example of how we managed to prevent an un-epic from turning into an epic. By using our heads and being prepared for something to go wrong, Luke and I were able to stabilize Kevin and bring him to ‘safety’ in under half an hour. I believe it is extremely beneficial for everyone to be prepared for the worst and have some plan or training for when the worst happens.
For anyone who is concerned: from what I hear, Kevin is on a steady diet of ice and ibuprofen and is doing much better.