Trail Angels are Real

My dad and stepmom Diana are quite accomplished hikers. To say accomplished is an understatement: my dad has been hiking and exploring for as long as I can remember and in the last 15 years that they have lived in the Southern California area they have hiked 800+ peaks and millions of feet of elevation. Incredible!

Every weekend they are hiking. And not just little hikes but arduous 20+ mile hikes in the high country of the Sierras. They’re almost always in the Bishop area since they’ve climbed everything within a 4 to 5 hour radius of Ventura County.

Over Labor Day weekend they told me they would be making a third attempt to climb to the top of Mount Lamarck, a 13,417′ peak on the crest of the High Sierra. Their 2 previous attempts were thwarted by route finding challenges, boulders, and snow. Lamarck isn’t just a pedestrian hike – it’s a rugged 12 mile cross country trek up steep talus, scree, and snow fields.

Just this past July my dad and stepmom joined me and a group of friends for the Enchantments Death March, a grueling 20 mile day hike through the Central Cascades with over 6,000′ of elevation. We even threw in a summit of Little Annapurna (8440′) for a bonus. My folks had no trouble keeping up with a group that was more than half their age! A testament to their stamina and conditioning.

As I was climbing Earl Peak in the Teanaway Sunday I had no idea that they were in the middle of a dramatic situation on Lamarck.

Diana sent me this photo of my dad on the summit of Lamarck before their accident
Diana sent me this photo of my dad on the summit of Lamarck before her accident

After a successful summit they were descending the talus fields when a boulder came loose and dropped onto Diana’s foot, breaking her fibula, talus, and calcaneus and causing soft tissue crushing injuries. Diana said it took both her and my dad to lift the boulder from her foot. It was easily 60+ pounds. Two other hikers descending the peak heard her screams and immediately came to their aid.

Brutal! My stepmom's foot and ankle
Brutal! My stepmom’s foot and ankle

The male hiker had medical training and Diana said she couldn’t believe how quickly he jumped into action, dumping out packs to assemble supplies to brace her foot. They used her broken trekking pole, first aid supplies and clothing to stabilize her foot and ankle.

My dad was able to reach 911 and contacted Inyo County Search and Rescue. Because of steep and difficult terrain a litter could only be brought a mile up the trail. Diana spent the next several grueling hours literally crawling her way down thousands of feet of boulder fields and difficult creek crossings.

The couple that aided them never left their side. They finally connected with search and rescue further down the mountain and they helped piggyback Diana in less technical sections of trail. Finally a mile from the trailhead she was put on a litter and rolled the rest of the way down. They reached the trailhead nearly 12 hours later at midnight.

The Inyo county SAR team that assisted my dad and Diana said they were impressed by their stamina and that they had plenty of food, water, and supplies.

I am so, so thankful for the amazing SAR team and the fellow hikers who assisted them. Without them the situation could have been much worse. And I am so proud of my amazing stepmom for being such a warrior and my amazing dad for always being prepared for anything.

The Inyo County SAR team posted the details of their incident along with a video of Diana crawling her way down boulders through a creek crossing.

My stepmom has a long road of recovery ahead of her but they are in good spirits and said the whole ordeal was a surreal experience. A good reminder that despite all your cautions accidents can happen out in the wilderness. And we are incredibly lucky to be blessed with amazing folks who volunteer their time to come to others’ aid. And also blessed to meet other people out there always willing to lend a hand.

For years, every time I go out, my dad has always told me “you gotta be prepared” and I’ve rolled my eyes at him in a way that only kids can do with their parents. But it’s so true. A good reminder that a pound or two of extra essentials can make the difference between life and death out there.

So next time you venture out on a simple day hike, or a hard one, or a backpacking trip, you should really stop to think: “What if something happens? Do I have the necessary things to sustain myself?” And you should send your blessings to those trail angels who aid us. Karma is a great thing.

Some friends have asked about helping and I might suggest donating to your local search and rescue organization. Or to the Inyo County SAR for their efforts. These are volunteer organizations who provide incredible services. And you never know when you might be the person who needs them.

Donate to the Inyo County SAR


Donate to our local King County Search and Rescue

And last but not least, a reminder of the ten essentials:

  1. Navigation (map and compass)
  2. Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
  3. Insulation (extra clothing)
  4. Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
  5. First-aid supplies
  6. Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
  7. Repair kit and tools
  8. Nutrition (extra food)
  9. Hydration (extra water)
  10. Emergency shelter