Day 63 – I almost drowned today… Miles 766 – 771 June 19 ,2017

IMG_6371IMG_6377IMG_6516Figure 8:
We woke up to the shrills of ppl crossing the creek in cold water. We packed up our tent and pack but didn’t put on any pants so that we could cross in just our underwear and sandals. While the lower part of the creek is a raging waterfall, the upper part we are crossing is very calm. From there we went straight up the mountain . Thankfully it was still early, 7:30am, without the hotter sun, but it was an intense climb. This morning, we really started to feel the difference of hiking in the Sierras. The trail was completely covered in snow and we were following other peoples snowy steps through sun cups while checking the map to make sure we were actually on trail. It was taking forever to make miles. Fortunately, there have been cute little chipmunks running around the past few days while we hike that make us both smile. As we were following tracks and trail, we noticed that the people in front of us started glissading down the steeper snowy parts and we didn’t hesitate to do it either. Sitting on our butts with our packs on we slid down the mountain and gained some mileage. We were already exhausted by 10am when we got to Wallace Creek. I told DG I needed a break so we had some tortillas and peanut butter and I began to realize, at this early part of the day, that doing another 8 miles would take us all day in these conditions. Daddie Gizmo forded the creek first and then me. The water was fast and up to my waist, but we both made it through just fine. We climbed straight up the mountain another half mile to cross Wright Creek. As we approached Wright Creek it looked just as fierce and unwelcoming as it sounded when we descended that side of the mountain. The water was rushing so fast in the section near the trail that we needed to go up and down the creek for a while to find what appeared to be a suitable place to cross. Even here, the water was fast but it appeared to be shallow enough with slightly calmer water to be a safe crossing. We were wrong. Daddie Gizmo forded the creek and made it across safely to the other side. I started my crossing and hit a spot where the water had so much pressure I was struggling to keep my poles in the rocks at the bottom of the creek as I sidestepped across. I could feel one of my poles repeatedly slipping back which was in turn pulling my arm and that side of my body back that direction from the force of the water. Suddenly I was swept away by the water and caught on a nest of young trees in the middle of the creek. I still had both poles in my hands but I couldn’t stand because the force of the water was pushing so hard on me. I could barely move an inch. Plus I now had the weight of a soaking wet pack on my back as I am plastered to the little trees holding on for dear life to their branches. I had worn my hat while crossing the creek and now it was blocking my vision. DG, on the other side of the creek, wanted to come get me but there was no way. I was stuck in the middle of a fiercely rushing creek and he couldn’t make it to me. My hands were slipping on the branches. I was still holding my poles because I knew I needed them to have any chance of making it out of this. I was becoming really scared because if I lost my grip I knew I was heading down the raging white water creek with no definitive safe way out. Even as I held on, i couldn’t move. I was stuck! I yelled to DG that I was scared. Really scared. He looked scared. The water was so much more powerful than I could fight against. Finally my fingers let go of the branches and I was swept away down the creek. I was terrified and literally fighting to survive as I was tossed and turned upside down in the narrow, rushing, tumbling white water area of the creek. I kept waiting for my body to be thrown against the rocks and each time they did and it didn’t take me completely down I bought another second. Another moment to keep my hands up and reaching for anything to grab or hold on to stop me from being pulled down the creek and against more rocks. My head was being forced under and I thought I might drown. I kept reaching out for anything to grasp onto to save myself from drowning or hitting my head. Somewhere between 200 and 300 feet down the creek I managed to grab some branches on the bank. In a complete and utter state of shock that I have never before experienced, I pulled myself to a standing position and saw Rob on the other side. Looking down, I saw that my shirt was completely torn open. Rob ran down the creek bank, scared as hell, and was so relieved to see me safe. I had no energy to move and barely mustered what was left to lay my body on the snow shelf on the edge of the creek, legs still in the water. DG was yelling for me to get out, take my wet clothes off and get warm. The shock wore off right then and there and I started to bawl, standing in the creek. I was so scared. I thought I was going to die in that creek today. I had to move, though. Tapping into whatever energy and survival instinct I had left, I dragged my body up the snow and onto dry ground beyond it. It was so difficult because my pack was also soaking wet. Shivering, I removed my wet clothes and could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the damage that the creek had done to nearly every part of my body. Foot to wrist, chest to back, I am covered in massive bruises and lacerations. My right thigh is incredibly swollen and hard to walk on. Both knees banged and bleeding. Up and down my arms I’m scraped. DG still had to cross the creek back to me so I managed to pull my mostly dry sleeping bag out out of my soaking wet pack as I fought through hypothermia and wrapped it around my naked body. I lay there shivering until DG made it back safely. He immediately set to getting me warm, drying everything in my pack, tending to my wounds, giving me his dry clothes and sleeping bag to use to come back to a normal temperature. I was still crying a lot, recounting to him what happened and telling him I really truly thought I was going to die in that creek. My hiking pole, Whippet, hat, silicone wedding ring and thermarest seat were all washed away down the creek. A small price to pay to have survived. My whole body hurts. I’m concerned about getting off this trail with the pain and without my poles. But, thank God I am here with my husband right now. He is taking such good care of me after having one of, if not the most, scariest moment of my life.

IMG_6513IMG_6514IMG_6372IMG_6515Daddie Gizmo:

I forded our third creek of the day and it was harder than either of the other 2 but still doable. We had walk a half mile up from the regular trail crossing of Wright Creek to find a spot because it was absolutely a raging white water torrent until that point. It was still very strong but it was in an area where the creek was just simply wider than before so it spread the force out further. After I made it across, I turned to see Figure 8 already in the water coming up the ford area. She made it through the upstream crossing area well but as she begin to sidestep I watched her lose her balance and roll sideways and backwards 20 ft into a pile of brush and trees. Half of me was freaking out, but the other half was calm for some reason. I don’t know why but I just went into crisis thinking mode. We tried yelling back-and-forth but the creek drowned out most of our words. After a few minutes of jostling around she began to slip further towards the deep and powerful rushing area of the creek in the center. I could hear her say she was scared and I’m certain she was also freezing cold in the ice-water. Much much colder than my stomach had gone in about the last three minutes. I rushed down the bank and jumped in the edge of the creek on my side and waded out to where the water was splashing up on my chest. I was using a rock for leverage to keep me from going down stream but I was still 10 feet away from her and no way she could reach the pole I had in my hand. I lost my own balance once and barely put myself back into the shallow area. Without even a sound she was immediately 20 than 40 then 80 feet down the creek. I saw her blue legging, then white water, her pink shirt, then nothing. I climbed over snow banks and ran as far and as fast as I could. All I saw was water. Finally a glimpse of her pink shirt and then she passed around the bend where I couldn’t see her at all anymore. I thrashed my way through the brushes on the other side and climbed a few more snowbanks in a mad scramble to try and keep my eyes on her. I saw her tumble once more and she was gone again from my view. She was in the fiercest and most white water area of the creek and it took no time at all for her to get out of my line of sight. The current was deep, strong and easily enough to whisk her downstream faster than I could keep up even with my eyes. It took me two or three more minutes to get down far enough to see her finally clinging to a sapling Pinetree coming out of a snowbank on the far side of the creek. We were easily 200 or maybe 300 feet down through some of the worst and most raging area of the creek. I was scared again for her but so happy to see her upright and clinging to the tree. I yelled and she could hear me now. She seemed frozen but thankfully clinging to the little sapling. It took her another three or four minutes to gain composure and begin to pull her self up the other side. It was a sharp drop of a snowbank but she was now attempting to pull herself up. I could see so much fear, pain and fright in her face. She must’ve used all of her strength and willpower to get herself up and out of the water. I had some relief knowing that she knew how to take care of herself when she got up and over the snow. I was thankful we had talked about what to do in situations like this before. I began to race back to where I had dropped my pack maybe 100 or so yards up the creek. There was really no way I could ford back across the creek to her at that point because it was an upstream diagonal crossing. To go backwards at that point would have been too dangerous. Just above that turn the creek narrowed again and was raging as I ran climbed and push through trees to find a new spot to get back across the creek. It took me over a mile and every moment I was thinking of my dear sweet beautiful wife who was freezing cold on the other side of the bank nearly a mile and a half away from me now. I finally crossed at another wide spot but now had to make my way back through a very large field of snow that was soft and nothing but sun cups. It felt like forever to go track back down the other side of the creek now to get to her. I finally reached her and saw nothing but a bloody sleeping bag and her pack open and clothes strewn everywhere. She was still shivering very strongly and crying. I think we were both still very scared at that moment but glad that I had reached her and we could start working on getting her warm. She’s already done everything correctly by stripping her clothes and getting into her down sleeping bag. When she came out of the bag to put on some of my warm clothes all I saw was serious road rash and bruises all over her body with spots on her hips, legs knees, ankles and wrists bleeding. We tried to cover those spots up with big bandages as best we could so the clothes wouldn’t stick to the open wounds. She had my thermals, fuzzy socks and thick shirt on as she climbed into my dry down bag. We got her into the sun but she was still shivering quite a lot. I got out some Advil and she took that with a lot of water to rehydrate. I steadied my nerves and my emotions by going through everything wet and getting it out in the sun to dry. She had fallen asleep from exhaustion in the sun but had also stopped shaking for the first time. I set up camp so she could be more comfortable. She is battered and bruised all over but I’m so thankful and grateful she wasn’t hurt much much worse tumbling so far down the rocky rapids. I went to sleep as the rain started to fall and finally cried, hiding it from her as best as I could.

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18 Comments

  1. I am so thankful that you are recovering, Lacy. How scary and exhausting! I am also thankful that you both kept level headed and the outcome is a good one. I hope your recovery is quick and I love you both so much.

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  2. The water is so scary be very careful where you cross sometimes large trees can come down the river so glad you are ok our rivers here are flooding and moving so fast they have blocked off entrances to trails just be careful love you both

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  3. OMG.. Glad you’re alive and recovering…Can’t believe the conditions this year.
    Reading a lot of people are finding away up to Ashland and hiking south. Wonder how others are doing. Prayers for speedy recovery!

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  4. I am so happy that you guys are ok. I did the JMT last year and this year I am following some of the forums. In the JMT facebook forum I just put a post regarding carrying a rope. You can find it below.
    I wish you both all the best and I am following your posts from Germany with a lot of interest and sympathy.
    The Sierra is absolutely fantastic. Many thanks for letting us share your experiences.

    Here is my post on the JMT forum:
    I am following the discussions regarding the snow and melting water conditions from Germany. Last year I did the JMT from Sonora Pass to Mt. Whitney but of course the situation was not comparable. By now I have read quite a few stories about incidents crossing streams and creeks. Just a few days ago a young woman doing the PCT was washed away crossing Wright Creek. Fortunately enough, she was able to grab some branches and get out after 200-300ft. I am so glad for her that she survived this with only minor injuries. My question now is: It appears to me that hikers take crampons, poles, ice axes etc. but using a short rope to fasten yourself or your partner while crossing a short but dangerous stretch seems not to be common practice. I always carry a 30-40 ft rope with me. Any comments on this?

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  5. So glad you are okay. I have been following your entire journey. Thank God you are okay. I am planning a trip to Golden Trout Wilderness where you just came from or maybe this is still part of it. Safe travels as you make your new plans. Blessings.

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  6. That must have been terrifying and traumatic for both of you. I hope that you will consider skipping the rest of the Sierra and perhaps jumping ahead, then coming back to do the rest. No point risking your lives for this. Conditions up north don’t sound much better as far as I can gather.

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  7. How terrifying! Wow. So happy for you both to have overcome such a terrifying experience. I am so happy to know that she is safe and you were there for her. Be safe. Sending love.
    I am a local Podiatrist near the PCT in Lake Isabella. I have treated many hikers and have even hiked small portions of the trail.

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  8. Wow! What a terrifying experience. Super glad you came out of this with your life… You both have a great writing style. I was gripped!

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