|Inter-Glacier Mt. Rainier|
It had been a hard day of climbing on Mt. Washington, on a long forgotten date sometime in late February. My climbing partner and I had started our summit attempt, well before the sun had managed to crest the horizon. Our plan was to hike from the Pinkham Notch visitor center, up into Huntington ravine, complete an ascent of Diagonal gully and finally cross the wind-swept alpine garden to the summit of Mt. Washington. On our descent, we had decided not to to down climb Escape Hatch gully but instead the popular Lion’s head trail, as avalanche warnings had cause other routes become less favorable. After climbing for around 10 hours, we finally came to the end of Lion's head trail. As the day turned to night, the temperature started to drop quickly and a strong northeast wind began to gust.
|Summit Mt. Hood|
Even in the relative security of “treeline”, things began to get bitterly cold but through the day, we had managed to stay relatively dry and were well fed and hydrated. Given our situation, we had no fear for our own relative exposure to this sudden drop in the mercury. Our conversations were light hearted and we began exchanging the occasional joke and openly voiced our dreams about the pizza, we were soon to eat at Flatbreads in North Conway, NH. As we hiked, I lamented about how my tired legs felt like two boiled hot dogs but I was still jubilant.
Just as we began to see the glimmering lights of the Pinkham Notch visitors center, we were suddenly surprised by a group of 5 people huddled around a young man. As we stepped closer, one of the groups members frantically ran up to us and asked if we had a stove and cook pot. When I inquired why, she said that her friend was cold and unresponsive. At this point, I became seriously concerned. This was not the first time I had seen someone injured in the mountains and as fate would have it, unfortunately not my last.
|Mountains of Patagonia, Climbing Aconcagua|
I ran up to the young man and asked his name and received no reply. Upon examining the boys face, he was expressionless; his blue lips visible even in the low glow of my headlamp. I shook the young man and two hand warmers fell out of his hands. “What are these?” I exclaimed! “Heater packs” someone in the group responded. Agitated I thought, well if this boy dies at least he will be able to greet St. Peter with a warm handshake!
Receiving no response from the boy and with him exhibiting all the classic signs of hypothermia, I knew we were going to have to work quickly to get him off the mountain and someplace warm. The temperature during most of the day had been in the upper teens but was dropping fast now and we were racing against time.
|Leaving Camp 3, Aconcagua|
I removed my down jacket from my backpack and we worked to wrestle his stiff arms into it and to get it zipped. Once on, we enclosed his head in the hood allowing only a small hole for air. Thus readied, my climbing partner and I each grabbed one of the boys arms and at the count of three, had him standing and quickly walking him down the mountain. With his legs uncontrollably flailing out behind him, it was apparent that the boy’s body had no idea it had been set in motion. As we walked, we continued our interrogation of the boy and after about 15 minutes were managing to get his name and some personal information. In another 5 minutes, he was stumbling along on his feet and attempting to walk.
Upon arriving at the Pinkham notch visitors center, we managed to wrestle the boy into the lodge and set him down. Assessing his current condition, he appeared to be slowly pushing coherence and was now being quizzed by several of his friends. Once of the centers medical response personnel appeared and began assessing the boys situation. Determining that the situation was well under control, my buddy and I slid outside and into the cold night, content to be the anonymous strangers that potentially saved a young man’s life.