Submitted March 29, 2012

Group Trip

A little background before my story....I am an Alumni with an outdoors group, I have attended multiple programs, in desert, woodlands, mountains, sub-artic, ocean and whitewater. I was also a Boy Scout for several years but quit after discovering my Scout Master was having an affair with a 15 year old girl. I served 12 years in the military as corpsman with the Marines.

In this particular story I was 18 years old and had graduated from high school that year. My military service would not start until Desert Shield/Storm. This particular trip was with an outdoors group on the Boundary Waters. I flew from Chicago into Missoula, Montana, an absolutely beautiful part of the United States. I was picked up by a family friend who had a summer home in Missoula. Their son owned and operated a logging business up in the mountains and I had a month before having to report to the VOB lodge to set off on my trip. So I worked logging for a month, an awesome experience and very hard work. The week I was to leave for VOB, I fell ill with vomiting and diarrhea. I also had a low grade fever.

Despite this I reported to the VOB lodge on schedule. The first 3 days we had various training, in canoe handling, portaging, mountaineering, climbing/rappelling, a physical fitness test and swim test we had to pass in order to go out into the field. I managed all this while still being ill and managing to hold down very little that I ate or drank. The day before we were to start our adventure, we went to the equipment shed to assemble all of our gear.

I had a cardiac episode brought on by an electrolyte imbalance, my pulse jumped to 180-220 bpm, my blood pressure plummeted to the point where my face was cold to the touch. While in this state an instructor starting administering water, salt and a baking soda solution to re-hydrate me. I threw up repeatedly, until they administered the fluids by another more private means. It took a couple of hours for me to recover.

After the event we assembled our equipment. The instructors now had a decision to make, send me home or let me continue on the trip. They called my parents in Chicago and after my talking with them assured the instructors I would be okay to press on. Reluctantly and with restrictions placed on my level of activity the instructors agreed. For the first few days I was still ill although the vomiting had passed and the diarrhea was starting to let up. After the first week I was fully recovered and able to do everything asked of me.

The trip was supposed to involve canoeing, trail portage, mountaineering, climbing/rappelling, a solo challenge and physical fitness challenge. What wasn't part of the planned trip, a tornado, hail/lightning storm, a whitewater rescue and extrication of an injured participant.

In the second week of our trek, we pulled off the river at a cliff base. We tied up our canoes and made a short hike to the cliff. We proceeded to draw straws as to who would make the initial ascensions. It was myself, a female participant and an instructor, once we were equipped and had our belays readied we started our climb. Our ascension was relatively easy with no surprises. The surprise came later in the day after we had been climbing and rappelling for several hours. The sky turned green, hail the size of golf balls came down and the lightening rolled in. We tied ourselves in, sat on our packs and life vests so we weren't grounded and waited the storm out. It was during this storm that about 3 miles away we saw a tornado form and blow through the forest for about 3-5 minutes. To this day it is one of the most awesome sights I have ever experienced.

In our third week while on the river, we encountered level 4 rapids; we were not prepared for this and had not been trained to traverse rapids. Because of the currents we could not get off the river, the instructors group entered the rapids first and we watched how they handled them. The second group entered the rapids, our youngest participant of 15 years was in this group. Whiling traversing the rapids he was in the duffer position, center with no paddle, as the were going a pack went over the side of their canoe. Our youngster tried making a grab for it, between the weight of the pack and current he was pulled from the canoe. He was carried a couple hundred feet before he was pulled into a tumbling eddy. The current was rolling from the river bottom and kept him tumbling against the rocks; I could see from several hundred feet away, his helmet pop up from the water surface and disappear further down the river. He was now being tumbled into the rocks with no protection to his head. My group paddled hard for the rapids and his location. I had secured a rope to my climbing harness and vest, made certain my helmet was tight to my head and chin. I went over the side of our canoe before reaching his position and swam hard across the current so that I would intercept him.

I managed to get a hold of him and pull him from the eddy. The rope had been fastened to a cross beam in the canoe and then the rear paddler's climbing harness. The paddlers had to make sure that they would pass us in the current and not hit us. They paddled furiously, and as the current pulled them past us the slack in the rope disappeared and we were pulled violently ahead. I pulled our victim into my chest and held his head above water as best I could; there was an avulsion in his scalp, I could see his skull and an impact fracture. I'm not sure just how far we were towed by the canoe, maybe a couple hundred yards before being able to make it to a river bank.

My injuries consisted of several contusions to my legs, ribs and back, also early hypothermia, but no broken bones. At the river bank we made sure to keep our young victim stable and began to splint his neck and spine. There didn't appear to be any broken bones in his extremities, however, the head injury was now bleeding profusely and brain tissue was visible. Our instructors were nowhere to be seen. Once we had immobilized our victim as best as possible we moved up the bank and began treating for shock and hypothermia. We applied bandages to the head injury and gingerly fastened them in place. Bruising around the eyes was becoming visible, a trickle of blood and clear fluid was running from his nose. He went into respiratory arrest. I immediately began rescue breathing and that is how our instructors found us. After several minutes of rescue breathing he began breathing shallowly on his own and I was able to stop. His heart rate was slow and irregular. With the instructors help and while the rest of the group kept an eye on our victim, we constructed a travois. Having removed his wet clothes and bundling him in sleeping bags we secured him to the travois.

Six of us, including an instructor, chose to head out with the travois to a ranger station a little over 20 miles away. Besides the instructors themselves, I was the only certified First Aid/CPR/Trauma provider in the group, so I went. The rest of the group and other instructor stayed behind at the river bed and watched for any help. The trek up to the ranger station took just over two days. I can't say with any certainty how many times we had to provide CPR and rescue breathing. This event was what made me decide to become a Corpsman when I joined the Navy, I developed a love for medicine and trauma support. We made it to the ranger station and Travis was extricated by helicopter.

I wish I could say he survived. After emergency surgery, he remained in a coma for six weeks and one night suffered multiple cerebral hemorrhages. From the trauma he suffered to his head, he had developed several aneurysms that all let go at the same time. His death was swift and he felt no pain. Out of respect for his and his family's privacy I haven't revealed his whole name, maybe some of you will recognize his story and remember him. This was over 20 years ago, and I can still feel the water, can clearly see his body tumbling in the eddy and remember the desperation of the trek to the ranger station. I'll never forget.

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