A Uncommon Situation Practically Turned a Pleasant Hike Deadly


At 5 a.m., I woke as much as the sounds of my mountain climbing associate screaming in ache. And all I might take into consideration was how severely restricted the choices for getting assist had been. A helicopter flight was our greatest wager.

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon was buried below 9 toes of snow. We had made an emergency camp on the North Kaibab trailhead as my mountain climbing associate, Dan Becker, had barely been in a position to stagger alongside the path. The final mile had taken about 4 hours of gradual, painful progress.

I might inform one thing apart from unusual fatigue was plaguing his physique. However the signs didn’t make sense to me.

I’d quickly study that even my Wilderness First Responder coaching wouldn’t have ready me to diagnose Becker’s comparatively uncommon ailment. However on the time, we carried on with the very best info we had accessible.

We received Dan into his sleeping bag and tent as shortly as attainable and he was loud night breathing inside a few minutes. However his aid can be short-lived.

Weary from the exceptionally difficult day, I made dinner with Jake and Emmett, each cinematographers working for Dan and me. Dan is a distinguished backpacking YouTuber who I’ve backpacked with a handful of different instances. We had been right here to movie an episode of Epic Trails and a few YouTube movies. Dan solely picked up backpacking in his 30s, however he’s received loads of journeys below his belt and is not any slouch.

Dan had woken up someday after the remainder of us had fallen asleep, solely to spend the evening writhing in ache. With temperatures within the teenagers and a sleeping bag cinched tightly round my head, I couldn’t hear Dan’s cries regardless of being shut by.

However after I wakened that morning and heard the noises he was making, I instantly knew one thing was very unsuitable.

It Didn’t Take Lengthy to Decide That Dan Wanted Medical Assist

Fearing Dan was having a coronary heart assault, I known as 911. Fortunately dispatch was in a position to get by way of to a park ranger and inside half-hour, two rangers had been on the scene.

I accompanied Dan and the rangers to their amenities on the North Rim the place they’ve an ambulance. The rangers ran a sequence of inconclusive exams. However the proof was robust that Dan was in no situation to hike again throughout the canyon. He wanted to be evacuated.

Rhabdo in the Grand Canyon; (photo/Eric Hanson)
(Picture/Eric Hanson)

How Did It Come to This?

The 4 of us had begun our meant 45-mile, rim-to-rim-to-rim hike 2 days prior. We hiked 14 miles from the South Rim to Cottonwood campground in a single lengthy day. We had been all fatigued and worn out. However in my thoughts, it was the traditional Grand Canyon beatdown.

Rhabdo in the Grand Canyon; (photo/Eric Hanson)
(Picture/Eric Hanson)

On day 2, we started our ascent up the North Kaibab path, which in February is difficult and really spectacular. Inside about 2 miles, we had been mountain climbing by way of snow. After one other few miles, we encountered an ice formation that blocked the path that required a time-consuming reroute by way of a precarious, snow-filled gully.

One other mile or so later, we encountered a landslide the place the path had utterly fallen away. Whereas the publicity right here was not excessive, it required a nimble crossing. Quickly after this, we got here to the Supai Tunnel and a seeming wall of snow.

Hiking in the Grand Canyon
(Picture/Eric Hanson)

Right here we placed on the snowshoes that we had lugged throughout the Grand Canyon. And right here the trouble stage rose past something we’d but encountered. Nobody had hiked right here because the newest vital snowstorm. It was as much as us to set the path.

Darkness was falling and we started pushing the tempo much more with the intention to make as a lot progress as attainable whereas we nonetheless had mild. As a result of sheer quantity of snow, navigating the path was not at all times straightforward. I didn’t wish to be making guesses at the hours of darkness about the place to hike.

Rhabdomyolysis: A Threat for Excessive Hikers and Ultramarathon Runners

By all of this, Dan was growing a situation that we’d later study was rhabdomyolysis. He was experiencing extreme chest ache on the path, and muscle cramps, and was solely in a position to transfer just a few toes at a time earlier than needing to relaxation.

Rhabdomyolysis (or rhabdo for brief) is a really severe medical situation. It may be deadly or depart somebody with a everlasting incapacity if not handled shortly. It occurs in a state of utmost exertion, when your physique is burning extra energy than it has to eat, and begins consuming itself as an alternative. You actually begin to eat your personal muscle mass. That releases a protein inside the physique that toxins your kidneys.

The situation is most frequently seen in ultramarathon runners, who push their our bodies to excessive ends. However anybody can get rhabdo. Excessive hikers can get it simply as simply, and so can employees who function in harsh situations. Left untreated, the implications are extreme. But when handled in time, an individual can make a full restoration.

This Was My First Encounter With Rhabdo

Regardless of 3 years spent as a information and a number of Wilderness First Responder programs below my belt, I’d by no means heard of this situation. I had been pondering Dan was present process some type of altitude illness. I’m glad we didn’t resolve to show round and go decrease — the traditional therapy for altitude illness.

In the end, I consider our determination to press on to the trailhead to facilitate a considerably simpler evacuation was the appropriate name. However our state of affairs was precarious. We almost brought on extra harm by urgent on.

Realizing what I do know now, we might have made some completely different choices alongside the way in which. Dan had been coaching for this journey and was no stranger to lengthy miles and troublesome backpacking adventures. However we had an aggressive itinerary with out sufficient time for Dan to acclimate to the upper altitude of the Grand Canyon (most individuals are stunned that the North Rim is over 8,000 toes).

On day 2, Dan drank much less water and ate much less meals, compounding the pressure of the exertion with out giving his physique the fluids and vitality it wanted. Thus commenced rhabdo.

Getting Acquainted With Rhabdo

Hiking the Grand Canyon
(Picture/Eric Hanson)

Whereas many within the ultramarathon neighborhood are probably acquainted with rhabdo, I wager few within the backpacking and mountain climbing neighborhood are. Rhabdo is a severe however uncommon situation. My mindset has at all times been that human willpower can get you thru nearly any bodily problem. Nevertheless, I’ve now realized that mindset can result in bother. A sobering actuality is that merely pushing by way of the ache may not at all times be the appropriate determination.

Fortunately, the rangers had been in a position to plan a more cost effective evacuation than a helicopter. Dan was in a position to be moved in a civilian car tailing a snowplow all the way in which to Jacob Lake. There he rendezvoused with the native EMS and was transported to a hospital in Kanab, Utah, that was caring for a grand whole of 1 different affected person.

Dan spent 2 days recovering in Kanab earlier than being discharged. He’s at the moment recovering properly.