Injured Hiker Tamarack

May 7, 2022
Tamarack Valley Area

Written by: Richard Yocum

On 5/7/2022 at 1617 hours RMRU was requested to assist a middle-aged female hiker with an injured leg below San Jacinto Peak in an area west of Tamarack Valley after Riverside Sheriff’s Rescue 9 helicopter (RSQ9) determined that a hoist was not possible due to high winds and turbulence. 13 RMRU members drove to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and rode the tram to the upper station to assist. RMRU Base was to be established at the upper tram station and “SanJac2” State Park Rangers at the Long Valley Ranger Station provided additional base support.

At 1855 after a 4-mile hike (elevation gain 1,670’) following the Sid Davis route, the first hasty team (James and Blake) found the injured hiker within 100’ of her reported coordinates. She was alone except for 1 State Parks ranger, lying on a rock, visibly shivering, complaining of being quite cold, and wrapped head to foot in plastic. A team of 5 State Park Wilderness Aides arrived about 15 minutes later. She had stepped on a loose rock about 0.3 miles below the summit and was unable to bear weight. A hiking group of 5 men traded off carrying her piggyback 0.8 miles down trail and a 500’ decrease in elevation until they reached a stretch where they were slipping and sliding, and she felt unsafe and asked them to stop carrying her.

The subject was alert and oriented x 4, with a tender left ankle wrapped in an Ace bandage without gross deformity. CSM distal to the ankle was intact. The weather was in the mid-50s degrees and breezy. She was moved off the rock onto a Z-Lite ground pad, given some honey to ingest, and put in a thermal wrap using a sleeping bag and tarp with two hot water Nalgene bottles inside.

At 1945 Team 2 (Matt and Richard) and Team 3 (Tyler, Tobias, and Tom) arrived at the subject. Medical care was transferred from Blake to Richard and a medical re-assessment consisted of unstable left ankle injury, mild hypothermia responding to treatment, and mild headache that had started only minutes before. The left ankle was immobilized in a SAM splint and Ace wrap. She was transferred to a padded wheeled litter, placed on two Z Lite Pads, a tarp, and a sleeping bag, with padding provided under the knees and lumbar back. A climbing harness was applied and used for internal lashings. She was covered with a down blanket and another tarp, over which external lashings were secured. After Team 4 (Tony Hughes and Vinay Rao) arrived, the 9 RMRU members and 6 park rangers/aids with the subject at that time commenced a litter carryout at about 2000.

Richard talking to Subject, while Litter is set up in background

The subject’s headache progressed to 9/10 severity with nausea and several episodes of dry retching, and a diagnosis of AMS was added to her medical problem list. The wheeled litter carryout was slow going given the narrow, vegetation-choked, rugged, rocky, steep trail, with patches of sloped snow, and the need to lift the litter over rocks and tree roots to minimize the jostling effect on her nausea, ankle pain, and then back pain from being immobilized in the litter. Given the progressive AMS and increasing urgency, another request was made for hoist evacuation but RSQ9 was still unavailable.

Subject nice and warm in sleeping bag and two pads under her.

During this time, the evac team was notified of a second callout, for 3 climbers stranded on Tahquitz Rock without food, water, or warm clothing to sustain them through the chilly night. The temperature had dropped into the 40s and the wind was intermittently fierce in the treetops. A decision was made to send James, who had been team lead, and Tyler to hike back to the tram as Team 7 and drive to the second mission. The evac team lead was transferred from James to Tony and the evac team, now 13 members, continued the descent. At 2232, Team 5 (Amber and Steve) reached the evac team and joined in the carryout, bringing the evac team back up to 15 members. As the hours passed, the evac team was tiring from the exertion of moving the litter through the rugged terrain, with much of the effort related to lifting the litter over rocks and roots to smooth out the ride. At 2300 after 3 hours the litter had traveled only 1 mile and reached Wellman Divide at 9,722’. The evac team requested additional personnel to assist the litter carryout. Base was successful in arranging the tram to resume operations to transport 4 members of DSAR who were available to assist. Over the course of the night 7 members on the evac sustained some type of minor medical problem or injury, and at 0019, a team of 4 from the evac team who could no longer help was formed and hiked together back to the tram station, leaving only 11 persons on the evac team.

Carry out over rocks going down the trail.

The evac continued down the Wellman trail past Round Valley and then followed the recommendation of the park ranger to divert right on the “High Trail” and then follow an off trail “litter route” that the ranger was leading. The evac team met the DSAR team on this off-route section just before dropping down onto the Hidden Divide trail. Now fortified by fresh personnel, the evac team was able to complete the carryout to the Long Valley Ranger Station, where the subject was transferred from the litter to a wheelchair. She was wheeled up the ramp to the upper tram station and her care was transferred to AMR at approximately 0315. The litter carryout covered 4.1 miles with elevation decrease of approx. 1,700’ and took 7¼ hours.
The subject, the AMR team, and all RMRU and state parks personnel were transported by tram and arrived at the lower station shortly before 0400. Of the subject’s medical problems, the hypothermia resolved with the hypo wrap, the AMS resolved with decrease in altitude, the back pain was much improved, and the unstable left ankle injury remained. The mission was concluded at 0328.

RMRU and other helpers back at Tramway, Subject in center.

RMRU Members Involved: (Thomas Blanke, Blake Douglas, Matt Frenken, Mike George, Tony Hughes, Tobias Moyneur, Amber Prestegard, Steven Rider, Tyler Shumway, Vinay Rao, Ray Weden, and Richard Yocum)

Other Agencies Involved:
California State Parks Rangers and Wilderness Aids: At least 8 members
Desert Search and Rescue (DSAR): 4 members
Palms Springs Aerial Tramway
Riverside County SERT
Riverside County Sheriff’s Aviation Unit and Rescue 9 helicopter