Attempting Mt Gabb with a head injury
(Don't do this.)

13-15 Aug 2004 - by Aaron Schuman (view roster page)

Mid-day Friday, at the junction of the JMT and the Hilgard Branch trail, we parted company. Charles Schafer, Bob Evans, Will Hurst, Paul Magliocco, Jeff West, Eric Willis and Gery Peterson hiked up to Marie Lake, and I headed up to Lake Italy. (They all climbed Mount Hooper, and I hope they write a trip report.) We planned to regroup at the same place first thing Sunday morning. I gave Charles a map of my intended routes up Mount Gabb and Mount Julius Caesar.

A few hours later, I crossed the stream a little below the outflow of Lake Italy. I got ready to scramble up the stream bank. I don't remember anything afterward on that day. My memories resume the following morning. I awoke in my bivy with pain in my head and my side. My bivy was set up incompetently on sloping, rocky terrain, with the tent poles sticking out in strange directions. I had been thinking about my survival, but I hadn't been thinking entirely clearly.

Saturday morning, I still wasn't thinking clearly. I decided that I had a minor injury, and that I would proceed with my trip plan. I stupidly attempted to climb Mt Gabb. I turned around when a lightning storm dropped an inch of slushy hail on my feet. I returned to my same campsite and went to sleep, too tired to eat.

I awoke at first light on Sunday, knowing that I needed to get up early to meet Charles and the crew, but too sore and too spent to get up. I finally started at 8:00 a.m. I choked down a granola bar, which must have been my biggest meal in the past 48 hours. I crossed the stream nervously but without incident and headed down the trail. I got to the reunion point rather late, at 11:30 a.m.

The two fastest hikers, Paul and Bob, had already headed out to get help. The others generously split up my gear to help me make the hike out. All six guys were working hard to save me from disaster, and I can't thank them enough. With my injuries, I hiked the rest of the way to the Bear Creek trailhead.

A Fresno County sheriff's deputy was at the trailhead. Shortly after we met, he gave me a basic neurological exam. He got on the radio and summoned the helicopter crew that had been searching for me. The CHP copter landed in the parking lot. I explained to the CHP medic that I had walked all the way out from Lake Italy, and that I could drive home with Charles and see my doctor in the morning. The medic was persuasive, though. He pointed out that my hat was soaked with blood and that I had a period of amnesia that lasted for hours. They loaded me into the helicopter and flew me to Clovis Community Hospital. (I've got to report that the view from a helicopter is fantastic, even from a stretcher!)

At the hospital, I got a closer examination, including a CT scan. The doctor determined that I didn't have a subdural hematoma, and that it was safe to send me home. Charles and Gery met me at the hospital and they drove us back to San Jose.

At Kaiser on Monday morning, my doctor asked me if I had fallen down, hit my head and passed out, or if I had passed out first, then fallen down, and hit my head. The question seemed obvious to me, and I wondered why it hadn't occurred to me before he asked. He ordered some tests to try to identify why I might have fallen. After several out patient hospital visits, he decided that I hadn't suffered a heart attack, or experienced a seizure, and that I didn't have anemia. The best theory is still that I slipped on a rock that was loose or wet or both, and took a tumble.

I tried to go back to work as early as Tuesday, but my co-workers agreed that I was a wreck and that I needed to go home. I had pain from the broken rib and lingering dizziness from the concussion. A return visit to the office on Thursday went similarly badly. I ended up missing a whole week of work. I consumed a lot of ibuprofen and Tylenol.

After 3-1/2 weeks, I am now just about completely healed, and my life is almost completely back to normal. I'm not quite ready to hike again, but I'm impatient to get back on the trail as soon as I can.

What lessons can I learn from the experience?


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