Ranger Kathryn's Arches

July 31, 2010

Rescue at Delicate Arch Viewpoint

It was my one day as Visiting Ranger, where Arches and Canyonlands swap a staff member for a shift. I was down near the century-old log cabin at Wolfe Ranch, answering visitor questions, trying not to think of the 92-degree heat. One family had already staggered down from the blazing hot Delicate Arch trail (3 mi round trip) asking where the nearest water was; when I answered that it was only to be found at each end of the park road, miles distant, their looks told me to give them mine. I did. They drank half of my liter. I tried valiantly not to scold them for hiking without water at the peak of summer heat, but managed to squeeze in a safety message for the future, for the man in the black — yes, BLACK! — T-shirt.

Minutes later, as I was picking up garbage and wondering why I hadn’t brought TWO liters with me, I glimpsed a frantic woman running up the trail toward me, waving her hands. “Help! Need help! There has been a serious accident up at the viewpoint and a man fell down a ravine and has blood everywhere, and a head injury. Please! Right away!” I calmed her down, and gave her what little I had left of my own water, and asked her to repeat what she knew. I couldn’t picture the place she was trying to describe; she was agitated, and I needed more information to radio to law enforcement.

Soon I was on my way to the site, which was only a mile by road and then a 10-minute hike. Other rangers were much farther away. I whispered a prayer for God-empowered wisdom, grabbed my nearly-empty water bottle, radio, and first aid kit, and sprinted up the steep trail.

A 14-yr-old boy had begun running down a 45-degree talus slope strewn with jagged chert rocks the size of melons; losing his footing, he tumbled head over heels a good 20 or 30 feet before coming to rest against more rocks. The trail of blood told the story. The 4.5″ gash on his forehead, macerated right ear, and shoulder hematoma confirmed that he had bounced from sharp rock to sharp rock. His family was with him, shading him, giving him sips of water, and several Good Samaritans were holding pressure on his bloody head wounds with their own T-shirts. When they saw me I heard a collective sigh of relief go up: Help was here at last.

I knelt down and asked the boy his name. “James,” he whispered. Good; he knew that much. “What happened?” I asked, as I looked him over for signs of trauma besides all the cuts and abrasions. “I don’t know. Where am I?” “You’re in Arches National Park. You took a bad fall. Help is on its way, James.” I established radio contact with law enforcement and described the situation, requesting a litter carry-out team. An ambulance would be called immediately, after the assessment I gave, but they were 35 minutes away.

The poor kid was starting to go into shock. I made him as comfortable as I possibly could, gave him some sips of ice water, and constantly reassured him that he would be okay and an ambulance would be here soon. His pulse was 100, indicating blood loss and shockiness. I opened my first aid kit and found a pair of latex gloves to don, and did a more thorough head-to-toe check for other injuries. Grateful to find him basically intact, we waited in the blistering heat. I didn’t even notice my own thirst.

You can picture the rest of the story. Litter team arrives, puts boy on backboard. Ambulance crew arrives, checks pupils and blood pressure, confirms serious head injury; we wheel the litter 1/4 mile down the rocky bumpy steps to the rig which whisks him away to the hospital for stitches, x-rays, and close monitoring. I am offered chilled PowerAde by a fellow ranger, which tasted to me like the nectar of the gods. I was exceedingly thirsty and didn’t realize it until the icy coldness hit my tongue.

Remarkable things happened in this incident. First, no ranger has been scheduled to be in that area for a very long time, and there I was today, a former nurse, for just one hour. Second, while nobody’s cell phone could dial 911, there were people at the scene who had just come from where I was. When I asked the witness how she had found me, she replied, “The Lord must have arranged circumstances because everyone I met on the trail as I was running down had a new piece of information that led me to you.” Third, my boss had handed me a backpack as I was leaving, and said out loud, “Let’s get you a first aid kit to go in here.” Mine was back in my home park that day.

Days like this one keep life interesting. I’m grateful I was in the right place to help James. I give thanks for every small circumstance through which God displayed his watchfulness. I appreciate the helpfulness of total strangers and of teammates. And I’ll never quite look at orange PowerAde the same again.

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