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  • Writer's pictureSam Hageman

Adventure Tales: My First Hiking Injury & Ambulance Ride.

For our honeymoon we road tripped the western U.S. While we were hiking in California an unexpected incident occurred that resulted in my first hiking accident & ambulance ride.

It was day 9 of our 21-day trip. We started our day packing up from our Lake Tahoe hotel & hiking, then headed to Lassen National Park. We spent most of the day driving around Lassen National Park to tons of different pull outs & little paths we could easily do. Around 6PM we headed to Lassen National Forest to hike the Spatter Cone Trail. We decided we would hike the trail then find food on our way to our campground during our hour drive to the National Forest. When we arrived around 7PM, we both hit the vault toilets, got the dogs water, & grabbed the hiking bag. We decided since the trail was easy & not long to negate bringing our first aid kit/dog emergency kit. We grabbed the informational map that gave a guided tour of the lava trail & information at each of the 17 markers & hit the trail.

We started by heading to marker one first & started using the little brochure to learn about lava trails, the creation of the lava trail/plants, & more. We were a little concerned about snakes the entire hike, because the area had a warning of specific wildlife hiding on the edges of the thick bush adjacent to the trail & being from Michigan we rarely encounter venomous snakes. After we went to markers 1-3 & crossed paths for a short time with the Pacific Crest Trail, we turned left to deal with the more moderate elevation change portion of the trail first. The trail narrowed just enough for one person to go through & we remained cautious by keeping the dogs away from the thick bushes surrounding the trail. We started seeing more lava rock formations from the Hat Creek Lava Flow with Spatter Cones, Craters, Tumulus, & more.

The trail continued to get rockier as we continued through each marker. The trail is a loop minus two detour spots, markers 10 & 11 are a short hike away from the circle. We hit both 10 & 11, stopping at spot 11 for some photos due to the stunning view of Lassen Volcano from there. I was taking photos of the pups while the sun started to go down, Garrett stated we should get going as the sun was starting to set. Although I did not want to rush away & wanted more photos. We heard some sort of snarling in the distance & agreed to head out.

We stopped at markers 13 &14, with me snapping a few photos at marker 14 as we were closer to Lassen Volcano & could see the relics of the volcanic eruption in the horizon. The distance between marker 14 & 15 was long, so we knew we could make up some time hiking faster here. While we were hiking to marker 15, I twisted my ankle sliding on rocks & fell straight into the bushes to the left of the trail. Garrett immediately thought I sprained my ankle & would need to hobble out. However, when I stood up I said “ow” & notices two holes in my capri under armor leggings with some red. I lifted the leggings & saw blood start to spurt out of a hole in my leg about the size of a thumb nail. I started to panic as we did not bring the first aid kit & the hole seemed deep. I couldn’t tell if there was anything left inside of it either. Garrett grabbed the dogs & told me to sit down, but I was concerned if I sat down I wouldn’t be able to get up. Garrett & I went into our old lifeguard first aid training right away & thought about what we could use as a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. It was between the dog leashes & Garretts button-up shirt, so we decided to keep the dogs safe we would use Garrett’s REI Sahara Shade button-up.

I told Garrett to call 9-1-1 as I could barely put any weight on my leg without the blood spurting out & we had no idea where the closest hospital was. We ended up on the line with a dispatcher, explain the incident, our location, & what services we would need. The dispatcher told us to sit down & wait…however Garrett & I disagreed with that as we were still about half a mile away from the parking lot & the sun was setting at this point making it difficult for even the most experience hiker to navigate the rocky trail at night (let alone carry someone out).

At this point while we were being transferred to the next dispatcher we started hiking. Garrett took both dogs & led, while I hobbled as much as I could wincing & making faces frequently. Even after informing the first dispatcher multiple times we were in the Lassen National Forest, not National Park, near a campground (Hat Creek), we still ended up on the line with the National Parks Dispatcher.

For those unaware (as we were until this incident), the National Parks dispatch to major locations. In this incident we were on the line with someone at Yellowstone National Park not Lassen National Park. The National Park dispatcher realized we were with the wrong rangers, but stated that worst case the NPS rangers were 40 minutes outside our location. The NPS dispatcher started working on finding the National Park Ranger Station he needed to contact (had we been smart, all we had to do was look at our map & it stated “Hat Creek Ranger District” on the map). The NPS dispatcher told us he would be our main line of communication & then hung up with us for a short amount of time while he worked to get the correct rangers together. Garrett & I continued with Garrett giving his arm for support when the drop down was too tall for me.

The NPS Ranger called again stating he was able to get the Lassen National Forest Rangers dispatched & they would be there, with the ambulance being 30 minutes out. He hung up again about the time Garrett & I got to marker 3 again on the map. It was finally starting to get dark & we heard sirens & saw some lights. We made it down to the parking lot & I immediately laid on the first picnic table by the parking lot. The National Forest Ranger vehicle was just pulling in as we arrived at 8:30PM when the sun was setting.

Photo of USF Lassen Fire Truck from their Facebook

The National Forest Ranger truck was a firetruck mixed with a semi-truck. It was green with USF on it & five firefighters stepped out. They all were surprised I had made it out but were happy I was still in good spirits (I was constantly joking/trying to ignore the pain). They started asking me questions about what happened, my name, where the injury was, etc. They removed the tourniquet, checked the wound, & bandaged it up over the legging. We talked about how my toes tingled as the tourniquet may have been too tight & the fire fighter periodically checked to see if more feeling was coming back. After talking with them about the injury they informed me that I fell into a Manzanita bush, sharp, blunt little plants that were native to the area. They also told me their two volunteer EMT’s were coming & the ambulance.

The first volunteer EMT arrived within 5 minutes, he asked the same questions the firefighters had & told me he was only EMT certified (aka the most basic of the three EMT certificates). He put me on oxygen as I had started to feel dizzy & told us about the last time he came to a rescue at this trail a year ago. He stated the person did not get off the trail so they had to hike in to get him & hike out with him mid-day. He stated it was very difficult due to the rockiness in the daytime & could not have imagined it during the night, so he was glad I made it out. He then reassured me that my injury was worse than that guy & we made the right call by calling 9-1-1. He & one of the USF Firefighters asked if we wanted to leave for the hospital (they could give us directions). We asked where the ambulance was & discovered they were closer than we all expected, so there was no point in driving ourselves especially if I needed more oxygen with my asthma. We all talked for a few more minutes while we waited on the AEMT (Advanced EMT, level two certified volunteer) & the Ambulance with the Paramedics (Level three certified EMT’s).

The AEMT & Paramedics with the ambulance arrived around the same time. The AEMT got the information form everyone else & the Paramedics took over. There were three Paramedics who came to the picnic table with the gurney. All of them were helpful & Kelly was the main Paramedic who stayed with me in the back while the other two coordinating & drove the ambulance 40 minutes to the nearest hospital. We headed to the hospital with Garrett following closely behind the ambulance with the dogs in the van. The ambulance only went 5-10 miles over the speed limit through mountain roads & even with my motion sickness it went very well.

While I was in the back, Kelly kept me talking to help me stop thinking of the pain. She would check my vitals periodically as well. We talked about both of our careers & her schooling, as well as our family & dogs. She ended up putting me back on oxygen as my oxygen levels going down & she was concerned that asthma could cause problems. Kelly was both a Paramedic & Firefighter while also attending school. She was very impressive & a very kind person who helped keep me relaxed during the ambulance ride.

We arrived at the hospital in 40 minutes or less. Garrett met us as we pulled in to hand me my purse & phone in case I needed them. I was moved into the hospital in Fall River Mills that was seemingly empty outside of the Doctor, two nurses, & front desk lady. The Paramedics came in with me, gave all the information, & then headed out saying goodbye. The nurse came in & talked to me about the injury, removing the bandaging, & preparing to clean it. He grabbed the Doctor who came to check the wound & asked about my last tetanus shot. The Doctor informed me he would need to numb the area then clean it & stitch it, as well as I would be getting a tetanus shot.

The nurse asked if I wanted my husband to come in & I said yes. While I was waiting the nurse went into the parking lot to get Garrett, however Garrett was getting ready to feed the dogs at 10PM (as they had yet to eat yet). The dogs barked at the nurse & Garrett told him he would come in once he took care of the dogs. The other nurse came to get my insurance & ID, which I gave to her to process. The Doctor & nurse returned with the numbing shot. The Doctor numbed the area & it hurt every time he stuck the needle in. He told me the wound looked about a 3-4 inches deep into my leg, but there were no veins or bone or anything I should be concerned with as it was all soft tissue the Manzanita went into. A little relieved I relaxed & Garrett came in, along with the nurse with the tetanus shot. I was given the tetanus shot & my insurance/ID back as well.

The Doctor came back in after a few minutes with the nurse, they cleaned the wound & found nothing was stuck. After they checked that I was numb & started putting 4 large stitches in my leg. Garrett & I had to look away. Once it was complete the Doctor double checked everything else, he said I more than likely sprained my ankle as well so to be careful. However, I could take the stitches out in 10-14 days, watch out for any redness or itching, & take ibuprofen. I then was given my discharge stuff & wheeled out to the car.

By the time I was in the van it was 11PM Pacific Time, Garrett had to call a ton of hotels as sleeping in the van was not a good idea, & I broke down crying (for the first time all night) because I was in a ton of pain & had not taken any pain meds. Garrett grabbed an uncrustable & chewy bar as well as the Tylenol to get me on something. While I ate the chewy bar, Garrett called all the hotels he could in the next major city (Redding, CA). He struck out 12 times until he landed on a Red Roof Inn. I was able to calm down after eating & taking some Tylenol. However, we still had an hour & a half drive to Redding.

We drove the 1.5 hours in the dark to Redding in less than that time, as Garrett was on a mission to get us there so I could sleep. The Red Roof was a bit scary when we pulled in, not only had the person on the phone told Garrett they did not rent to locals, but there were people all over the place at 1AM. Garrett went to grab our keys & check in. He got the dogs & I in the hotel room before grabbing all of the stuff we needed for the night. I had to hobble to the bathroom with my leg swelling to two times its normal size & Garrett had to also hunt for ice so I could ice my leg.

We finally got the ice on my leg, Garrett’s REI Sahara shirt soaking in water to attempt to get the blood out, & all of us in bed. It was a long night & I woke up in pain in the middle of the night. This made Garrett get up at 3AM to go get an uncrustable & grab the Tylenol for me again. We then slept a little longer before we all got up, with Garrett immediately running to the closest Walgreens for ibuprofen (which we usually do not carry as Garrett is allergic) & crutches. Once he returned we were able to make sure the dogs were taken care of & I ate something to take the ibuprofen. We confirmed we could rotate between the Tylenol & Ibuprofen & got the crutches adjusted to my size. We discovered Garrett’s shirt got all of the blood out of it with zero remnants & the ibuprofen helped more than the Tylenol. Garrett packed us up quickly & we got out of there ASAP (as it was a very creepy place). We headed out & started replanning our day, skipping all hikes & heading straight for Crater Lake National Park.

Although my injury was unexpected, it ended up being ok. We had to cut some hiking out & I was on crutches for a day or two due to my sprained ankle, but we were still able to make the most of the trip. It was definitely an experience I will never forget & a location that I will always remember, not only for the injury but the beauty of the area.


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