Ruby Dome, Wheeler Peak
3-Jul-96 (Private Trip)
By: Linda McDermott
The good news is that we got both peaks. The bad news is that I(Linda) broke my ankle. Sorry, we have to take you through the easy peak first After a long Tuesday night drive, Phil and Evelyn met me at the trailhead for Wheeler Peak. Weather reports were for afternoon thundershowers in the area, and the wind was already blowing when we started for the peak at 6:45 am California time. The trail was easy to follow up to the final ridge ascent. Phil and I needed this peak, so we hightailed it to the top, an uneventful climb which slowed a bit at the top because of the 13,000' elevation. Evelyn decided to enjoy the day and call work from her cell phone while basking in the sun on the ridge at 11,000' and looking at a buck along the trail. Phil and I never saw a deer the entire trip because word spread quickly that Phil was bad news - he had unavoidably hit a deer earlier that morning with his truck (the truck suffered no damage). We had a few sprinkles after getting down, making Phil's early departure time a wise decision.
We cheated a bit after the drive to Elko to position ourselves to do Ruby Dome the next day. We stayed in a motel Wednesday night after eating at one of three excellent Basque restaurants in Elko (You can't miss them - they're in a row in town).
To do Ruby Dome, we got up at 4:00 am and began for the peak by 5:45 am. Again, there were reports of possible thundershowers but luck was on our side all day for weather.
We followed the campground road, then muddy trail up to Griswold Lake. There were a few patches of snow to this point, but nothing we couldn't avoid. We decided to stay a bit high, to the left of Griswold Lake. Once at the obvious ridgeline bump above the lake, it was a snow climb except for the final rock scramble to the summit. We had ice axes, crampons and hiking sticks. There was no need for the crampons. The hiking sticks and ice axes worked quite well in the soft snow. Actually, the amount and softness of the snow probably enabled us to make better time because we were avoiding the rock scrambles.
We made the summit after climbing up the left side of the peak (Route B). There were some loose rocks, but they were very negotiable. We made the first entries in the summit register for 1996. There were still clouds in the sky, so we ate fairly quickly and started down. All was well through the rock scrambles and snow. I let my caution down at about the 9500' elevation level (about 300+ feet above Griswold Lake). Phil and Evelyn were doing a balancing act on a rock pile. When I looked at it, I decided to go an easier way around the rocks. Just as Phil was saying something about, "Leave it to Linda to find an easier way down," I fell. I simply slipped with both feet on mud. Even the slope where I fell was nothing you would even think twice about. Apparently my right foot caught a mud tuft or rock, and it snapped, sounding like there was a miniature rock fall as my ankle bones were breaking. Even Evelyn and Phil could hear them break.
I couldn't move, and I knew it. My ankle bone was staring straight up, and the rest of the foot headed south. It was about 2:20 in the afternoon.
Immediately Evelyn got out her cell phone and called 911. She reached the Sheriffs station where she talked with the 911 Operator, Sherry, who connected her with Lt. Dale Lotspeich. Understand that this was July 4, so Dale wasn't so sure about our story. He told her he would check out our information by locating our cars and she was to call him back. When she called him back, he went into 4-wheel drive. Apparently all forest service helicopters were fighting fires and none were available for the rescue. When we were asked if we were prepared to spend the night, we reluctantly said yes. Things were not looking good. Dale told me later that if a forest service helicopter had been in the area, I could have been out in an hour. Two fellows, (Jeff Suspache, a volunteer from the Forest Service and Doug Galley from the Sheriffs station) waited down by the cars until I was airlifted out. I'm sure they weren't looking forward to coming up the canyon to get me. I certainly wasn't looking forward to being carried out via the canyon.
Dale called the Fallen Naval Air Station in Fallen, Nevada, where he got permission to have one of their helicopters fly in for the rescue (about a 2-hour flight for them). They asked if there was a place to land, and could we put something red on it. We looked around and sure enough, we thought there was a place large enough for them to land. Phil put Evelyn's red Gore-tex jacket anchored with rocks on it to mark the landing spot.
I really felt well for quite awhile then began to feel a little sick to my stomach. I knew it was important not to be embarrassed, and let Evelyn know how I was doing. Her training as volunteer trail patrol at Mt. San Jacinto had paid off already. I laid back, on the ground. Shortly thereafter my foot began to swell and hurt, so Phil (on Dale's instructions) gently untied my boot, helped move my center of gravity below the foot by pivoting the foot as I moved my rear end downhill, and took baggies to get ice and pack the ankle. All these moves made me much more comfortable. My foot never moved from the spot where I fell, which probably limited the damage.
By this time, we had defined roles. Evelyn automatically became Rescue Operation Coordinator. I obviously was The Victim. Phil was coaxed into being the Rescue Operation Photographer with my little disposable camera. Please thank him for the photos!
About 4 hours later (around 6:15 pm), the helicopter came. It found us immediately and circled above, then came up the canyon several times, testing the wind currents. They didn't like our small landing site because they kept avoiding it. Heck, it was in a canyon and I didn't like it myself.
Finally, on about the 5th pass, the helicopter came very close to the cliffs where we were and let two servicemen out on the ground without landing. The Helicopter hovered around while they got me ready for evacuation. Apparently they were low on fuel. Great.
After realizing that I was quite fine except for the ankle, the used a light weight Sam's Splint with an ace-bandage material to immobilize the ankle after cutting the boot (good thing the boots were old). We didn't have strong enough scissors to cut the boot, and there was no way I could've gotten the boot off without the whole foot falling off. We had balanced my foot on my pack supported by rocks.
Within minutes, they had me strapped to a litter (flat cot). With a cable, they first pulled the other serviceman and my pack (referred to as "trash") up then prepared to get me up. The other service man stood on the litter while it was being hoisted up. Evelyn and Phil helped steady the litter. I looked down and saw Phil and Evelyn getting smaller. I tried to wave so Phil could get it in the shot, but I'm sure he just saw fingers. Once up at the helicopter, it was a juggling act. The service man finally got off (he had on a safety belt) then there was me. They used a paddle, hands, and whatever to get me aboard. Lucky that I was strapped in because when I finally was pulled in, I would have had a free fall down to Evelyn and Phil at the 45-degree angle I was being hauled in. The airmen told me they thought this wasn't the way to get a free ride off the mountain!
The ride back was quick (l0 minutes) to the Elko airport where there was an ambulance waiting to take me to Elko General Hospital. I had surgery that night, including pins put in my ankle. Prognosis is for full recovery.
Lessons I learned:
Other lessons I relearned:
Phil and Evelyn's Epilogue:
We stayed in Elko until Linda was released from the hospital late Saturday morning. About noon, we started the drive home. Phil and I occasionally switched vehicles to give Linda some variety in conversation.
After driving 12 hours we stopped at a motel in Baker, California for the night. On Sunday morning we completed the drive home. Although I was scheduled to have Monday off, I went to work to relax.
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