After finishing off the AT in Shenandoah National Park, Birch and I were able to jump back to our southern most point in the trail, at Dripping Rock. Our plan was for an uneventful two day backpacking trip with a stay at Maupin Shelter. This area is known as the Three Ridges.
On the map, this looks like a piece of cake. In fact, the first six miles are fairly flat. The heat was a bit of a challenge, and by the time we got to the shelter it was about 1:00 pm. We ate lunch, filled our bottles with water, and debated our next move. It seemed a bit early to stop hiking. Should we stay at the shelter or move on? Looming on the horizon was the threat of major thunderstorms the next day. The last thing I wanted to do was a 9 mile hike in bad weather (especially the upcoming 3 mile ascent to a mountain peak – possibly during a thunder storm.) We continued our hike, thinking that if we can at least get over the next peak, we’ll be that much closer to completing our trip before the storms get the best of us.
Theoretically, this was a good idea. Practically, it was a huge mistake. The big ascent, after already backpacking six miles, got the best of us. Birch was definitely suffering from heat exhaustion. We ALMOST decided to camp on the peak. But after a rest, Birch was feeling better and we felt that getting to the next shelter was doable.
About a half mile into our descent, near the middle ridge, Birch slipped on loose rocks, lost his balance, and tumbled down an embankment for about 20 feet. He was stopped by his arm getting caught in a tree limb. He suffered significant gashes to his head, a gash on his nose bridge, black eye, a big cut on his leg, and abrasions everywhere. His glasses? Lost! Talk about scary! The first aid kit was not well supplied, but we did the best we could to stop the bleeding and clean the wounds. Getting off the mountain that night was not an option. We were tired and it was getting dark.
We camped on the side of the trail overnight and I kept watch for any signs of confusion, etc. The next morning, we slowly descended a very rocky, difficult section of the trail and came to the shelter. We used the stream water (filtered) to further clean wounds. Then, we ascended a small hill before descending down a very steep area for about another two miles.
In the end, Birch got to the emergency room and was stitched up. Did you know that there is only a 24 hour window before stitching is not an option? We barely made that window! He definitely had a concussion so we were very fortunate that things turned out ok. The lesson? Don’t skimp on the first aid kit! I’m going to add a small squirt bottle that makes it easier to clean wounds. In a really bad situation, those little alcohol swabs don’t cut it (no pun intended). Make sure you have phone numbers for emergency assistance – just in case.