Still above tree line, but on the way down from our summit of Twin Sisters peak (11,400 elevation) on Saturday, my hiking companion and I met a couple who had just called 911 for a hiker who was in distress. We recognized the distressed couple as folks we had chatted with on our way up the trail and knew they were seasoned hikers. The man was suffering from severe altitude sickness, an illness that not much can be done for except to get the sufferer to a lower altitude as quickly as possible.
When we reached them, another hiker, who like my friend and I, could not carry the man down the trail, had stopped to be supportive. The wife assured us that help was on the way, but we realized that the 911 call had been made only 30 or so minutes prior to our arrival on the scene.
Before we could say more, two couples who had seen the man on their way up the peak came by on their way down and stopped. The two men immediately said they could carry the man down the trail. He was dizzy, weak, and suffering from bouts of nausea--not at all sure he could stand enough to lean on these two strong men's shoulders.
By this time we had been joined by another couple who wanted to provide support. Encouraging the suffering man to trust strangers to assist him down the path was a team effort. And when the threesome ventured forward on the downward path, it was with spurts and stops--fear, dizziness, weakness, and nausea interrupting the trek.
Encouragement took the forms of--"breath slowly" from various voices, reassuring him that he was going to be okay--and discouraging his "I'm sorrys." At one point a man not involved in the carrying process broke into song, singing "Rock of Ages" in a lovely baritone. My companion, a physician whose clinical practice was long in his past, felt relatively helpless. However, it was quickly clear that he wasn't going to leave the man until qualified ranger assistance arrived. His role was reassurance to the wife and helpful suggestions. His calming voice supported her necessary belief that her husband would be all right. My role was in the background offering silent prayers.
The rangers did come, and my friend watched as they asked the right questions and prepared to administer oxygen before we headed on down the trail. We met the team carrying a stretcher up the path, and as we came off the trail, another four men with heavy packs heading up to assist in getting the man down on the stretcher. We wondered how many men it was going to take to do the job!
The hike, while providing great views and enjoyable time above tree line, was most inspirational because of the team of strangers who were willing to give their time and effort to assist another in a time of need.