I have been wondering where to record the recent events and some of the emotional issues that I have been going through I think this is probably the best place. It is after all my blog and nobody reads it and that’s just fine with me. I’m going to put this down as though I expected somebody to read it in the future.
On July 10th 2023, my 67th birthday, while I was on the second day of a three day solo backpack trip in the Ventana Wilderness in Northern California, I fell 30-40 feet from the top of a waterfall to the bottom severely injuring myself. It is now 2 months later I am well on the way to recovery and I thought it would be a good time for me to record every detail that I could remember of this event and the ups and downs of my recovery.
I had originally planned the trip to go to the Trinity Alps and take the Siligo Pass to the Four Lakes Loop. The Trinity Alps is a beautiful location and this would have been an almost brand new trip for me. I had done a portion of this trek about 10 years ago with the scouts. We camped in a meadow, and went to the closest lake on a day hike. In reading the reviews from the people who are coming back from that area, the reports said that there was snow on the ground and it was sometimes difficult to tell how deep the snow was. After reading the reports I determined that that trip would be too dangerous so I made the totally ironic choice of going to the Ventana Wilderness instead as a safer option.
I’ve been going to the Ventana Wilderness about once a year for the past four or five years. It was a trip that I discovered. I didn’t know anybody else who did this particular trek and did a bunch of research to find it. The Ventana Wilderness in prime season is absolutely gorgeous. There are wonderful views. You start the trek at an elevation of about 5000 feet at China Camp Campground on Tessajera Road, and hike down to Pine Valley at about 3000 feet. and there are wild flowers along the way that are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. In addition there’s a history to the Pine Valley there was a homesteading couple Jack and Mary English who lived there for many years. The home that they built still stands. I have taken several scout groups including one group of nine girls only one of whom had ever been on the backpack trip before and had gone once before on a solo track there.
The plan was for a three day trip. Day one I would hike approximately 6 miles to my campsite. Day two I would visit the falls and just kind of hang out and day three I would hike back 6 miles from my campsite to the truck. Click on the map below to see the route in AllTrails.
The trip was planned to start on Sunday, July 9th. On day one I would hike from the China Camp Trailhead to Pine Valley campsite and make camp. It is a 3 to 3.5 hour drive from my house to the trailhead, and then a 6 mile hike to the campsite. I knew it would be light Until about 9:00 PM so that meant I needed to be on the trail by 5 to give myself enough time I had a zoom call set up with someone that I really needed to connect with from noon to 2, I had my pack fully fully packed and I had already put everything I needed into my trusty 24 year old Ford F-150. I knew at that point that I was a little bit behind schedule but I was confident that I could that I could make it to the campsite in enough time. I did take one wrong time on the way to the trailhead but realized where I had gone wrong and turned around. The wrong turn put me back about 40 minutes so now I knew I was cutting it really. I got to the China camp trailhead a little bit before 6 and started hiking right away the wildflowers were spectacular but I was concerned enough about getting to campsite before dark that I didn’t really take any pictures or or spend any time just admiring the view I kind of just plowed straight ahead at a solid steady if not particularly fast pace
I did get down to the campsite in time to set up camp before dark and had myself a very nice dinner enjoyed the stars. It was a gorgeous night and I felt overall very good about my trip up to that point.
For day two the plan was that I would get up do whatever I wanted to do and go to the Pine Falls which was about 2 miles away from my campsite. I had been going to Pine Valley for several years before I even found out that there was a falls nearby. I went with Joseph when there was no water in the falls and I took a group of female Boy Scouts two Pine Valley where we found our way to the top of the falls. It was gorgeous but we were running low on time and I wanted to get back to the campsite before it got dark most of these girls were first time backpackers. We got to the top of the falls but other adults convinced me to head back rather than to find the way down. This trip I was pretty determined that I would get to the bottom of the falls. The trail to the to the top of the falls is kind of rough. You have to fight a lot of the way through and go over and under down trees. This is not it’s not a particularly well maintained part of the trail but I got there. I started looking for the trail to go down to the bottom at one point I thought I was too close to the edge and so I decided to get onto my belly to get better purchase and apparently that was the wrong move because I started sliding and I slid and fell from the top of the waterfalls about 40 feet down to the bottom of the waterfalls. As I started the fall, as I knew I was going to fall, the thought they went to my mind was “I am about to die.” I had no doubt about that. Luckily instead of hitting rocks, I hit water. and the water was pretty deep. I was in well over my head and did not touch bottom. I did realize however that I had to get out of the water so I swam up to the surface looked around and climbed out onto some rocks. I knew at that point that I had had a really significant fall but it didn’t feel like there was any real damage to me I could wiggle my toes I could feel everything everything was pretty good overall. I did feel weak It’s took a lot of effort for me to try to stand up and and walking was was almost out of the question but I didn’t feel any pain and I was able to feel my toes.
I also realized that the rocks I had climbed onto also had a significant amount of poison oak scattered around them and I could see the trail that I needed that led out of the ravine to the main trail on the other side of the water. I could see a path where the water looked really shallow, and I was able to stand up and walk the 20 feet or so to the other side, but then I collapsed.
At this point I am near the trail that would lead out of the ravine and I am in a safe place where I was able to rest . I hoped that by resting some and gathering my strength I would be able to make my way out of the ravine onto the trail and back to my campsite. I tried till about 4:00 PM, I managed to pull myself up a few times, but then slid back down. Finally, at about 4 PM I accepted the reality that I wasn’t going to get out of this on my own, and I needed to activate the SOS signal on my Garmin InReach Mini.
About an hour after I engaged the SOS signal I got a return message that they were contacting the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department for search and rescue. I was able to give some details via the Garmn’s text to the Sheriff’s Department about where I was and what condition I was in. The SOS included my precise GPS location. At about 10:00 PM, I received a message that the search and rescue team was on their way. They arrived between 3 and 4:00 AM that Tuesday morning.
I gotta hand it to the search and rescue team. They hiked 7 miles in the dark to find me and those are not easy miles The last mile is is really difficult and they were carrying extra gear for the rescue. I can’t say enough about them or thank them enough. When they got to me they me gave me some water got me into a double emergency bivy sack and then we waited until it got close to light. At about 6 or 7 in the morning, as it was starting to get light they brought me up to an outcropping where they could lower a rope from the helicopter. It was only about 20 or so feet, up the trail and to get me up to that out cropping safely they had somebody in front of me that I could hold onto their shoulders they had somebody behind me holding on to me and they had a rope attached to me where 2 other guys had pulleys They got me to this outcropping got me seated and the helicopter rolled down a cloth seat that I could get into. Once I was securely wrapped in the seat, the helicopter hoisted me up and away.
Here are some pictures from the rescue. As you can see it is a gorgeous falls, and it was a beautiful starlit night.
On July 10th at about 7 PM, the Monterey County Office of Emergency Services received a Garmin inReach SOS activation in Los Padres National Forest in the Pine Falls area. The Monterey County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue team responded to the SOS call. After a 6 mile hike from China Camp, the SAR team located the hiker at about 3:00 AM. The Hiker had fallen and was located at the bottom of Pine Valley Falls on Carmel River.
SAR provided medical aid and stabilized the patient. SAR moved the patient to a rock outcrop to wait for day light so the patient could be extracted by helicopter. At about 7 AM, the California Highway Patrol helicopter, H-70, deployed to assist in hoisting and transporting the patient out of the National Forest. CHP Air Operations transported the patient to the King City Airport and was transferred to a waiting ambulance. The patient was taken to a local hospital.
The helicopter hoisted me up and then took me to the clearing about a mile away at Pine Valley. The ride was kind of difficult and when I had landed back at the clearing I thought I was going to throw up but I didn’t have any food in me so I didn’t. The helicopter team got me onto a stretcher and we waited there for the fog to lift enough at one of the helicopter landing sites. The closest say would have been Salinas but apparently that was too locked in in fog and instead they were going to bring me to King City. Off we to King City where there was an ambulance waiting for me.
After I was transferred to the ambulance the EMTs brought me to George L. Mee Memorial Hospital emergency room. At the hospital they got me onto an IV and started giving me a more in depth examination and assessment. I don’t remember if I just had an xray or if I had an xray and CT scan but they did determine that I had a shattered vertebrae in my back and that I needed to get transferred to a trauma center. The nearest trauma center was in Salinas. A couple of interesting things happened at the at the emergency room When I was being assessed at the site of the accident the nurse who was part of the rescue team didn’t see anything wrong with my back. He checked things out “got to skin” to look at my back. He did not see anything obviously wrong and thought that there was a chance that I was just bruised and then after I had been checked out at the hospital they might just let me go home that day.
Once I was at the emergency room we contacted my wife, Kate and she started making plans about heading to the emergency room. While talking to one of the nurses she mentioned the idea that she might be able to pick me up and take me home that day and the nurse responded. “Oh, that’s cute”. Apparently at that point the ER staff had concluded that I was much more hurt than I or the rescue team thought I was. The emergency room staff was actually quite upset with the EMTs that brought me in. They had not gotten me onto an IV drip even though I was pretty severely dehydrated, and the ER staff felt that the EMTs should have known that a 67 year old who falls 30 feet should be taken directly to a trauma center.
In the emergency room they did an assessment started me on IV to get me rehydrated and to give me painkillers. At this point, everything they gave me was through IV. As they pumped one of the painkillers into me, my eyes flew open wide. I turned to the nurse and said “What’s that?” It was fentanyl to which my response was “Ah I see why it is popular” The staff at the hospital actually found me quite amusing and seemed surprised that I was in as good spirits as I was considering what I had gone through.
Once they got me filled up with some painkillers and started rehydrating me, they arrangements to transfer me to the nearest trauma center which was at the Natividad Hospital in Salinas. Add Natividad I was taken directly to the intensive care unit where they continued to stabilize and assess me.
The most significant finding was that my L-1 vertebrae was shattered and unstable and that an operation would be necessary to put a rod in my back. The rod would need to go two vertebrae up from the L1 and two vertebrae down the neurosurgeon who would be performing the surgery wanted to do it on Thursday but as he was out on Wednesday you could not get it scheduled They scheduled my surgery for Friday morning the 14th.
The surgery went successfully and I woke up Friday night back in my room in ICU. I was completely disoriented when I woke up but other than that I felt ok. The next day I started physical therapy. They started having me walk around and start rebuilding. In addition to the shattered vertebrae they did find that I had a fracture in a metatarsal in my left foot. An orthopedic doctor came by and said they would get me a cam boot and that it was really the least of my worries it would heal on its own. They never did give me the cam boot instead they gave me a post op shoe which was really little more than a sandal very similar to the Tevas I usually wear. In a way it was a good thing that they didn’t give me the cam boot because once I started walking, my foot got painful and that led us too discovering a previously undetected injury. I’ll talk more about that later.
Here are some X-rays of my new back hardware
On Sunday I was transferred out of ICU into a regular hospital room where I stayed until Tuesday, when a bed opened up at the Windsor Skilled Nursing Facility in Fremont. The handoff from NativIdad to Kaiser was actually pretty awful. First, I had to make a decision about which skilled nursing facility I would be sent to with extremely limited information. I was given a choice between Fremont and Hayward but no indication of which facility and I had to make a decision right then or the bed would go away. When I found out that I was being sent to Windsor I was somewhat upset as I had known that this was a fairly awful facility, but at this point I had no choice. The best I could say was that it would give me incentive to get back home. Honestly I had no idea if the Hayward facility would have been any better and at least the Fremont facility was close to my home.
On Tuesday July 18th I was transferred from Natividad Hospital to the Windsor skilled nursing facility in Fremont. At this point I was no longer a Natividad patient, but I was once again a Kaiser patient. Kaiser was expecting me to be sent with my medications and Natividad expected that Kaiser would be giving me my medications from the time I got there. So there were no medications for me when I got to Windsor. Nobody at Windsor knew what medications I was supposed to get. Initially I was put into a triple room in the middle bed. The patients on both sides of me had stuff that was spilling out into the areas that were supposed to be mine, and that was annoying but not the worst thing. The worst thing was that one of my my roommates played both video of some kind on his computer and played his tv all night long. He seemed to really like cop shows so there was lots of gunshots and explosions and sirens. I could not get any sleep I could not get any rest. The next morning I immediately started requesting to be transferred to a different room. To their credit Windsor got me into a double room pretty quickly. My roommate in the double room was very nice he was an elder gentleman who had an amputation due to cancer and was just having a very hard time of it but we tried to support each other as we could. He was going through something much more difficult than what I was going through. I knew I would be going home soon and would be on the road to recovery. For my roommate it appeared that he was heading into hospice care.
I am torn about how to describe the quality of the care that I got at Windsor. Some of the individuals that worked with me or took care of me were wonderful. The certified nursing assistant (CNA) who took care of me, Olga from El Salvador, was awesome. She was caring, pleasant, and responsive. We did have to struggle a little bit with language but, I can’t say enough about how good she was. The therapists I worked with were also good. The problem in the facility is that the staff was stretched so thin that they did not have the time to provide adequate care for all the patients that they were assigned to. Luckily for me I did not need much care. My roommate, however was a different story. He tended to be in severe pain all night long. There were other patients who were not getting all the care that they needed and you could tell this from the sounds coming in from the hallway and the other rooms. The issues were worse over the weekend when there was almost no supervisory staff at the facility. The CNAs and nurses each had a minimum of 20 patients that they had to care for. The nurses spent all their time giving out medication, and that was pretty much all they had time for. By the time they finished dispensing a round to each of their patients. It would be time to start again. The CNAs also had 20 patients and the amount of care that they could give to each one was limited. One night at about 10:00 PM, both my roommate and I had our call buttons pressed, and an hour and a half passed before somebody came to see us. When leaving Windsor they asked if I would do a review and my response was kind of along the lines of you don’t really want me to because my review would not be positive. Ultimately, this all boils down to financial issues. I know they have enough trouble finding people to do this caregiving work. It is hard work, the conditions aren’t great, and I’m sure that none of them get paid enough.
.There was a doctor that was assigned to Kaiser Patients who came by once or twice a week. I saw him the first Wednesday, the morning after I arrived, and then the following week. There was also a nurse supervisor whose focus was the Kaiser patients. This system worked reasonably well as long as nothing had to be changed the CN A’s and the nurses could provide most of the care they needed to and therapists were able to provide care. But if you wanted or needed a change in the orders increase or decrease of medication change of medication anything like that you had to get a message to this Kaiser Doctor. I had two issues that I needed either the Nurse Supervisor or the Doctor. One issue was the fact that I had not had a bowel movement since the previous Monday as the opioids I was on tend to cause constipation. The second issue was that I wanted my medication changed just a little bit and certainly to have the pain meds renewed. I started on asking to talk to the Kaiser supervisor or Dr. on Wednesday, and asked several times on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday morning but never heard from them. Knowing that weekend was coming, I called Kaiser member services and finally they did get everything that I had asked for taken care of. But this is evidence of one of the key issues in the American healthcare system I was okay because I was able to advocate for myself I saw there in this skilled nursing facility so many patients who were unable to advocate for themselves and either spent their time in pain or had just inadequate quick care.
Luckily for me the pain was not that severe. I got enough medication to keep my pain under control. In fact I started winding down the oxycodone to once a day. I got physical and/or occupational therapy every day I was at Windsor. By the time I left I was able to get up, walk, and take care of personal needs on my own with the aid of a walker. I felt in high spirits because I felt that I was firmly on the way to recovery. .
During the period that I was at Windsor Kate had scheduled a trip to Seattle to spend some time with her twin and I encouraged her to go. Originally, it was going to be Kate, Joseph, and Sarah meeting up with Kate’s twin Amy and Amy’s daughter Kiera. and the whole group would go to Canada for a day. Kate asked Joseph in Fremont to support any needs that I might have while they were away. It turned out that this was the right choice there wasn’t a whole lot that Kate could do for me while I was at Windsor. Joseph brought me my phone, was their to take delivery of the walker and the rented bed. He also brought me a few meals and hung out with me a few times. Since my old phone was in my pocket. when I fell into the water, I had been cut off from outbound communication from July 9th when I went into the wilderness till July 19th, when Joseph brought me my new phone. Being able to communicate with the outside world again felt great. Kate felt that telling the story of what happened should be something that I do and I agreed with her. When I got the phone back I posted to the NYLT Slack workspace to let them know that I was going to take a break from N and I posted the story on my Facebook page. I decided to let this picture of the article in the Carmel Pine Cone about the rescue, The text in my post focused on the 10 days after the rescue and where I was right then.
Here is the article
and here is that I posted next to the article.
Some of you may have noticed that I have been offline for the past couple of weeks
This article explains a little bit about what happened
I am the person in the picture that they are getting ready to airlift out of the wilderness
They brought me to a trauma center in Salinas. where they determined that I had shattered a vertebrae and broken several others.
On friday I had surgery where they fused five vertebrae in a six hour surgery
On Tuesday I was transferred to a rehab center where I will be getting therapy for the next week or so before being sent home.
Full recovery is expected to take approximately 3 to 6 months. But I am expected to fully recover.
At this time, I am not telling anyone where I am
While I was falling. I was convinced I was going to die When I hit when water instead of rocks. I realized that I was going to live. And I am exceptionally grateful for my luck and for the many people helping me to rebuild my life
First and above all my wonderful wife Kate Amon I have said on many occasions that I cannot imagine anyone else in the world who would put up with me Thank you, Kate. I don’t know how you do it
Thank you to joseph and sarah, who have provided enormous emotional support during this early part of my recovery
A big thank you to the professionals and volunteers of the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue team that hiked 7 miles in the dark to find me. You guys rock.
And a big thank you to the team that managed my treatment at the Natividad Hospital 3rd Floor I am very grateful for the wonderful care that I received at the hospital.
There are probably many others that I should thank. And I will try to do so in the days and weeks to come Right now however I would like To throw a special thank you to my good buddy My Philmont partner. Brian Tudor
It was Brian that convinced be to buy a Garmin Inreach Mini
The search and rescue team told me that had I not activated the SOS on the garmin it is likely that they would have had to recover my body rather than rescue me
Bottom line for me. July 10 was the #worstbirthday ever but the experience left me with a renewed appreciation of how precious every day is and how many wonderful people there are in this world
I couldn’t do much during my time at Windsor. They didn’t want me to get out of the bed without someone else in the room, so I was in bed almost all day. But, between my Kindle and my phone, I kept myself occupied and I was okay left alone at at the skilled nursing facility. While I was at Windsor, Kate arranged to have a bed rented that would stay downstairs so that I wouldn’t have to go up and down the stairs during the first week after I got home.
I was at an emotional high point during this period. I knew I had been seriously hurt but I could feel myself getting stronger and healing every day and I didn’t see any obstacles to my recovery. While I was still very limited in what I could do, I strongly believed that I was on a path to getting better.
On Wednesday August 26th I had my first real follow up appointment with a Kaiser spine specialist at the spine clinic in Oakland .They took an X ray and then the spine doctor removed the Staples for my back. This was a pretty painful procedure. The staples must have been really deep in there the doctor was complaining that Kaiser they don’t use staples that she didn’t like them. OKaaay, fiiiiine but she was just yanking them out and it hurt. At point I started doing breathe through pain type breathing which Kate recognized as Lamaz and she made a comment about that for some reason this doctor picked up this comment and went on about how men do not know what it is to experience pain as we do not give birth. At the least Katie and I thought this was a insensitive remark. Either way the staples got pulled out a dressing got reapplied and I got sent back to Windsor. The next day Kate picked me up and took me home. As as we were heading home Kate and I realized that it had been more than two weeks since I had been in a car I guess that’s a sign of improvement.
Kate Posted this picture to let people know I was home
Kate had set up the downstairs level with the rented bed so that I would not have to go up stairs and she and the kids brought me everything that I needed, I had visits from a home health nurse an occupational therapist and a physical therapist. The Occupational Therapist came by once and decided that I really didn’t need her which I agreed with. And it was really the physical therapist that I did the most work with she started giving me exercises and we worked on a strategy for my being able to get up and down the stairs safely . I started working on rebuilding my strengths using a Walker starting with circles around my backyard working up to circles around our cul-de-sac and then onto walks of a mile or a mile and a half in the neighborhood. Remember how I said that Nativitad did not give me a proper Camboot for my foot. Well during these walks that started to cause a problem and my ankle started to hurt fairly severely. Luckily I already knew that I had a follow-up appointment with the Podiatrist that was meant to be focused on the metatarsal break that we knew we had, When we got to the Digest appointment they took an X ray and after I showed out exactly where the issue was where I was in pain they were able to find an additional break in the bones in my ankle. The Podiatrist also pointed out that it seems to have started to heal badly and it would probably continue to be painful unless I had surgery and a plate put in. So I agreed to the surgery and it was scheduled for August 25th. In the meantime they did give me a proper camboot so that I could walk without putting any weight and causing any further damage on the ankle even so I limited the amount of walking I did particularly because it took a week for us to get the product called and even up so that my left foot wouldn’t be about an inch higher than my right foot. While waiting I did as much cooking as I could and enjoyed being in my own bed for the brief period of time,
The surgery would be outpatient I would go home that night but I would be put under fulll anesthesia during the procedure
Friday morning Kate helped me check in to the hospital and I started getting prepped for the surgery. The biggest issue was they had a lot of trouble getting a working iv line into me our theory was that a combination of the number of Iv’s that I had put into me while I was in the icu along with the six weeks that I had been sedentary since the accident basically did a number on my veins. At least five different people try to get the IV in me working they used an ultrasound device to to guide them and it was really getting touch and go they started talking about using a leg IV or possibly even a neck IV but ultimately on What they said would be the last attempt before going to one of the more extreme measures the top anesthesiologist was able to get the IV in me and get it working. They put in a nerve block below my knee and wield me into the operating room where I went under anesthesia and don’t remember anything else until I woke up.
Kate was there to pick me up and take me home and once again the bed was set up so that I did not have to go upstairs while I was not allowed to put weight on my left foot. The first follow-up appointment was scheduled for one week later at the Kaiser facility in San Leandro. My expectation was that I would be getting put into a hard cast and that I would be able to start putting weight onto that lake when the doctor told us that they were just taking a look at the incision and making sure that it was healing properly and then they were going to put me back into this splint and that I would be I would still not be able to put weight on it and in fact that I would have to expect that I couldn’t put weight on it for several more week.s I found that news really depressing. On an intellectual level I totally understood that my body needed the time to heal I understand and understood how fortunate I was that things didn’t go worse than they were but on an emotional level I was pretty bummed.
My new foot hardware. It looks like a pizza table
And that brings me pretty much up to date on where I am as of today as of this writing. As my recovery continues I will try to post some updates.