Injured & Alone
Story By: Megan Schrenk
Blood—her hand was soaked in it as Tanner Dean carefully peeled Paige Hardy’s hand away from her face. “Her lip, from the inside of her nose all the way through, was in two separate pieces,” Dean says. “As she was breathing through her mouth, the pieces were wobbling around. It was the craziest thing.”
Hiking trips and backpacking adventures should be full of glorious scenery; the smell of fresh pine and the gentle sounds of nature enveloping you. Adventures should not include crashing boulders, shattered jaws and bubbling blood. The mountains are beautifully deceiving—easily lulling anyone, especially new hikers, into a false sense of security and safety.
However, the unexpected happens and if you’re not prepared for the it, you could be facing a life-or-death situation within fractions of a second. Two hikers, Tanner Dean and Paige Hardy, learned this the hard way last summer during a backpacking trip through Deception Pass when their plans were crushed by a boulder barreling into Hardy’s face.
Traversing through the dry, dusty trails of Deception Pass Loop, Dean and Hardy scrambled up and down the rugged terrain accumulating over 5,000 feet of elevation. Despite the sweat and grime quickly collecting, the tranquility of the quiet forest lifted their spirits. It felt like they were the only two around for miles; in the middle of the week, that was almost true.
Stopping every few miles, the couple would rest to enjoy the views that Cathedral Rock, Squaw Lake and the Cascades provided. Only a couple of other souls were wandering the trails. “We passed three kids that were 10 or 12 years old. After them were some more kids followed by some adults,” Dean says. “We figured it was a troop of some sort.”
Dean and Hardy exchanged quick hellos with the troop before setting off again on a brisk pace. After getting a late start to the day, they wanted to push through the last half a dozen miles before the sun began to set.
The highest point of the day was long gone as the pair carefully picked their way down a ravine right underneath the towering Mount Daniel. During the scorching summer heat, glacial snow melt created cascading waterfalls carved their way through the area Dean and Hardy cross.
“It was absolutely beautiful,” says Hardy, commenting on the ravine they had descended into. “The water was crystal clear and you could see all the rocks at the bottom. Above us the cliffs rose forty or fifty feet, you could hardly see beyond them.”
At the bottom of the ravine, Dean and Hardy came to a river they would have to cross to make it to the trail that would lead them towards Robin and Tuck Lakes. Wading through a river did not seem all that appealing right then, so the pair decide to take a break making use of the rocks as make-shift seats.
“I remember us sitting down and taking some pictures, just enjoying the scenery,” Hardy recounts. “Tanner decided it was time to leave after about five minutes, he was already turning away from me. As I start to stand up, though, something flashed in the corner of my eye.”
“There was a weird half scream and then, clap, it was interrupted,” said Tanner. “It was almost like when you hit a dog and you get that little yelp.” A clatter of rocks caught Tanner’s attention, off to the side.
Pain exploded throughout Hardy’s entire face. “My mouth pooled with blood, I remember the copper taste rolling down my throat,” Hardy says. Her hands had flown up to her face, gingerly holding her mouth. Both hands were coated in blood within seconds. “I didn’t realize what had hit my face, all I could feel were multiple holes where my teeth used to be,” she remembered.
Tanner’s attention had immediately gone to the sides of the ravine. He searched for an animal or another hiker that could have caused rocks to fall on them. There was nothing.
“Tanner rushed over to me, asking if I was okay,” says Hardy. “Everything was still really fuzzy and blurry, I could hardly register what had happened. I wasn’t scared, but I’m sure I was going into shock from the pain and confusion.”
Hardy remembers Dean setting her down gently against some rocks, telling her over and over again to not mess with her face, to just relax.
“She was pretty calm right then,” Dean recalls. “But, I didn’t want her to pull out her phone and see what her face looked like because that might throw her more into a panic then she already was.”
Realization started to dawn on Dean as he began clearly assessing the situation. They were miles deep into the mountains, no way of making contact to the outside world, no other hikers nearby, and Hardy was in absolutely no condition to move.
“I left to chase after the boy scout troop,” Dean admits, knowing they might be their only hope.
Switchbacks, slashed into the mountainside, zig-zagged up and up as Dean sprinted the rapidly accumulating elevation. “I start yelling ‘help’ as loud as I could in hopes that someone would stop and listen,” Dean says. “I was worried about leaving Paige back there all alone, bleeding. We needed help fast.”
Less than a mile away, Hardy warily pressed against her mouth and cheeks. She winced at the sharp, bursting pain. “I kept telling myself to just stay awake, Tanner will be back here any moment,” Hardy says. “Time seems to move so much slower when you’re alone, and the mind-numbing pain only made everything that much more disorienting.”
Right, left, right, left again, Dean kept sprinting up the mountainside, desperate for anyone to answer his calls for help.
Eventually, he rounded a corner and came across the three adults who were with the boy scout troop. Relief had washed over him.
“I explain what happened and let them know that I was going to run ahead while they followed behind because I knew I would be faster,” Dean says. “I took off back down hill, hoping and praying that she wasn’t going to be passed out when I got back from blood loss.”
Hardy was still hanging on by the time Dean had come sprinting back down into the ravine; his momentum sent small showers of rocks cascading down the cliff side. Blood was splattered around the rocks surrounding her, but for the moment, she was safe.
Not long after Dean had arrived by Hardy’s side, two of the three scout masters appeared over the ravine’s ledge. One of them announced he was a former EMT who promptly began performing first aid to the bleeding woman. He first attempted to bandage the split in her lip together, but the amount of blood and dirt provided fruitless effort. Out of options, the men tore up some of Dean’s long underwear for Hardy to apply pressure with on her face.
“The numb was gone and all I could feel was this profound throbbing pain throughout my entire head,” Hardy recalls. “The thought of putting any more pressure on it was agonizing, but the man insisted that applying pressure was the only way to stop the bleeding.”
She had been bleeding for over an hour by now.
One of the scout leaders told Dean that they had bought a GPS signal device just for this trip, and that they could use it to get a message out if they felt it was necessary. Dean did not hesitate to accept the offer.
“The guys kept asking if I was sure if we wanted a helicopter ride out,” says Dean, commenting that he thought it was ludicrous to think there was any other way out of that situation. “There is no way Paige would be able to walk another six miles back over 5-6,000 feet of elevation gain and loss.”
Time tediously ticked by. It would take ten or more minutes to send out a message successfully and then another ten or more minutes for a reply. The messages began around 5:30 p.m. It was not until 6:30 p.m. when the team got a confirmation that a rescue helicopter was on its way, but that would take at least another 45 minutes to reach their location.
The sun was starting to go down. “We are in this area where there is this glacier water spraying on us and the back wind is pretty chilly,” Dean says. “I put bundled Paige up, wrapped a sleeping bag around her and then another one around us. And we just waited.”
“Every once in a while, I would think I heard a helicopter,” Dean remembers. “But each time was a let down.”
Time was moving too slow, but at least the blood was starting to clot.
Just after 8 p.m. the helicopters showed up. There were two at first, a small one and a large one, but the larger one could not get anywhere close to the ravine.
“The whole time I had been thinking that we would be going together,” Dean said solemnly. “But I was informed that there was no room for me in the helicopter. Paige isn’t from here. I promised her that I would be at the hospital in four hours.”
Dean and Hardy were exceptionally lucky during their trip. Despite the blood loss and blunt force trauma, Hardy managed to escape with her life.
During her stay at the hospital, she would come to learn that she had lost six teeth, split her lip open all the way to her nasal cavity and completely severed her jaw. The only thing holding it in place were some loose ligaments, skin and her hands. She would need to undergo several reconstructive surgeries to get her jaw even functioning again.
If it had not been for that boy scout troop, this tale could have ended very, very differently.
“One or two in your group should have some extensive First Aid training, beyond basic First Aid,” says Rob Behm, Master Photographer, Eagle Scout and trained adult BSA leader who was one of the adults in the scout troop that rescued Dean and Hardy.
Knowing the basics of first aid, and having the proper equipment, would have been one of the very first things that Dean could have done to save Hardy from severe blood loss. Applying pressure and cleaning the wound would have made clotting much easier and faster to occur.
Behm advises always having a first-aid kit and to make sure it has steri-strips, not butterfly bandages, for closing wounds.
The pair should have never ventured into the wilderness without any way to contact the outside world. “I know when I go out hiking to not do stupid stuff,” Dean says. “I’m not going to go jumping from one rock to the next, I am going to pay attention to where I am walking. But there are times where you just can’t predict when something will happen.”
“Even when you are going to a remote area like the Cascades for just a short trip, you must remember it is a rugged area and there is no communication via cell phones,” Behm says. “The GPS communication device we had with us was what enabled us to call a helicopter Search and Rescue team for her rescue.” Behm prefers GPS based devices, like In-Reach, over satellite phones because even in the deep valley of the Cascades, they can have a difficult time getting a signal.
For this coming hiking season, Dean said he invested in a GPS phone. “I did not plan on going on another hike without one,” he comments. “I never want to be in a situation like the one from last summer.”
Boulders happen. No one can ever expect when a life-or-death situation might come crashing down upon them. Nonetheless, be proactive. Take a page from Dean and Hardy’s traumatic experience and go into this coming hiking season prepared. Take some classes, purchase a kit and do a little online research before venturing into the wilderness this summer.
Exploring the mountains should be a highlight of any hiker or backpacker’s summer. From the awe-inspiring mountain top views to the dazzling crystal lakes, the Pacific Northwest is full of hidden treasures. Concealed within those peaks and forests can lie great dangers though, so do not be lulled into a false sense of safety.
This is nature’s greatest deception, but if prepared, you could save a life.