I really like the Phoenix area.
Not necessarily the traffic, noise or crowds. But I do like the warm winter weather and broad mountain views and tons of hiking right in the heart of the city.
Last year Jeff and I spent a couple of weeks driveway surfing in Mesa leading up to Ironman Arizona. Thanks to a high school buddy from California, we were hooked up with an awesome family who had full RV hookups right in their driveway. The driveway surrounded by orange, grapefruit and pomegranate trees make for a very private RV’ing experience…better than any RV park in the area.
We contacted our host family again and they were happy to let us stay again this year for the same reason.
We had an invitation by our friend Marshall to a night hike the day we rolled in. Quite frankly, I didn’t want to go after a day of travel. But Jeff talked me into it…and I am so glad he did.
We met a “meet up” group at South Mountain for a 6-7 mile hike just as the sun was setting in the horizon. The views are not your typical forest or fauna but of broad city views that begin to twinkle with each passing minute. Although, I did hear that you WILL experience snakes here in the summer!
The 1000’ elevation gain was tough and the footing tricky, but my first night hiking experience is one that needs to be repeated for sure!
Jeff happened to roll his ankle for the 4th time in a month. So when I started talking to Marshall about hiking the infamous Flat Iron in the Superstition Mountains, Jeff decided it was best to stick to flat land training leading up the his race. Marshall and I made arrangements to meet Sunday for the hike.
So here is where things got very interesting!
Flat Iron by way of the Siphon Draw trail is about a 6 mile round trip hike that will challenge the best of hikers. Overall elevation gain is around 2600’ and not for the faint of heart. You need strong legs AND arms in order to pull yourself up over boulders, slick slabs and at times, shear vertical climbs. Lots of bouldering and scrambling here and good shoe treads are a must!
It’s very common to see hikers wearing gloves to protect their hands, but hiking poles are of no use…even dangerous (IMHO).
Marshall and I headed out about 9AM with water and snacks. Marshall carries a pretty big pack and when I made fun of him questioned him about what all he carries, he just told me, “stuff I might need”. Well ok then!
We made the hard scramble to the top and appreciated the spectacular 360 views over jerky and trail mix. We were surprised by the amount of people that were on top of the mountain…probably 75-100. All of us enjoying our accomplishment!
But as I have said before, getting to the top is only half the hike. Especially this one! Marshall and I headed back down the trail, carefully choosing our line of descent. I tend to get a little overly cautious at times like these ever since I had back surgery 3 years ago. With screws and rods in my spine there is always a bit of carefulness in the back of my mind.
But as I stepped down on a boulder my feet slid out to the left and I toppled over another boulder on the right and I landed with a thud about 4’ below. My first thought was for my back as I lay there assessing the damage.
Surprised, I didn’t feel pain anywhere! WOW! Could I have just dodged a hiking bullet? I guess I did! Yahoo, yippee, skippy!! But when I told myself to get up…I couldn’t move. As hard as I told my body to get up, something was holding me to the ground.
And then I saw it. My right wrist the shape of a Z.
Now there are a lot of things that can run through one’s head in times like these and my initial thought was that I have to get down this mountain before the pain kicks in! But when I went to stand the pain hit and my wobbly legs lowered me back to the ground. How on earth was I going to get down this mountain?
Within minutes (just after he almost lost his cookies!) Marshall opened up his big backpack and pulled out an enormous First Aid kit and started unpacking everything we would need to stabilize a fracture. We were instantly surrounded by other folks who were asking what they could do to help.
We tried to get the splint on but I couldn’t stand the pressure to mold it to my arm. So another hiker, Andrés, offered up his ice filled camelback bladder and we wrapped that around my wrist with gauze. I had instant relief from the numbing ice!
Then we wrapped my entire arm around my body to further stabilize it.
Between 3 other hikers I had 1000mg of Ibuprofen in my system and we started hiking down the mountain.
While I was getting bandaged up another hiker called 911. Since the initial word was that I couldn’t walk (due to the pain), the sheriffs department relayed that I had a broken leg AND arm and a helicopter was dispatched.
I have to admit, when I heard about the helicopter I had visions of a $15,000-$20,000 bill landing in my mailbox. So as soon as I was stabilized and able to walk we called off the joy ride! Search And Rescue was dispatched instead.
For 4 more hours, between Marshall, Andrés and another hiker Harold, every line and every foot placement was deliberately chosen. I spent most of the hike scooting on my bum, the trail being too steep for my wobbly legs.
(Funny side note…after 30 minutes of Harold helping we looked at each other and realized that we had met on La Luz hiking trail in Albuquerque just a few weeks before!)
Three hours into the slow descent we were finally met by search and rescue. They re-bandaged my wrist (OUCH!) and started checking my vitals every 5 minutes. The EMT felt I was going into shock and they called for an Ambulance to be waiting to take me to the hospital. Another hour later we were finally down.
Jeff was waiting for me with the Sheriff and ambulance. I didn’t know it but Marshall had called his parents in Apache Junction and made arrangements for them to pick Jeff up and take him to the trailhead. He put on his running shoes when he got there but the Sheriff told him to take them off. He didn’t want another “helper” up there getting in the way.
Also, I asked Marshall to communicate to Jeff on top of the mountain that I would need surgery and to start making some calls to find out who and where we should go.
I had been pretty stoic and tried to be in good humor on our scoot down the mountain. But on the way to the hospital my mind now had nothing else to focus on but the pain. By the time I hit the ER I was crying hysterically from the experience and the pain…all the while apologizing to my caregivers for how bad I must have smelled!
They x-rayed my wrist, knocked me out and reduced the fracture with the help of 4 others holding me down. Thankfully, through local friends, we were scheduled with an incredible hand surgeon the next day for an evaluation…and surgery followed 2 days later.
Since this experienced happened I am in awe and so grateful of others who got me down that mountain (Marshall, Andrés, Harold and the 4 search and rescuers), those who provided transportation for Jeff (Marshall’s parents), friends who made medical connections (Paul and Laura), our host family who made me hot soup and home made bread (the Brooks family), Dr. Spencer Stanberry who has a passion for wrists and the nursing staff at both the hospital and surgery center (all top notch).
We will be stationed here in Mesa for 8-12 weeks of PT, which I started two weeks after surgery. I consider myself blessed to have had such support & prayers during such a tough experience.
I can only hope that I can pay it forward someday!
And Marshall…I will never make fun of your big backpack again!