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If a woodworker falls in the forest…

Two weekends ago a friend and I hiked to a wondrous section of the Johns Brook, a boulder strewn Adirondack mountain brook that flows into the Ausable River in the Keene Valley. Our destination was a section known as the “Devil Slides,” a run of waterfalls, pools, and flumes about three hundred yards long culminating in a chute similar to a log flume. The river lines up east-west and the smooth and beautifully undulating rock surfaces heat up nicely so that by lunch time you can begin to explore the different sections of the water course by jumping in the icy water, knowing that there is a warmed stone surface awaiting you that matches the curvature of your body. Dive, swim, lie down, warm up, and repeat.

Johnsbrook 4 Slides

I had not hiked the South Trail of the Brook in several years, evidently since the devastating Tropical Storm Irene of August, 2011. At the beginning of the trailhead was a sign announcing the trail was officially closed and not maintained. Twenty minutes in we arrived at a crossing spot and were amazed to see erosion along the banks rising up perhaps one hundred feet from water level. Huge boulders had been thrust that high. It truly appeared as if bombs had been dropped. It is illegal now to maintain the original ADK markers placed on the bark of trees. The land has been designated a “forever wild” status.

There is enough regular use of the trail by hikers (some have built rock cairns at key points), that you can make your way fairly easily. There are, however, numerous places where you have to find your way the best you can. Gone are the small log steps and bridges because soils were either scoured away or the hillside completely reshaped.

There had been heavy morning rain and the footing was difficult. We took our time and in about an hour and fifteen minutes arrived at the slides and noticed, with great relief, no significant storm damage. It was a spectacularly beautiful summer day and we took full advantage.

We departed after about four hours of fun. Thunderstorms were in the afternoon forecast which we hoped to avoid.

Ten minutes out we came to a bushwack section of steep hillside. I was relying often on tree branches and exposed roots to get me by where the dripping moss underfoot could be treacherous. I grabbed hold of a root and felt it release from the soil and then…

My hiking buddy, Joe, several steps behind, didn’t see me at the moment I fell. He glanced over to where he expected me to be and instead heard two lethal sounding thuds.

My drop was about twenty two feet onto a rock that jutted from the water’s edge. At the moment of impact I experienced crepitus as four ribs broke and my right lung was punctured, a sensation described as feeling like rice krispies in the chest. At the same time my iliac crest was fractured (the curved superior border of the ilium, the largest of the three bones that merge to form the os coxa, or hip bone“), my left big toe broken, and right wrist and fingers sprained.

R S Johns Brook 5

(The photo, taken days later in the hospital, shows the chest tube that passed through my ribs to help reinflate the lung.)

The next impact on a lower rock lacerated the top of my head.

R S Johns Brook 6

Then I landed in the brook a few feet from shore.

I rose from the shallow water in shock, aware that my life probably depended on being able to climb up to a flat surface beyond the irregular stones in front of me, to a place where I could lie and await help. Blood streamed into my eyes and sprayed my hands as I clambered upward for about twenty feet to a good sized flat rock with a gentle slope. I positioned my body with my head on the upward slope and lay on my back.

Joe’s calm and deliberate voice followed immediately and we discussed the situation. We were out of cell phone range and he needed to hike back for help. He bunched a towel and pressed it against the top of my head and placed a rain parka over my chest. I asked him to snap a picture before he left.

Johnsbrook 1

We both understood that it would be two hours or more before he would return.

Those two hours were a constant struggle to stay conscious and to focus my mental energies to keep my core warm. Four separate thunderstorms rolled through and soaked me to the bone. What I dreaded was succumbing to hypothermia. I called upon the love and support of family and friends. Little by little my digits and limbs began to tremble, and then shake, but I kept a fire going inside.

Joe hiked back to the “garden”, an area with multiple trail heads where we’d parked. He was still out of cell phone range but found that in the ticket collector’s booth there was a land line made available for just such situations as ours. He called 911 and they transferred him to the Department of Environmental Conservation who put him in touch with a park ranger living near by. Jim (I forget the names of the many great folks involved in my rescue) made calls to several people and arranged for two ATVs, and he and Joe hiked back. You’d better believe their voices sounded angelic to me! Jim had with him a heavy coat to place over me as well as a shot he administered to ward off nausea. It was very fortunate that there is a road that parallels the South Trail by which atvs in the summer and snowmobiles in the winter take supplies to the Adirondak Loj several miles past the slides. After a time the crews appeared. I was strapped to a board and carried by hand for twenty five minutes and then tied to an atv. It was a long crawl out of the woods until joining an ambulance around 10 p.m. Then to an emergency room in nearby Elizabethtown where I had ct scans and my head stitched up. Finally, the ambulance delivered me to the trauma unit at Albany Medical Center at 4 a.m.

I am truly lucky to have survived my fall in the woods. A few inches or angles either way could have killed me outright or paralyzed and maimed me. I am luckier still to live in a world with people who devote their lives to the rescue and care of others. Thanks to all.

Johnsbrook 3

If a woodworker falls in the forest…

  • Wilson Burnham

    I’m so sorry to hear about your fall! Here’s to your speedy recovery!

  • Peter Follansbee

    Tico – what an ordeal. I was very dismayed to read your narrative. Lucky indeed, great that you & your friend both had the composure to know what to do. Hang in there, man. wishing you well in healing. thinking of you
    PF

  • Holy crap!
    It’s ironic we think ourselves invincible, incapable of that wrong step.
    We are all blessed that you survived your stumble, and shared it with us.
    Heal well!

  • Joe M

    Tico…You are ….truly lucky….we all pray for a speedy recovery…..Get well soon…

  • Michael Ackerman

    Clearly, you fell, whether anyone heard or not! Good judgement on your part to travel with your friend. If you have not already, you should see your chiropractor to check your spinal alignment. This kind of trauma will heal better if your nervous system is working as it should.

  • David Gendron

    Lucky you are indeed! I had a similar accident happened to me about 7 years ago, I survived because I have great friends!! Take your time, recover well, best of wish!

    Cheers
    David

  • Earl Miner

    God bless you, a speedy recovery and back to the bench.

  • ralph boumenot

    Wow. I can’t believe what happened to you. What is the prognosis? I hope that you have a speedy recovery and can get back to woodworking soon.

  • Ouch! You were fortunate in your accident.
    Here’s to a full and speedy recovery.
    Take care.

    Bob

  • Tico! The news of your whole ordeal is terrible, but I’m so glad to hear you made it through and are now on the mend. My thoughts and prayers are with you as you continue to heal.

  • Caleb James

    What an ordeal Tico. I hope you recover quickly and glad you are still here to tell up about it. Stay strong and carry on bud.

  • Linda D.

    Ouch, ouch, ouch! I am so glad you had the foresight to hike with a friend. Sending healing wishes!

  • Mike O'Brien

    Tico, Wishing you the very best for a complete recovery. Those ribs will be sore for quite awhile I am sure.
    Best wishes,
    Mike O’Brie
    Valley Head, AL

  • Denis Bogan

    A very sobering story. Heal well.
    Thats a beautiful area. I did a backcountry trip there in Feb. Spent a couple days at Camp Peggy Obrien and skied the brookbeds.

    Denis (Job’s dad)

  • Chris Bame

    Wow is right! Best wishes and a speedy recovery to you Tico.

  • Steve D

    Tico,

    My wife and I are hiking all the 4000 footers in NH and hike on a lot of trails like this. I had the chance to meet you at last year’s Lie-Nielsen event in CT and follow your blog posts. I have been able to read snippets of your post but can’t read more than a few paragraphs – it’s too close to home.

    Best wishes on your recovery.

    Steve

  • tico

    Thanks all for your wishes and support. Choose your handholds carefully!

  • Nancy W

    Tico, Tico, Tico! Thank goodness you and Joe kept your heads and focused your energies so very well. Bless your buttons, and hurry home where we can all harass you with casseroles and chocolate cake. And ice cream. And puppies. Phew.

  • God has Blessed you. Now do something different! Be patient and heal well.

  • Kevin Deal

    Best wishes for a speedy recovery Tico. We’re blessed to have the 1st responders but haven been a firefighter and paramedic its a blessing and joy being able to help.

  • So glad you’ve shared this story, glad you are still alive and kicking, or at least typing, and hope for your speedy recovery. It is good for us all to realize how quickly things can change and what it can entail when they do in the middle of no-where.

  • Jeff Hallam

    A frightening ordeal to read let alone live through. I hope your recovery goes smoothly and you can get back to doing what you enjoy.

  • naomi and ron

    we are with you all of the way.. and joe has been great to take us with you through it all.
    you are a real SURVIVOR tico
    and we are so so happy that you are doing well
    ooh la la

  • Tico! Man were you lucky, err, can I say that. Yes, we live in a world of true savagry, but also true heroism. Your friend, the rescue people the system we have in place to save lives all blot out the senseless violence we read about every day. It makes me an optimist.
    Get well, Bill

  • tico

    I have the same feeling about it, Bill. Thanks for your, and everybody’s comments.

  • So glad you lived to tell the tale, Tico. It’s a testament to your fighting spirit that you kept it together while waiting for help to arrive. Keep fighting and mend well. Everyone’s pulling for you.

  • nathan wolfenbarger

    Oh goodness! Glad you and your friend were able to be thoughtful and deliberate in the circumstances.

    very thankful for the medic, rangers and rescue teams in this world.

    Swift healing, and steady recovery.
    Nathan

  • tico

    Thanks guys!

  • Carol

    Tico, Alan tells me with much relief that you are safely on the mend. He was almost inconsolable after hearing the news a few days after your fall. I can relate to your gratitude for Joe and all who helped you out of the woods and out of the hospital. I know that fire that you kept burning as you were left laying on that rock. Being certain you knew that fire too, I told Alan that you were strong and would be okay. Keep on healing . . . we’ll see you soon! Much love, Carol

  • Crickey Tico!

    What a dreadful accident. However, as our Scots cousins say, “What does not kill us, makes us stronger!”

    So glad you were strong enough not to fall asleep and give in to the hypothermia.

    Get well soon.

    My best wishes for your recovery,

    Richard

  • tico

    Hey Richard,

    With all the wonderful outpouring of good cheer from friends all around, I am already much stronger.

  • Nathan

    Get well soon, Tico. I’m praying for you.

  • Marshal

    My wife had a tree fall and fracture her skull in the MN 1999 Boundry Waters storm. It was 5 hours before a float plane arrived and then a long recovery. Ordeal sounds so much alike. Due to her courage she survived and a beautiful little girl got a life. Tico – thank you for your courage and fight!

  • tico

    That’s an uplifting ending to her story- it sends shivers. Thank you for sharing.

  • Laura Paradise

    Hi Tico! It’s Laura, the EMT in the photo. My husband, Jim Giglinto, the Ranger in the picture, showed me the letter you wrote to the DEC. Thank you so much for remembering my name! I am happy to hear you are on the mend and getting stronger! I’ll never forget this rescue, what an adventure! You definitely were banged up pretty good, but you were calm and very stoic. My pleasure to have been there for you!

  • tico

    Wow, it’s so nice to hear from you Laura. The DEC just sent me a letter and notified me that Kevin Burns was the lead ranger in the rescue. My buddy Joe helped me to remember your name. He told me a story about being able to deduce that you were born in Queens. I was so out of it that your accent sounded British! My best to you, Jim, and all the other fine folks.

  • Dan Clark

    Just reading about your fall and ordeal…wow! Have always believed in the adage “i’d Rather be lucky than good”. Clearly you were both that day and night. Bless you and all who helped you?

  • Rick Carr

    Tico, Dan just sent this to me….. I am really happy to hear of such things way after the event and most of the recovery, glad you made it! Could have happened to me last summer in Yellowstone, hiking along a canyon stream. I recall grabbing for a root that held, we always think the thrill of the adventure is worth the risk, until.. caught some pretty cutthroat on that stream.

  • tico

    Thanks Dan and Rick, and here’s to roots that hold!

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