Late afternoon on Monday, Feb. 25, the team received a call out for an injured 50 year old female descending from the Mountaineer’s Route on MT Whitney. She and her guided party were at Iceberg Lake and descending to their camp at around 11,800 ft. Reporting party noted that she had been hit by a boulder on her right side and had possible rib fracture and was currently spitting up small amounts of blood. Patient was with a guided team of four.
A team of six departed the Bishop Posse hut to rendezvous at the Lone Pine hut to gather more information, organize, pick up a team member, and set up a base. Around 7 pm, after organizing gear and gathering logistics the team was en route to the trailhead of Mount Whitney. At this point, the team confirmed that the helicopter would not be able to pick up the patient until the following morning. After four hours of ascending snow-covered darkness on a moonless night, four members reached the patient. It was just past eleven and yet the night was just getting started. Meanwhile a team of two scouted lower elevations for possible landing zones for a helicopter evacuation.
The patient was bundled in her tent with labored breathing and wincing in pain. During initial assessment the patient noted having moderate pain in her right shoulder and arm, pain in her middle thoracic spine area, and tingling in her hands and feet. Due to the symptoms the team decided to take spinal precautions and kept the pt in a neutral spine position, started oxygen and decided that we would monitor her vitals every 30 minutes throughout the night. Three team members rotated sitting with the patient and checking vitals, while the others attempted sleep in their bivy sacs at close to 11,800 feet.
The patient toughed it out through the night and was able to get a little sleep. Come morning the oxygen ran out, but anticipation for evacuation had kicked in. Our hopes of an early helicopter evacuation slowly fizzled as communication confirmed that it would be late morning by the time they would be able to reach us. The team scoped out two landing zone options for the helicopter and waited for their arrival. Just before noon a CHP helicopter was able to land at our landing zone about 100 meters down from the patient’s camp. The helicopter then dropped a backboard and litter to us and within a few moments the team had the patient back boarded and into the litter. With help from the remaining members of the guided team, our crampons, and a belay line, we were able to descend safely with the patient to the helicopter. In seconds she was loaded and off to receive medical attention.
After a quick snack, relishing in the warm sun and enjoying the stunning backdrop, the team packed up and head back down to the truck. The team was exhausted, but stoked on the teamwork and execution of the mission and was ready to head home.