Altitude Sickness at Chickenfoot Lake

The call from the Sheriff coordinator came at 15:30 on August 11, just as a car of SAR ladies hit 395, returning from a relaxing weekend backpacking trip out of Rock Creek. Just over two miles up the Rock Creek trail, a 50-year-old male had been unable to get out of his tent all day, suffering from bouts of unconsciousness, difficulty breathing, incoherence, and severe sweating.

The SAR members put out the call out to the whole team and decided to return to Bishop to pick up oxygen tanks, the first aid kit, and two more SAR women. Meanwhile, they coordinated with the sheriff to try and get any available helicopter, due to the potentially life-threatening nature of the symptoms, which most likely pointed to serious altitude sickness.

At 16:45, a team of five SAR members pulled back into the trailhead and began hiking full-speed toward Chickenfoot Lake where the subject and his backpacking companions were waiting. Whoever says women take forever getting ready clearly hasn’t spent time with the ladies of Inyo SAR.

Luckily, a CHP helicopter was available to assist with evacuating the subject, so the litter and The Wheel got to wait in the truck while the team members hurried up the trail to locate the patient and help the helicopter find a landing zone. One of the kids with the backpacking party was conveniently wearing a SAR-worthy blaze orange fleece and was able to wave the rescue team down and lead them to the subject when they reached Chickenfoot Lake.

A medical assessment of the subject found him barely able to recite his name and with respiration rate close to 60 breaths per minute. Rescue members quickly began administering oxygen through a non-rebreather mask to the subject. Meanwhile, other members of the team scouted a landing zone a few hundred meters away for the helicopter hovering overhead.

Slowly and gingerly, the SAR team and helicopter crew moved the patient onto a litter and transported him to the helicopter. In the approximately ten minutes it took to transfer the patient to the helicopter the oxygen had worked some serious magic — the patient went from barely able to speak his name to able to laugh a little at a lame joke. Knowing that the patient was in good hands and on his way to recovery, it was with much cheer that the SAR members hiked out of the beautiful Little Lakes Valley in search of a pizza place that was still open.

Perhaps one of the first all-female rescue teams in Inyo SAR history!

Perhaps one of the first all-female rescue teams in Inyo SAR history!

Posted in 2013, Missions Reports.