Broken Leg In The 100 Mile – Jarhead Survivor’s Story

*Warning* – Some bad language ahead.

In a recent article I posted a picture of myself on the 100 Mile Wilderness with a broken ankle and one of you asked me to tell the story.  Here goes…

In the last week of July 2005 I set out with a friend to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail from Monson to Katahdin called the 100 Mile Wilderness. It should have been a straightforward hike lasting ten days; however, one misstep on the trail four days and forty miles in ended the hike.

On one of the official websites it states that the 100 Mile Wilderness is not a good place to injure yourself. Well, there’s no good place to injure yourself, but in my opinion the 100 Mile Wilderness is a particularly bad place to do it.


Skipping Ahead to Monday Day 4 – From My Journal Notes

We had been told that it would be nice right through the week, but when we woke up Monday the dark sky promised something different and as we ate breakfast in the lean-to it started to pour. We waited for awhile, but eventually the other couple set out. They were heading for Cloud Pond lean-to where we’d stayed the night before and they had a long climb ahead of them and wanted to get going.

June and I waited until about 9:00 am, but the rain only intensified. At this point we said to hell with it and set out. We hiked up one more mountain that posed little challenge and then we were on the downside of the hill all the way to the West Branch of the Pleasant River. There were thunderstorms in the area and I pushed hard to get off the mountain before we got caught in one as the last thing I wanted was to get hit by lightning at 2000 feet. We descended rapidly over the next few miles through heavy rain until we hit the river.

We forded the river with our boots on and when we got to the other side I took them off and wrung my socks out. I also got rid of the rain pants which had proven to be absolutely useless when it came to keeping my lower half dry. I shook the water out of them and stuck them to the back of my pack.

I had June check her gear for dryness and I checked mine. Dry as a bone. Our careful preparation and planning was paying off. We set off hiking and a a little later we were about three or so miles from the river crossing and heading towards Gulf Hagas and walking hard to warm up.

There was a nice straight stretch of trail and we were walking pretty fast when I hit one of the wet roots and slipped. I’m still not entirely certain what happened, but I think that as I fell I caught my foot on a root and my ankle on a small stump as I went down. There was sound like a stick snapping and the rush of pain was immediate and intense.

I hit the ground and grabbed my leg and yelled, “Ohhhh shit, I broke my fucking leg!”
“What?” June asked incredulously.

I had fallen on my left side and I grabbed my leg below the knee and lifted it off the ground to take a look. My foot swung back and forth at an odd angle and at that point I knew for sure I’d broken it. brokeitI could move my toes and flex my foot up and down, but it was bent at a curious angle in relation to my leg.

I took a minute to get the pain under control and then had her help get my pack off. For some reason I had her grab the camera and take a picture of me laying on the trail with my broken leg.  (See picture.  Yes, it hurt.  A lot.)

I knew it was going to be tough getting me out of the woods and panic was a sure way to make it worse, so I moved slow and tried to think in small steps instead of trying to figure out everything that needed to happen all at once.  The problem was easier to manage by breaking it up into bite sized chunks.

June gathered the materials I requested so I could splint my leg.  First I had to straighten my foot out, which hurt quite a bit but helped when it came to splinting it.  I had a yellow felt camping towel that I wrapped around my boot and leg for padding that I left fairly loose. She gave me two sticks, which I broke off so that they reached from just below my heel to my knee. I put one on the left and and the other on the right side of my ankle against the boot, and then used some cord I had in my pack to tighten it down. I figured the sticks would help hold the foot stable and I knew I’d be needing that in the hours ahead.

After I had that in place I had June cut a piece of my sleeping mat big enough to wrap around my leg from just below my knee to the top part of my boot. I didn’t untie my boot as I’d figured that would cause my ankle to swell even more.  I wrapped the sleeping mat with a couple of bungee cords and my splint was complete.

June asked if I could make it back down the trail. By our estimation it was about three miles to the river, maybe an hour at a fast walk under those conditions. She gave me one of her hiking poles and along with my own we set out, but within a hundred yards I was totally exhausted from hopping on my right foot and using the poles to steady myself.

There was no way I could put weight on the ankle. If you’ve ever broken a bone you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

June went back and brought my pack for me and set up the tent.   As she was setting it up  a couple of hikers we’d met earlier came by –  a father/son team from Florida. The son was a through hiker and his dad had driven up to Maine to do the last 100 miles with his twenty-year old son. We talked the situation over for a bit and decided that we were doing everything right. I told them they might as well go on as June would have help back up this way in a few hours.  At that point June took off to the south to get help and the two men headed north.

Once I was alone I crawled into the tent and put my foot up on my pack and took stock of the situation with as clear a mind as I could muster. It would take June about an hour just to get back to the river, and then she’d have to find a ride to the nearest ranger station or police station as there was no cell reception whatever in this area. That could take anywhere from one to three hours, then they’d have to find me out here in the wilderness. It was currently about 2:00 pm and I was looking at least four or five hours before someone made it to me under all the right circumstances. Reluctantly, I mentally prepared myself to spend the night.

To Be Continued… Part 2 On Monday

-Jarhead Survivor

BTW: Have you ever broken a bone or been stuck in the woods like this or been in a survival situation?  You’ve got all weekend to tell your story.  Let me hear it.

Also:  I have an interview with the Ortho Surgeon – Dr. Kevin Olehnik – who put me back together again and he’s got advice on what to do in this situation.  He also talks a little about Haiti and some of the issues he’s come up against there plus some other cool stuff.  I hope to have the video edited and up next week some time.

10 comments… add one
  • Spook45 December 17, 2010, 9:36 am

    Not broken, but BENT for sure. After a few summers away where I had the oppertunity to do some basic climbing and repelling and such, I made an unwise decision to do some free climbing or bouldering as they call these days near my home. The limestone bluffs were around 60 ft hi and pretty jagged. There lots of holds and little ledges and things to hold onto, so like any good know it all teenager, I dropped my bike and proceeded UP! I was a whoping 14 years old, and fairly adventurous, to the point of stupid or what people call today ADDRENALINE JUNKIE! I had a fairly easy climb, and near the top closing a ledge where I intended to rest and plot the rest of my ascent, I pulled up close. I was mainly looking for my ext hold up on the flat ledge, but it was the end of the blind season so I was sort of checking for rattlers too. AS a rule of climbing, I made a terrible mistake, I pulled up close and got my center of gravity to close the rock. My weight was parallel to face and I started to slip at the hold, I looked down for my last and couldnt see it, what I did see was how rough and jagged the face was. I didnt want to drag down and get chewed up or worse loose contro of the fall. At the point where I new I was going to fall, I made asplit second decision, one that is not bad when you are running a two man bellet’ but free climbing, was not so good. I “Blew Off” the rock to keep from scraping down the face. I fell a straight 30′ and landed sqaurely on my feet and fell back. I severely sprained both ankles and could not stand. Nor could I walk, I felt like I was lucky, my head didnt hit anything, had I hit a rock or something at the bottom it would probly have killed me. I crawled to my bike and managed to use it to support my weight. I managed to make it home which was only about 1/4 mile but I was in excrusiating pain and I was laid up for weeks. One side seemed to heal faster than the other, so after about ten days I was up on crutches and able to hobble around. As a general rule, I have never “free climbed” again any further height than I could jump from. I have no fear of heights and I love to climb, But I dont do it without ropes if I have a choice in the matter.

    • Jarhead Survivor December 17, 2010, 10:01 am

      That sounds painful! I’ve had some close calls climbing as well, but I’m usually roped in. I’ve taken some short falls on the rope, but nothing too bad. 30′??? Man, you’re lucky you didn’t snap both ankles! It’s amazing how resilient you are when you’re young eh?

      • Spook45 December 17, 2010, 12:51 pm

        I landed on a funny shaped rock with one foot on either side so they rolled to the outside. If I had landed flat, I problu would have broken both of them and no telling how bad. It was just blind luck that I landed the way I did. 30′ sounds pretty hi, but really its not, we jump off of bridges cliffs and whatever into water(gives a lot more than DIRT) at as much as 50′ and one of my crazy friends on one occasion, jumped from the top of telephone pole on top of a train trestle. We measured it after with surveyers tapes and it was like 125′! The water was 60′ deep and he almost hit the pier on the way down. I thought he was gonna drown. I went in after him after about 45 sec and couldnt find him. Got a breath and went back down for over a minute and he surfaced at the same time I did. Blew the soles out of his tennis shoes from toe to heel, both sides were blown out all the way down. Needless to say ,he only did that ONCE!

  • Chefbear58 December 17, 2010, 9:44 pm

    I personally have been pretty lucky and not had any serious injuries while out in the woods. However I have had to “fix up” a couple folks. The worst I can think of right now was actually about 50yds away from where I was living at the time. To “set the story”, I was living in a rural part of VA in the Northern Neck, right off the Potomac River. I was working as the Chef of a restaurant in a marina/RV campground, we had a hurricane the day before, phones/power was out and there was never any cell phone reception.
    I am not sure what the events were that led up to it, except that there was A LOT of alcohol involved! Anyway, I was walking to my house from the restaurant when I heard a loud bang. At first I thought it was a low speed car accident, when I turned to look in the direction of the noise I heard a guy screaming his head off and saw a golf cart that had hit a telephone pole. The guy was drunk as hell and had been sitting on the front of the golf cart, his buddy had taken his eyes off the trail and hit the pole, trapping the guys leg between the golf cart and the pole. When I got there they had backed up the cart and he was laying on the ground in agony. Blood was everywhere and his jeans had an 8″ tear about 4″ below the right knee. I took off my Chef coat and propped up his head, pulled out my pocket knife and cut the leg off his jeans, while telling my sous Chef to go get his truck and try to call 911. The phones, as mentioned before, were out of commission, so he yelled for the marina’s mechanic to radio the Marine Police for help. The marine police responded that they were dealing with some serious issues and it would take about an hour to get someone there. While he was doing that I had assesed the situation with the guys leg. It looked like someone had peeled the skin below his knee away from the muscles, his foot was also at a very odd angle relative to the rest of his leg. I concluded that his calf bone was broken, and with the amount of blood he had possible damage to some major blood vessels. I ran back to my truck, about 30 yards away, to get my first aid kit, but it wasn’t there! So I grabbed a clean t-shirt and some para cord. Went back to the guy, about then my Sous Chef comes up with his truck, no fist aid kit either! I had him grab the new bottle of Grey Goose that he had just bought out of his truck and we sterilized our hands the best we could. I tore the t-shirt in half, pulled the skin back over the wound as best I could and had my Sous apply pressure to the wound with one half as I formed a compression bandage with the para cord and the rest of the shirt. I had a bystander grab some limbs off a nearby “standing dead” oak and a roll of duct tape to make a splint with. Told my Sous to move, poured some Goose on the wound trying to flush some of the debris from the telephone pole out of it. The guy passed out about the time I started trying to flush the wound. We managed to get the bleeding somewhat under control, because of the amount of time that help was away, I set the bone, put on the compression bandage, we splinted his leg and put an ice pack on it. We got some of the folks that were gathered around staring to help us get him into the truck (we used my Sous Chef’s truck because it had vinyl seats/floors and 4wd) and started heading towards the nearest hospital about 60mi away. My sous was driving, the guy was in the passenger seat and I was behind him checking his pulse and breathing every couple minutes. We had a couple other guys follow us in their trucks with chainsaws and ropes/chains. When we got out of the marina/campground we came across a tree blocking the road. The other guys went to town and had the road clear in about 5 minutes, so we kept going with them leading the way. Got about 3mi down the road and the river had washed over the road, it was about 2′ deep, managed to get through that without a problem and kept gettin’ it. We managed to get to the road that leads to the main route in the area in about 30 minutes, but there were a couple more trees in the way. There was a VDOT crew working to clear the road, we told them what was going on, they used the radio in one of the trucks to contact the State Troopers and directed us through somebody’s yard to get around the trees. We got off that road onto rt. 3 without much trouble, just had to dodge some debris, and came across a small car in the ditch on rt.3, so one of the trucks in our “convoy” stopped to snatch them out while we kept going. We were able to get to Tappahannock in about 45minutes after we got onto rt.3, we were on the opposite side of town from the hospital and most of the roads were flooded. It was slow going from there, it took about 30 minutes to get into downtown, when we got there the guy had stopped breathing. My Sous Chef stopped as soon as we found a dry spot, which was in a baseball field, dropped the passenger seat as far down as we could and I performed “rescue breathing” on him, got him breathing again and my Sous was on the gas the entire rest of the way! We went through one patch of road that was covered with water that came up to the middle of the doors on the truck and I thought we were screwed! We made it through by the grace of God, and managed to get to the hospital. When we got there the guy had stopped breathing again and I was in the process of dropping the seat to do “rescue breathing” again when some of the ER staff came out and took over, one of the other trucks had managed to get the State Troopers on the CB and they told the hospital we were on the way and to be ready. We stayed and got cleaned up (we were both covered in blood) while they were working on the guy. One of the Doc’s came up to us and let us know that the guy was stable, he told us the guys name and told us that if it wasn’t for our efforts the guy would have died. He also asked me write down how I made the compression bandage, the doc was a retired Army doc and said he had never seen anything like it. After the doc left a State Trooper came up and asked us what had happened, we explained everything, then he told us that the guy was wanted in connection to some seriously bad stuff that was going on in the Northern Neck. When he was released from the hospital he was taken straight to the regional jail.
    Ever since then I will not be caught dead without a first aid kit, lots of water, towels and a change of clothes in my vehicle! I also tell anyone who will listen the importance of having first aid/CPR training. I thank God every day that my folks encouraged me to become an instructor for the Red Cross in CPR/First aid for the professional rescuer, “When Help is Delayed”, Shelter Management, and Disaster Relief; As well as Boy Scouts and SAR. You never know when you will be put into a situation where your assistance can save someones life…. even if they end up being a pretty bad dude!

  • irishdutchuncle December 18, 2010, 1:17 pm

    nice save, Chefbear. we’ve always been taught to not judge books by their covers.

    going on foot may be the only way to call for help, for weeks after a disaster.

    if you’re in a spot where cell phones won’t work, most other comms won’t work either. (and good luck finding a pay phone) most radio gear, available to us mere mortals, operates “line of sight”. if there isn’t another similar radio on your side of the hill, no one can hear your signal.
    are there any outfitters near the AT that rent out satellite phones?

    • Chefbear58 December 19, 2010, 12:53 am

      Luckily the marina that owned the restaurant I was working for was home to a radio tower for the marine police. Though they couldn’t get there in time they one of the 3 law enforcement agencies you call down there (i.e. Marine Police, State Police, Game Wardens). The local LEO’s in that county are the LAST people you call for help…. long story lets just say that it is VERY corrupt and the officers are more likely to hurt you that the criminals are!

      The ability to “tap” into that super charged radio tower came in handy a couple times! One in particular, there was a kid that touched a downed power line after a less severe storm, he got zapped pretty good (3rd degree burns on hands and feet, blew his knee cap off his left leg ect.), the phones were down as usual and just as common no cell service, got the Marine Police on the horn and they dispatched a chopper. The kid made it, but it was way to close. Never know when some advanced comm’s gear will come in handy!

  • Chefbear58 December 18, 2010, 1:57 pm

    I know there used to be a small station off part off the AT here in VA that had some really powerful hand-held radios that you could use (had to leave $100 deposit), but they only let them out in the winter. I don’t know if they still do, I was told by a Park Ranger that the logic for it was that there isn’t much traffic through there in the winter, but in the summer/spring/fall there should be enough people that help isn’t to far off. This was about ’98 so they might not still do it.

  • Jarhead Survivor December 18, 2010, 2:22 pm

    Nice work Chefbear. I need to get my first aid certification up. You never know what you’re going to run into out there.

    One time I was hiking Mt. Katahdin with my wife. We were heading up the Abol trail and had been hiking for about 20 minutes or so when we came up on this guy sitting on the trail. It looked like he’d been sweating heavily, but it turns out he’d tried to commit suicide by cutting his own throat with a hack saw blade. True story!! We turned him around and headed him down the trail. I think he’d been drunk and was now sobered up and in pain. We left him with a forest ranger.

  • Chefbear58 December 19, 2010, 1:13 am

    Jarhead, you are exactly right, you never know when your training may help somebody, I bet it was interesting trying to deal with his mental state!
    The worst injury I can remember in the woods was while on a SAR operation in Shenandoah National Park, we were searching for a pair of lost hikers. The one made it back to our BOO’s shortly after we got there and got set up. The girl was real dehydrated and disoriented, she couldn’t tell us where her boyfriend was, but said that he was hurt pretty bad. We found him after a few hours by following her trail back to him. He had fallen down a small gully and had a small tree stump that a beaver cleared, stuck through his right thigh. The bush was to thick for us to call in a chopper to pick him up, but we sent a couple guys to a clearing about a mile away to grab a litter from the chopper. As they came back with it we were just finishing cutting the stump from the ground, actually had to use a tourniquet to control the bleeding. We secured the poor guy to the litter, one of the EMT’s gave him some morphine to make him a little more comfortable and we “humped” him about 6 miles out of there to a spot where the chopper could lift him out, and where we wouldn’t have to “hand over hand” climb with him to get to, and get him to the hospital. He wound up needing several pints of blood, some major surgery and a long time with the “physical terrorists”!

    The point of that little trip down memory lane is to reinforce what you said, you never know when the training will come in handy! Those two hikers were just taking a day hike around the park, had almost no supplies with them and neither had any first aid/CPR training. The one good thing they did was establish a “check in time” with another couple who were hiking a different trail, which is why we were called in. If we hadn’t got to him when we did he very easily could have died.

  • Chris December 31, 2010, 1:11 pm

    I’ve broken multiple bones before, among various other injures. I seem to be accident prone. The worst I’ve ever had in the woods is a simple ankle sprain, remedied with some pain killer,and a wrap – and I did manage to do that with boots on. XD

    As bad as breaking bones is I’d have to say muscle injuries are worse. My most recent injury was when I tore my lateral meniscus – its a ligament in your knee. It went something like ‘oh my god!…ow that hurt’ and I was fine (albeit I don’t remember anything between tripping and sitting up). I was fine until I tried to stand up and then I had to bite my tongue because I had two children with me, whom I was babysitting. :/ That didn’t end too well.


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