By Stephanie DiCenso
In February of 2022, CSAR announced its first-ever blog contest, open to both backcountry search and rescue members and non-members. The contest was judged by Matt Lanning of Chaffee County SAR South, Ben Wilson of Rocky Mountain Rescue Group, and Lisa Sparhawk of CSAR. Over the coming weeks we will be posting the winning articles. The following article won third place in the mission story category for non-SAR members, and it does a good job of showing that things can happen even to prepared hikers. Stephanie wrote this story to thank her rescuers on First Responders Day.
On August 15th, I set out early to hike a local 12er, Sentinel Point, on the back side of Pikes Peak. It was a pleasant day and I found plenty of wildflowers and butterflies to photograph. The route is pretty easy to follow until right before tree line. A few cairns lead a little further north than necessary, but I hopped out toward the boundary of the boulder field to follow some trail segments that led to a better route.
Above tree line, the clouds were starting to build, so I took a break to eat a snack before turning around. Not far below tree line, when I was on the established trail again, I slipped and fell. I got back up and then tripped over my left foot. I dislocated my foot and didn’t think I could get it back in. I had cell service and called for help, giving my location and GPS coordinates to the Teller County emergency dispatch. Then I sat and waited.
I corresponded with SAR, EMS and Divide Fire for the next two hours, trying to make myself as visible as possible to the Flight for Life helicopter flying above. Divide Fire got to me first, and Teller County SAR not long afterwards. They situated me in the litter and we were on our way down the mountain. Once at Horsethief Park, they transferred me into the back of an ATV. The ride was pretty rough but keeping calm made the pain tolerable.
At the trailhead, my parents and my friend Ling, a newer member of Teller County SAR, were waiting for me. I started to cry when Ling gave me a hug. I was transferred into the back of the Teller County ambulance and taken to Memorial Hospital.
In the emergency room, after they popped my foot back in, it was discovered that I had broken my tibia and fibula. Two days later I had surgery to fix my tibia.
I started physical therapy two weeks after that. I was laid up at home for about five weeks, then slowly able to walk with crutches. I was off the crutches at six weeks. By seven and a half weeks my surgeon gave me the green light to get out of my walking boot and transition back to my shoe. Now at ten and a half weeks I can walk normally, but my ankle gets stiff when I sleep or sit. I have started back on some easier walks in the Garden of the Gods and Fox Run. Being active beforehand and having the determination has helped me recover quickly. I was not supposed to be able to walk by now. I cut out alcohol for the entire time, took extra supplements and did my home exercises.
I do tell my mom beforehand where I am going and send her the coordinates if she isn’t familiar with the hike I’m doing. I also let her know who I’m with, if not solo. I was hiking solo that day because I had a head-on car accident a few years ago that slowed me down, so when I’m with others I beat myself up mentally for not being able to hike at the level I was prior to the accident. But I don’t know if I will go solo again as I was that day.
I took a good size pack with me that day. I had all of the ten essentials; in fact, when one of the Divide firefighters started me on oxygen he had to borrow my pliers to get the oxygen bottle open. It also stormed and I was able to add layers and hand warmers to keep my body warm.
This broken hiker is glad for all the individuals who gave their time to come and help me that day.