Trail Trouble

I was in desperate need of new hiking boots.  Seriously.

Let me start at the beginning (kind of).  I’ve had the same hiking shoes for the past… um… well, since… I’m pretty sure I bought them the summer of 2003 but it was so long ago I can’t really remember.

They’ve been on many adventures and treks.  I’ve worn them on all of the highest peaks of Southern California (Mt. San Gorgonio, Mt. San Jacinto, Mt. San Antonio) as well as mountains all throughout Arizona and Colorado.  I wore them at the Santa Rosa Plateau for many years, hiking 5 miles a day.  Basically whenever I’ve gone hiking I’ve worn them. 

Except for Pikes Peak.  Since there’s often snow at the summit I’ve traditionally worn my Sorels.  They are great boots, but very, very heavy.  I usually have bruises from where they wrap around my ankle by the time I’m done hiking.  Still, they’ve been worth it because they keep my feet warm and dry (which is a serious concern of mine).

This time I didn’t want to wear the extra weight.  We were doing a day hike, there was no snow (or very little), and I wanted to go light.  I so I wore my trusty hiking shoes. 

This ended up being a really bad idea.  From the start I could tell the traction had worn off to the point where they provided no resistance against slipping.  I was slipping and sliding even while hiking uphill.  I decided to be careful and promised myself I’d invest in some quality hiking boots as soon as I got back home.  I’ve been saving up for some anyway.  Now seemed like the perfect opportunity.

We summited in record time and headed back down.  The entire way back down my shoes were slipping and sliding on the small pieces of granite littering the trail.  Numerous times I caught myself before falling.  A few times I narrowly escaped a fall by steadying myself with my hiking pole.

About half a mile after Barr Camp (mile 20 or so into our trek), I slipped and went to catch myself with my pole.  However, the pole collapsed upon itself and I went flying into the dirt.  Immediately upon impact I knew it was bad.  I picked myself up and kept walking/limping/hopping forward.  My hiking partner Tristina looked at me like she was scared I’d really injured myself, and I told her to “just keep going just keep going don’t stop”.  I may have said it a bit harshly and apologized later. 

Since I knew it was bad and we were still about 6 miles from the end of the trail I just needed to keep moving forward.  I know the proper thing to have done would have been to stop, assess the damage, clean the wound, etc. but I didn’t.  I told Tristina that’s what I should have done, and it’s what I expect the girls to do during Reach for the Peak, but in this instance I needed to keep walking.  I was seriously afraid if I stopped I wouldn’t be able to start again (lactic acid after such a hike can stop you in your tracks and I didn’t want to get stuck).

I focused on trying to suck out the small pieces of dirt and sand that had lodged themselves into my palm.  I was pretty sure I was going to have to cut the extra skin off so they wouldn’t get stuck in there when the skin grew back.  In case you were wondering, I kept slipping (due to my shoes) but I didn’t fall again. 

About a mile and a half down the trail I paused for a second, stayed standing, and took a look at the damage through the gaping hole in my brand new Colombia Trekking Pants.  Yes, it was bad.  There were 3 puncture points where I’m assuming I was impaled by granite pebbles, as well as abrasions along my knee (a full blown skinned knee).  There didn’t seem to be any rocks still under my skin, but there was quite a bit of blood.  And white blobs about ¼ inch thick I was assuming were subcutaneous layers of tissue folding near the puncture points.   I was hoping the blood would coagulate while I was walking the trail.  What was left of my pant leg was covering potential dirt/dust from the trail, so I kept it on and just lifted it up every 100 feet or so to keep it from sticking to the blood.

Yes, I was in pain, but I still had another 5 miles to go so I didn’t stop.  I also didn’t drink water.  I know what you’re thinking:  that’s stupid while you’re hiking!  You need to drink!  Yes, but I was also in a bit of shock and didn’t want to throw up (that’s what happens when you give shock victims water:  it comes back up).  Interestingly enough, I wasn’t craving water anyway. 

We made really good time the last few miles, despite my injury.  We were even passing people on the trail.  We reached the trailhead and I took off the lower part of my pant leg (they zipped off below the knee).  Yes, there was a lot of blood but it looked like it’d stopped bleeding.  A couple of people noticed and asked if I needed help, to which I replied no.  I had this.  I just needed to get home and clean it up.  I was pretty sure I’d need a couple of stitches.  

We got in the car and began the slow drive back home.  It was a Saturday afternoon and we were driving through Manitou Springs.  Basically what I’m saying is it took about 30 minutes to go 3 miles. 

As we neared the freeway I made the mistake of looking down at my knee.  It hadn’t looked too bad while I was standing, but when I sat it must have opened up the wound(s), because now it was bleeding.  Not normal bleeding where dark red blood runs down in like a teardrop, but thick, contained, bright red blobs of oozing blood contained around the puncture site.  Wonderful.  That meant the punctures were deep.  It also threw me into a deeper state of shock.  I actually felt like I was going to throw up and had to move over to the side of the freeway to steady myself and breathe deeply for a few seconds.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m ok with the sight of blood.  What set me off was thinking of a doctor putting a needle into the wound to numb it before giving me stitches.  That I couldn’t handle.  I have a pretty creative imagination, and it went in circles from there. 

I told myself to “cut it out” and formed a plan.  I needed to get home and clean the wound before I could make any judgments about treatment.  I was able to walk wasn’t I?  And I was driving.  I knew nothing was sprained/broken.  I drove home slower than I should have, but knowing I was in shock I wanted to be extra careful and didn’t want to cause an accident.  55mph in a 60mph zone isn’t my normal routine, but I was being cautious. 

Yes, I hit every red light, and no, I didn’t plan it that way.

I pulled into the driveway and slowly crawled out of the truck.  I’d come up with a “plan” on the drive home I was hoping would have some success:  My neighbor is a Green Beret.  A medic to be exact.  Maybe he had some of that super glue stitching stuff they use for wounds on the battlefield.  It was worth a try, so I limped over to his house.  He wasn’t home.  Drat.

On my way back down the driveway Rebecca drove up, saw me limping (and the blood), and her eyes got wide.  I just walked inside.  She asked me how it happened and I said I slipped on the trail.  She asked me if it was because of the shoes.  Apparently she’d had the same issue on the hike last week (yes, we share shoes).  She’d been slipping all over the place as well.  That gave me somewhat of a better feeling.  I was legitimately able to blame it on the shoes and their lack of traction and not my hiking abilities.  Rebecca had independently confirmed the fact the traction on them was terrible. 

However that didn’t solve the problem.  I needed to clean the wound, and I figured the easiest way to do so would be with a bath. I’ll spare you the details, but 45 minutes later the wounds were clean and I could see the damage.  Indeed I had 3 puncture wounds, but only one needed stitches, and only one or two at that.  Due to the skin fold caused at the puncture site I was pretty sure stitches wouldn’t help much and the skin would probably need to be cut which would make stitches impossible (I was going to have a fun scar either way), so I resolved to just treat it myself. 

I bandaged it up, took some pain killers with a beer, and went about the rest of my day cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry before falling into bed early. 

The next day I went about my usual routine.  Yes, I went to the gym and ran 6 miles.  Well, I ran 5, tried to get on the bike, was unsuccessfully able to move my knee in the manner necessary to pedal, and ran another mile to make up for it.  You see, my knee was fine in the walking position, but not so much in the bent position riding a bike requires.

I talked with my yoga instructor, and she agreed I could go to class as long as I did some modifications.  I was seriously surprised with how well I did… it may have been the Vicodin.  

Side note:  I still have most of the Vicodin prescribed to me by my doctor from all 3 of the c-sections I’ve had.  I don’t want to become addicted to medications, so I just took the minimum necessary to get me through the pain, then I stored the rest.  Yes, 17+ years later the medication still works.  Don’t let anyone tell you medication like Vicodin “goes bad”.  It doesn’t.  They just want to get you to buy it again (or throw it away so it doesn’t get into the wrong hands). 

OK, I know you’re probably thinking “why don’t you just rest?” 

I need my knee to heal, but I need it to heal in the way I’m used to using it.  If I just sit around all day I’ll go insane for one, but my knee will heal stiff and I’ll have to “work it in” again.  Notice I’m not completely crazy:  I wasn’t able to exercise on the bike and I stopped.  I’m not going to make my body do anything it can’t, but I’m not going to let something like this stop me from being active.  Remember, it’s not sprained or broken…

Anyway, I went out and bought new hiking boots.  There’s no way I’m going to let myself get into such a situation again.  I truly believe the shoes caused the problem, and knowing the cause meant I needed to fix the problem.  Salomons were highly recommended by several thru hikers, and one even told me he stood in ankle deep water in them for some time and came away with dry feet (they are waterproof). So now I’m wearing them everywhere to break them in before hiking again next week. 

BTW, my knee and other various cuts and bruises from the fall are healing fabulously.   It’s actually kind of fascinating watching the body heal so quickly, as well as the various stages of healing (but that’s another post for another time).  Yes, if I end up getting an infection I’ll go in to see a doctor. 

A close up view… still bleeding/weeping, but healing nicely

OK, let the comments commence…

Author: Laura M Clark

Laura has summited over 500 peaks above 13,000' solo, including being the first woman to solo summit all of the Colorado 14ers, as well as the centennials. After each hike, she writes trip reports for each one and publishes them on her blog, which is read by fans all over the world. Author of Wild Wanderer: Summiting Colorado’s 200 Highest Peaks, which is available to purchase on Amazon.

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