19 June 2008

Incident at Wood Creek

*** The following is a thank you letter sent to Sequoia / Kings Canyon Search and Rescue on my Behalf. Details to follow this letter***

Dear Debbie Brenchley,

I'm writing with a heart of gratitude for Kathy's, your pilot's and your diligent work to respond to my emergency back country accident. I realize that a great expense was occurred and you all were working in a risky situation to help me.

As I stood shivering at the bottom of a ten foot punch bowl surging with water, I was scared. I was glad Greg activated his emergency GPS beacon. My friends tried to help me get out for over one and one-half hour. The cold water I stood in was effecting hypothermic conditions in me. Knowing that some help would respond to Greg's beacon helped me maintain a hopeful mental attitude.

I am now clearly more aware of how a playful moment in water can cascade into a life-threatening situation in seconds. I will diligently be a more cautious and safer back country traveller hence froth.

Again I thank you and your supporting staff and all search and rescue. You all are , in the language of long-distance hiking communities, true 'trail angels.'

Casey Burnett

*** Now to hear the Rest of the Story***

On a hot day, I saw some fast flowing shallow water moving along Wood Creek, a mere twenty feet from the trail. (for those familar this is about 1 - 1.5 miles north of the suspension bridge)   Knowing that dangerous falls were just a few 100 feet down stream, I carefully laid down a the edge of the water in 1 or 2 inches cooling myself off. I asked NOIA to make a video clip of me sliding maybe a foot or two on the edge. What I failed to realize was the power of physics.

In an instant of movement, I was floated not just down the edge but also into the center of surging water (6-10 inches). Three seconds of terror followed as I screamed NO! NO! NO! etc 100 yards of uncontrollable circumstances before I said Okay, "feet down stream and cover my head". This granite water slide I had been shooting along had no end in my minds eye. BOOM! I hit a down tree which saved me from falling any further.

Now standing on the edge of a punch bowl which I had dropped ten feet into, I was trapped with a ten foot rock shelf over me and 4 feet of funnelled forced water at my feet falling further down the mountain side. Noia and SW. quick tried to throw me a rope across these 4 feet. Only the rope and stick were pulled into the current and lost. I attempted to climb the tree which had stopped me and leaned part way up the rock shelf over me, but my bare feet hurt to much and the rock I'd have to traverse was smooth and without much hand hold options.

I realized as I stood shivering I was starting to experience Hypothermia. I stripped my wet shirt and shouted the news to NOIA and SW. Now I was scared again. How did I survive the slide? Now with my feet standing in snow melt and trapped, uncertainity reigned supreme as my mind raced for ideas and my heart attempted to remain calm. I shouted for food. Time was slow and fast simultaneously. Noia sang and danced across from me helping me bounce, move, warm a bit and smile. Realizing the miracouls part 1. to this event, I survived 100yds of uncontrollable free fall, I sang to myself a new song. "I am alive, I am alive, I am alive."

SW. found a way to stand above me and lowered me food and my rain gear and shoes. Dressed I felt warmer. Eating was a chore as my chattering jaw hurt from use and the stress I was bitting back. My conscience had been drifting but learning that NOIA has used his GPS 911 helped hold to hope.

I thought my with my shoes I would be more secure on the log and maybe have some traction on the glacier smoothed granite above me. SW. had brought my ice axe's sling to use as a move able handhold. I gingerly tried to loose my hands death grip from the log (I had been holding too for emotional security and comfort) and wiggled my fingers. Then I tried climbing the log once again. At the top the transition to rock was worrisome. A fall may put me in the center of the water cascade further down hill. SW. stabilized himself and extended the sling. I felt my shoes grip on the rock (i'm very grateful I like multiple adventure sports, having a few years experience of technical rock climbing, I think helped immensely). I stood on the first small shelf, hand in sling. My free hand searched for an additional hand grip. Found, SW. moved the sling and I made two more moves and was out.

I stumbled from the rocks edge and collapsed into my seat and began crying. SW.'s comfort and support at that moment rubbing my shoulder and recognizing the grace of this experience was uplifting from the drowning of other emotions (fear, fear, fear, sadness, guilt, etc.) that erupted in the safer environment.

SW. and I joined NOIA via a down tree 200 yards up from my temporary prison and 100 yards up from the three second slide. Noia and I hugged. Celebration. We sat down, exhausted and took a long lunch after this 1.5 hour unplanned experience. Noia sent several OKAYs with his GPS beacon.

Later that night Search and Rescue arrived. Apparently the device is so new, Noia and S&R didn't know how to cancel the 911 correctly. The three of us gave our report. Hopefully I won't get at $3000 bill for the backcountry response call. Kathy and Deb seemed to think the incident was a legitimate call for action, but others would need to review.

I fell without "dashing my foot against a stone" only a minor scratch on my leg and knuckles marked my body. This playful moment in water is a lesson in the danger and magisty of nature's power. My accident could have been easily filled with injury or even fatal.

My heart was heavy with this trauma for some time. More on this later.

Thank you all for your prayer of safety.

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