The Mano Trail loop hike on Feb. 17, 2019 ended with the jarring sight of a half-dozen Albuquerque Fire Department (AFD) trucks in the parking lot. At that same moment, local mountain rescue volunteers could be seen hustling up the Embudo Trail towards the mountains. At the trailhead, one fellow hiker provided limited information. Later that day, local TV stations provided reports. What follows is based on those various sources of information.
The incident began when a male hiker fell 25 feet off a boulder, breaking both legs and possibly his back. At the time the group was about two miles from the trailhead, so well within the Sandia Mountains. At least one person stayed with the victim, while at least one other person went back within cell phone range and called 911. The AFD was able to reach the victim within a half hour of being notified.
Members of the Albuquerque Mountain Rescue Council then lowered a basket stretcher to the victim and loaded him into it. A helicopter from the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office hoisted the stretcher on a cable and flew the victim to the regional trauma center, which is UNM Hospital here in Albuquerque.
If you’ve read this blog before, you know that I look at hiking-related injuries and deaths in New Mexico in order to glean useful lessons from those tragedies. Here are a few of those lessons.
Once again, we see the wisdom of not hiking alone, in places where other hikers won’t be. The Sandia foothills aren’t a bad place to hike by yourself; they get used a lot, even on a cold, blustery day. According to someone who was nearby, the victim stayed conscious and began bellowing with pain—so someone would have responded, even if the victim hadn’t been with friends. But if the victim had been hiking alone, and had been knocked unconscious, the other hikers in the area wouldn’t have known he was in trouble.
In a less traveled part of the same area, without hiking companions, we’re looking at a fatal cocktail. Under that scenario he couldn’t walk himself out, couldn’t call on his cell phone, and couldn’t be heard by anyone. His only hope would be that someone in town noticed his absence and knew where a rescue team should search. Meanwhile it was a gray, windy, snowy day in the lower Sandias, so between the injuries themselves and hypothermia, the accident probably would have been fatal.
But he did have hiking companions. And once the fall happened, the companions did at least two things right. Someone stayed with the victim. Someone else went for help. The hiker was also lucky in other ways: the fall didn’t kill him outright and the first batch of rescuers was able to reach him in less than an hour.
This incident also reinforces an impression of mine that’s been building for years. Namely, when you’re hiking in New Mexico your biggest problem isn’t attacks by bears or anything else scary-sounding, it’s falling. You can view my earlier blogs on the subject by clicking here and here. Needless to say, if you want to avoid a major cause of injuries and deaths during hikes, don’t place yourself where a fall could kill you. The best protection against falls is common sense.