A Slip on Mt. Cook Turns to Medical Intervention
43.5950° S°N, 170.1418° E°E
Posted on November 1, 2022 by Sharon
Our destination was Mueller Hut for an overnight stay, possibly including Mt Olivier, in the Sealy Mountain Range above Mt Cook Village and then the return trip.
From the Whitehorse Camp carpark, we climbed for 2 hours up to the Sealy Tarns with increasingly more expansive views out to the mountains and the glacial lakes. The low cloud from the early morning had completely peeled back as we had lunch there. Magnificent views.
Another 2 hours of climbing and we popped up off the last section of steep scree onto the saddle of the track. We headed off, curving away from the saddle for a while, then moved to stand slightly above the track to take in the new vista. Nice flat rock, but as I was lifting my second boot it rocked. I clipped the rock with the toe of my boot and couldn’t regain my balance with my pack on my back.
I skewered my leg on the top of a razor-sharp rock below the knee and just above my gaiter right through my hiking trousers. The result was a gaping, deep V shaped laceration which was bleeding quite heavily and abrasion to the outside of my leg above knee. My husband went back to the saddle for better reception to activate the locator beacon and contact emergency services.
Fortunately, we were carrying all the necessary first aid supplies, so we were able to apply pressure, use Celox to stem the bleeding and pull the gaping wound semi closed with butterfly sutures before the helicopter pilot arrived to do his recce and the medic was dropped to check the damage to my leg and medicate me.
The helicopter went to fetch more Search and Rescue members who arrived with a stretcher to get me over the rough terrain back to the helicopter on the saddle. My husband and I together with our packs were flown down to the helicopter pad at Mt Cook Village where the Westpac helicopter and crew were waiting.
Shane, the paramedic, examined the wound and prescribed a second helicopter ride to Christchurch Hospital for treatment. I was loaded into the helicopter and Stu, the pilot, took us off over and up the Tasman Glacier and the mountains through to Christchurch Hospital while my husband with the help of the DOC (Dept. of Conservation) staff was reunited with all our gear and the car to start the long drive through to Christchurch.
The staff at Accident & Emergency in Christchurch Hospital were wonderful despite being severely stretched by lots of Covid 19 admissions, long queues of patients and a lack of bed space. Shane the paramedic, bless him, had done all the form filling during the ride and took me straight from the helicopter to the acute ward of A and E. No queuing necessary. I was released from hospital the following day, all patched up, with my new best friends, a pair of crutches and medication. The prognosis of a minimum of 8 months rehab and a maximum of 80% mobility.
Two weeks later, I required further treatment at Accident & Emergency at Nelson Hospital. The wound had split open, was slightly infected and was not healing. I left as a very grateful recipient of the medical knowledge and surgical skills of the senior doctor who worked his magic on my wound.
Over 7 months after I injured myself, with the help of a wonderful physiotherapist, I am happy to report that I have 100% mobility in the range of movement but I am still working hard on the strength and endurance of my leg and knee so I can bike, climb and hike again safely with a pack on my back again this summer. Mueller Hut is still on my bucket list.
Words of wisdom
I would recommend carrying a packet of Celox or similar and several packets of butterfly sutures in your first aid kit. Neither of them weighs much and nor are they bulky.
We had a packet of Celox which was opened and used on the wound to control the bleeding. It worked a treat.
We also had 2 sizes of butterfly sutures. The bigger ones were really useful around the apex of the V shaped laceration to pull all the bits together and hold them while we butterflied up some of the other bits. I can also recommend bike gloves which I use with my walking poles for applying pressure to a bleeding wound. Mine did a great job of soaking up blood to enable us to get the butterfly sutures on while we waited for the helicopter.
Watch your step! Expect the unexpected!
Thank you note
I am very grateful to our good friends Mike and Stephanie Berry for the foresight of having the locator beacon which enabled Search and Rescue to locate us (despite the signal bouncing around a bit) after determining that I needed help to get down off the Sealy Mountain Range.
Very special thanks to the members of the Search and Rescue Team based at Mt Cook Village and the very skillful pilot of the Alpine Helicopter who located us and did 2 trips to the saddle of the Mueller Hut Track in the Sealy Ranges to evaluate my injury, medicate me and stretcher me from where I had injured myself to the helicopter then transport me down to the Mt Cook Village helipad.
Another very special thank you is owed to Shane, the paramedic, and Stu, the pilot of the Westpac Rescue helicopter, who were waiting at the Mt Cook Village helipad to assess my injuries and to subsequently fly me via the most amazingly scenic route up over the Tasman Glacier and mountains to Christchurch Hospital. As well as giving me a running commentary on the terrain we were flying over, Shane completed all the form filling and took me straight from the helicopter to the acute ward of the Accident & Emergency Dept. A blessing indeed given the long queues of patients.
A very big thank you to Ingrid from the Dept. of Conservation office at Mt Cook who also met us at the helipad, helped my husband to gather all our hiking gear and drove him to pick up our car so he could start the long drive to Christchurch. He was extremely grateful for her help.
I would like to praise and thank the ED Staff at Christchurch Hospital for their warm, calm, caring professionalism in the face of huge demand for medical attention, a significant proportion of which was Covid 19 related. The Head of ED, not a young man, worked on me well after his shift was over and even physically went to find an orthopedic specialist to look at my leg because he could not get any response by phone. Extraordinary.
When the wound did not heal, I was the very grateful recipient of the medical knowledge and surgical skills of the senior doctor at Nelson Hospital Emergency Department to whom I owe a big thank you.
Another heartfelt thank you to the physiotherapist who is helping me to rehabilitate my leg with better results than were predicted to be achievable.
And finally, I want to thank my husband John very much for his wonderful caring support at the time of the accident and since. He took charge of facilitating the notification of my predicament to emergency services, setting off the locator beacon, helping me find supplies and apply first aid to the wound and supporting me through the whole long process of treatment and rehabilitation.
Mt. Cook, New Zealand
Local Search and Rescue
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