How I became a fiddler crab

fiddler_crab01_lIt was late in the snow season, but a forecast for mountain sun meant that our “cascade concrete” might be soft enough to ski on. My cross country ski club’s bus pulled into the Hayak ski area parking lot on Snoqualmie Pass at about 10:30 in the morning. The plan was to drop off the skiers here that wanted to do a one-way trip along the John Wayne Trail on the south side of Lake Keechelus; then move the bus to the Crystal Springs SnoPark at the east end of the lake. The one-way skiers would come to the bus there. Those who stayed on the bus could explore other trails near Crystal Springs.

I decided to stay on the bus. The lake trail was pretty level, and I like hilly skiing. Also, my diagonal stride isn’t that great. So I was still finishing up putting on my ski boots and gators when we arrived at Hayak. The boots have a partial plastic shell to better transmit my kicks to my skis, via the steel bar hidden in a recess under the toe that clips into the ski binding. Their soles are mostly smooth plastic, since they’re not intended for walking. Gators are waterproof tubes that fit around my shins, with a strap that passes under the sole of the boot. They’re to keep snow from going up my pant legs, though that didn’t seem likely to be a problem today.

Soon there were just a couple of us holdouts left on the bus. The driver closed up the luggage bay, came inside and started the engine. He tried moving forward, and he tried moving backward; but the bus seemed to quite like this parking spot and slid back into it. The driver and the trip guide got off, and I could hear shovels scraping outside.

After a few minutes, they came back in and the driver started the engine. We were still trapped. The engine was stopped, the door opened, and the two went back to shoveling. One of the remaining skiers decided not to wait any longer. He put on his backpack, got off the bus and got his skis out of the bay. I had been thinking of doing the same thing; this project could take all morning. So I got off and got my skis. The driver and the guide were shoveling sand under the rear wheels. The temperature was in the upper 30s Fahrenheit. The low sun was making the ice’s surface wet and even more slippery.  I retrieved my ski bag, pulled out the skis and tossed the bag back inside. I told them “See you down there,” and walked to the trailhead at the east end of the lot.

It was a Thursday, so there were not a lot of people around, which meant that the trail should be in good shape. And it was. The snow had been smoothed out by machine and fresh grooves cut into it for those who like to put their skis in them and just scoot along with no need to steer. The snow looked pretty chunky; it was basically roto-tilled ice. This might not be a great day to ski in the backcountry, so it was just as well that I hadn’t ridden the bus down to Crystal Springs. But on a groomed trail like this I thought I might do all right.

I laid my skis down in the snow and stepped into the bindings. But something didn’t feel right. I felt too light and had too much freedom of motion. I realized that I wasn’t wearing my backpack. It was still in the overhead rack above my seat.  So I undid my bindings and left my skis at the side of the trail. I walked back up the lot; but I didn’t see the bus. They had finally gotten it going and were on their way to Crystal Springs with my backpack!

Now I had a choice. I could ski the eight mile trail along the lake with no food, water, extra clothing or any other supplies. Or I could stay here, have a cold and boring day (and a hungry one too) and get picked up by the bus when it headed back to the city in the afternoon. I decided to ski, and to be more thoughtful next time I got off the bus. I walked back down the slight incline to the trailhead, perhaps a bit impatiently.  If I applied myself, I could probably reach the bus and get my backpack in time for a late lunch and still do some exploring.  My feet shot out from under me and I fell hard on my left side.IMG_3499

I was lying on my left hand. It had shot out instinctively to break my fall. Maybe I’d sprained something? It hurt, and the pain was not easing. Two men who’d come up behind me asked “Are you all right?”

They wanted to hear, and I wanted to tell them, “Yeah, sure.”  I told him I didn’t know. They helped me up and walked me, holding my arms, to a little building.  Here they turned me over to a ski patrolman.

He asked me if I’d broken my arm. I told him I didn’t know, but that it was hurting a lot. He told me he would call the park ranger. There was no shelter for me to wait in. It turned out that the building was just a cluster of little toilet rooms, and he and his partner were working out of the janitor’s closet. I could see the mop sink behind him. Downhill skiers have no idea what we cross country skiers have to put up with in exchange for a day of cheap or free skiing.  He started the engine of his pickup truck and let me sit in the cab to wait for the ranger.  I asked him to get my skis from the trailhead. He did, and put them in the back of the truck.

It was good to sit and get warm.  But I was going to need some help with the pain.  After a couple of minutes I went out to ask the patrolman if he could give me some pain killers. He said he didn’t have any, but the ranger would give me some.

The ranger was a capable looking young woman in the traditional uniform and cavalry style hat. She said she would call the medics. She didn’t have any painkiller; but they would.  She took down my details on a clipboard and left.

I called my wife and told her what had happened.  I didn’t know where on the mountain I might end up. But she decided to leave the class she was attending and head up from the city anyway, and work out the details later.  Meanwhile, the ranger called my guide; and he called me.  Now we were all in touch and ready for something to happen.

A red fire department van pulled up.  Two men came out of it, walked me over to the van and had me get in the back.  They explained that injured people are in particular danger of falling.  They took my information down on another clipboard.  They had no way to determine whether my arm was broken, beyond asking me where it hurt.  And they had no painkillers.  They helped me out of my jacket and strapped a cardboard splint on my arm to immobilize it.  Back I went to the “Mobile ski lodge” pickup truck.

When left my own devices, I tended to rock back and forth and moan. I guess I was full of adrenaline. But I was anxious to maintain a calm demeanor when anyone was around; and when I was with someone it hurt less.  Everybody I met on this day was concerned, calm and reassuring.  Loving, in fact.  And that helped a lot.

Soon the ranger drove me (and my skis) down to Crystal Springs in her truck. She briefed another ranger who was stationed at the entrance, so he could direct my wife to the bus when she arrived.

The bus driver gave me some ibuprofen; he helped me get into my street shoes and tied them. The guide came to the bus and gave me some codeine with Tylenol. I wondered if all these pills were going to play well together; but I felt grateful and ready to try the experiment. My wife arrived, and we gathered up my gear. Thanks to quite a few people, i didn’t lose my skis or anything else.

By half past noon we were on the highway to Group Health Hospital in Seattle. I was feeling more comfortable, but thought sadly that it was the end of the season for me. We munched on food from my backpack and her lunch, not knowing when we’d have a chance to get a meal.

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