The camper only wanted to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. But it was dark at Olympic National Park in Washington and the man did not realize he was near a cliff."He fell off a cliff over 60 feet into a pile of rocks," said ranger Dan Pontbriand, now the chief ranger at Isle Royale National Park in Michigan.The camper screamed for his wife to help. She climbed to the bottom of the pit and found he had two broken legs, ankles and feet. She stabilized his condition and hiked to the nearest ranger's station for help.
Along the way, the woman left notes on the trail asking others to call for help. A passer-by found the note and called 911 before she reached the ranger's station. "She did everything right to save her husband," Pontbriand said. "She was in good shape, got him in stable condition, hiked out and left a bunch of clues around."
Other outdoor adventurers aren't always so sure how to respond during an emergency. Pontbriand said too many hikers assume a cell phone or location device will save the day (not always the case). Others wander in search of help and become lost.
So how should you respond if there's an emergency outdoors? The answer depends on where you are, your surroundings and whether you're alone. Here are ways to handle several outdoor emergencies.
Head injury in a remote location
Sit in an open area and remain still to avoid raising your blood pressure. Send a partner for help. Partners should leave behind extra clothing and supplies, Pontbriand said.
If alone, hug a tree and wait for rescuers to find you. Solo exercisers are advised to tell friends or family about their plans so they can call for help if a return deadline is missed.
"Don't keep it a secret," said Alan Russell with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. "If you're going to run or walk in the park, hike in the mountains, let someone know. Say, 'I'm going to hike from 10 to noon, I expect to be back around 1, I'll check in at that time.'"
Heavy bleeding in an urban area or populated recreational trail
Enlist the help of passers-by to contact emergency authorities, Russell said.
Wearing an emergency bracelet is advised as first responders can collect basic information such as name, address, blood type and next of kin.
"Those are pretty common with cyclists," Russell said. "I've heard stories of several cyclists who were treated by ID bracelet. They get caught in loose gravel, get knocked off and a car that comes upon them knows what to do with them."
Heavy bleeding in a remote location
An injured person can try to stop the bleeding by applying direct pressure above the wound. If this does not work, the next step is to apply pressure to the artery.
A tourniquet is a last resort as it cuts off blood supply to the rest of the limb. "Everything down limb begins to die," Russell said.
Broken arm or wrist in an urban area or populated recreational trail
Do not try to realign a broken or dislocated bone. Head toward help, Russell said.
"You're going to be uncomfortable but you're going to be fine," Russell said. "It's not comfortable, it's painful, miserable. You're bordering on the edge of shock. It's a little freaky."
Sprained ankle in an urban area or populated recreational trail
Walk on your ankle and get help. Sprained ankles tend to stiffen and swell. "What the swelling does is provide external rigidity and stiffness to the joint," Russell said. "That provides you enough stability in that joint to get away."
The stiffness will be painful but can help exercisers leave the situation and get help.
If necessary, Russell said, a large stick can be used as a cane to minimize the weight placed on the ankle.
Broken bone, unable to walk for help in a remote location
Injured hikers who need to wait for rescuers are advised to secure shelter.
"You can deal without water for a couple of days, food for a couple of weeks but you cannot live without shelter," Pontbriand said. "Lying out there in the elements is not a good idea."
Shelter can mean setting up a tent or finding a covered area away from the wind or rain. If possible, shelters should be constructed in open areas so helicopter rescue teams can easily spot the missing person.
A fire can also be built to keep the injured warm and attract attention. Pontbriand said that many national parks ban fires, but this rule can be broken in the event of an emergency such as a serious injury.
While cell phones can help injured people in urban or suburban areas connect with emergency authorities, Pontbriand said many electronic devices do not function in remote areas.
He also warns adventurers not to assume that an electronic device is a type of insurance. For example, hikers should not approach a stream and try to "risk it," assuming help is a mere call away if crossing the stream becomes dangerous.
"An emergency device is not to alleviate risk; you still have to make good, clean decisions," Pontbriand said.