Two weekends ago I was hiking with two friends in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. The route we had planned to do was Katoomba to Mt Solitary to Wentworth Falls a little over 20km and two days. Unfortunately a member of our party was bitten by a Red Back Spider late on Saturday afternoon and went into anaphylactic shock and had to be helicopter lifted out of the bush on Sunday morning.
In the past I have at times been criticised for carrying too much first aid and related emergency gear into the bush making my pack often a few kilograms heaver than others. This was the first time I have ever been in serious strife and I am so thankful for having that extra gear with me.
Going into the bush on Saturday had been the same routine as almost every other hike I have done. We started a little later than I had hoped and this cut into the amount of time we had to stop for food and photos. By late Saturday afternoon we had about 1.5 hours of track to cover in a little over an hour before we lost the light unfortunately as we made our final push towards the top of Mt Solitary we began to rapidly lose light and it was looking touch and go if we would make the camp site before sunset. At around this time one of my mates rapidly had all the colour drop from their face and became very fatigued. Unaware of any spider bite and thinking that they had exhaustion setting in we decided to turn back from the summit and go back to a camp site back up the track.
Once we arrived at the camp site we set up camp and cooked dinner as my friend had their condition worsen – they went freezing cold and at this stage we were thinking they had someone contracted a mild dose of hypothermia – nothing more than some hot food and a little bit of sleep could cure. Things worsened around 5am when I was awoken by my ill friend who was shaking and had begun vomiting – hardly a nice situation to be woken to in the dark of a tent in the middle of nowhere. Once daylight hit they also realised that they could hardly see (everything was spinning), couldn’t walk and was going downhill very fast.
It was a very tough decision deciding to call 000 and request a helicopter but I am so thankful in hindsight that I did (at the time we were still thinking that it was hypothermia). I walked a few meters up the side of the hill to get signal and called. Having to explain where you are exactly in the bush is a very hard task. First the operator kept asking me where the nearest suburb and road was so they could send an ambulance. Finally I managed to get the message across that we were in the bush over 6km as the crow flies from the nearest road and there was no way my mate could be walked or carried out.
From there it was a case of explaining exactly where in a mountain range of over 1 million square kilometers we were. I was thankful that I had a map of the track we were on and was able to explain that we were at the eastern end of the ridge between ruined castle and the knife edge (around 1km square area). At this point another group of hikers passed by with a gps and was able to give the exact location (within 200m). From there the helicopter took under an hour to find us and saw us on their second pass thanks to a genius idea from the passing hikers to use our emergency blanket as a very large flag to wave at the passing helicopter. From there my friend was airlifted to hospital and the remaining party had to carry out their gear in addition to our own. We were in such a hurry that we managed to cover 4 hours of track in a little over 1.5 hours.
The good news two weeks on is my friend has recovered well, it has taken some time for them to come completely right but in hindsight I am so glad that they are alive. In addition to this I am so glad that I had an emergency blanket with me to signal the helicopter with, maps to narrow down exactly where we were, the gps of the passing group of hikers, warm clothes to wrap around my friend to lift their core body temperature. For me I feel vindicated in carrying the extra kilo or so of weight and it also is a timely reminder of even experienced people can rapidly find themselves in trouble when things out of your control take over the situation. It is a situation I hope to never find myself in again, but has not halted my love of the bush for one second.
We were located on this ridge line here, zoom out to see how far from civilization we were:
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