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Mt. Moriah – When Things Go Wrong

On December 28th 2015, I hit the road with plans to hike Mt. Moriah for #47 in my quest to hike all of New Hampshire’s 48 peaks over 4000 feet. Gung-ho and amped up I got my pack and clothing ready the night before. The forecast was finally getting wintery and looked to be around 10F degrees all day long with a chance of snow. As with most of my hiking endeavors I’d be making this trip alone.

Getting There

Excited for a day of winter hiking!

Excited for a day of winter hiking!

I got a late start due to some family obligations in the morning and arrived at the trail head by 11AM on the dot. I quickly packed up my gear and headed up the Carter-Moriah trail into the wilderness.

Carter-Moriah Trail

Carter-Moriah trail head

Carter-Moriah trail head

The trail started out very gradual and dry, it looked more like a mid-fall day than a winter day despite the frigid cold temperatures. I was setting a good pace and looked forward to gaining some altitude to get into the wintery goodness I knew lay ahead.

First signs of winter

First signs of winter

As I gained elevation the trail began to get icy… I mean REALLY icy. A couple days before this area had substantial rain and warm temperatures, which quickly dropped into the freezing zone. This was a recipe for thick, slick, wet ice. Some sections looked like a cascade waterfall instantly froze over. All of the trees where encased in a layer of glasslike ice that was really beautiful.

Ice, Ice, and More Ice

First views from Carter-Moriah Ledges First views from Carter-Moriah Ledges

I by mile 3 I decided to strap on my MicroSpikes for added traction. The ice was a mixture of slush, hard ice, and water making it difficult to walk in.

The Slabs

The Slabs

Thin black ice forming on exposed granite

Thin black ice forming on exposed granite

As I climbed higher the trail crossed over steep exposed slabs covered in a thin slick layer of wet ice. This made for a tricky bit of scrambling, clinging to trees and trying to find the dry patches of rock for traction. I saw a group of other hikers turn back here as it was just too difficult without the aid of traction devices.

Spikes on for the rest of the way

Spikes on for the rest of the way

Once past the slabs the trail went back to a gradual slope covered in ice and snow, Nearing the top of Mt. Moriah the ice thickened again and a long steep section came into view. I made my way up this slick section, stomping my feet into the wet ice hoping my spikes would stick. I was cursing myself for not packing my full crampons which would have made a cakewalk of this stuff.

Thick Ice near the summit

Thick Ice near the summit

More ice of course.

More ice of course.

The Summit!

The exposed summit of Mt. Moriah 4,049 Feet

The exposed summit of Mt. Moriah 4,049 Feet

Soon after I reached the top of Mt. Moriah. This made #47 in my quest to hike all of New Hampshire’s 48 peaks above 4000 feet. Only one left!

All frosty smiles on the Summit! Amazing views on a clear day.

All frosty smiles on the Summit! Amazing views on a clear day.

I spent some time to admire the incredible views from the top. It was a clear day with moderate winds, and a high overcast. The presidential range was sharply in view along with the Carter range. Everything frosty and encased in a thin rime ice. Another unforgettable view in the whites!

The Carters and Washington

The Carters and Washington

Panoramic view from the top

Panoramic view from the top

The Descent

Back down the ice covered trail

Back down the ice covered trail

I was feeling strong and confident at this point. So far this day has been relatively easy despite some interesting ice to deal with. I trucked on, moving at a brisk pace down the trail.

Gaining confident footing on the way down was far more difficult than it was going up. Against my better judgement I continued to move fast, often sliding down sections of snow and ice like I was skiing.

That’s When It Happened

My right foot’s MicroSpike lost traction and my lower leg slid out from beneath me. I heard a loud popping sound and excruciating pain shot up my leg. I collapsed to the ground and slid down into some trees.

The scene of the crime.

The scene of the crime.

 

I laid there for a moment thinking “Did that really just happen? I’m OK right?”. So I tried to stand up… and again collapsed to the ground in mind numbing pain. That’s when it all set in… I’m seriously hurt and I’m alone 4.5 miles and 3,100 feet in elevation up a mountain. If that wasn’t enough to instill panic, it’s a Monday afternoon and the trails are empty, no one was here to help me.

I stared down at my SPOT Satellite Messenger “SOS” button and thought “I can’t press this… this isn’t a life or death situation right?”.

I sat there pissed off at myself yelling at my own leg for failing me for about 10 minutes. I began to get cold from sitting on the ground and not generating any heat from hiking. So, I collected my thoughts, added my emergency layers and gloves,  and tried to come up with a game plan for getting myself back to my car.

How Bad is it?

First, I rolled up my pants to inspect the injury. My knee was swollen like a water balloon and warm to the touch. I took my neck gaiter out of my pack and pulled it up over my knee like a compression sleeve. I snapped some short twigs off of a near by tree and slid them in around the neck gaiter like splints. Then I tied a length of 550 paracord around the whole thing to try to stabilize and splint it. This helped a little… but not much.

Getting Out

The black dot on the track represents the approximate location of where I hurt myself

The black dot on the track represents the approximate location of where I hurt myself

Trekking poles would have been great to have in this situation, but of course I stopped carrying them years ago in an effort to shave weight and move faster. DOH! Instead, I found a downed tree with some long limbs, snapped one off and made a makeshift crutch. This worked as good as it could and helped me get back on my feet again.

It’s amazing how the perception of distance changes after you’re injured. 4.5 miles with good knees would be an easy jaunt for me. However, with an injury 4.5 miles might as well have been 20.

I started hobbling down the trail with the mindset of “one foot in front of the other”. It was hard not to stare down at my GPS watch and notice the distance barely moving. Every step was painful.

When I came across the first section of steep icy slab I stood and pondered for about 5 minutes how I would get down this without further hurting myself. I decided to slide down the rock on my butt and try to control the slide with the crutch I had made. This worked, but after 3 or 4 slides my pants had ripped open from being grated across the hard granite and I felt my back side starting to bruise.

My soft shell pants after being grated down Mt. Moriah's slabs.

My soft shell pants after being grated down Mt. Moriah’s slabs.

It was a relief to get past the “hard part” near the top. But I still had a good distance to go. I was setting a very slow pace of over an hour per mile. I still managed to stop as the sun went down to enjoy one final view from the ledges and take a picture.

The Final Stretch

The final mile of trail was done in complete darkness by headlamp (glad I brought it!). I could see the lights from civilization through the trees, it was a welcome sight! I hobbled my way down the final slopes and saw my car… finally, my beautiful car!

Contemplation

The 3 hour ride home was a mixture of emotions. Happy that I made the summit of Moriah for #47, Angry at myself for moving too fast leading to an injury, and Sad that I had a potential long term injury that would keep me from doing what I love.

What I Learned

My beat up MicroSpikes could have used replacing or sharpening... who know's if this would avoided my incident.

My beat up MicroSpikes could have used replacing or sharpening… who know’s if this would avoided my incident.

All in all, it was a humbling experience. I became overly confident, moved too fast, and hurt myself. It’s easy to take these mountains for granted when you spend enough time in them. In the winter months minor injuries like this can lead to big problems. Proper planning, equipment, and clothing can really save your ass. Having my SPOT satellite device kept me from totally freaking out… knowing I had a backup plan if all else fails. It 100% earned its weight this time.

I’m glad I was able to hold myself together in a potentially dangerous situation but I wish it never happened in the first place.  I hope this story resonates with other solo hikers and climbers like myself. Accidents happen, so tell your family/friends where you’re going. Carry extra layers, food, water, and first aid. And have a means of communication be it cell phone, Satellite messenger, or PLB.

What’s Next?

My MRI

My MRI

With one mountain left to hit my 48th 4000 footer goal I can’t stop now. I saw an orthopedic specialist and had an MRI which seemed to indicate a stress fracture in my knee cap, and some cartilage damage. I’ll be getting a second opinion soon. Needless to say I need to give the ole’ knee a break from my running and hiking lifestyle. But in no way is this the end, I’ll be back sooner than later and more cautious about my foot placement than ever! I just hope I don’t miss out on the rest of this winter season!

16 Comments

  • Heather Wyman

    January 19, 2016 at 5:16 pm

    I managed to have a posthole scar tissue tear that caused my knee to blow up like a purple balloon coming down from Garfield a lonnng time ago. Prior ACL patella tendon surgery (high school ski accident) left a huge scar that tore and filled my knee with fluid. :(- That is pretty scary stuff you went through. The Bonds were my last ones on my 48. What is yours?

    Reply
    • Dave Dillon

      January 19, 2016 at 5:31 pm

      Oof! that sounds painful, are you healed up now?

      Isolation is my #48… not the best one to do with a bum knee since I wanted to go over Glen Boulder for it. Starting to wish I saved Waumbek for last!

      Reply
  • Irene Bowman

    January 19, 2016 at 1:05 pm

    I caught my foot in a root and twisted my knee backwards. We were also trying to rush around a group of cautious hikers. Thankfully I carry knee braces with me Always! It was an excruiating final mile coming off of Caps Ridge. Its helpful to try and stay mindful that you need to get out of the woods. The cautious hikers who saw me get hurt were waiting in the parking lot and cheered me out. I am definately more cautious now. Was out for about 5 or 6 months, but back at it now. See ya out there soon!

    Reply
  • Nicole

    January 19, 2016 at 2:23 am

    Great story and thanks for sharing your experience. You were very lucky as to the extent of injuries and that you were able to work your way down the mountain. I am glad that you made it out safe. So true in letting people know where you are going and when you should be back. Remember to hike safe! But on another note I was trail running last summer not far from home and blew my ankle out on the trail. It is amazing what your body and mind will do to get you out and back home. I hope you are on the mends and get back out there soon. Take care.

    Reply
  • Kirsty

    January 19, 2016 at 12:56 am

    wow….first, so brave of you to bare yourself this way…not everyone can look at their mistakes so openly. Second, a really great read. Third, incredible, amazing pictures. And lastly, I’m glad you made it down, but so sorry it was on #47. I can’t help but think that it will make number 48 all the sweeter when you summit it.

    Healing thoughts, and hiking dreaming…

    Kirsty

    Reply
    • Dave Dillon

      January 19, 2016 at 3:15 am

      Thanks Kirsty! No shame here… it was an accident and those happen. I’m glad I can share my story with others. I’m sure isolation will be sweet when I finally get there! Thanks for the kind words.

      Reply
  • Rich

    January 18, 2016 at 11:50 pm

    I wish you had hit the SOS button – I am not 100% confident the SPOT will actually work sometimes! It would be great to hear a first hand account (a successful one) – I broke a femur not too far off the road, I tell you – there was no chance in hell, under any circumstance that I could move. The pain was so blackout excruciating – so that SPOT and this reminder are good for people to see. I didn’t have one then, but I do now. And i love to leave it in the car like a big dope.

    Reply
    • Dave Dillon

      January 19, 2016 at 3:18 am

      Broken femur? Oof! Hope recovery is going well. I trust my spot enough to carry it. I do think its a fighting chance in a dire situation. My cell phone is extremely unreliable in the mountains. Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
  • Patricia Watson

    January 18, 2016 at 10:04 pm

    Dave, I am so sorry to hear about your accident. I’m glad you were able to make it down OK. An amazing story. You do such a great job documenting your hikes. Don’t beat yourself up. It’s easy to be critical after the fact. I wouldn’t have thought to bring crampons to Moriah either. I was laughing at a bunch of kids from MIT that were wearing them last weekend on the Oseola’s. I had mine but didn’t want to bother to put them on at the chimney. One of them bought short section of rope which they graciously let me use to get up. I met this guy who was trailrunning in summer trailrunning shoes. He made it up in 2 hours. I thought he was lucky to make it down in one piece with all the ice. Insane! Best wishes for a speedy recovery. You will be back at it soon. Patty Watson

    Reply
  • Sandy

    January 18, 2016 at 10:02 pm

    I am sorry this happened to you.. I am one with many knee injuries so I tend to be very careful. I know how quickly things can change. I am glad you wrote this story and hope many have read it, I think once we get comfortable with things we tend to get careless and your experience it a good example. I also hike the Whites and belong to the Facebook 4000′ hiking/climbing page and recently I asked about a trail, to get others input. One commented that "it looks like you don’t have the White Mountain Guide book", I replied back that I do have it and read it often but what I was looking for was input from others. I think it is good to stay connected and because of this page you can learn a lot from others experiences.. just as I have from yours. I hope your knee is healing and wonder if you have hikes your 48th peak yet?
    Best to you,
    Sandy (Sandra Dee)

    Reply
    • Dave Dillon

      January 19, 2016 at 3:25 am

      Thanks for stopping by Sandy! Unfortunately this incident is still pretty fresh at only 3ish weeks ago. I still haven’t bagged isolation but I get stronger with every passing day and hope to be back on the trails soon!

      Reply

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