This is not an easy blog to write.
Do I start with the 18 Friends of the Smokies hikers who climbed to Ramsay Cascades in Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Or do I start with the man who collapsed on his way to the falls and is now in a hospital? I can’t ignore either.
Yesterday, I led the monthly hike for Friends of the Smokies. We gathered at the Ramsey Cascades trailhead in the Greenbrier section of the park. Twenty hikers, including Brent of Americorps and me, were pretty excited because the Ramsey Cascade trail had just reopened after major maintenance. A bridge across Ramsey Prong had been replaced and several other large blowdowns were cleared.
The first 1.5 miles were on an old road. At the roundabout, we took a snack break.
Then the real climbing started. We crossed the first bridge, which is probably the bridge that the park replaced.
This area was never logged because of its remoteness so we can still admire the large trees. The picture on top shows a few hikers between two tulip trees.
I was in the front, though I encouraged faster hikers to pass me. No one took me up on it. I got up to Ramsey Cascades and found a place to have lunch. Our group continued to dribble in. Several other people were enjoying the sun and great view of the cascades.
I wasn’t settled in for five minutes when a young woman searched me out.
“Are you Danny?” she asked. “One of your people collapsed on the trail, Brent is with him now.”
I stuffed my lunch back in my pack and got ready to go down. I left the rest of the group with two strong, experienced hikers, Randy and Steve.
“Everyone else that still comes up needs to see these beautiful cascades,” I told them. “I will ask the last person to let you know that the whole group is here. Please give them 15 minutes to have lunch and enjoy this spot.”
And then I started down the trail. I’d like to say that “I flew down the trail”, but I was careful not to trip and add to the problem.
About a quarter-mile down the trail, Brent and a group of young people from Winshape Wilderness were around Marc L., who was unconscious. In their own way, each was performing their job in textbook fashion, the way I learned it in Wilderness First Aid. One was monitoring Marc’s breathing and pulse. A second comforted him and encouraged him to breathe. A third person wrote down all the information about his vital signs while another had climbed up on a rock to get a cell phone signal.
A few in our group were still going up and I encouraged them to walk up.
“You’re almost up there,” I said. “Marc is in good hands.” I also helped “direct traffic” and not have people hover over the first aiders. But mostly I stood back and waited for the whole group to come down.
“Do you want someone to stay back with you?” I asked Brent. “No,’ he said. “I’m fine with these other people. You go down.”
I took everyone down, with a leader in front and sweep at the back. As I learned in Wilderness First Aid, you have to take care of the other people in the group as well. When we reached a flat spot, I thanked everyone for their cooperation and assured them that Marc was getting the best care.
As we continued down, two serious hikers with huge yellow backpacks crossed us. “Are you the EMTs?” I asked. “Yes,” one said without breaking stride. These Smokies rescuers weren’t going to waste time talking to hikers. A second pair went up.
We stopped at the roundabout again for a drink and break. Then we crossed about ten other EMTs around a litter set on a wheelbarrow. They seemed a little more relaxed and I told the leader what I knew about the rescue.
Sarah Weeks from Friends of the Smokies had been waiting for us in the parking lot for an hour and a half. She talked a little about Friends and their contribution to the park. I reminded the group about next month’s hike, June 10, and the one after that. I hope to see everyone.
We wish Marc a speedy recovery and hope to see him on the trail again real soon.
For completeness sake, here’s what the Smokies Public Affairs office sent out:
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Rangers responded to an unconscious hiker who collapsed along the Ramsey Cascades Trail at approximately 12:40 p.m. about 3.8 miles from the trailhead. Mark Lehmahn, age 58, of Waynesville, NC fell while hiking with a group to Ramsey Cascades.
Bystanders provided initial rescue breathing until Lehmahn began breathing on his own. Rangers, including paramedics and EMTs, arrived on scene at approximately 3:30 p.m. and prepared Lehmahn to be transported by helicopter by securing him in a rescue litter.
Tennessee Highway Patrol have responded and are conducting the helicopter rescue with assistance from Park Rangers using a hoist from the Ramsey Cascades falls area as weather permits.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Rangers and the Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) successfully completed the rescue operation. The THP helicopter transported hiker Mark Lehmahn from Ramsey Cascades Trail at approximately 5:30 p.m. to the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport in Sevierville, TN where the patient was transported via ambulance to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville, TN.