Safety Stories: Mount Tebo – We Were Hopeful It Was Only a Bad Sprain

Leader: "I think she put her left foot on a limb/twig that was oriented up/down slope, and this is what caused her to slip.... It is quite a feat that she was able to travel that terrain with a broken fibula."
David Shema David Shema
Safety Committee Member
December 14, 2020

As Mountaineers, we are committed to learning from our experiences. We examine every incident that happens on a Mountaineers trip for opportunities to improve the ways we explore and teach. Our volunteer safety committee reviews every incident report and picks a few each month to share as examples of ‘Lessons Learned’. The trip report below describes what happened on this trip, in the leader’s own words, and outlines the lessons the leader has identified. In some cases, we offer additional key learnings from the incident.

Sharing incidents creates an opportunity to analyze specific incidents and also identify larger incident trends. We appreciate every volunteer trip leader who takes the time to share their incidents and near-misses so that others can benefit. We ask that readers engage critically and respectfully in the spirit of sharing and learning.

Mount Tebo, Olympics – 20 July

FROM THE INCIDENT DATABASE: LEADER INCIDENT REPORT

LEADER

Summary: A party member on my Mt. Tebo scramble suffered a double fracture of her left fibula, but was able to self-evacuate. Below are some of the details, mostly in a “timeline” format.

We parked at the intersection of FS200 and a spur road at an elevation of 2600 feet. At the time I led this scramble last year, this spur road was abandoned. It has since been regraded and is passable to passenger vehicles. This proved very useful in evacuating the injured party. 

It was raining lightly at the start of the scramble, and it rained steadily until about 1 or 2pm, after which we had intermittent showers. The weather was definitely a factor in the incident. My rationale for going despite the weather was that the first time I scrambled Mt. Tebo it was also wet. Of course, in retrospect, knowing how steep the climbing is in the forest, it would have been prudent to have canceled. Although the total off trail distance is only about 0.6 miles (one way) the terrain for almost the entire distance is extremely rugged making off-trail travel in wet conditions quite treacherous. 

7:55am: Began the scramble. The party had five (5) members.  I had the following gear: MOFA kit (and was the designated MOFA lead), two radios (and had asked an experienced party member to carry one), 30m rope, webbing, harness, etc. to set up a hand/fixed line. I had requested that everyone bring gear to tie into a fixed line.

~11:00am: Attained the ridge just west of the summit, which is the wrong spot. I let us get too far left (north) on our ascent to the ridge. I was pretty sure where we went wrong and after about a 10 to 15 minute reconnaissance of the terrain on the ridge and some discussion the group agreed to descend/traverse back to the spot where I thought I missed the route  and make another attempt at the summit. As we started the descent the person that was later injured told me she was shivering and did not want to attempt the summit; she put on a rain jacket at this point. I had not yet had a chance to tell the remainder of the party that one member was too cold to try the summit. 

~11:45am: The party member fell while traversing. I was behind her when she fell. I think she put her left foot on a limb/twig that was oriented up/down slope, and this is what caused her to slip. Her ankle rolled over and she sort of fell onto her lower left leg/ankle/foot. The fall did not look severe. However, she immediately told me that she was in pain and had heard something snap. I asked the remainder of the group, which was just slightly ahead of us to stop and wait. Since she could move, we were hopeful it was only a bad sprain. When we joined the group, we informed them of what had happened, and I think it was at this point that I said our main goal was now to get the injured party out. Frankly, I never said that the summit was of course out of the question; it just seemed self-evident to the party.  

Before we continued, the injured party wanted to put on an ace bandage, which she did herself from her own gear. I offered a splint (SAM) at this point, which she declined, wanting to see how it did with just the ace bandage. At this point there was not much swelling and little bruising. She was able to walk with two trekking poles and on steeper descents would scoot on her buttocks. I did not make a note of the time, but prior to beginning the ascent back to the south ridge of Mt. Tebo, she requested the splint. We applied it over her boot, under her heel, and about half-way up her calf. We stiffened the portion of the splint on her calf by bending a shallow “V” into it. We used duct tape to secure the splint. She kept this on until reaching the car. Also, at the time we put on the splint we took all the gear except her water bladder from her pack and split it up among the party.

While applying the split we discussed options:  

  1. The entire party could descend about 1320ft to a road to the west of us. However, this would have put us very far from our cars and on a lightly traveled road.
  2. A portion of the party could descend to the road and the remaining members go out to the cars then drive around and pick everyone up. Since this split the party, we rejected it.
  3. Proceed out the way we came, then when we got back to the head of the abandoned road at El. 3720ft, two party members would advance as quickly as possible to the vehicles and then drive them back up to the point where the abandoned road intersects the newly graded road referred to above.

The injured party agreed to option C. Also, I would note that we never seriously considered staying put and sending some of the party out to request a rescue. Since she could move this did seem like an option given the continuing rain.

3:35pm: Reached head of abandoned road at El. 3720ft. I and another party member went down for the vehicles and left the remaining two uninjured members with the injured party member.

3:40pm: Began hike to cars.

4:24pm: Arrived at the cars and drove up to the beginning of the abandoned road.

4:46pm: Injured party arrives at the cars.

I drove the injured party back to the Park and Ride where we had met. She drove herself home. The next day she emailed me that she had gone to the ER and that her left fibula was broken. 

Lessons Learned

LEADER

It is quite a feat that she was able to travel that terrain with a broken fibula.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The fibula is the non-weight-bearing bone in the lower leg that plays a role in ankle stability.

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