David Herring walked to a recycling bin carrying two aluminum paddles that had been used with a rubber raft. He shoved them into the container, then something made him reconsider.
“I just couldn’t do it,” he said. “I pulled them back out and stuck them in a corner of the garage.”
Herring, who lives in Sedro-Woolley, took them out a few months later and decided to fashion them into hiking sticks. He grabbed them as he and his wife, Linda, headed out for a hike over Labor Day weekend to Lake 22 off the Mountain Loop Highway. Neither had any reason to believe that the poles would play a key role in a trail rescue.
The Saturday of Labor Day weekend was warm and sunny. In Edmonds, Lynn Newcombe and her 24-year-old daughter, Suzanna Fritzberg, were considering where to go for a day hike. They got a recommendation to try the Lake 22 trail, known for its alpine lake.
“I love the outdoors,” Newcombe said. Her daughter was home for a few weeks before starting a master’s degree program at Oxford.
“We hiked up and made the loop around the lake. We had our lunch on a boulder. It was beautiful,” she said.
They headed back down the trail in the early afternoon. About five minutes after they began their descent, as Newcombe made her way among some switchbacks, the toe of her shoe caught on a rock. She tried to brace her fall, but her leg landed forcefully on the point of a rock. Soon after, she couldn’t move her leg. “Any movement, any direction hurt,” she said.
The Herrings were among the first people who stopped to help. Both had previously worked in health care; Linda Herring as a nursing assistant, her husband as an emergency medical technician.
They thought she might have torn some ligaments.
“We tried to stabilize her hips by wrapping a couple of jackets around her,” Linda Herring said. They and several other hikers offered to stay with her. “That’s when people began coming up with a solution to take her down the trail,” she said.
Another hiker stopped and said two people hiking with him were doctors and were coming up the trail. Dr. Joshua Urvater, and his wife, Dr. Anne Camber, were out for a hike with three of their children.
After looking at Newcombe and asking some questions, it didn’t take Urvater long to conclude she had a serious injury. He figured she was about 2 miles up the trail.
“She was up there a ways and the decision you’re faced with is: Do you run down and call for help from a helicopter and a rescue team or is it better to get somebody down off the mountain on your own?” he said.
Urvater began fashioning a stretcher out of the only materials available — the Herrings’ two aluminum walking poles and a roll of duct tape another hiker pulled from a backpack.
It only took a few minutes for Urvater to build a stretcher for Newcombe to sit on. What lay ahead was an arduous trip down the trail. “That is one rugged portion of the trail — all rocks,” David Herring said. “It’s like walking through a rock quarry after they’ve dynamited a bunch of rock.”
It took a couple of hours for a team of about six men, who traded off holding one of the stretcher’s four corners as they became fatigued, to make their way down the mountain. The trail, with its log steps, was so narrow in some places that some members of the team were left to scramble off-trail over rocks and roots. “They didn’t drop me, but someone was holding the stretcher way low and I started to pitch out of it,” Newcombe said.
The only medication for what would later be diagnosed as a fractured hip was some over-the-counter pain medication. “If anything bumped my foot, I was in agony,” Newcombe said. “If there was any jostling it would shoot pain up and down my leg.” Nevertheless, Newcombe didn’t panic, didn’t cry and didn’t go into shock, Linda Herring said.
Some people went ahead of the group to ask approaching hikers to make room for Newcombe and her rescuers to come down the trail. “It was just a real parade going down the mountain,” Linda Herring said. Two other hikers hurried to the parking lot so they could drive to a spot along the Mountain Loop highway with cellphone reception to call 911.
Urvater never identified himself as an orthopedic surgeon as they made their way down the mountain. “He was quietly present,” Newcombe said. From time to time, he put his hand on her shoulder and asked if she was doing OK. He held one end of the stretcher almost all the way down trail.
Fire District 22’s ambulance crew arrived at the trailhead at 3:22 p.m.
Newcombe shook hands with her rescuers and thanked them for their efforts. “I told them, ‘You are some of the finest people I have been around.’ I was astonished they would do what they did, jump in, and help me down.”
As she was leaving, Urvater told Newcombe he would check in on her later. She was sent to Providence Regional Medical Center Everett where an X-ray showed she had a fractured right hip.
The next morning, Newcombe, 60, was told that she needed hip replacement surgery. One of the hospital’s doctors said he wondered who he could call to do the surgery. The problem was solved when Urvater called to check on her and offered to come in on his weekend off.
“It’s such an amazing story,” Newcombe said. “This quiet, self-effacing doctor who constructed a stretcher and carried me most of the way down the mountain ends up being the one to do the surgery.”
Newcombe is now home recovering, a process “so much less painful than descending the mountain with a fracture,” she said. Next summer, she wants to resume her hikes. “There’s wonderful hikes in the Cascades,” she said. “I’m not planning on this stopping me in any way.”
She’s already picked out her destination, the trail to Snow Lake near Snoqualmie Pass. When she does, she said she’ll be bringing along one extra thing that day. “I think I’ll be throwing in a roll of duct tape.”
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; email@example.com.