DIY Mountain Rescue: Mark

1.    Panic
2.    Call Straton
3.    Sit Johanne in chair
4.    Pick Johanne up after chair collapses
5.    Let Johanne lie down where he is
6.    Lay out tarpaulin
7.    Lay sleeping mat on tarpaulin
8.    Lay Johanne on top of sleeping mat
9.    Check he is not dead
10.  Accept help from passing American nurse
11.  Wonder how to carry a 15 stone man down a mountain for 10 hours
12.  Shoo away optimistic vultures
13.  Accept Straton’s advice and convince Johanne he is OK and not dying
14.  Try again.
15.  Search for non-existant evacuation stretchers (all in use)
16.  Draw a blank
17.  Recruit 8 porters to carry, haul & drag tarpaulin, containing Johanne, to next camp
18.  Convince remaining porters to double their loads and carry the 8 ‘volunteer’s porters kit downhill
19.  Set off for next camp
20.  Hobble along behind

With knots tied in the corners of the tarpaulin the 8 porters managed an amazing 0.1 miles an hour. Faster than the rest of us but not fast enough. They tried the best they could but made only about 100 metres before being forced to drop their load and rest. At one point, about an hour into our descent, they had stopped about 300 metres ahead. They were all standing round slowly nodding the heads and rubbing their chins in deep contemplation.

I thought ” Oh my God! He’s dead. What am I going to tell his wife”. We were now at a loss what to do. Straton, discarding his pack and outerwear had disappeared. Wilfred also dumping his pack, stripped down to his t-shirt and started running back to the last camp to get more help. Bearing in mind it was below zero and at such an altitude any physical activity left one gasping for breath.

A party passed us and offered help. There was an American doctor behind them coming down the path. Mike Manners from Spokane. Our saviour. He offered what help he could. Assured us that Johanne was probably not suffering from altitude sickness, prescribed shed loads of medication and confirmed that we get him down the mountain to the next camp, if not further. He was on his way, via another route, to that camp and if necessary would meet us there, and then promptly disappeared into the thickening cloud.

So we were still as square 1. How do you get a 50 year old, semi-conscious, exhausted man down a mountain?

Charles and I looked at breaking up backpacks & bergans to fashion some sort of stretcher. We even looked at how many walking poles we could beg, borrow or steal to construct something much more practical than the tarpaulin. We then noticed some sort of picnic tables and benches nearby. I was not sure that the National Park authorities would like me smashing up their park facilities or that my Leatherman would be up to the task (I had watched ‘127 hours’ on the plane).

Thankfully, Straton then returned. He had run to the next nearest camp and back, collected a stretcher and extra help. An amazing feat of physical endurance. Wilfred also returned with more porters and an oxygen cyclinder.

Johanne was put in his sleeping bag, covered in suncream, loaded onto the stretcher and given the oxygen…..and still he didn’t feel better!! So off they all set carrying him aloft on the shoulders. This time with the use of a stretcher they made much better time. Every mile or so they needed to rest, by which time we could catch up but the porters kept going, working in teams for 4 to 5 hours until we all reached Horombo camp.

We fed the porters chocolate and water. There was one slightly embrassing moment when during a stop, pouring with sweat, they tried to catch their breath, change carrying positions and adjust their load when a loud snoring could be heard. “Simba” cried brother….no! it was Johanne, fast asleep!!

The officials at Horombo checked over Johanne and did some paperwork. Mobile coverage had improved so the relevant contacts were called. Dr Manners duly arrived at the camp and checked over Johanne again. There was no improvement despite reducing the height for a couple of thousand metres and the use of oxygen. He said it was something else and that we should get him to hospital.

A proper mountain rescue stretcher was found (glorified shopping trolley with a uni-cycle wheel in the middle) and a fresh team of porters. The sun was setting and it would soon be dark. There was another 3-4 hour trek down the mountain, to where a Landrover could be met, to take Johanne to the main road, to meet an ambulance, to drive 40 miles to Hospital.

Trophy (!?) our cook for the past week, having helped carry the stretcher for 5 hours from Kibo to Horombo went off and cooked supper for those members of the team who remained.

We packed Johanne’s wallet, glasses, medication and essentials in his sleeping bag inside which he was firmly strapped aboard this ‘shopping trolley’ and off they went.

So imagine his predicament?

Being rushed to hospital with possibly a life threatening condition. in deepest darkest Africa, ratched strapped to a uni-cycle, on your back, immobile, with a bunch of total strangers, at night, through the jungle on a rock-strewn, rough track, for 4 hours.

He mentioned that it was a strange experience. The stars were overhead and the branches of the trees caught in the porters headlamps. More than once they all fell over and he found himself on his side, before they picked him up and continued careering downhill.

Never having been anywhere like this, Johanne did ask Arkwright to accompany him. But we too were exhausted and in retrospect would have only slowed them down and caused more problems.

As it was our travel company (The African Walking Company) arranged a 4 x 4 to meet the evacuation team, transfer Johanne to the ambulance and then take him to Moshi hospital. Wilfred and Ngaya (the Company DIrector) remained with him throughout the night and smoothed they way at the hospital. He was released around 3 in the morning.

Johanne was OK. Apart from a little lung infection (BA itis??) it was mainly just sheer exhaustion exacerbated by high altitude. So if anyone thinks Kilimanjaro is a doddle…….

(When Ngaya gave us our first briefing in Arusha on day one we all realised that there would be no drinking at all whilst on the mountain. That briefing, over lunch, was to be about the last beer we would have until we completed our trek. Johanne then mentioned that in all his adult life he had, probably, never been longer than 4 days without one. In hindsight the evacuation took place on day 5!?? He was carried down the mountain, driven to a hotel, ate a hearty breakfast and had a beer or two all while we were nursing sore feet, pricking blisters and cracking ice off of our sleeping bags. I know which I would prefer……)

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