BWCA Injuries Boundary Waters Listening Point - General Discussion
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MidwestMan
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10/02/2022 06:18AM  
An injury during a trip can spell doom - for an individual, a group, or both. What are some of your worst nightmare injury stories that have occurred in the BWCA/Q? Not necessarily looking for the gory details (although you’re welcomed to go into as little or as much detail as you please); mostly looking for was the injury severe enough to end the trip? If so, was it difficult to persuade the injured individual and the rest of the group that it was time to pack it in and to seek medical assistance?
 
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straighthairedcurly
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10/02/2022 08:43AM  
The only evacuation I have had during a trip I was on involved a young woman who was complaining of severe abdominal pain over a 12 hour period. My counselor and I paddled back up the Allenwater River in Ontario and brought some locals back with a motorboat to assist in getting her out. We had to flag down a freight train to get her to a doctor in Sioux Lookout. She promptly lied to the doctor that she was fine, then on our way back down the river to rejoin the group she said she wanted to go home (there was a LOT more to this story) so we turned back around and waited for a passenger train. Put us days behind on our route, but we continued the trip after delivering her to some other camp staff.

The only injury I would count as somewhat major was on an adult trip I led. One participant sliced a digital artery in his finger with a knife and was spurting blood. We stopped the bleeding, bandaged him up and finished the other 2 days of the trip.
 
Savage Voyageur
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10/02/2022 12:26PM  
I’ve been very fortunate with injuries on my trips, only a badly cut foot. It should have had a few stitches but we were 2 days out so I just wrapped it up tight to stop bleeding. On a brothers trip my older brother dislocated his shoulder when he tripped and fell on a root or rock. This was on the last day of our tip. I moved into his solo canoe and my other brother moved to the stern and padded the rest of the way. Others are just common cuts and sprained ankles.

I now carry a Garmin InReach unit for our trips. In my contact list in my InReach I also include the outfitters email and a cell phone number if they have one. This way I can contact our outfitter for a tow if allowed on non emergency injuries.
 
10/02/2022 02:17PM  
None so far…
 
10/02/2022 05:46PM  
A high school aged guy on a youth group trip I was chaperoning in the late 1990’s stabbed himself in the calf with a fixed blade knife deeply enough that the wound was pumping blood with each heart beat. Two camp staff with us on the trip started to paddle him out and within a hour ran into a couple of USFS rangers one of whom was an EMT. Their radio battery was dead so while the EMT treated the kid the other Ranger and a camp staff portaged into the next lake and found more rangers with a functional radio. A plane came in and evacuated the kid to Ely where he was treated. Later after getting home I heard he was hospitalized again for an infection.

This injury caused several kids on the trip to be very concerned about their injured trip mate. For the rest of the trip they needed regular reassurance that he was getting the treatment he needed to recover.
 
10/02/2022 06:15PM  
I’ve never had a major injury-knock on wood. But yesterday I was eating my lunch along the shore and I decided to throw a few casts. A large Brook Trout swam up and struck my lure. I didn’t have my net handy so I pulled the fish out It came off the hook and started flopping around. I bent down to grab it and banged my knee. Meanwhile, the fish slowly slid down the rock I was standing on. I lunged to grab it again and twisted my back as I watched it slip back into the water.
 
10/02/2022 07:12PM  
Nothing major... in 2011 I had an eighteen day trip planned and started at Brule Lake. The weather was terrible going across the big lake with driving rain and wind. It was better going up to Town lake, but I was a little miserable being so wet and slogging through mud on some portages. Finally all set up for the night I grabbed my gorp of all things. Chomped down on one those hard corn things I’d got from the natural food store and broke a moler right in half. Wasn’t sure what to do so not wanting to go real far in case, I did the Frost River to Mora, Howling whatever portage out of Tuscarora. Made my way to Winchill and out down through the Cones. So cut it to eleven days. (Solo)
Thought if I got out I could save my tooth... nope!
2010 I had serious blisters on my feet that caused me to reroute my trip to portage less. That was painful but didn’t cut that trip short.
Oh, and another solo I was trying out one of those shorty rods and got a rapala stuck in my bare back. That was interesting.
 
Jackfish
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10/02/2022 10:54PM  
We had a guy accidentally (obviously) step on the handle of a fry pan that had hot cooking oil in it. Splashed the hot oil all over one of his legs from the knee down. He howled like crazy and we treated him the best we could. It was already dark so we couldn't do anything but wait until morning to get him out.

He was fairly blistered when we got up, so we packed up and headed out - five hours of paddling and portaging. Drove home 11 hours and he went to the doctor. He had the full range of burns, mostly 2nd degree with a few spots of 3rd degree. He turned out alright. Pretty scary though.



 
gravelroad
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10/03/2022 10:24AM  
I heard this second hand from the protagonist, who went on to become the best man at my wedding. I tell this cautionary tale when it is appropriate for the audience (as it is here).

About an hour's paddle from an entry point far up the Gunflint Trail, he left camp to collect firewood and found a nearby downed tree that was pretty dry. He broke off some branches and then spotted a good-sized one that needed "more power," as a certain TV star was wont to say.

He stood on the branch and commenced jumping on and down on it. At some point (the pun is intentional, as you will see), it broke under him and he fell, piercing his throat in the process.

He could only tell the tale later 'cuz it somehow missed every major blood vessel in his throat. His twin brother was in camp along with a couple others. They got him to the entry point and then to the hospital in Grand Marais. He came out of it with a small scar and a cautionary tale.
 
10/03/2022 10:32AM  
I had a severe leg injury when I stepped off the trail and my foot went into a small hole while carrying a portage pack. My shin hit a rock when I fell. The people with the dog helped me get the pack back on when I got up and I finished the 10 rods or so left of the trail (I told them I was ok to carry it). I was feeling a little woozy from the shock, so I took a short break and ate a snack before going on to complete 2 more portages and a push through the reeds on the Oyster river. I didn't realize how much my leg had bruised until we were almost to Oyster.

I spent the rest of the trip thinking about the fastest way to get out if I had a fracture that gave way. We continued on up to Geb-e-one-quet since I thought it would be easiest to get over to Crane lake or a Lac La Croix outfitter to get a tow out if necessary. I spent the rest of the week worrying about what to do and we finally just went out the way we planned. The real pain didn't start until I stopped walking on it on the way home in the car and started having painful leg cramps from the blood pooling in my lower leg. It wasn't fractured, but the Dr thinks I tore the sheath on the outside of the bone and that's what caused the bleed. We carry an In-Reach now. I doubt I would have used it for an evacuation for this incident, but probably would for a complete break.
 
Kendis
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10/03/2022 10:46AM  
My wife was bitten on the eye by a mosquito one afternoon and her eye swelled enormously. We fortunately were in cell phone range of our outfitter and they picked us up on a tow the next morning.
 
10/03/2022 10:53AM  
I've had the usual cuts, scrapes, and bruises. Otherwise there was the plantar fasciitis and the injured knee (torn meniscus) which altered my plans considerably although I did not come out early.
 
TreeBear
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10/03/2022 11:37AM  
I feel like I have avoided the worst of it. A sprained ankle on Rock of Ages not even half way through the PowWow (long walk to finish that.) A hyperextended knee in the snow on Misquah to Little Trout which still gives me problems. A tweaked back which was annoying for a couple weeks but not too bad. Plenty of overuse tendon issues. An amusing (not in the moment) one with hitting a tree hard enough on the portage from Henson to Cherry to dismount the canoe yoke and drop an Alumacraft on my head. And the one that hurt the most was on a solo trip. I was double packing a pack and an aluminum canoe. Tripped and fell landing perfectly on top of this pyramidal shaped rock right under my knee cap with the weight of the double pack kindly helping to pile drive the knee. Hurt like heck, but didn't break anything. Hobbled my way out with single packing for the rest of that trip.

My poor girlfriend has it worse with a broken hand, wrist, and dislocated shoulder (three incidents.)

No evacs for us personally though, but a handful of camper incidents over the years. All has turned out well though, and sometimes the little incidents are the price we pay for spending time in this incredible wilderness.
 
10/03/2022 01:01PM  
On my most recent trip, I was using the saw to remove small limbs from a branch. Looked away for a minute, saw slipped and went across the ack of my left hand. My son thought for sure that I had cut my self to the bone, but it ended up being a REALLY bad skinning. I got the bleeding stopped, washed it and applied antibacterial and bandages. Within a day it had stopped oozing, etc.. Still waiting on this to heal as it just happened last Thursday. Not life threatening, but it reminded me to be more aware for sure.
 
10/03/2022 01:02PM  
Helped a person self-evac a couple years ago.

We were on the second to last day of our trip from Seagull to Ogish and back. There are two portages between Seagull and Alpine Lake. One is ~100 rods and roughly E-W. The other is ~40 rods and N-S. The longer portage is basically a super highway. The shorter is not well maintained as evidenced by reviews and comments. We had taken the long one at the beginning of our trip and decided to try the shorter on the way back.

About halfway down the portage (which was about as rough as commenters have described it), we came across two guys, their canoe, and their gear in the middle of the trail. One of the guys had stepped off the trail and hurt his ankle. Thankfully, one of our group was a nurse, so she began assessing his injury, which I think turned out to be a broken ankle (rather than a sprain). They were definitely not finishing their trip and they both knew it. It didn't take any convincing.

They were on the very first day of their trip, and we soon discovered there were actually two other guys in their group. Those two had gone ahead to Alpine and they were going to meet up at a campsite. Problem was the two pairs had no way to contact each other. We left a note at the Alpine end of the portage about the injury and evac.

We shared snacks and a some of our leftover whiskey because the injured guy was in shock. We portaged their gear and canoe back to the Seagull side, while our nurse friend helped stabilize his ankle with a sleeping pad, sticks, and duct tape. Once ready, we helped him back down the portage and into his canoe.

The injured guy was well enough to paddle, so we paddled with the pair for the length of Seagull back to the landing at Trails End. They actually outpaced on us the water (adrenaline?). At the landing, we got on the phone with EMS and they sent out a crew. I believe they took him to the hospital in Duluth.

Never did hear about the other two guys and how long it took them to figure out their friends were missing!

 
ockycamper
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10/03/2022 06:06PM  
I finished up the NOLS wilderness first aid certification last spring. The person teaching it said our job in the wilderness is triage. . . .deciding if the situation is "stay and play, or exfil". That really stuck with me.

That is why each of our camps have a Garmin Inreach, spot, sat phone, etc. in each camp. If the decision is "exfil", we are not going to take the time to paddle out several ours back to an outfitter, then drive them to a hospital. We are "pushing the button."
 
MikeinMpls
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10/04/2022 10:55AM  
I think I have more stories of how I have managed to barely dodge serious injury than actually become seriously injured. On a solo to Fourtown a couple years ago I fell four times between Mudro and my campsite. (My guess is that my blood sugar was low and it had just rained. Everything was very slippery and I was quite lightheaded.) One of those falls was down the slick rock face of the final portage north into Fourtown. My legs were pretty beat up but I did okay.

On another solo, I fell on the shore of Spaulding Lake. By the grace of God alone I managed to not hit my head…though my back fell across a sharp rock leaving me quite bruised and sore. Considering Spaulding is a dead-end lake, it would've been quite a while until I was found or my body recovered.

My wife and I encountered a guy that had run a tent stake through his hand the day before. They were paddling out but the injury was starting to look a bit angry.

Mike
 
10/04/2022 01:51PM  
MikeinMpls: "
My wife and I encountered a guy that had run a tent stake through his hand the day before. They were paddling out but the injury was starting to look a bit angry.

Mike
"


How in the world do you run a stake through your hand?
 
MikeinMpls
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10/05/2022 10:38AM  
To Dave (Okinawa55):
As far as I could tell, it was one of those thin tent stakes with the hooked end, not a wider flanged stake. Probably slipped on a rock putting it in, I dunno.

Mike
 
naturboy12
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10/05/2022 11:32AM  
I shared this story in more detail on this site a few years back, but I slipped and fell while coming down from the big cliffs on Winchell. I hit my head pretty hard and was briefly unconscious. My 17 year old son was with me and helped me slowly back to our campsite four miles and a portage away on the west end of Gaskin.

Our group of three spent the rest of the day making sure I was ok and decided to stay the night and see how I felt the next day. Other than some scrapes along the side of my face and along my arms, a black eye, tenderness/swelling/bruising at the impact site, and a manageable headache, everything was ok and I was able to finish the trip.

I did see a doctor about a week after the trip ended and was told I likely suffered a mild concussion, but luckily avoided any orbital fracture. If this had happened on a solo, I'm not sure I would have been able to make it back to my campsite alone. It was this accident that spurred my purchase of an inReach Mini, which is now along on every trip.


 
SunrisePaddler
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10/05/2022 01:04PM  
Last fall a friend and I ended a trip a day early after I sprained my ankle. We entered LIS and were staying on Lynx. One evening I took an innocuous step in camp and rolled my ankle pretty bad. Lots of pain and swelling. Did RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) as best as I could overnight in my hammock. Obviously no ice, but keeping it wrapped and elevated and exposed to the cool Sept night seemed to help a bit. That and plenty of Tylenol.

We had already planned to move to the Paunesses for our final night, so we instead got up early and just exited a day early. I got across the portages slowly and gingerly with a paddle crutch and light pack and really wanted to do more, but my buddy insisted on me crossing once and laying down to elevate and rest. So he did the lions share of the carrying, which pretty much amounted to him triple portaging us the entire way from Lynx to EP14 parking lot (and then driving us 4.5hrs home).

To say I was grateful for his effort and care is an understatement. You know you've got a friend when.....
 
Tuscarora Outfitters
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10/05/2022 01:50PM  
geotramper: " "
Not my most flattering angle. Lol.

Andy
 
10/06/2022 11:50AM  
I've reported this on a trip report. On the last evening camping on The Lake That Shall Not Be Named. My back went totally out. I didn't sleep all night and somehow had to get out the next day. I could barely stand up let alone walk. So my daughter in law fixed up a stick into a cane and when in the canoe I would sit about sit, stand, & crouch in about 5 minute intervals. When on the portage trail I would walk about 20 yards leaning heavily on my cane and then rest. Some guardian angel gave me some percoset which helped me endure the 8 hour ride home.
I learned if your back is hurting sit down and relax. Don't try to be an iron man, because your back eventually will let you know it's not happy.
 
ockycamper
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10/06/2022 12:16PM  
Just out of curiosity. . . .why do most people try to paddle/portage a person with an injury out vs using a rescue service like a Garmin Inreach or Spot? The vast majority of paddlers on these forums. . . and those I have met. . .do not even carry any kind of PLB. Considering the cost is often only $200 and plans are as cheap as $15 per month (and you can cancel after one month), why do most trippers not carry them and prefer to "tough it out" if there is an injury?
 
SunrisePaddler
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10/06/2022 02:19PM  
ockycamper: "Just out of curiosity. . . .why do most people try to paddle/portage a person with an injury out vs using a rescue service like a Garmin Inreach or Spot? The vast majority of paddlers on these forums. . . and those I have met. . .do not even carry any kind of PLB. Considering the cost is often only $200 and plans are as cheap as $15 per month (and you can cancel after one month), why do most trippers not carry them and prefer to "tough it out" if there is an injury?"

In my case, I had an SOS service available to me and never seriously considered using it. Why? Thinking back to that day, I think we considered several things: our ability to exit on our own, the severity (or lack thereof) of the injury, the potential for serious aggravation or exacerbation of the injury by exiting on our own, and the weather conditions that day. We thought we could exit safely and, while doing so would (and did) hurt like the dickens, we didn't think it would seriously worsen the injury (it did not). Now, I might also add the cost of an evac to the mix of factors to consider.

Your question inspires an interesting thought exercise (to me anyway): how much more severe would the injury have to have been for me to press the SOS button. I don't know. But it probably would have to have been way closer to "life threatening" than just "severe pain." Would be interested to hear other thoughts.
 
ockycamper
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10/06/2022 02:59PM  
SunrisePaddler: "ockycamper: "Just out of curiosity. . . .why do most people try to paddle/portage a person with an injury out vs using a rescue service like a Garmin Inreach or Spot? The vast majority of paddlers on these forums. . . and those I have met. . .do not even carry any kind of PLB. Considering the cost is often only $200 and plans are as cheap as $15 per month (and you can cancel after one month), why do most trippers not carry them and prefer to "tough it out" if there is an injury?"


In my case, I had an SOS service available to me and never seriously considered using it. Why? Thinking back to that day, I think we considered several things: our ability to exit on our own, the severity (or lack thereof) of the injury, the potential for serious aggravation or exacerbation of the injury by exiting on our own, and the weather conditions that day. We thought we could exit safely and, while doing so would (and did) hurt like the dickens, we didn't think it would seriously worsen the injury (it did not). Now, I might also add the cost of an evac to the mix of factors to consider.


Your question inspires an interesting thought exercise (to me anyway): how much more severe would the injury have to have been for me to press the SOS button. I don't know. But it probably would have to have been way closer to "life threatening" than just "severe pain." Would be interested to hear other thoughts."


I have not had to "press the button" yet. After years of leading groups to the BWCA I finally tool the NOLS Wilderness First Aide Certification course. The theme of the course is traige. . .they called it making the decision to "stay and plan" or "exfil". The one that surprised me was head injuries. They said when someone hits their head and a concussion is suspected, it is always "push the button" time. This due to the potential for swelling round the brain. Others that were absolutely "exil" were severe cuts and burns, broken bones and animal bites (due to the potential for rabies).

I have a sat phone with SOS feature. Others in the group have Spot messengers or Garmin Inreach. I took out the added insurance (costs only $12 for the year) which covers any ambulance or air flight costs not covered by my insurance.

If we are on Red Rock Lake and we have a serious injury, howeer not life threatening, I would use the Sat phone to call Seagull Outfitters to meet us with the shuttle (as we could get from base camp to the shuttle pickup in 20 minutes). If one of the group has a broken bone, is in severe pain, concussion, bleeding that can't be stopped, or is diorientated, I would not hesitate to push the button.

We actually have a Opthomologist that comes with us. Honestly I think we would be the first one in the group to "push the button".
 
10/06/2022 08:14PM  
Here's Garmin's advice:

Use your best judgment when triggering an SOS. There is no one-size-fits-all list, since each individual circumstance can impact the urgency and seriousness of the situation. A good rule to go by is that when you feel uncertain of the outcome of your situation — that’s the time to reach out for help.

 
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