this is a weekend trip report from my wife and i that we took a few months back. we had a life changing experience that night that included a former smb owner that used to hang out around these parts and i wanted to share our experience. not all of this report was good times and fun. not sure if it will be hard for you all to read like it is for me, but i didnt want to sugarcoat it.
September 18, 2015, started as any typical Friday would for me. Went to work, spent the day planning our weekend in the back of my head as I went about my normal work day. My wifes schedule recently changed and aligned with mine so we could leave early on Friday afternoons and head out camping on the weekends together. This particular weekend was a little different as I had either sprained or broke my toe the weekend earlier on the motorbike and didn’t want to take the bikes with us in order not to make the already bad injury worse.
So we were going on what we call a tour. Basically we drive to one spot, pop the top for the night and just enjoy the immediate area. Then for night two, we drop the top and drive to a new location and repeat. We didn’t have an exact plan, so we were in no hurry to get going. We weren’t coordinating with any of the rest of our tribe and were just slacking and getting ready no rush, which is atypical for us….well me anyway, lol.
We got on the road about 3pm and headed out of town on highway 55. We turned at Banks and headed to Lowman. Right about there, my toe started throbbing. I took the pain for a bit, but decided to stop in Kirkham and take some pills. We had ran inside to grab a bag of ice and chatted with the clerk about wolves and cougars in the area. Went back out to van and I asked the wife to grab me the ibuprofen. She looked at me and asked where the food bin was?!? We had forgot it! We’ve been camping together for 12+ years and this was the first time we’ve ever forgot the main foodbin. We’ve forgot a lot of things, but never that. Fortunately, with our plans, it wasn’t a huge issue as we had planned on being near pavement quite a bit. We ran back in the store and paid an absurd amount for a very small bottle of Advil. Grrr, we had just bought a 500 count bottle from Costco 2-3 days earlier. I popped some meds and off we went.
This night we had planned on stopping in Grandjean and enjoying Sacajawea hotsprings. We normally setup camp a ways away as to not have to endure the typical traffic around any of the local known springs. However, since we would be leaving first thing after breakfast, we decided to just park right at the springs. We reached the turnoff and once we hit dirt road, the wife grabbed a beer and made me a drink. The springs are 5-6 miles back so we took our time as the road had severely deteriorated since our last visit. We stopped and rolled rocks down cliffs to the river in a few spots and just basically enjoyed the sights and especially the fall colors.
where we camped in relation to the spring. photo taken from the water.
We arrived at the springs, picked a spot, popped up the top and made the bed. The wife was chomping at the bit to get in the water so she changed and walked down the bluff to choose a pool. I hadn’t eaten much, so I figured I better get something in my gut before heading down to the water and commence drinking. I put together some chow as I watched the wife mingle with others in the pools down below. Right about the time I got finished eating, I heard a couple of motorcycles pull up. I put on my suit, grabbed a backpack to throw some drinking apparatus into and started gingerly down the bluff…it was a painful hobble down to the pools. At the same time, the two gents on the bikes had started down the path. One of them commented on the van and mentioned he had a smb at one time and inquired if mine was a CCV conversion. So instantly we hit it off. I invited them to share a pool with the wife and I and they accepted.
I picked the pool we usually grab and let them know that it would need about 30-45 minutes of work before it was actually worth sitting in. I had brought down a little folding shovel and began corralling in the hot water and creating proper channels for mixing the hot and cold waters together. The two gents we just met helped us get everything squared away and the pool started filling up. Right about this time, one of them busted out a bottle of Jack and started offering pulls. I can’t do shots and stuck to my regular drink, but the wife jumped on board quick. It concerned me, but I didn’t say anything.
We all picked a spot in the pool and got to know each other. Sharing stores and laughs as the night fell over us quickly. It was dark, like really dark. The steam from the pool had hindered almost all visibility. We continued to drink and flap gums all night. IIRC, around midnight Crystal said she was cold and at this time we decided it was time to get out and figured we should bring the temps up so it was a little easier to exit the water into the very cold night air. I got out the pool and blocked a good portion of the cold water off. I ran back to the pool and jumped back in the water to warm back up. By this time I was pretty messed up. Crystal was sitting across from me and Phil to my left. Zach and I were chit chatting as the other 2 lie quietly in the pool enjoying the evening. My recollection of the next 2 hours are quite spotty due to my intoxication level. It seemed I had about 10 minutes of memories, even though I knew there was much more to it. So I asked Phil and Zach to give me a play by play of those spotty two hours. I am inserting Phils and Zachs versions of the evening from this point on so I keep this story accurate.
I am sure we will all remember it slightly differently but her is how I remember it. Sorry if this is upsetting to read but I am including details so that it is clear and for my own memory.
We were all sitting there relaxing and drinking. Strangely I very clearly remember watching a shooting star and we all laughed and Shea said "I wished that every person in this hot tub gets home safely." I remember thinking that is such a cool thing to wish for with strangers so I wished the same.
At some point the hot spring got cold. I remember Shea and Crystal talking about it. Finally I think Shea got up and opened up the heat. Then it went from cold to super, super hot which was awesome against the cold night air. It was pitch black and as it got so hot there was steam everywhere. I rested my head back against the rock and just floated in total peace and bliss.
Shea you were talking about cars. I don't know anything about cars so I was trying to follow along. Crystal was quiet but I didn't think anything of it as I was sitting back with my head resting on the rock and my eyes closed thinking about our trip.
Then, completely out of the blue, Zach says, "Crystal." There is no answer. Zach says, "Shea turn on your light."
You click the light on and I will never forget the beam of light cutting through the fog. Crystal was completely grey, eyes open, pupils dilated, mouth open, head flopped to side, half her head and face submerged and she was staring straight ahead, one eye under water. She was not completely under because a small corner of her mouth was exposed to the air and her head was facing downwards which I think prevented her drowning. But I was 100% certain she was dead when you flipped on the light.
Zach leapt across the hot spring and grabbed her before I could even react. He dragged her out and dropped her once because she was slippery. He picked her up again and lay her on the rocks. Her legs and knees were still in the water and she lay half twisted and unconscious on the rocks.
Zach checked for a pulse and did not feel one. By then I was over there and I checked and felt for one. She had one but it was very faint. She was mottled and grey and not breathing. Her eyes were still opened and pupils dilated. She had no reflexes, no muscle tone, and no spontaneous respirations. I think a bunch of water drained out of her mouth at that point too.
For a brief second in my head I had this moment just like at work where I assess what I have and do not have. It occurred to me I had nothing. Even if we had cell service it would do no good. The nearest small town was Lowman and I am certain they have a volunteer EMS crew. Even if they could get to us and bring airway equipment it would do no good, it would take too long. If we could call a helicopter there were no nearby landing sites as we were in a canyon, and even then I am guessing forty-five minutes until their arrival. Some part of me looked at where we were- the bottom of bluff, soaking wet, temps dropping, with her needing to be intubated, put on a ventilator, vasopressors as I am sure her blood pressure was close to nothing, etc. Then I just felt this weird peace with well, this is it. We will do what we can.
I knelt down next to Zach and we pulled her onto her side. I hooked into her mouth and pulled her jaw forward to open her airway (the tongue occludes the airway when consciousness is lost). To my complete surprise she took a huge raspy gasp and then was completely silent. That gasp meant there was hope, even though it was very small as no breath followed.
She was completely apneic after that breath. No breath followed but I knew that some part of her brainstem reflex to breath was trying to survive.
This next part sounds weird as I write it but I am convinced it kept her alive. In the ER when people lose consciousness we give them a unpleasant stimulus to try and jar the brain to breathe- smelling salts, a sharp pinch on the clavicle, painful stimuli to overcome their unconsciousness. In this case it was all we had. So I think I said we have to give her painful stimulation. Shea began slapping her as hard as he could on her butt and I pinched her clavicle and screamed in her ear "TAKE A BREATH OR YOU ARE GOING TO DIE!" over and over in her ear. Incredibly she responded with another breath, so I thought maybe just maybe we can keep doing this. Mind you in the ER I have only done that for a breath or two while I set up the equipment to intubate and put someone on a ventilator. I had no idea how long it would work.
At that point I stood up. She was on her side and there was nothing to do other than wait another thirty seconds to see if she took a breath. She took another breath about that point. So we did it again and again. Breath by breath we inched her back. This went on maybe five or ten minutes. At some point I realized we were through the first few minutes but now we had to move. I could not see her hardly at all because of the steam, she was still flopped across fist sized rocks and half submerged, and the air temp was dropping. It was a dangerous place.
We screamed at her and shook her and Shea slapped her again (for lack of better term) but she took another breath. Her breaths were around 45 seconds apart as I was counting in my head. Zach and I each hooked one of her arms over our necks and ran straight up that bluff. Her feet were dragging (sorry if they are scratched up) but she was crazy heavy unconscious and wet and that bluff was steeper than it had seemed. Around the top we stopped because I thought I was going to have a heart attack and Zach was struggling too. Her head flopped back at some point and Zach reached around pushed it back forward. She wasn't breathing at all when we moved her.
When we got to the road I remember Shea right behind us yelling at her and her feet briefly made a walking motion as they dragged and I thought that it is a good sign.
We got her to the van and lay her across the back seat on her side, again to protect her airway. Shea sat at her head and we kept repositioning her head to try to keep her airway open though she had no muscle tone. Her color at that point was still grey but she had a tinge of pink. I was starting to think she was going to live but I was worried she would be brain damaged from prolonged immersion. I was also very scared that she was going to vomit up water. If she vomited and aspirated any of the water she would die for sure as she was barely alive as it was.
We dried her off and covered her in blankets. Shea found a cap for her and covered her head. I could finally see clearly to watch her. Her breaths at that point were coming once every 20 seconds or so, so I knew we were making progress. I then asked Shea if she was on any meds or drugs. If it was just alcohol I kept telling myself I have never seen someone die from alcohol as long as you effectively manage their airway. Shea said no and then I thought we can do this. She is going to live. Her respirations were increasing and you will remember Shea I showed how her blink reflexes were returning and other reflexes. She began to swallow and cough which meant she was managing her airway and I began to feel a little better.
Over the next hour we just waited and watched. She never threw up to my great surprise which means she must not have taken in much water. Her respirations completely normalized and then she began to make purposeful movements. She began to respond to voice alone and could shake her head yes and no.
By then it was freezing cold and we kept telling Shea to get some clothes on but you wouldn't leave her side. I knew you were watching her like a hawk. She was controlling her airway by then and moving so it was really a matter of riding it out but she was out of danger. I thought about telling you take her into town, but there was nowhere to go and we were so far back there I thought that was too big a risk in the middle of the night. I think we left shortly after that and rode back to camp (after getting lost once).
Back at camp it kind of overwhelmed both of us and it began to really hit me. My emotions came back on. I don't think I slept at all that night.
When we came back and saw her alive and talking the next morning I had to fight back tears. I couldn't believe she was alive but also that she was neurologically intact. I didn't say anything that night but I was very worried she was brain damaged from lack of oxygen.
So that leaves a couple of things I keep thinking about:
1. Should I have performed CPR or rescue breaths? I don’t' know. She had a pulse, so she didn't need CPR. I am still debating if rescue breaths would have helped or hurt. If we did mouth to mouth and she had drowned and filled her stomach with water the breaths would make her vomit, they almost always do. If she vomited and aspirated she would have died. She had spontaneous respirations though they were agonal (at the very end) it really was a matter of managing her airway- keeping it open, and stimulating her enough to breathe. I don't know what the answer is. We are judged by outcome so I guess in that case it was the right decision because she is ok. If she had no pulse or was not breathing it would be an easy decision- we would have done cpr and mouth to mouth. But it is the difficult cases where a person has a pulse and just some respirations where it is totally a judgment call whether to assist respirations or not. In this case we rolled the dice and were correct. This is the stuff that haunts me because I just don't know what the right answer is.
2. How long was she unconscious? I am guessing quite a while considering she was grey, pupils were dilated, and she had stopped almost all respirations. If Zach had not had a funny feeling and it had been another sixty seconds I am 99% sure she would have died.
3. How did we all end up in that situation in the first place? I cannot comprehend the number of chance things that occurred for Zach and I to go the hot springs that night. So many random things came together so that at the exact moment of death Zach had the funny feeling and she was sitting next to an ER doc. It blows my mind to think about.
4. In my entire career I have never experienced anything like that. It has really shaken me up. I did not do much as there was not much to do. It really was a matter of just putting her on her side, holding her airway open, and reminding her to breathe as well as getting her up to the truck. My role was minimal. I credit Zach for listening to his intuition. I sincerely believe she was fated to live.
Shea, I am sure this experience was incredibly traumatic for you as well, if not even more so. The most important thing is to keep talking about it and emailing and processing it until it stops messing with your head. I am in the same boat, that is why Zach and I keep talking about it. We all need to process it so that we don't develop longstanding PTSD from this event. Feel free to call or email us more if you need someone to talk to about it.
Lastly, I have been trying to view it as a blessing to have been part of the experience. It was a miracle on so many levels.
From Zach getting the feeling, to her first huge gasp of air, to watching her literally come back to life before us, to having her completely recover- it was one improbable miracle after another. Sometimes bad shit just happens for no reason but good things are much more rare. We all got to experience a true, one in a billion miracle first hand. There were so many things that could have gone wrong, there were so many odds stacked against her. Our four lives will always be tied together even if it is just by memory. But she lives, so let us all thank God or whatever power was watching over her and us that night that all our lives can go on.
From now on my wish whenever I travel is that "everyone here makes it home safely."
Phil and I talked a lot about the night and exactly how it went down so our accounts will be similar. Also a lot of what was happening medically I learned more detail about after that night from Phil. This will be hard to hear. Also want to preface that she wouldn't have come through if not for the actions that all 3 of us did to save her. Each person had a specific role.
The pool got cold so much so Crystal was complaining about it. So we heated it up a lot. She was on the right of me. It was super dark out where you couldn't see the person next to you. I could however see Crystals feet in the water and they looked limp. I heard a specific voice say to me "check on her". I ignored it since I didn't want to bother her or intrude on her experience.... Then I heard the voice again..... this time really loud and very clear like shouting at me "CHECK ON HER NOW". I grabbed her arm and no response. I said her name 3 times each getting louder till I was yelling. No response. I had Shea turn on the headlamp to see what was going on.
The scene we saw is something Phil and I will never forget and probably the one we talk about the most. She was laying there limp, head half in the water, eyes wide open, mouth open, and very grey. We immediately checked for pulse on the neck. She had a very faint pulse and not breathing at all. If she could remember her experience this would be the time she was gone and had gone towards the white light (as all near death encounters report).....
I immediately grabbed her around the waste and the arm and dragged her out of the water and layed her on the rocks just out of the pool on her side. By then Phil and Shea was by her side. Shea you were shouting her name loud which was great. Phil said to start painful stimulus so we had you start spanking her ass. I was pounding on her back. She coughed up some water and started the agonal breathing. We hooked her tongue down and jaw forward so her tongue wasn't in the way of her airway. We had you do this a lot. We were timing her agonal breaths and they were 40 seconds apart which is about maximum length of time before someone won't come back from.
I was ready to do CPR at this point but Phil was much more calm about the situation and said just to wait since she is trying to breath and CPR could do more harm than good on the rocks. Phil got in her face and said if you want to live you need to breath. Then when she took an agonal breath he would do it again till the next one. Basically from my understanding is you need to remind the person their life is worth coming back to otherwise it is very easy for them to go onto the other side. Also Phil had you Shea, say her name and remind her who you were and to come back. This I think was what really helped her come back to this world.
After about 10 minutes of this Phil was concerned about hypothermia since she was in bathing suit wet on cold rocks (luckily not the hot spring ones) and it was 30 degrees outside. Also if her heart stopped altogether we needed a stable place to do CPR. After Phil and I got changed, we each grabbed an arm and carried her up the hill to your van. You got in the van and we handed her to you and laid her across your seat. We got sleeping bags and laid them across her. She was still doing agonal breathing and turning blue at times until you reminded her to breathe again.
After some time she was starting to breathe on her own and having faint breaths and the agonal breathing was leaving thank god! You had a hand on her stomach to tell if she was breathing. She was face down so if she threw up she wouldn't choke on her own vomit. You just kept talking to her which brought her more back into her own body. Phil and I didn't say much at this time and you did most of the work here. The entire thing was about an hour according to my watch by the time we left.
That is it in a nutshell of craziness.
I have experienced death before as my father passed away with a lot of CPR episodes of me saving his life prior to his final death. I was very familiar with what was going on. However I didn't know the details of the agonal breathing. I knew it was called death gasps and basically the final stage before death and most people experience it. I did with my father but to know the time frame between gasps etc was all new info.
We all had a specific role in bringing Crystal back. Lots of other ways this whole thing could have gone. It didn't... she is alive..... we are all better for it. Also it has changed my life personally. I am still fragile from it and will be for a couple of weeks. The part for me that is so amazing is that I didn't know I had such a strong connection to the spirit world. Also that I actually listened to the voice........ That still blows me away......
Phil and Zach needed to leave very early the next morning. They hung out helping me with Crystal until they felt she was stable. They apologized that they needed to leave, but assured me there was nothing else we could do but wait for her to regain consciousness. They stepped out the van and I heard the cycles start up. One of them stopped at the window and gave me a thumbs up. I was scared. My wife looked like a person again, but she was still out cold. Phil explained how to keep her an eye on her and what to watch out for. I kept a close eye on her. About 30-45 minutes after they rode away, Crystals eyes opened up wide. First thing she asked was how she got in the van. I gave her a quick rundown of our evening and the tears flowed.
I finally took my cold, wet swimsuit off and put on some warm clothes. We got Crystal dressed warm all the while she was hacking and coughing. I was scared to lay down. I didn’t want to fall asleep and loose visibility and have her start taking a turn for the worse. I put the bed back together and had her lay down to keep warm. I crawled into bed and fought off the sleepies as long as I could. I kept a hand on her belly to monitoring breathing. My only piece of mind was that she was still coughing steadily so I knew she was still with me. I’m guessing I finally drifted off about 3:30-4am.
Saturday, September 19th. About 6:30-7am when the first light poked through the windows, I panicked. Crystal was dead still and no longer coughing. I reached over. She was warm and her belly was breathing normally. I quickly realized that every muscle in my body was sore. I was so stressed out through this experience I was damn near immobilized. I woke Crystal up and asked if she was interested in going back down to the water. I didn’t assume she was, but I wanted to make sure and hear her voice before I got out of bed. She was warm and sleeping and wanted to continue to do so. I got up, put my cold wet suit back on and hobbled back down to the pool. My toe was killing me, it was throbbing like you see in cartoons. I made it down to the water and slid in. It was very relaxing, which I needed bad. I lie there recollecting the evening and trying to take it all in. I was having a hard time processing it all.
5-10 minutes later I hear a truck coming up the road. I see its Phil and Zach. They rip by and turn around then stop at the van. They open up the doors and jump inside to check on my wife. I see Zach exit through the steam. I’m yelling at him, but my voice is hoarse from yelling at Crystal in those critical hours, so they couldn’t hear me. Finally, Zach spots me through the steam. He runs down to the water. I ask if I can buy them breakfast at the Sawtooth Lodge, but he declines and lets me know that they really need to get on the road. All I can do is shake his hand and tell him thank you. It didn’t feel near enough. I watched him skurry up to the road and drive away. I was at a loss. I had that sick feeling of receiving a great gift with nothing to hand back in return. At this point, I realize that I had no idea who these two great people were. No contact info, Nothing. They had shared their names, but not their last names. If they did, I could not recollect. All I could really remember was Zachs screen name on the SMB forum, Roonie. At this point I’m feeling like a big ole *******. Two absolute strangers saved my wife’s life and I didn’t even think to get their contact info. This is how jumbled up my brain was at this point.
I soak for another 30 min or so and go back up to the camper. By this time Crystal is mostly awake. We talk about the evening a little and I asked her if she wanted to continue the trip, or if she just wanted me to take her home. Being the badass that she is, she said continue the trip. This is one of the many reasons I love this girl….
We are tired and hungry. We pack up the bed and drop the top and drive up the road towards the lodge only to find out its rented out for a wedding. I had made small talk with one of the younger girls working there on an earlier trip and asked if she would be willing to make my wife and I something as we had experienced a rough night. I think our appearance was obvious enough. She went in back and talked with someone and came back out with a big smile and asked us what we wanted. It was one of the most delicious breakfasts I had had in a while. We both really needed that food in our bellies.
After eating, we got back in the van and started heading out to the main road. We decided our plan and headed to Stanley Lake.
a quick stop right at the turnoff to stanley lake.
From here we went across the street and into Stanley lake for a few hours. Crystal took pix and I enjoyed sitting in the warm sun on a bench taking in the sights.
From Stanley Lake we went into Stanley, stopped at the general store and picked up enough supplies for the next 2 days. From there we went to Alturas lake. On our way in, we spotted a bald eagle sitting in a tree and stopped to see if we could get a few pix. From there, we continued in to the lake. Again, I took in the sights and the wife was being a shutterbug.
From Alturas Lake we went to Pettit Lake. Again, I took in the sights and she snapped pix.
By this time it was getting late. We decided to camp outside of Ketchum. We stopped at Galena summit and took in the view, again, the wife snapped pix.
As usual, we had our hotsprings book handy and it led us to this little gem right off of highway 75. we were tired and just wanted to get to a camp and settle in for the night, so we didnt soak, but we know where its at for the next trip through.
We found a nice camp spot just off the highway. We were surrounded by yellowing aspens and ended up right on the Big Wood river. The running water was enough to drown out the vehicle noise from the road. We gathered up some wood and built a fire. We were both very tired and decided to call it a night early. Wish we would have got some pix of this area, but it just wasnt on our minds obviously.
Sunday, September 20th. We got up and tried to go into Ketchum for some breakfast. As I assumed, all we found was trendyass coffee shops. We drove around for a while looking for a regular café or restaurant and finally gave up and just made do with what we had. I know there is good eatery’s, but I hadn’t been there for so long that I couldn’t remember where to go. We decided to take a back road we’ve explored from the opposite side near Pine and Featherville. Its fire road 227. We drove up Warm Springs road until it turned to dirt and started taking in the sites. It was recently burned up that way, but most of the houses and cabins were still surrounded by trees. The hills behind them were black, but all along the creek was still covered with various colored trees in their autumn colors. It was beautiful.
We followed the road stopping along the way to look at campgrounds and various side roads until we reached the summit of Dollarhide Mountain, elevation 9600+ feet. The view was amazing, it was also the highest elevation we had taken the van to. We proceeded along 227 until the junction with 094. We kept on 227 headed to Featherville, all the while enjoying the autumn colors and the Little Smokey River. Just past where the Little Smokey and Big Smokey converge we see a road closed sign.