Stone Cold

I landed the “super cub” on the ice just across from the first couple of snow slides and camped close to where the green grass slope touches the white ice.

I landed the “super cub” on the ice just across from the first couple of snow slides and camped close to where the green grass slope touches the white ice.

While I was partner with AAA Alaskan Outfitters, I am grateful to say that we never had any accidents or illnesses that kept us from fulfilling our responsibilities of being physically in the field while we had clients under contract.  Being in the field when you have clients under contract is a State requirement.  We were responsible for supervising all of our guides, both Assistant and Registered.  I was always concerned about something like that happening.

That being said, in mid-August 1991, I was in the Wrangell Mountains with my sheep hunting client Bernard Harvey from Lindside, WV.  I had landed the “super cub” on the ice of the Canyon Creek Glacier at the 6,000’ elevation level and had tied it down using a couple rocks.

This is not my camp but one very similar and close to the same spot that I had camped. A cold camp for sure.

This is not my camp but one very similar and close to the same spot that I had camped. A cold camp for sure.

We had had a good first day of hunting spotting a few rams but not the one we wanted.  Around 6 AM on the second day I was boiling water for coffee, tea and oatmeal when all of a sudden I had an excruciating pain in my lower left side.  I was already on my knees so I doubled up in a ball and rolled on the ice.  It felt like someone had kicked me really hard in the groin but instead of the pain going away in a minute or so, it continued becoming more severe for about 45 minutes, never letting up.  Beads of sweat appeared on my forehead and there were a couple times I thought I was going to pass out.  I had never experienced such severe pain.  I really had no idea what was going on but I knew it wasn’t good.  I told Bernard that if something bad happens to me to tune the airplane radio to the emergency frequency 121.5 and give a Mayday call and sooner or later one of the big jets flying high above us would hear him.  Our camp was located in a major IFR aircraft airway. 

After 45 minutes of uninterrupted pain, it stopped.  Just as fast as it started it was over, as though nothing had happened.  To me it was like one of the weirdest things that I had ever had happen.  We sat there for a few minutes, ate our oatmeal and I said, “I don’t know what that was but I feel fine so let’s go hunting!”  Bernard seemed convinced it was a kidney stone.  His sister had had one and she had reacted the same way, dropping to the floor.  All I knew was I felt great so we took off to check out another small valley looking for that big ram.

Looking at one side of the area that we hunted while camped on the ice.

Looking at one side of the area that we hunted while camped on the ice.

We had another good day of sheep hunting and after returning to our tent and enjoying a freeze dried dinner with a hot drink and a few cookies with some canned fruit, we called it a day.  Somewhere around 2:30 AM I was awakened by that same severe pain in the same area.  But this time it only lasted about ten minutes and quit.  Then five minute later it was back.  This off and on pain went on for about four hours.  The pain finally started to hurt for only five minutes with about a ten minute break.  I was also starting to handle the pain a little better.  I don’t know how but I was.  Around 7:30 AM during one of the no pain periods I came up with a plan.  I told Bernard we had to get off the glacier.  I told him it was only eleven miles to Bryson Bar, our base camp which was 1,400’ in elevation so it was all down-hill.  I knew I could fly over 100 mph making the trip in between the pains.  I untied the plane, loaded it and pointed it down the glacier.  We stayed by the plane while I held on and endured the pain.  Once the pain subsided, we jumped in, I started the engine and we took off.  We made a super quick trip and landed at Bryson Bar.  Dan and his client who had taken a nice ram just happened to be at Bryson Bar.  He came out of the cabin, saw me leaning against the giant Air Streak tire and said, “What happened to you, you look terrible?”  I told him the story and said, “I have to get out of here.”  Another new pain was coming on.

Dan knew he had to stay close to the clients but we decided he could fly me down to the Ultima Thule Lodge, which was only nine miles downriver.  Paul & Donna generally had two or three planes and a couple of pilots around, so there should be a pilot who could fly me to Chitina.

When we arrived at Paul’s, Sam Fejes, another guide and friend, was there visiting.  He told me he was going to Chitina and I could fly with him.  Thank goodness, I could get my truck and drive to Anchorage.  It was the middle of a very warm day so there were quite a few thermals and every time the Cessna-185 hit a big one the pain would start.  It was only a 35 minute trip so not that bad really.

Once I got to the truck I had a long four to five hour road trip.  When the pain came while I was driving, I just stiffened my arms on the steering wheel and gritted my teeth until it was over.  On four different occasions that didn’t work so I had to pull over to the side of the road and curl-up into a ball until the pain subsided.  I had driven this trip numerous times but never in a condition such as this.

Once in Anchorage, I ran into the house and told Karen that I had to take a shower and get to the hospital.  It had been ten days since my last shower.  She said, “What’s wrong with you?”  I told her I wasn’t sure, explaining what had been going on.

After my shower we drove straight to the closest hospital and went to the emergency room.  As I was checking in with one of the admissions clerks, I told her my symptoms and she said, “It’s a kidney stone.  I have had two kidney stones myself and have had three kids and I will take the kids over the stones.”  I said, “It was bad but I’m sure it’s not that bad.”  After checking in they injected some dye into my system and did an x-ray.  The doctor called me into his office and while looking at the x-ray said, “There’s that little guy!  It is about half way through.”  After telling him my story about flying and driving he said, “That’s hard to believe.  I had a kidney stone once and took the strongest pain killer I had and it still hurt.  That’s quite a feat.”  I said, “You do what you gotta do!”

He told me to drink lots of liquids and gave me some pain killers and a little strainer to catch the stone.  It passed in three days.  It was a small little dude with many jagged edges.  I will never forget that pain.  Two years later I passed another one that was three times the size but it was smooth and about the size of a navy bean.  I hardly felt it.  I hope that never happens again.

Other than turning up-side down in the ocean see, “God Saved Me” that was the closest I came to not being in the field with the clients.  Glad I don’t have to worry about that any more.

After I left Dan guided Bernard for the remainder of his hunt.  He left without a ram but we made him a sweet deal to return the following year and he did.  He harvested a beautiful 38 incher.