Last weekend I had a wee mishap, that could have been a major mishap: I gave my ankle a wretched twist on a piece of simple, flat trail.
My intention was to head out early with my dog for an excellent hiking double-header: Maple Mountain and Mount Tzouhalem. Both mountains are a brisk two to three hour round trip, provide a solid 300 – 500 meter elevation change each, and are situated a 20 minute drive from each other. Unfortunately, the are both one to one and a half hours away from me, each way, which does not provide an ideal ratio of driving to hiking for a day trip. Hitting both mountains in a single trip, however, would be quite ideal.
I have previously burned up and down Mount Tzouhalem and every time it takes my breath away, offering a spectacular array of wild flowers, soft Garry oak meadows, and breathtaking views of the Saanich Inlet. It’s also a relatively quiet trail where I rarely encounter other individuals. It was my first time up Maple Mountain, so I decided to hit it first so if my little 10-year-old terrier, Feist, got too tired we could abort and head home early.
So what actually happened?
Feist and I headed out just after 6 am, as we had intended. We made good time to our favourite coffee shop, Drumroaster Coffee, where we like to caffeinate before any up-island adventures. Alas, Drumroaster did not open to 8 am, so we continued on without our caffeine booster. We continued on the highway and country roads until we reached the trailhead, about 30 minutes further along. I always enjoy finding a new, obscure trailhead; I find it exhilarating, turning left and then right and left again on progressively smaller roads until arriving at a mostly un-marked path wedged between suburban houses and farmer’s fields.
It was a beautiful, fresh morning, and Feist was very excited to be heading out unleashed. We took off at a brisk pace, following blue dots spray painted on trees and hoping that the map book was not so obsolete as to direct us down impassable trails. The trail was, in fact, quite open and accessible: we started off on a gently rolling decommissioned logging road, that gave way to a narrow, well travelled trail. Feist and I were getting warmer, powering up hills and starting to hit our stride when *roll*, *pop*, *crunch*.
I hit the dirt, face down, like a pile of bricks, screaming at the top of my lungs and pounding the dirt. My ankle had rolled on the trail (not that there was anything there to roll on) and I was facing the very real possibility that I had broken my ankle. I have experienced a plethora of soft tissue injuries, including ligament tears and major cartilage damage, but this was a particularly painful injury. Feist rushed back to me and raced round me whining and whimpering, although I was not completely unconvinced that she was more upset about the abrupt termination of her hike, rather than concern for my well being. She is not the most compassionate of terriers.
It was less than 5°C, I felt dizzy, and I could feel my body starting to experience shock symptoms. I carefully rolled over, sat up and pulled my rain jacket out of my backpack, spread it on the ground and flopped back down. I thrust my leg up in the air to keep it from swelling too much and crossed my fingers that I was getting enough of an adrenaline hit to get out of the forest safely. I lay on the forest floor breathing mindfully and focusing on the beautiful trees. After many minutes passed and I was feeling less light headed and nauseated, I sat up and gingerly placed my heel on the ground.
I was wearing a tight sock, in my hiking shoe, which was keeping the swelling under control. I gently probed my ankle bone with my fingertips, searching for point tenderness – a sure sign the ankle was broken. No such pain. I wiggled my toes and felt around my foot without taking my shoe off. Everything pointed away from a broken ankle. The next step was weight bearing: I stood up on my good leg and touched my toe to the ground. It hurt, but it held. I gently shifted my weight to my bad foot and took a few ugly shuffles. Again, it hurt, but it held.
So I sat back down, ate my sandwich, and called my partner. I told him what happened, my location, route, and access point, and that I was going to try to walk out, and if he didn’t hear from me in an hour, to send help. I considered waiting for a rescue party, but a rescue party would take a minimum of 1 hour to arrive, and I could get out faster.
I cautiously stood back up, donned my backpack, and started the slow, gruelling hobble back to the truck. It was not an ideal situation. My foot could barely flex, so I had to hobble backwards up the hills. The slightest pebble or rock on the trail would twist my ankle, and cause jarring pain. Slippery leaves on the ground were terrifying, and I held my breath as I lightly passed over them. I was pretty sure I was just running on adrenaline, so I didn’t dare stop, but rather kept myself going with the most absurd pep talk, out loud. I didn’t see any other hikers on the way back (probably because it was, at this point, 8:30 am) which was both a blessing and a curse: I would have accepted help, but when they came upon me I would have sounded like a raving lunatic.
It took me 50 minutes to return from my 20 minute hike.
I got back to my truck, tucked Feist into her spot, called my partner to let him know I was heading home, and departed. I had every intention of stopping for coffee on the way home (so as not to completely waste the trip), but my ankle was swelling at such an alarming rate I thought it was best to bee-line it home.
When I arrived home, the swelling was much worse, and after having sat still for the better part of 90 minutes, the ankle was quite stiff. I barely made it into the apartment, at which time I threw myself into bed with much enthusiasm, and then proceeded to sleep for two hours. I think my entire body was grateful to have made it safely home, with no additional injuries.
As I write this, it has been one week since my injury. The doctor has corroborated my suspicions that my ankle is not broken, just badly sprained. I was on crutches for 24 hours after I got home, and it has been rapidly improving since then. I was able to attend spin class on Friday (with very very low intensity: just getting my range of motion back) and went on a gentle walk over uneven ground to keep my little ankle stability muscles strong. I am very grateful that the injury was not worse, and I have identified some additional supplies to keep in my first aid kit, for my next injury.
I must confess that I am rather offended that I did not complete my hike. Although discretion might be the better part of valour, I am not known for exercising caution. I will be back on the trails hiking to my hearts content as soon as my ankle can handle the uneven ground!
Nothing contained herein should be construed as medical advice. If you are injured, consult a medical professional, which I am mostly certainly not.