Roger Munsey is an experienced hiker and backpacker with hundreds of hours in the backcountry. Last year he set out on a solo, multi-day trek in the Roaring Plains area of Monongahela National Forest in eastern West Virginia. Munsey was confident he packed everything needed to make the journey, including a handheld GPS containing his route, and a DeLorme inReach, which would later prove to be an invaluable tool in saving his life.
“I felt like I was completely prepared for my hike, mentally, physically and with the proper equipment,” said Munsey. “I had been on this route before in the spring of 2013 with a group from Ohio who were familiar with the route.”
Nobody could have predicted that he would be leaving the national forest in an ambulance on the second day of his trip.
The journey started off without a hitch. Munsey followed a marked trail into the wilderness, where he would eventually set up his base camp and spend the night. On the second day, things began to unravel quickly. After experiencing an equipment malfunction with his handheld GPS that rendered his route data useless, Munsey found himself navigating by map and compass to locate the unmarked trails he had planned on using that day. After completing only six miles of the planned eleven-mile day hike in seven hours, he finally found the marked trail and settled down for lunch.
A quick gear check revealed that Munsey had left his headlamp in his tent back at base camp, and the small emergency light on his neck cord did not provide enough illumination to navigate safely in the dark.
“I have to admit this made me panic a bit,” revealed Munsey. “So I packed up and quickened the pace, needing to find my base camp before dark.”
It was at 4:30 p.m., still five miles from base camp, when Munsey’s foot became wedged in some rocks and momentum carried his body forward, dislocating the subtalar joint in his foot. After spending 30 minutes of trying to splint his badly damaged foot and walk or crawl to safety, he felt a wave of shock coming on and decided that pressing the SOS button on his inReach SE was the best option.
“I assumed my ankle was broken since it was at such a strange angle,” recalled Munsey. “I was solo, it was mid-week, and I had not seen another soul since I arrived.”
Munsey received a near-instant confirmation message from the GEOS 24/7 emergency response coordination center, which, as he recalled later, was very assuring that things would be okay. Any bit of hope at that point was much needed, especially as Munsey found himself warding off a curious black bear while waiting for help to arrive.
“Even though I couldn’t stand up and ‘look large’, I waved my hands over my head, shouted, and barked like a dog. This has always worked for me in the Smoky Mountains, and it worked here,” said Munsey.
Three hours after sending the SOS signal, a US Forest Ranger located Munsey on the trail using a handheld GPS and the coordinates sent from the injured hiker’s inReach. Not expecting a rescue to be successful that night, Munsey was prepared to spend the night alone in the backcountry with no tent, sleeping bag or medical supplies, and what he presumed was a broken ankle.
“Trying to keep my mind occupied, I had been preparing a fire as a way to keep warm for the night, so a rescue before dark was too good to be true,” said Munsey about being located. “While we waited for additional help, the Ranger told me I was the most prepared hiker he had encountered and was very interested in my DeLorme device, and wondered out loud why he hadn’t been issued one.”
When the local rescue team, comprised of volunteer fire and EMS workers in the area, arrived at the remote location they took turns carrying Munsey down the path towards the trailhead. Once out of the woods, an ambulance transported the injured hiker to Davis Memorial Hospital in Elkins, West Virginia – a 90-minute ride that provided ample time for the adrenaline to wear off and the pain to increase, as Munsey’s foot turned blue.
The ride also allowed Munsey to recount where all of his gear and possessions were located as he quickly travelled farther from his camp. “My truck was parked on a forest road that no taxi cab would take me to. My tent and a load of expensive gear were still at my base camp, about two miles from my truck,” said Munsey.
After borrowing a cell phone from a member of the EMS team to call his family and alert them to the situation, a member of the Canaan Valley Volunteer Fire Department agreed to locate Munsey’s truck and drive it to the hospital. Later, Munsey learned that the volunteer fireman had also hiked to the base camp, packed up all of his gear, and brought it back to the firehouse for safe keeping.
Once at Davis Memorial Hospital doctors took a series of X-rays and performed a very painful attempt to reset the dislocated joint, which ultimately was not successful. Munsey then learned he had to be transported to another hospital before more damage occurred. When the hospital proposed a helicopter ride that would likely cost thousands of dollars, members of the Randolph County EMS, Canaan Valley Volunteer Fire Department, and Harman Fire Department got together and decided to drive the injured hiker to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, West Virginia themselves.
Doctors at Ruby Memorial were able to successfully reset the dislocated joint and, according to Munsey, the excruciating pain he had been experiencing all night had dissipated almost immediately. After a hard cast was put on his injured foot and he was given a set of crutches, Munsey was finally out of the hospital.
While dislocated subtalar joints are gruesome, painful and very hard to completely recover from, Munsey progressed incredibly well and has already returned to the trails. In April of 2015 he completed his first backpacking trip since the injury.
“Clint Eastwood said, ‘a man’s got to know his limitations,’ and I would add, carry a DeLorme inReach SE for when things go wrong,” said Munsey.