Carrying Jim off the Pacific Crest Trail

By Howard Koster

Late one recent morning, Phoenix (Rianne) and I were making our way through the North Cascade mountains toward the Canadian border when we came across a small tent set up in a marshy area directly next to the trail. Outside the tent were a backpack and a pair of hiking boots.

Approaching, we called out: “Hi there, everything okay?”

Receiving no response, I peeked into the tent and gave the body in the sleeping bag a gentle shake, while repeating the question. A bleary eyed, grey haired head peaked out from the bag, but he gave no answer. After several more attempts, we learned that the head belonged to Jim and that he had caught a chill.

Jim is carried down the trail.


We decided to pause our hike and make Jim some hot tea, using water from the stream his tent was pretty much standing in. Phoenix sat chatting to him while I set to work. After drinking his tea, Jim seemed slightly more alert, but still complained about the chill. As it was now late in the morning on a warm, sunny day, we decided to take his temperature and to our shock we found it to be dangerously low (93.3°F). Jim was hypothermic!

Phoenix immediately bundled him out of his tent and into the sun, where we put all my warm clothes on him and gave him warmed up energy drink to increase his core temperature.

Just as we decided we needed to get Jim toward civilization (a tiny hamlet 12 miles down the trail), four familiar faces arrived up the pass. Within no time we had packed up Jim’s tent, divided all his gear between the six of us and we set off, with Jim propped up in our midst.

Because of a fire closure we were forced to take a route other than the PCT and the going was slow and difficult. By late afternoon we arrived at a lake four miles down the trail and decided to make camp there. Jim had seemed to be improving, but after we set up his tent for him, he collapsed face first into it. We made him a hot meal and with the members of our small rescue party we decided to get together at 6 a.m for an early start down the mountain.

A makeshift stretcher.

As for myself, I just couldn’t understand how Jim, an experienced woodsman, had gotten into so much trouble in such seemingly innocent circumstances. Repeatedly I asked him about his medical history and if he had felt ill or had an accident the day before, as well as checking him for signs of a stroke, but all to no avail.

The next morning we tried to wake Jim, but he seemed in an even worse state than when we first found him. He kept on falling asleep and at times seemed to be hallucinating. Phoenix now decided it was time to go through his belongings and soon uncovered numerous baggies with pills, marked AM and PM. Mystery solved; Jim was a diabetic!

An advance party went ahead to request emergency assistance, while at the same time we managed to get Jim out of his tent. As the weather was turning bad, we agreed that we should get him as far toward town as possible. Soon however, Jim was unable to continue walking and it was obvious we would have to make a new plan.

Now my mountain training in the army came in handy as we constructed an improvised stretcher out of two small trees, our hiking poles and our bear-bagging rope. On top of the stretcher went a sleeping pad and tied on top of this, in his sleeping bag, went Jim. How proud my former instructors would be! We enlisted all hikers coming up from behind as carriers, alternating turns at the stretcher. Among the various nationalities were Belgians, Germans, Americans, Dutch and Israeli.

The path was steep, narrow and at times overgrown and the going was extremely tough, but the team performed amazingly; we had nearly put in 4 miles when we received news that a medevac chopper was inbound in 40 minutes. The landing site was only 0.5 miles further and, immensely encouraged by this news, we made it there with 15 minutes to spare.

A team of helpers.

Soon we saw the chopper circling above us and moments later Jim was whisked away by two very competent flight nurses, leaving us — a group of intimate strangers — behind.

Days later, catching a bus from another town back to the trail, we half overheard a conversation behind us between two hikers: “Oh wow, so you were part of the rescue party?!” “Yes, I helped carry this guy Jim out of the mountains on a stretcher and…”

Loading Jim onto the helicopter.

And we realized with a smile, that this was a story that would be told by many people from many places, forever connected by the fact that on that one particular day, we all did what was necessary; we all carried Jim.


P.S. Following the evacuation, we hiked down to Holden where we met Jim’s wife and exchanged contact details with her. She let us know that Jim was nearly back to his old self.