Friday, May 09, 2008

Things you don't see every day

Since I took the trouble to rant the other day about the spectacular absence of water from New Mexico, of course I immediately go out and find counter examples. Here's a waterfall I visited yesterday, not huge but plenty festive, near El Rito. As good as the waterfall, but much harder to photograph, was the enormous quartzite outcrop that formed the gorge.

But this was decidedly small potatoes compared to the next drainage over. The Rio Ojo Caliente flows southward out of the Tusas range. A southern outrigger of Colorado's San Juan mountains, the Tusas are consistently the snowiest part of New Mexico, and their snowpack this year was off the charts. The gracery store and a church in Chama actually caved in this winter. But warm weather is here, and the Ojo Caliente, normally a modest creek, is going big.

The river is charging like this for miles. These falls were the beginning of a fantastic gorge, full of continuous Class III-IV whitewater, pushy and very fast.

A big rapid. Those two V-waves are much bigger than they look in the photo.

Spring wildflowers on a river bench.

This is not an everyday sight in New Mexico. I have heard native New Mexican children exclaim in great excitement, "Look! The water's almost four inches deep!" This has been a very good year for the north.
Incidentally, the headwaters of this river host a truly classic New Mexican village. As I drove in, six cows were crossing Main Street (about eight feet wide) to ransack a garden. I was chased by dogs all the way through town. Splendid place!

The river canyon had no trail and as I was crossing one of many talus slopes a boulder rolled under my feet. After scrabbling a second trying to regain balance, I keeled over onto my right hand, which emitted a very audible snap, like a popsicle stick breaking. I lifted up my hand to see my ring finger pointing a good sixty degrees right of normal, clearly dislocated at the proximal joint. Thankfully, the pain was much less than I would have expected. But the "Holy Shit" factor was high, seeing a body part so far from its wonted environs, and the fight-or-flight response was very strong. I wanted to move, now, to be somewhere else right away. Also, since I wasn't thinking too clearly, I was not quite sure whether the thing was just dislocated or actually snapped through. An initial attempt to pull some traction and put it back in line was not satisfactory. Can I hike out like this? Bad idea. Fortunately, the cerebrum engaged: "You've got to deal with this now, before the adrenaline wears off." All right, brain. I staggered to stabler ground.

It's just dislocated, or it would hurt a lot more, right? Right. I hooked the finger through a loop on my camera bag to achieve a solider purchase, and pulled. Traction in line, then move it smoothly back into position, just like the WFR instructors say. Second time worked like a charm. Next step: extract first aid kit, swallow ten ibuprofen, splint it to the neighboring digit. It's nice to see wilderness medicine theory work in practice, gives you some confidence that they don't just make it all up so your rescuers have something to do while you die, like CPR in the field.

My one regret, a serious regret, is that I didn't stop to take a gruesome picture. At the time I was worried that it would be frivolous and irresponsible; now I feel differently, with posterity to consider. But it looked very much like this, except on the ring finger:

For more New Mexico whitewater, check out the first raft descent of Rio Embudo, just a couple weeks ago. Who says New Mexico has no decent boating?


mdmnm said...

Great video, thanks for putting it up! So nice to have a wet year. How's the finger? I've only taken the Wilderness First Aid 2 day course, not WFR, and hope that if I have to use any of the skills taught I can be that clear-headed about the whole thing.

Peculiar said...

Thanks! Yeah, the wet year is a treat, and the moisture seems to be hanging in all over the west. I'm leaving for some river trips in Dinosaur in a few days and looking forward to some good water on the Yampa.

Fingers not bad, though still not quite back to normal. One thing worth noting for first aid purposes is that if you ever splint one finger to another, take it off from time to time. I left my first splint on for about 24 hours, and had a little bed sore on each digit where the bony knuckles were pressing on each other. (Note that this is a separate concern from the wrap being too tight and restricting circulation.) Not a very big deal by any means, but these subtleties of treatment are hard to learn save by trial and error, and might really make a difference to someone wearing a splint for days in the backcountry.

mdmnm said...

Have a good time up there on the Yampa. I'm trying to figure out whether to head for the Box to see it again in high water or to go up to the Arkansas and see the Royal Gorge for the annual white water fix. Hope to go in two weeks.

Those little sores might get pretty nasty after a few days if not aired out, as you say, if a splint were worn for a few days without checking- good tip!