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Sandy McNabb Hills
Kananaskis, Alberta
March 18, 2017

After doing hundreds of hikes and scrambles I’ve been fortunate not to have any serious injuries, but that unblemished record came to a crashing end when Dinah and I hiked Sandy McNabb Hills.

Although the two hills, Sandy McNabb Hill and Sandy McNabb Hill East, can be quickly reached from Sandy McNabb Recreational Area, Dinah and I, in want of a longer trip, used the High Noon Hills trail. We started up the trail but it soon disappeared into an expansive meadow. (We lost the trail in a couple of places on the way in but nailed the route on the way out. The correct route is shown on my map.) After crossing meadows and hiking through trees, we picked up the trail at the southeast end of High Noon Hills. We lost it again on the grassy ridge above Long Prairie Creek, but after crossing the creek and hiking through the forest a bit, we found the trail when we emerged onto an impressive stretch of grassland, the “long meadow.” We followed the trail to the bottom of the Sandy McNabb Hill East.

We hiked over Sandy McNabb Hill East and continued west to ascend Sandy McNabb Hill. My GPS showed the two hills equally high, although Sandy McNabb Hill with fewer trees offers a more inviting perch.

On the way back we followed the trail running beneath Sandy McNabb Hill East and met the long meadow trail. After leaving the meadow we entered the forest and came across some patches of ice. That’s where I fell. Countless of times before, we’ve trod around and over small ice patches safely, but this time I made a misstep, perhaps going too fast or taking too big of a step. I slipped on ice, my feet flew under me, and my left shoulder smashed into an inconvenient tree.

I immediately got up but I knew I was in trouble. My shoulder hurt horribly and I suspected I had dislocated it. After taking a few minutes to recover from acute stress reaction, we fashioned a sling using my fleece jacket, and belatedly we put on Microspikes, or rather, Dinah did for both of us as my left arm was useless and any upper body movement hurt terribly. (I’ll never take walking on ice for granted again!)

Dinah offered to carry both packs, but that hampered her and I found I could easily hang her lighter pack from my right shoulder. With my left shoulder aching, we held a steady pace 2.4 km back – and 80 m up – to the trailhead. After throwing our gear in our car, we went searching for the nearest hospital.

Oilfields General Hospital

Two hours after the accident, I was admitted to Oilfields General Hospital in Black Diamond. The wait was mercifully short, maybe 20 minutes. A nurse took down my information and led me to a small room where I laid down on a gurney. After a time, a doctor appeared. Despite my grave situation, conversation was casual and I felt at ease with the friendly staff.

I knew there would be x-rays, drugs, and treatments with plenty of waiting in between. I was given a shot of Toradol to ease the pain while I contorted my body to fit their x-ray angles. However, the painkiller had no effect, but the sympathetic x-ray tech went out of her way to make the positions as comfortable as possible.

I did indeed have a dislocated shoulder. I would be sedated intravenously and my humerus would be pushed back into place. While I was being prepped, a second doctor appeared. It was a shift change and he would be taking over, but both doctors would be present for the treatment.

I became profoundly relaxed as Ketamine, an anesthesia that induces a trance-like state while providing pain relief and sedation, flowed into my veins. I felt like I was floating and with eyes closed, I began hallucinating. I watched squares change patterns and pastel colours, much like viewing a screen saver on a big screen: absolutely fascinating. The sensation of floating and the hallucinations filled my consciousness; I was hardly aware of much else. I could faintly hear the doctors talking but it was as if they were in another room. I was vaguely aware of movement by my left shoulder. I heard someone groan only to realize it was me. They must have pushed my shoulder back into place.

I was deeply sedated for maybe 15 minutes. Then the colourful squares slipped away and reality returned. For a long time afterwards, I felt woozy, had double vision and difficulty talking. Eventually I was taken for more x-rays and then wheeled back to my room.

“That’s never happened before,” said Dr. Hembroff, as he strode into my room. In his nine years of experience, he had never seen a shoulder come out again. It would have to be put back in, but another round of powerful Ketamine was out of the question: he would use traction, much like the diagram I had seen in a wilderness first aid book. Lying face down, they tied a 5 lb dumbbell to my wrist. Unlike a wilderness setting I was given morphine (if the narcotic had any effect on me, I wasn’t aware of it). I concentrated on relaxing my shoulder muscles and after a couple of minutes I felt my shoulder painlessly pop back into place. I stayed in traction for maybe half an hour.

After more waiting and more x-rays, I stood alongside the doctor and x-ray tech in the tiny x-ray control room, looking at my latest x-rays. Not good. My shoulder had popped out again! Then and there, while standing, the doctor maneuvered it back into place. After more x-rays and resting, the doctor pronounced my shoulder stable. Four and a half hours after I was admitted and now sporting a new sling, I walked out of the hospital.

I wish to thank Dr. Tristan Hembroff, Dr. Arne Van Aerde, Carol Wark (R.N) and the x-ray technician for their excellent treatment. Not only did I feel like I was in good hands, I felt like I was with good friends.

KML and GPX Tracks


After the trailhead, we went through a gate and headed southeast


The rise ahead is High Noon Hills


Coming up to the junction on the southeast end of High Noon Hills


After the junction, Sandy McNabb Hill East appears ahead. There is no trail here, but the route turns left.


Heading down to Long Prairie Creek


The long meadow


The end of Sandy McNabb Hills East lies ahead


Starting up Sandy McNabb Hills East


The trail winds around the left side of a ridge bump


Heading to the top of the hill


Partial panorama from the top of Sandy McNabb Hills East


After the summit, we continued along the ridge


The half bare summit of Sandy McNabb Hill lies ahead


On our way to our second hilltop


Just below the summit we had to hop a barbwire fence


Back on the long meadow trail


After falling, we made a sling from a fleece jacket and donned Microspikes


Crossing Long Prairie Creek


Recovering from sedation at Oilfields General Hospital. My shoulder was in
place here but went out twice more before I left.


82 J/9 Turner Valley, 82 J/10 Mount Rae

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