This is Part Four from my Alaska Series.....scroll back for the other parts.
"Help!" "Help!" The eery sound jolted us out of a deep sleep at the remote hatchery site where we worked. "Hellllp!" It echoed in the enclosed bay and off the steep cliffs into the dark of night. Flashlights came out and people gathered outside.
The big lights were beamed toward the sound and showed a man in the water slough behind the hatchery. His hand was all that was visible as he went under again. The guys got the skiff in the water and zoomed to his aid. They pulled on his arm and hoisted him into the boat. He was propped in the shower and the long process of helping someone out of Hyperthermic shock began.
One of the staff had to get naked in a sleeping bag with him. He eventually survived the night and ate a dozen eggs in the morning. He told of another man at the top of the waterfall waiting to be rescued. As soon as the guys at the hatchery heard that they had taken action in the middle of the night.
They climbed the rough trail about a quarter mile straight up and got in the little skiff that was stored up there to maintain the lake and the falls that powered the big hatchery. Sure enough there was another man marooned at the edge of the lake on some logs. He had come down the cliff at the back of the lake not realizing there was no shore. His friend had braved the water and fallen down the falls and we found him otherwise I don't know if they would have survived.
They had started out on a hike across the island from Sitka, Alaska. As the days wore on and the conditions were difficult they ran out of food. We found them just as they were near the hatchery where one of them had a brother working. The brother was among the rescue crew.
This is not the only incident of hyperthermic shock I know of in Alaska. We had a good friend die when she lagged behind on the family cross country ski trip. She was young and fit. The cold gets into the core of your body and it kills quickly. There is also quite a bit of disorientation with the condition. People report thinking they can do amazing things and having lots of hallucinations.
I had two friends who were brothers and took off on a long hike in Alaska and never came back. Lost in the wilderness. Disoriented. It must be a very quiet death full of spirit and closeness to nature. But these fellows were way too young for that.
It was an odd coincidence that I was doing an art fair the next year in Sitka and demonstrating my paint-on Batik method. I was working on a scene of Hidden Falls and painting the water behind the hatchery when one of the fellows watching started talking to me. He said he had been one of the rescued men that day and we exchanged stories and hugs.