Mendon native braves treacherous conditions to save teammatePROVIDED PHOTO
Molly Nash, center, supported by trip leader Ryan Cole and Leah Cooney, stands for the first time after the team splinted her injured leg. It would take two days for the students to get Nash out of the Mahoosuc Notch wilderness.
When Jim Ryan woke up the morning of Aug. 23, he thought it was going to be just another day of learning in the mountains of western Maine; but Ryan and nine others soon realized that their day was going to be anything but ordinary.
Ryan, a native of Mendon and a senior International Studies major at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, was participating in an outdoor orientation leader training when he and his teammates’ skills were put to the test after one member of the team, Molly Nash, fell hours into their hike. The group was descending down the 3,765-foot mountain, known as the Mahoosuc Arm, when Nash slid down one of the long, steep slabs of rock covering the mountain, which was wet from a recent rainfall.
“I just took a fall that wasn’t very controlled and got my foot caught in a root,” said Nash. “I heard a bunch of cracks and told myself it was definitely just the tree root cracking – that I would be fine.”
After settling in and assessing the damage, Nash and the rest of the team sprung into action, creating an exit plan using the skills they had been practicing their entire trip.
Realizing that they were in a location where they couldn’t wait for help, they began to find ways to get Nash out. She tried sitting down and scooting backwards while others mobilized her injured ankle. When they realized how slow it was, she tried hopping down the trail. That’s when Ryan said he made a decision.
He convinced Nash to climb on his back. Then, he “bear crawled” up the Mahoosuc Notch, known for being the most challenging, rocky mile on the entire Appalachian Trail.
“The first point-five miles was just gnarly uphill stuff,” said Ryan. “The first half-mile took us four hours.”
Nash, already fallen once, was worried for not only her safety, but also that of her teammates. That’s when Ryan stepped in once again, this time to comfort Nash.
“I promise you that if I don’t feel 100 percent comfortable taking the next step, I’ll put you down,” Nash said, remembering Ryan’s words on the trail. “I don’t want to fall just as much as you don’t.”
After arriving at the summit of the mountain, Ryan and his teammates, Sam Glaisher and Stefan Sandreuter, took turns carrying Nash, 100 feet at a time, during the remaining mile until they reached their campsite, he said.
Paramedic Eric Jaeger was there waiting. When the team arrived, he was surprised at how well the students responded to the crisis.
“While they all did an amazing job, those guys who carried her back up that mountain and over to the Speck Pond campsite were heroes,” Jaeger said. “It was almost a superhuman effort. You go straight up.”
After consulting with an emergency room doctor, Jaeger and the students decided to spend the night at camp. The road to get Nash to a medical facility was still 3.6 miles away. The following day, the three men carried Nash until they reached the logging road in New Hampshire, where a vehicle was waiting.
To many on the trail and within the Colby community, Ryan is a hero. That includes Nash, who required nine screws and two plates to stabilize numerous fractures in three broken bones, and her mother, Carol Nash, who calls the Vermonter “super action hero Jim Ryan.”
Ryan, a 2009 graduate of Rutland High School, says his actions during the 48-hour mission weren’t heroic; it was all a part of the training he had been given, he said. More importantly, he says, he couldn’t have done it without the rest of his team.
“It’s hard to imagine a worse place,” he said. “It’s also hard to imagine a better team.”MORE IN Central Vermont
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