Tara LaRosa narrowly escapes tragedy in hiking mishap
http://mmadiehards.com/live/wp-conte...6-1024x768.jpgby Joe Rizzo on December 8, 2010 9:10:15 AM
In the early hours of Thanksgiving, Tara LaRosa took time to enjoy her late-night victory over Takayo Hashi, looking forward to what good things might come in 2011. Then she nearly lost it all.
LaRosa became disoriented with severe dehydration and mild hypothermia on Sunday in below-freezing conditions on the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail in the southwestern Pennsylvania town of Somerset, she told MMA DieHards. She had to be rescued by rangers, rendered nearly unable to move after hiking through snowy conditions in sub-freezing temperatures and lower wind chills for 12 miles on Sunday after starting with six miles on Saturday in what was to be a 70-mile head-clearing excursion.
Taken to Somerset Hospital, LaRosa was given an IV for re-hydration, treated for hypothermia and released early Monday.
She narrowly escaped what could have been a tragic fate, thanks to a potentially life-saving text message that found its way to South Jersey via what she believes was formulated through her guardian angel.
Although a novice solo hiker, LaRosa chose a popular trail that is relatively well-worn throughout all parts of the year, and one she attempted a few months ago before yielding to a knee injury. She prepared for this journey based on weather reports that predicted snow flurries with temperatures in the low 20s, and even delayed the start by two days.
The weather did not cooperate.
Temperatures dropped, and LaRosa’s Camelback water lines froze, leaving her unable to drink without having to boil snow. As she continued to hike with a pack weighing over 40 pounds, her sweat soaked through two layers of underclothing. The perspiration became a growing problem, as it left her unable to fully retain heat from her body.
Her situation grew more and more grim as disorientation in a building snow storm kept forcing her off the path as darkness fell. LaRosa’s GPS was not working, and weather conditions turned far worse from what her pre-hike forecast predicted and for what she prepared. Most notable were lower temperatures, heavy winds and lake-effect snow.
Still about a mile away after eight to nine hours of constant motion, she needed to get to the 18-mile marker, where there were lean-to shelters. With the final portion a steep up-and-down hike, LaRosa managed to make it, albeit with great difficulty.
Upon her arrival, she saw the shelter’s open side was facing the direction of the snow, making it of little use. Nearby, she found another that offered slightly better accommodations.
But her problems were not over.
As her hands began to get further exposed to the frigid temperatures, she lost the precision and dexterity to light matches and make a fire, leaving her stuck in her drenched and soon-to-be-frozen clothing. A similar fate was finding its way to her feet, socks and boots.
Risking the chance she might burn herself, LaRosa utilized a Strike-A-Fire, which is designed to light campfires, charcoal grills and indoor/outdoor fireplaces. It creates a flame that is designed to burn for 12 minutes, and was one of a number of fire-starting pieces of equipment she brought for the trip. Unable to gather fire materials, she instead used it to warm her hands enough to enable her to retrieve fresh clothes out of her pack. She laid out her emergency blanket and got into her 20-degree-rated sleeping bag, which had taken on moisture and thus became less effective.
She then took out her cell phone, only to realize it was dead.
A portable charger put life into the phone, but she could not get enough service to complete a 911 call. LaRosa attempted a text to her mother, explaining her position and situation, “and the text did not kick back to me,” she said.
Her mother received the message and called 911, getting connected to the area’s dispatcher some 250 miles away. Rangers briefly reached LaRosa by phone, “but the signal cut out pretty quickly,” she said.
Rangers used her cell phone beacon to locate her position, and reached her at the shelter Sunday evening.
“I did not know what day it was, or where I was,” she said. “I don’t really know what I was saying, but I knew my name and how old I was. I kept going to sleep on them, and then they would yell at me to wake me up.”
Unable to offer much of her own power, she was taken to the rangers’ station, where she was subsequently picked up by ambulance and brought to the hospital.
After a few hours of treatment but with no money or identification, arrangements were made for her at a local motel to recuperate. She headed back to her Philadelphia home on Monday evening, somewhat worse for wear but with no permanent damage.
LaRosa is no stranger to tragedy. On Aug. 23, 2007 her boyfriend, SFC Adrian M. Elizalde, was mortally wounded by an improvised explosive device in Baghdad. As recently as her last fight, LaRosa wore a warm-up sweatshirt honoring the fallen hero.
“I am not sure how I made it out there, but I have an idea,” she said. “Somebody was with me and got me through, my guardian angel.”