Emergency crews responded to a report of an injured hiker at Whitewater Falls just north of the South Carolina border on Saturday afternoon. Multiple agencies responded and helped carry out a 21-year-old male, Tristan, who had fallen and broken his ankle.
Tristan was hiking with his friend Jay Jordan, both from Charlotte, at the base of Upper Whitewater Falls when he fell navigating the slippery rocks.
“We were hiking, and he was jumping from rock to rock and there was a slippery spot,” said Jordan. “He said he broke his ankle and I came around the corner, yup, it was broken.”
Glenville-Cashiers Rescue Squad, Cashiers Glenville Volunteer Fire Department, and crews from Lake Toxaway, Oconee and Transylvania counties were on the scene to help evac Tristan to safety.
The trail down to the river is only approx. a half mile, but it is steep. Twenty-five rescue volunteers carried out Tristan on a sked in just over an hour. Crew members on the scene said that Tristan’s ankle was bent at an awkward angle and time was a factor concerning circulation in the foot with a ‘bent’ injury.
GCRS Chief Jeff Stewart said calls at Whitewater are strenuous given the terrain down to Whitewater River.
“It’s a manpower thing,” said Stewart, “Any time you get a call at Whitewater you know it’s going to be manpower intensive, that’s just the way it is.”
Tristan was conscious during the evac and was communicating with emergency personnel. Crews used a capstan winch to lift Tristan the final 500-vertical feet where he was then taken to a medical facility in Oconee.
GCRS Captain Chip Sherrill said using the winch and high-angle rope techniques cut a significant amount of time off the carry-out.
“With the narrow trail and the elevation change, we used a sked to carry him out most of the way, it makes the package much easier to manage,” said Sherrill. “But having the winch made a big difference with time.”
Stewart said that GCRS has held multiple training exercises at Whitewater Falls preparing for scenarios like this.
“We know what trees to set up the ropes at. We know what it looks like during the day, but in the dark it’s totally different,” said Stewart. “That’s why we come out here and train, to get familiar with the area.”
After Tristan initially injured his ankle, Jordan ran up the trail a bit to try and get a cell signal to call for help when he bumped into hikers Janell and Nalia Avila. Jordan told them about Tristan’s injured foot and asked if they had a signal.
“We we’re on the bridge when he told us his friend broke his ankle, so we ran up the trail and called 911, twice, we got disconnected the first time,” said Janell.
Once help was on the way, the Avilas stayed with Tristan and Jordan until helped arrived.
“When he first got hurt, he was in the river and we didn’t know how long it would take for help to get there,” said Nalia. “He basically got out of the river by himself, which was amazing with his ankle. Then we gave him Ibuprofen and got to know them until help arrived.”