Boy Scouts are taught to go the extra mile. Troop 321 of Eagle went four.
After an exhausting day of hiking to the summit of Mount Borah, Idaho's tallest peak, and back to their campsite, nine local Boy Scouts hiked halfway back up the mountain Friday to carry a 69-year-old injured hiker to safety.
The boys, ranging in age from 12 to 18, helped scout leaders and volunteer emergency response technicians carry the hiker on a stretcher for nearly three hours despite the steep, rocky terrain.
"Talk about saving the day," said Rick Smyer, a volunteer emergency medical technician. "If it wasn't for the scout troop, (the hiker) would have spent the night on the mountain. And who knows what would have happened to that ankle."
The injured hiker, Merle Thomsen of Los Angeles, was taken by air ambulance to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls late Friday, where doctors placed three plates and 10 screws in his right ankle, said scout leader Bob Southworth who spoke with Thomsen on Monday. Thomsen is now recovering in California and could not be reached for comment.
"He told me that the scouts gave a 'Herculean effort' on his behalf and he couldn't be more grateful," said Southworth. "Those kids were willing to strap back on those boots after being exhausted to help a man they didn't even know. They, to me, are true heroes."
The 25 scouts and 15 leaders arrived at Mount Borah Thursday evening, after spending most of the week at a nearby scout camp. On Friday, the troop began hiking up the mountain at about 5:30 a.m. On the way up, some of the scouts passed Thomsen, a member of Highpointers, a climbing group that attempts to reach the highest point in every state.
"As a big-time climber, he was big on climbing etiquette and kind of scolded the boys for running off the trail," said Darren Leavitt, scoutmaster.
Some of the boys ran ahead of the main group and reached the summit shortly after 9 a.m. Although the hike to the summit is relatively short, the terrain is steep, rising over 5,400 feet during the 3.5-mile climb.
The scouts continued their fast pace and arrived back at their campsite at about 1:30 p.m.
"The scout leaders couldn't keep up with them, so we took our time," said Southworth. "It was a good thing, too."
Shortly after 4 p.m., scout leaders Mike Palmer and Jeff Lamm found Thomsen sitting down on the trail two miles from the trailhead.
"His ankle was sideways and grossly disfigured," said Lamm. "His ankle was out of his socket."
Thomsen, who had fallen behind his three companions, awkwardly stepped on a rock, lost his balance and severely dislocated his right ankle, said Smyer.
The two radioed for help, asking their scout troop for help.
"I had taken my boots off and was sitting down when they asked for help," said Gunner Christensen, 12. "So I thought, 'Are you kidding me?' "
But within minutes, he and eight other scouts began the two-mile trek back up the mountain side.
"We couldn't just leave (the hiker) there," Christensen said.
Four volunteer EMTs arrived at 7:30 p.m., Leavitt said, before they cut off Thomsen's boot and strapped him to a stretcher. From there, the group began carrying Thomsen down the mountain.
"It was so steep, I can't believe we didn't kill him," said Christensen.
Thomsen was taken down head-first to prevent blood from rushing to his ankle. The group rotated shifts carrying the stretcher, while others cleared away rocks in the group's path.
"It was so steep, it was killing our feet," said Southworth.
Nearly three hours later, Thomsen was transferred for treatments while the scouts nursed their feet.
"(One leader) had his toe nails fall off," said Houston Armstrong, 16. "But we'd all do it again in a second. We're scouts. What else are we supposed to do?"