Stabbed by a Trekking Pole in the Wind River Mountains

In the remote expanse of the Wind River Mountains, an ultra runner's routine training turns into the ultimate test of his endurance after a devastating mishap with his trekking pole.

Photo: Gabe Joyes

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In the rugged terrain of the Wind River Mountains, what began as a routine ultramarathon training session for Gabe Joyes quickly escalates into a life-threatening ordeal. After a misstep leads him to inadvertently pierce himself with his trekking pole, Joyes finds himself isolated in a remote canyon. Now, he faces his most formidable test of endurance yet as his wife Jenny and SAR volunteer David Englert try to reach him in time.

A special thanks to David Englert and Fremont County Search and Rescue. You can support the work of their volunteers here.


Host: Like most of us, I’m a creature of habit. I have my local running trails down to a science and can tell you which tree marks what mile, the junction that serves as my turnaround point, and what landmark to push myself to if I feel like tacking on some extra distance. For many, there’s a sense of comfort and the predictability on our home trails.

But this familiarity can be a double-edged sword. While it makes us feel safer, it can also breed complacency. We might neglect to check the weather or inform someone about when to expect us home. In areas we know, it’s easy for our minds to wander or our vigilance to wane. The truth is, it’s during these routine activities that we find ourselves the most vulnerable.

Gabe Joyes: My name is Gabe Joyes. I am a runner, a running coach, and a high school teacher. I’m married. I have two young daughters. I’ve lived in Lander, Wyoming, for about the last 15 years where I’ve spent quite a bit of time backpacking and running all around, and traveling through Wyoming’s Wind River Mountains, a lot of time the Tetons, but really all throughout the greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

Host: Gabe is also an experienced ultra runner. He’s completed over a dozen 100-mile races and is an athlete for Scarpa, the footwear company. 

Gabe Joyes: Last year I was kind of knee deep into a training block, getting ready for the Lavaredo ultra trail. That race takes place in the Dolomites in northern Italy, and it’s 120 kilometers or about 75 miles with tons of up and downs over steep and rocky terrain. It’s a race that I’ve run before, and I was relishing preparing for again. 

Host: It was the end of the school year and Gabe had a rare free afternoon with his wife and kids away on a camping trip. It was the perfect opportunity for a long run.

GabeJoyes: I was about at peak training for the Lavaredo ultra trail, so I had a lot of fatigue in my legs and was aware of that.

I made a mental note to myself before running to make sure I was extra careful that day because these are the sort of days where injuries and accidents happen when you’re feeling a little fatigued and a little tired. 

Host: Gabe was planning a run in Sinks Canyon State Park, a rugged canyon that sits at the base of the Wind River Mountains. Situated just 10 minutes outside Lander, the state park is a place Gabe runs five to six times a week. 

Gabe Joyes: If there’s anywhere in this world that’s a comfort zone for me, it’s Sinks Canyon. I was planning a 30-mile route on trails that I could practically run with my eyes closed, and the way I planned on doing it this particular day was to do roughly three 10-mile loops with stopping at my car twice to use it as an aid station to to resupply on water and snacks and that sort of thing.

I completed one loop, but it took a little bit longer than I thought. I had to do a little reroute because a mother moose and a calf blocked my way, and the mother moose was quite grumpy and had no interest in letting me pass. I ended up getting back to my car, I think I was about 17 miles into it or something like that.

And so then I planned on doing one more 10 mile loop and then a few more bonus miles after that. I was a little bit more than 20 miles into that and enjoying myself, saw a herd of elk, and took some pictures of them. I was a little bit tired because I’ve been running it for like 20 miles and had been training a lot, but generally it felt quite good.

It was 40 and cloudy, a little bit breezy, so good running temperatures. So I had about a 3.5-mile descent to go to my car. I had been using my trekking poles to help get up and down all the steep terrain. That’s something I had practiced using a lot. And because I had been wearing a wind jacket over my pack, instead of stowing my poles on the back of my pack for running downhill, I decided just to fold them up.

They were Z poles. They break into three pieces, and I just fold them up, held them in my hand. I don’t do that too often. I typically only do that for shorter descents, but again, this just felt all very comfortable. I started picking up the pace, cruising through it. The whole descent is pretty technical and rocky, but there are a few parts where it smooths out just a little bit.

I started opening up my stride just a little bit in there. As I was doing that and being lighthearted, without a doubt in hindsight, I lost my focus just a little bit, I kicked a rock and felt myself hurdling forward, which most trail runners have probably had this experience before. And I remember flying through the air, going in slow motion was just almost a casual thought of “Oh shit. I hope this doesn’t hurt too much.” I remember hitting the ground and just it felt like my whole body exploded. Think of some sci-fi movie and a spaceship where every alarm light starts flashing and sounding all at once. That’s what it felt like in my head. It was like, “Oh my God, something is seriously wrong.”

I had landed front first and I rolled over to take a look at myself and just saw blood bubbling and squirting out of me somewhere by my hips. I could see my pulse in each kind of gush of blood that came out, and it was just absolutely horrifying. It just didn’t even, didn’t look real to see blood coming out of somebody at that rate. I panicked for a second or two, just looked at it, just thinking, “Oh my God. This is the sort of bleed that people die from. This could kill me.”

Even though I was maybe only 2 miles or so from my car, I was in a place where it’s very rare to see people, and no one’s gonna help me, or at least anytime soon. And with that kind of emotion and the panic, all that just switched off my brain and it went to “get to work, self-preservation mode” kind of stuff. 

Host: Gabe admits he let his familiarity with Sinks Canyon lull him into a kind of complacency and never felt very far away from his car. He often carries a Garmin inReach Mini on his backcountry runs, but like many endurance runners, Gabe likes to keep his kit light and decided to leave it behind this day.

He also normally runs with an emergency blanket, but inadvertently left that behind in another pack. 

Gabe Joyes: I had landed on my trekking pole. The handle part of my trucking pole landed on the ground, and so the tip part was pointing up, and then the full force of my body landed on the pole where I was running downhill, doing a 6-minute mile or something like that.

So there was quite a bit of force where the pole had punctured my leg and it had hit some sort of major vein. So I immediately stuck a couple fingers in this hole in my leg, which was every bit as disgusting as it sounds. When I took wilderness first aid training, I was the kind of guy when they showed bloody pictures and stuff, I would have to sit on the floor because I’d be worried about passing out. I just don’t handle that stuff particularly well. 

This was especially distressing to see and to have to deal with in any case. So immediately stuck my hand in there and it’s all warm and soft and gushy and just bloody, and I’m trying to find some sort of way to put pressure on this puncture and try to get the bleeding stopped.

Host: The puncture wound was in Gabe’s groin and moving made blood spurt from the injury. He tried to position himself on the trail so his legs were elevated, which he hoped would keep more blood toward his organs.

Gabe Joyes: I was not having a lot of luck slowing down the blood flow. I had a windbreaker. I took that off.

As carefully as I could with one hand using one hand in my teeth, and it’s one of those one breakers that’s very light, 3 ounces or something like that, but it’s quite water-resistant, so I bunched that up and shoved that into the hole and pressed as hard as I could, hoping that waterproofness to help seal things up.

Once I felt like I was slowing a little bit of the blood flow. I knew it was time to try to call for some help. Cell phone service in Sinks Canyon is super spotty. There are lots of places where there isn’t service. I was not confident I was going to have service, so I got my phone out and I was thrilled to have two bars, which is usually the bare minimum for me to get a call or a text message out. Without making any calculated thought of who to call, I know most people would call 911, my immediate thought was to call my wife. 

Host: Here’s Gabe’s wife, Jenny. She had just returned home earlier that afternoon from a camping trip with their two daughters. 

Jenny Joyes: I was sitting at the kitchen table with my kids, and I got a phone call and I see that it’s Gabe and I remember looking at the clock and thinking, “Oh, that’s odd that he’s done a little bit earlier today.”

And I didn’t have any sort of fear or worry at that moment. I answered the call, and he had this kind of urgent sound of his voice and very assertive sound to his voice, but yet still a little bit calm. He had told me that he was in need of help. He needed search and rescue. 

Gabe Joyes: I could explain to her where I was. For most people, even in the Lander area, if I explained right where I was, they wouldn’t know what I was talking about.

Jenny Joyes: And the reason that he called me was because I run up there a lot on my own as well. 

Gabe Joyes: And so as quickly and as calmly as I could, I said exactly where I was. I said what the injury was and said, “Please call search and rescue.”

Jenny Joyes: I immediately went into a little bit of a panic mode, and I remember he very sternly said, “I need you to stay calm, but I just need help right now, and I need search and rescue.” This was all business. We need to get this done. I then immediately hung up the phone and called for help.

Gabe Joyes: I was really glad to have been able to get that call out because that was a pretty lucky thing. While my wife was calling search and rescue, I again just tried to get pressure on the wound as best I could, because I could definitely still feel warm blood trickling down my leg.

Jenny Joyes: Well, I called the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office and told them the situation, and in the meantime while I was calling, my kids were watching and observing and they had noticed that something was wrong and I had given them a little bit of information of what I’ve known and they’re in the background very calmly getting their shoes on and getting their jackets because it was getting toward the evening time, going up into the canyon. 

Host: Fremont County Sheriff put out a text that initiated the search and rescue response. It just so happened that David Engler, who had worked on search and rescue for 14 years, was on the mountain not far from where Gabe was injured. He got the text and let his commander know he was in the area. Here’s David. 

David Englert: I am about two minutes away from getting into a location that my phone was not gonna receive calls or texts. How search and rescue works is we just get a text on the phone for the commander to call the sheriff’s dispatch. I believe the text was something like “46-year-old male fallen and has a growing injury that is bleeding,” and Fairfield is well known in the rock climbing community as an awesome place to go climb, especially in the spring.

We assumed that it was probably a mountain climber, and I let our commander know that I was already on top of Fairfield.

Host: David was on a family outing at the time of the call and made plans to drop his guests off at his family’s cabin nearby before heading out to search. Since his vehicle had been full of people and dogs, he had taken out his first aid bag at home, but he thought he might be of some use anyway.

Meanwhile, Gabe was preparing himself with what little he had to wait for help.

GabeJoyes: It also dawned on me pretty quick that things were gonna get cold. It was 40 degrees, overcast and windy. I’m soaked with sweat now, soaked with blood. I’d lost quite a bit. I don’t know how much, but I did have an extra rain jacket in my pack, so again, using my teeth and a free hand, I was able to get out my rain jacket.

Host: The only problem was the shorthand that Gabe and Jenny used to describe various points on the trail aren’t as common to other Lander locals. David didn’t know where exactly to begin his search. 

David Englert: We did get some information during this time as we’re starting out that his location is in the aspens and we’re like, “Oh, boy. It’s a huge mountain. There are a lot of Aspen pockets here and there.” We both assumed that it was about three-quarters of the way up the road on Fairfield. 

Jenny Joyes: At that point, I had called Gabe again to let him know that help was on his way, and he answered the phone pretty quickly. And at that moment, I could hear in his voice that this was sounding even more serious than I thought.

His voice went from being very assertive to now sounding pretty scared, like this was pretty serious. At that moment it hit me that there’s maybe not a lot of time to get to him.

Gabe Joyes: After we got off the phone, I thought to myself like, “Maybe I’ll call 911 too and just send the memo that this is urgent and see if I could encourage them to go nice and quickly.” So I dialed 911 and just as the operator was saying, “911, what’s your emergency?” I lost all phone service.

It was gone just completely, no bars, nothing. And so that was really disappointing of course, because I would’ve liked to talk to some emergency responders, but I felt really bad because I knew my wife was gonna try to get in touch with me again at some point. 

Host: Jenny would try to get in touch with Gabe again as she made her way into the canyon.

Jenny Joyes: I stopped to make another phone call to try to call Gabe again to make sure he was still okay, and at that point I was unable to get through to him. The phone just kept ringing and ringing over and over again, and at that moment I was thinking of the worst. As I sat there, I could look in the mirror and see my kids.

And then I could see an ambulance drive by and police drive by and my heart just sank. I felt a little bit helpless at that moment.

Gabe Joyes: I had at one point heard an ambulance siren echoing in the wind coming up from Sinks Canyon. Thought to myself, “That’s great. I’m glad there’s an ambulance down there. It’ll never get to where I am, but hey, at least there’s someone down there. That’s great. So I know the ball’s rolling.”

I was well aware that it was gonna take a while for help to come. I know how it goes to take to mobilize these sort of things, so I tried pulling out all the mental tricks that I could, just looking around and enjoying the scenery, trying to almost make lighthearted jokes to myself like, “Oh, if you’re gonna die, Fairfield Hill is a pretty good place to go. This is great.” Like that sort of kind of dark humor. I even took some pictures to normalize it. I was like, “This is crazy. I guess I should take a few pictures,” and just tried to relax and slow my breathing, slow my heart rate, all those sorts of things, and be a little bit chill.

David Englert: So I told our commander that I would come from the top, search everything coming down and head toward that spring area that has a lot of Aspen. I took off headed for these Aspens, and we got down there. I stop my vehicle and I’m hollering and hollering and nothing. 

Gabe Joyes: I have an alarm that goes off on my watch when I go on long runs. It goes off about every 40 minutes. I call that my “smile and eat alarm.” It’s a reminder to eat something and to have a smile whether I’m having fun or not, a “fake it till you make it” mentality. I remember I had been laying there, I don’t know, I would estimate maybe for 20 minutes and my “smile and eat alarm” went off, which I had to have a little sarcastic laugh at and have myself a little smile.

I thought to myself, I would guess help will be here before that alarm goes off again in another 40 minutes. After laying there for a little bit, trying to normalize things, I started to get really cold, whether it was shock from the blood loss, plus being all wet and the cold, I started getting really cold.

It started out as just teeth chattering cold and eventually turned into whole-body shake-shivering, which was stressful because it was difficult to keep pressure and the puncture, if I start shaking too much again, I could start to feel more blood come out. And so I was trying to control my shaking so I could keep pressure.

Jenny Joyes: I went up into the canyon. It’s about a 10-minute drive from where I was waiting on the phone and drove up into the parking area where the trail starts, and there’s already one person there from search and rescue on a radio, and they had already sent one person up there trying to look for him. I was trying to stay calm as much as I could because we did have a few phone calls that went through just fine.

He called me and it was perfectly clear, and I called him back and it went through right away. And then I had four to five calls that I tried to call him and it just kept ringing and I thought maybe he’s unable to answer the phone. So I had, I was trying to stay calm, but my mind kept going to the worst possible case.

Gabe Joyes: I was really concerned about passing out from blood loss because I knew if I passed out that I couldn’t keep pressure on the wound anymore, and if I couldn’t keep pressure on the wound, then I was gonna have myself a real problem. I was acutely aware that I had a significant mental challenge on my hand here to keep my act together and not lose control, not lose focus.

And so I tried to stay really positive, to be encouraged that I knew people were coming to help, but as I started to get so cold, that was really hard when my alarm went off again another 40 minutes later. That was really disheartening and had no sign of help. At that point, I had been laying on a rock, so I had this idea of maybe it’s time to move this rock and get myself a little bit more comfortable.

Then I tried to use one hand and wiggle, and I just felt this gush of blood come out of the puncture as I moved and so angry with myself for trying to find a way to make myself more comfortable, make the scenario even worse, right? So I always started to become frustrated with myself. I started to do things like start shouting for help.

I was 100 percent sure no one was going to hear me. It was windy. I’m sure my voice just blew away instantly. And the struggle was real, and it was dark. It wasn’t a race where people say they’re having a sufferfest, but really they can just quit at the next aid station if they want to.

This is totally different than that, right? This is, you can’t quit. You have to just keep going because there’s really no other option other than giving up on your life, and that’s not okay. So I don’t remember how kind of some of those dark points went along, but I was definitely running out of mental reserves.

Host: But just as Gabe was running out of mental energy, he heard something that sent a surge of hope through him. An engine coming up the two-track trail. 

David Englert: I just told myself, once I hit the pine trees, I’m gonna turn around and re-search some of these areas. Driving up the road, lo and behold, I just came across this person laying in the road.

Gabe Joyes: I was a little bit nervous with the way the road rolled that whatever vehicle was coming up might not see me and run me over. I was a little concerned about that, but when I eventually saw this kind of side-by-side, 4 wheeler come up the road, I waved to them and they stopped before me. 

David Englert : I knew this was our guy we were looking for. He was wet from the drizzling rain and probably from running as well. He’s got on very light clothing, shorts and a very light shirt, just shivering uncontrollably.

Gabe Joyes: Goodness, I was happy to see him and the guy hops out right away and came right up to me and it turns out he was a search and rescue member who hadn’t been deployed for this mission, but actually had a cabin a few miles away and had gotten a text message that someone was hurt in the area and they didn’t quite know where, but he hopped in his 4-wheeler and decided to just go out looking for me.

Jenny Joyes: It was the evening time, so a lot of climbers were coming down the trail after their day of climbing and they were seeing emergency vehicles, and they were seeing me in this panicked state trying to call and text people I knew, but I wasn’t getting any phone calls through. So it was really nice having these people there as well, trying to help me out in this situation.

David Englert: He’s communicating with me, telling me he’s got a hole right in his groin. The first thing was I just took a look at that and he had two fingers inside the wound very high up on his groin area, and it was not bleeding anymore. He was laying in a pool of blood. There was quite a bit of blood loss already.

I figured it was best not to move him. I was upset with myself for taking out my go-bag and I went side by side and my dog Kona is with me and we have a big cover for the backseat of the Ranger. That keeps her from gouging the seat and it’s also waterproof. So I took that off of the Ranger, and I took it over there and I wrapped him up in that.

Gabe Joyes: The one thing he did have that was amazing was a tarp.

David Englert: He did tell me, he was like, “I don’t know what you put on me, but this is sure warm.” And I wasn’t gonna tell him it was just my dog’s cover for the seat. 

Gabe Joyes: And so he was able to give me a nice little bit of a burrito wrap in his tarp best he could to block that freezing cold wind and that made a world of difference for me.   

David Englert : He did an awesome job himself, just knowing what to do. I understood he did take a first-aid class. That is actually what saved his life. And then that’s when Gabe told me, “Yeah, I called my wife.” I’m like, “From here?” And he’s like, “Yeah.” I whipped out my phone.

Sure enough, I had about two bars on there. I called 911. I gave them our coordinates and they said that they were able to verify those coordinates because they already pinged my phone and this probably happened within 20 seconds. 

Jenny Joyes: They had told me that a helicopter was going to be on their way and it seemed like an eternity just at that moment.

Gabe Joyes: Another five or 10 minutes later is all it was. A helicopter came descending out of the sky, landed near me, and it was actually unbelievable the terrain they landed on. I’m not sure how they landed a helicopter in that.

Jenny Joyes: And the helicopter went up farther into the mountains and I could see it flying exactly where I knew he was sitting. At this moment. I still did not have any information if he was alive, if he was conscious, if he was okay. I had no idea. 

Gabe Joyes: A couple of EMTs hopped out, came over, and took over right away. They were very impressive. They were very much in “mission and work” mode. They took some scissors, immediately cut off all my bloody clothes, cut my shorts right off.

I was like, “Okay.” And they took over putting pressure on the wound. I thought I was putting a hard pressure on this puncture, the pressure they put on it felt multiplied by a thousand. It was unbelievably painful how hard they were pushing in this hole in my body, all the while they were quietly whispering into my ear, “Don’t worry, we’ll get you the good drug soon.”

David Englert: They were very worried that he did puncture an artery with the amount of blood that was there. They just ended up wrapping it super tight with some gauze packing the wound. I felt bad for Gabe because when they put the IVs in them, they used a very, very heavy gauge IV in both arms thinking they might have to give him a lot more blood.

Gabe Joyes: That needle going in was torture. And then without further ado, they gave me those good drugs they were talking about and sent me to what I can only describe as a magical melting ice cream world. And with that, things became a little bit of a blur. 

Jenny Joyes: At that point, I drove down the canyon a little bit to try to get a little bit more cell phone service, and I found another sheriff who was waiting downcanyon as well.

I stopped there, and they were able to fill me in a little bit and told me that they found him and that they were gonna be taking him to the Casper hospital, which is about a two-hour drive for us. 

Gabe Joyes: The mentality or the emotions of the ordeal really changed. It got to be the point where once those EMTs arrived, I felt like I was able to let my guard down mentally.

I knew I had full trust in them to take good care of me and do what needed to be done. And the feeling wasn’t not triumphant or anything like that, but it was a relief that I had done enough, good enough job done. I didn’t let myself die. I didn’t let myself pass out, and that was a great relief because for a while I wasn’t so sure I was gonna be able to do that.

I was really grateful that the search and rescue volunteers and EMTs and the pilots were all great folks in the community who were able to respond as quickly as they could and save my butt. 

Jenny Joyes: When we were about 30 minutes from the hospital, I get a phone call, which was unusual because there was not very good cell phone service there.

And then I see it’s Gabe, and at that moment I’m still worried that it’s gonna be somebody else on his cell phone telling me the worst of news. But when I heard his voice, it was the biggest relief of my life. 

Host: Gabe had suffered some muscle damage, needed some stitches to an internal vein, the source of all the bleeding, and a torn calf muscle, an injury he didn’t feel until the next day.

Thanks to his high-altitude training, he had enough red blood cells and hemoglobin and did not need a blood transfusion. After just 24 hours in the hospital, he was sent home to recover with his family. 

Gabe Joyes: Without a doubt, I’ve struggled with a little bit of trauma from the experience where when I’m running, I’ll see every little sharp stick or every little sharp rock, and I’m constantly scanning for those things and a hypervigilant of, “Ooh, a fall there could be really bad.” You could land this way and have this problem. And I’m aware it’s over the top. It’s a little bit paranoid. Of course it’s something I’m working on. 

Jenny Joyes: I’ve done some thinking and some reflection, and I’ve realized just you have to prepare yourself for any situation.

I feel really fortunate that Gabe had some background knowledge of first aid, specifically wilderness first aid. So we both maybe take these situations a little more seriously, even when we’re just going into what feels like our backyard. We make sure we have appropriate gear, appropriate first aid supplies with us, so that if we end up in another situation like that, we’re able to take care of ourselves.

David Englert : Something that we took away from and we’re just telling everybody, the first call should be 911. If you can call and get out, call 911. They can ping your phone, they can find out where you’re at. That was huge. And then the next call, if you’re able to with battery life, call your family and stuff like that. I got off the phone, and it wasn’t a few minutes later you could hear the helicopter coming.

Gabe Joyes:  I think without a doubt, the hardest part was the patience piece. Just waiting for help, knowing that’s coming. It very much felt like a test of endurance or a test of patience.

If anyone has done a really long hike or really long run, and you know you have x number of miles to go and they just tick away so slowly and you know you can stop and throw a tantrum in the middle of the trail, but that doesn’t do you any good. I’m sure I’m not gonna get this quote right, but Jennifer Farr Davis has some quote about endurance being not keeping going when you know how many miles you have left. Endurance is keeping going when there’s no end in sight. And this to me was an experience where it was like, I know I have to keep going, but I have absolutely no idea how long. I just have to keep going regardless. 

Host: Gabe is back to running again. But the injury took a toll on his training. 

Gabe Joyes: It took a long time for the puncture to heal as well and for the muscles to heal. My hip flexor and my right thigh were just pretty much weak and useless for a really long time.

I think it was maybe a week and a half or two weeks after the accident, I went for a quarter-mile walk with one of my kids up a very small hill, and it was exhausting. When I got to the top, I smiled my head off and felt triumphant. It was like my Everest. Even though the week and a half before this I was like casually popping off 30-mile runs like they were no big deal.

I went from that to a week and a half later, feeling so proud of myself for covering a quarter of a mile, so things can change pretty quick. 

Host: This episode of Out Alive was written and produced by me, Louisa Albanese, and edited by Zoe Gates. Scoring and Sound Design was by Jason Patton. Thanks so much to Gabe and Jenny Joyes and David Engler for sharing your stories with us.

Thanks so much for listening to Out Alive. If you have a survival story to share, you can email me at Out Alive is made possible by our outside plus members. Learn about all the benefits of membership We’ll be back again in two weeks with another story.

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