By Lillian BOODAGHIANS
On Friday, Sept 5, former Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 317 Richard Toyon, was awarded the Boy Scout’s Medal of Merit for his heroic actions in saving a man’s life while on a hike to the summit of Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. His son, Zane Toyon, who was also on the hike and aided in the man’s rescue, was given the same award earlier in August of this year.
The father-son pair were on a three day hike up the mountain in October 2010. They had decided to turn back and head down the mountain without summiting because the weather conditions had grown highly unfavorable, with below freezing temperatures and a moist cloud cover, Toyon explained.
“My son noticed this gentleman [as we were packing up our camp]. He was disoriented, he could barely talk, he was just making guttural sounds,” said Toyon.
After noticing the man’s condition, Toyon said that his son approached the man and attempted to identify his symptoms, something Zane had learned to do through his Boy Scout wilderness training.
“We have both taken wilderness first aid training and are CPR certified. This meant we had learned how to recognize symptoms in the wilderness environment where you are going to be the person performing triage and sustaining the injured person’s life until you can get further help,” said Toyon.
As a team, Toyon and Zane were able to identify that the man was severely hypothermic, due to his lack of appropriate hiking attire and the frozen bladder water pack on his back.
It was the pair’s ability to recognize the man’s condition and their resourcefulness in ensuring the man’s recovery that would earn them the Medal of Merit award.
Toyon said that after learning the man was hypothermic, “[Zane] came up with this concoction of Gatorade, Lipton instant soup, and heated-up water we had melted from ice on the frozen lake that we fed the man.”
Toyon added that teamwork was a large part of helping save the man.
“We were working in tandem, trying to bring up [the man’s] temperature, putting him in a sleeping bag and then putting our canteen bottles filled with warm water in the sleeping bag with him,” said Toyon.
Once the man became warm, he fell asleep, but the Toyons were still concerned his condition might become worse.
“We were worried that he was going to slip into a coma and that his hypothermia would cause some type of cardiac situation so we would wake him up every 15 minutes to make sure he was okay,” said Toyon.
On one occasion when waking up the man, the Toyons asked the man’s name and he could only identify himself as John and said that he was from La Verne. Toyon said that after some time the man woke in a start, and said that he had to go. He then proceeded down the mountain alone, without accepting the Toyons’ offer to go down with him. The Toyons do not know what happened to the man after he left their care.
Toyon noted that staying calm was key to the successful rescue.
“I had been a wildland firefighter so I had come across situations like these a number of times. I was most impressed by my son who stayed calm and was on top of the situation,” he added.
Toyon spoke of how he feels the experience he and his son had reflects in a larger part the values and skills Boy Scouts instills in its youth.
“Though it was my son and I receiving these wonderful awards, it really is a confirmation that Boy Scouting and Scout training works, and that Scouts, through their training, are very willing young men, ready to assist … they feel a certain sense of responsibility to do something and not just stand by.”
And while the pair was unable to reach the top of the mountain that day, Toyon said the trip was definitely not a complete loss.
“As much as it was disappointing not to be able to summit that day, in the end, rescuing the man was the better experience for both of us.”