The best way for a fully disabled, good sized male to go hiking with friends.
October 12, 2009 10:44 PM   Subscribe

I've been a quadriplegic since the age of fifteen due to a diving accident. I live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with some of the best trails in the world-- the Olympics, Cascades and National Rainforest, to name a few--in my backyard, but I've never been able to experience them. Can anyone help with a reasonably safe solution. I pictured a carrying device with two poles and a harness where two strong individuals rested the poles on their shoulders. Any engineers out there with some nifty designs or ideas. I am 6'2 and about 220 lbs in good shape and sturdy physique. I would love to join my friends for a hot brandy and stories around the campfire.
posted by dthm42 to Travel & Transportation (30 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
That's a lot of weight for your friends to carry if I'm understanding you correctly.
How about arranging a carrying device on a pack horse? Seems doable.
posted by artdrectr at 10:54 PM on October 12, 2009

The pole/harness "stretcher" style arrangement you mention would be hard to beat for maneuverability over really rough terrain, but even the strongest of helpers are going to tire very quickly getting over that terrain while maintaining their balance and carrying 220 pounds of you, especially if they're carrying backpacking supplies too. You'd probably be a lot better off with an all-terrain wheelchair of some sort. This could be motorized (like this tracked model) making you self-sufficient but probably limiting your range (They claim the battery gets you 12 miles but that's probably optimistic, and a breakdown in the back country with that beast would be bad news indeed), or it could be something more like a traditional chair with mountain bike tires that your friends could push, which would be a lot easier than the shoulder-carry since your weight is on the ground and they're just moving you down the trail.

Do you have a budget in mind, and do you know what sort of trips you'd like to undertake? Are these friends of yours the "pack in, spend the night, pack out" type or the "live off fish and berries after the food runs out and come back when all your clothes have worn out" type?

On preview: Pack horse! That's a great idea.
posted by contraption at 11:13 PM on October 12, 2009

Can you tell us what vertebrae your injury was at? I think it'll make a difference in terms of what's required to keep you safe/how much you can help position your head+arms.

I'd actually suggest you try a support forum specifically meant for people with spinal injuries; I know my cousin (c6 break, I think) has been skiing, and I think her parents arranged it starting from a community for people with such injuries.

A little googling does show some other possible solutions, including a motorized off-road wheel chair (see tracabout). I'm not sure how far you could get or what trails the parks would let you access, and I am sure it'll be more expensive than a rigged solution, but it's another thought.
posted by nat at 11:26 PM on October 12, 2009

Pack Horse might not be allowed on some of the trails/ some of the parks.

I watched a television program about a group of disabled kids who conquer their disabilities and do cool stuff, like cross the Andes. It's called Beyond Boundaries (wikipedia)

The funky all terrain wheel chairs with pull straps on the front and handles on the back.

The kids in wheel chairs weren't quadriplegic, but I'm sure you might be able to get some inspiration/tips from here. There also was a serious accident where one of the chairs tipped, so you'd have to watch that, it isn't a fool proof method.

Across the Andes
African Challenge

Hope these links work, check out and search for "Beyond Boundaries" for more.
posted by titanium_geek at 11:30 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Here's a pretty good selection of unmotorized offroad chairs.
posted by contraption at 11:31 PM on October 12, 2009

On preview, contraption (epony... never mind) already mentioned the tracabout, my bad.

But I did want to mention Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center, which isn't in the right area for you, but they might have useful ideas anyhow.
posted by nat at 11:34 PM on October 12, 2009

Another possibility for trails that allow cycling would be a tandem trike outfitted with an appropriate harness in the rear position.
posted by contraption at 11:46 PM on October 12, 2009

Best answer: Difficult as its provenance might be, a two wheeled stretcher such as those used at Guantanamo for prisoner transfers, might be serviceable to you on moderate trails.
posted by paulsc at 2:32 AM on October 13, 2009

I kinda wish you were right coast instead of left coast, I might be able to provide better resources for you. That said, I'd really encourage you to contact the Sierra Club or one of the trails conservancies and ask them your question. I promise you're not the first one with this issue.

A lot of those trails are also not extremely difficult in terms of terrain, I bet there's a semi-solution already in place.

Also, fwiw, the BLM and the National Parks don't have to allow animals on all their trails, and they don't have to make trails accessible per se, but they do have to consider options to give every American the opportunity to make use of their lands. Might actually be worth calling the local management office.
posted by TomMelee at 5:36 AM on October 13, 2009

I have a friend who is a quadriplegic (C6-7 Incomplete) who does some form of skiing, mountain biking, kayaking and horseback riding. He has trained assistants with him when he does the things. He also plays wheelchair rugby. He has some limited mobility in his limbs, enough so that he can move, say, a kayak paddle with the paddle attached to special gloves since he's unable to grip it. The mountain "bikes" are more like off-road wheelchairs with hand cranks.

I'm not sure how he does these things, I believe he signs up for them through rehab centers or other groups who specialize in this sort of thing. I can't offer you any specific advice only to say that it is possible and there are resources out there. He's in Boulder, but given that the Pacific NW is just as outdoorsy as Colorado I would expect there are similar resources.
posted by bondcliff at 6:08 AM on October 13, 2009

Best answer: For a slightly more long-term idea, one of our mechanical engineering professors changed his focus after his son became quadriplegic in 1999. (I believe his son was also in his early teens.) While a lot of his work deals with smaller assistive devices, you can see from the pictured example (a lift to help someone get into his own plane) that he deals with a lot of areas, including recreational stuff. Here in Wisconsin, we have a lot of folks with disabilities who enjoy outdoor activities like hunting and fishing, so I imagine that this kind of thing would be a great project for him and his students.
posted by Madamina at 7:20 AM on October 13, 2009

Maybe you should get in touch with the organization Disabled Explorers. They focus on independent vehicle based access to the backcountry for exploring and experiencing the outdoors. I'm on a forum with one of the founders and he strikes me as a real decent and approachable guy.
posted by Harald74 at 8:57 AM on October 13, 2009

You may already be familiar with BORP, but they have some good ideas.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:26 AM on October 13, 2009

What about a kind of a rickshaw device? Or modify your goals a bit and start with a bicycle rickshaw and hit the bike trails?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:54 AM on October 13, 2009

Best answer: In "Mountain Rescue Doctor: Wilderness Medicine in the Extremes of Nature," by Christopher Van Tillburg, an ER doc in Hood River, Oregon, and a mountain rescue volunteer, I recall there being a passage about the stretcher they used for getting injured persons out of rough terrain. It was a bit like the Guantanamo stretcher someone linked to earlier, but I think it had only one wheel. The benefit of one wheel would be reduced back-and-forth rocking when riding over rough trails.

So if you could take a light chair with arms and mount a large, lightweight but sturdy wheel underneath it, with stabilizing poles coming out in front and back, I think your friend should be able to pull you along. Waist harnesses for the stabilizing poles could make it a lot more fun for your friends. Shoulder harnesses like you mentioned would probably be hell on the back/shoulders/nerves of anyone pulling/carrying you.

Where do you live? Do you have friends who can weld?
posted by MonsieurBon at 10:15 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oregon State Parks and Rec has a person who specifically deals with ADA and accessibility information: or (503) 986-0748. I assume he'd also be able to point you in the right direction for Forest Service trails too.
posted by vespabelle at 11:03 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Are you in touch with Outdoors for All? They should have some ideas.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:42 PM on October 13, 2009

If you go with a non-motorized all-terrain wheelchair, your friends will still need to be very strong, and the more of them there are the better... they can take turns and if you hit any rough spots, team up to help you over them. I speak from experience. When assisting you over those rough spots they may also need to take off their packs, if they're particularly heavy.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:20 AM on October 14, 2009

Response by poster: I really appreciate all the replies. I'm a high level c4-5 quad and I've always thought of the hiking issue as over-the-top for my condition. However, besides being a thoroughly enjoyable read, the hive mind input has opened the door of possibility for me. My favorite is the two wheeled stretcher used by the military. It is an improvement on what I originally envisioned by adding wheels for ease of transfer and durability. I can really see myself laying there, looking overhead and from side to side, taking in the scenic forest trails of Washington. Additionally, I have found all the resources and referrals you provided to be very helpful and I will be researching many of them in the future. My next task is to find help in assembling the stretcher or locating an existing military apparatus. Any help or ideas are welcomed. I am determined to turn this from a pipe dream into a reality. Thanks again all.
posted by dthm42 at 1:53 PM on October 16, 2009

Please keep us up-to-date on what you find! This is a really interesting project which has the potential to benefit a lot of people.
posted by Madamina at 2:53 PM on October 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

"stretcher carrier" seems to be the magic search term for those two-wheeled, uh, contraptions.
posted by contraption at 10:07 PM on October 16, 2009

Ok, I just can't stop googling. Here's a stretcher on eBay that's under $100 with 20 hours left from the same company that makes this carrier, so presumably it would fit (or be rigid enough to adapt to another model like this one or something you have custom-made, though it seems like for the price the ones made by medical companies would be more trustworthy than something hacked together at the local bike shop, which I can't imagine costing much less.)
posted by contraption at 10:34 PM on October 16, 2009

oh wait, that's not a stretcher at all but a sleeve that goes over one. Still might be good to pick up at that price, I would imagine you'd want some kind of harness system if you're gonna be bouncing down rough trails.
posted by contraption at 10:49 PM on October 16, 2009

Then there's this BHI place, where it looks like you could put together a whole single-wheeled system for under a thousand bucks.
posted by contraption at 10:55 PM on October 16, 2009

Response by poster: On preview, contraption (epony... never mind) already mentioned the tracabout, my bad.

You rock Contraption!! Very helpful stuff. Is your name by coincidence or an eponym? definately have a nack for the mechanical. I googled "two wheeled stretcher" and came up with zilch. Thanks for the "stretcher carrier" lead and medical parts store links. My funds are limited so I'll be relying on "friends" to help piece it together (for as cheap as possible). Haven't had the best luck with help on projects like this in the past, so will also investigate the route of fund raisers to purchase a finished commercial product (very pricey though). Looking forward to the trails!
posted by dthm42 at 8:40 PM on October 18, 2009

Best answer: Where are you located? If you're near Portland, OR, I'd be interested in helping build one.
posted by MonsieurBon at 1:11 PM on October 19, 2009

If I were going for a ride on that Guantanamo stretcher, I think I'd prefer to be recumbent rather than flat horizontal- that way you can see ahead of you as well as above. If you're gonna try to make this wheeled stretcher thingie yourself that may be worth considering.

Plus, having your body bent at the hip and knees, and your back partially upright will make the total length of the contraption shorter, which will probably help with maneuverability anyway as the two carriers will be closer to one another. And then when you stop along the trail, you guys can sit, chat, eat, drink, look at the view, etc- without you having to get off the stretcher to sit comfortably, or being stuck flat on your back.

You might consider it as almost a kind of modified wheelbarrow. Adding a kickstand of some sort will probably help a lot and be an improvement on the Guantanamo stretcher. One that folds up easily so it doesn't drag on the trail.
Good luck!
posted by twistofrhyme at 8:58 PM on October 19, 2009

Response by poster: Tacoma area-- but there's plenty of design work to be done where locale is not an issue. I'm picturing a stretcher on wheels with an adjustable back so I can sit up while drinking my brandy:) I've seen some neat "contraptions" that completely break down for ease of transport. Looks like the Brits had some awesome designs clear back in WWII. I appreciate your offer Monsieurbon. How do we correspond further?
posted by dthm42 at 9:30 PM on October 19, 2009

Response by poster: Upon further review, I think Monsieurbon might be on to something with the single wheel stretcher. Takes less space on the trail and reduces side-to-side rocking. Not sure if I feel safe sitting on a chair in an upright position, though. Not much upper body protection in the event of a spill. I prefer the prone position while transporting, with a lightweight aluminum framed stretcher on the sides for protection--doubling as a sled in snowy locations:) The back should adjust as before mentioned for the brandy toast and a good view of the the girls pallet dancing on the fire. Modifying a wheelbarrow by taking off the bed and tilting the frame upright as a base for the stretcher comes to mind.
posted by dthm42 at 10:47 PM on October 19, 2009

I think this is similar to what the book I mentioned was talking about:
posted by MonsieurBon at 4:23 PM on December 22, 2009

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