Or, how to fix people in the wilderness.
Even now, with ever-increasing cell phone coverage, it is really easy to be isolated from human communication in the Southwest. Turn the corner around a mesa cliff, and that mind-numbing stream of social media updates instantly dries up. Aaaahhhhh. . . .
However, the potential isolation definitely influences my approach to planning outdoor trips. By necessity and preference, I operate under the assumption that I need to be self sufficient, and accept the inherent risk of isolation. Any trouble my trip companions and I get ourselves into, we must also be able get ourselves out of. That means the more distance (temporal or geographical) we’ve placed between ourselves and civilization, the more conservative we should become. Of course, no matter how cautious one might be, accidents still happen, or you may run into someone else who has made less conservative choices. That is why I spent the weekend taking the WMI wilderness first aid class that was offered through REI. The class was definitely worth every penny. The local instructors were great, and WMI has perfected a curriculum that rotates between classroom instruction and responding to mock scenarios. You have to be OK being touched and prodded (a lot) by your classmates, as you will be the mock-patient 1/3 of the time, however, I gained as much from playing the patient as I did the helper.
There are a few differences between the WMI approach to first aid and the Red Cross curriculum (which I took way back in the dark ages). WMI realizes that a trained first responder could be hours or days away, so you don’t begin each episode with the assumption that 911 has been called and an ambulance is on the way. Instead, more emphasis is placed on how to approach, examine and assess a patient thoroughly to determine if, and how fast, evacuation and professional help should be attained. We learned quite a bit about responding to injuries and conditions that can be helped or stabilized with the contents of a first aid kit and improvised equipment, and much less about treating the sort of catastrophic conditions which are likely fatal when modern medical equipment and expertise are out of reach. In addition, the WMI curriculum does not include CPR – that must be learned separately, so I still need to sign up for a refresher class since I’m pretty rusty.
Overall, though, I’m pleased with what I learned over the weekend, and WMI and NOLS have tons of case studies and videos available, so I can continue to hone my decision making skills. Oh, and of course, prevention is key. I’ve been following the local SAR group on Facebook and feel compelled to tack on a public service announcement: Before heading out on La Luz Trail, please check the weather report for the Crest, throw a few extra items in your pack (like an extra layer or two, a map, a headlamp and first aid kit), and decide on, and stick with, a realistic turn around time. It would save our local rescue teams a lot of time and effort.