Another week, another Wilderness Trekking School lesson!
This week, we focused on emergencies, basic first aid and survival. It’s great to learn how to play safely in the mountains… but what happens when something goes wrong? This week addressed what to expect, how to react and what to do. Every emergency is different but having some awareness up front will be extremely helpful in keeping the chaos under control when the time comes.
In our classroom section, we talked about the different types of emergencies we could encounter: losing a person from the group, injury, sickness, getting caught in adverse weather and getting lost (but! we already learned about navigation… so no getting lost for us!). These emergencies could be within our own party – or we could happen upon someone else stuck in one of these emergencies and we need to be able to act quickly to help.
On Saturday, we headed to White Ranch Park to practice some survival and first aid tactics.
First, using only what we had in our packs (always hike – even day hikes! – with the 10 hiking essentials!), we broke into groups of 3 and had to fashion a quick shelter big enough for 1 person in 20 minutes to protect ourselves from a thunderstorm that might roll in.
We used – a tarp, rain fly, bungee cords, rope and rocks to make our quick shelter.
For a first-ever attempt and for shelter from a rain storm, this would be… okaaay. Definitely room for improvement but it was a good start.
We then broke into different groups and were instructed to make a shelter that was more substantial, as if we needed to stay overnight or a couple nights. We were encouraged to use natural features around us, too.
I was pretty proud of my groups – we used a group of rocks as a wall near our entrance (under the dark orange rain fly) a fallen log as our middle support, insulated with tree logs (that I cut with the badass saw I brought) and pine needles, duct tape and bandaids. It was sturdy and really warm inside – someone would definitely survive overnight or two, if needed.
The other group used dead logs as a roofing structure over a rock ledge. And the last group used their rope to make a wide spine to hang their tarps between two trees. Inventive and genius! They made the ‘spine’ by securing branches between the cord.
After shelters, we took a quick break for lunch. I swear, our lunch views never fail to deliver breathtaking and interesting scenery. It’s hard to tell in this photo but Denver was clear as anything from where I ate my lunch of a Nutella Sandwich.
After lunch, we talked FIY-AH! Our instructors demoed different fire starters to show us a few of our options. My favorite were these calcium carbide ‘rocks’ – they don’t burn when put in a fire. Instead, when you get them wet, they give off a methane gas that you light on fire.
To demo, we lit snow on fire. No, seriously.
I was lucky enough to take home a few of these rocks for our gear supply – Woohoo!
I’d also brought these homemade/DIY firestarters that Alex likes to make to test/demo for the group. Basically, Alex takes lint from the drier, melts candle wax on it in an old, cardboard egg container. That’s it! It’s kinda gross because there’s a lot of my hair stuck in there but he used some slightly scented candle so our fire smelled more floral-y than burning hair-y. To use this fire started, just spark the cardboard and the container will start a nice fire under kindling.
Next up, first aid! There is a whole CMC class devoted to first aid so this was just a very basic overview of what to do when faced with an injury. In this situation, our instructor had a broken arm and bruised rib and we had to assess the situation, check our casualty and decide how to proceed.
First aid school as definitely been on my radar – I do not know enough to feel like I’d be able to help someone in an emergency situation. Especially with adrenaline running? Forget it. My mind went blank when something ‘small’ happened, let alone a much bigger emergency.
Lastly, we covered how to hang a bear bag. No photos because I was demo’ing! A bear bag is a bag (or bags) that you pack with your smellables and food – anything that might entice a bear to your camp – and you hang it away from your camp, in a tree. This way, if a bear does find the smells, you won’t have a run in with a big ass bear in the middle of the night.
This was a super productive learning day for me. Generally, I rely on Alex to know all of our survival information but it’s extremely important for me to know just as much. I won’t always be hiking and backpacking with Alex and, as evidenced in the Unfortunate Snow Saw Event of 2013, my information source may be the injured. So this day and week was a great jumping off point for me but really highlighted how much more I want (and need!) to learn about safety, first aid and survival techniques in the backcountry.