If things go wrong in the backcountry it won’t be because an asteroid falls on you. A series of small errors, possibly combined with a bit of bad luck, is what leads to most of the really bad things that happen to people in the outdoors. Avalanches are often started by one small off-trail step that sends a little snow tumbling downhill. That little snowball can build into a mountainside of sliding trouble. Avoid those misplaced footfalls and you’ll be alright – maybe. If you want to be safe and have fun out there it’s best to prepare for the worst and keep the details in mind every time you head out the door.
A group of us took 2-day Wilderness First Aid (WFA) class recently to start the process of thinking about how to stop that series of small errors from becoming an even bigger problem once that snowball is rolling. You see, WFA training isn’t the answer to being safe in the outdoors. It’s what you need once things have already started to gone wrong.
Admit it, you know all the things you’re supposed to do before heading out on an adventure. Tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Check the forecast. Take enough to eat and drink. Bring first aid supplies. Etc., etc. Do you do all of those steps each time? We both know the answer.
Wilderness First Aid classes are like a standard Red Cross first aid class with extra info and scenarios to help you deal with the fact that trained help and medical facilities are farther away. In these sessions you learn about what supplies to take with you to deal with emergencies. (If I took everything our instructor suggested I’d have to pull a trailer behind my mountain bike.) And you are involved in play acting situations in which you have to deal with people feigning all kinds of injuries and ailments.
Don’t expect to come away from WFA training ready to deal with anything that could happen. It’s really an opportunity to start thinking about what could go wrong and what you would do once things are falling apart. Based on my training I plan to do a few things:
Gather a few more supplies to carry in my pack in case of emergencies.
Review my first aid manual occasionally so that I can react more quickly if I’m involved in or come upon an incident.
Work to check off all of those little things off of my list each time I go out.
Make sure others who are going out with me are also prepared.
Doing these little things isn’t supposed to take the fun out of going on adventures. The point is to allow you to keep getting out there day after day, year after year to enjoy the small things in life. Like a beautiful sunrise, a coyote crossing your path or the sound of the wind through the trees.