Wilderness First Responder Class


Elaine and I just finished a ten-day Wilderness First Responder Class. We figured that with a number of upcoming adventures planned in remote locales, it would be a good to know some solid wilderness first aid should something go wrong with one of us.

This is actually my second go-around for one of these courses, as I took a WFR class back in 2008 as part of preparations to become an instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). That course seems like a distant memory from a more turbulent time in my life. It was taught at the High Mountain Institute in Leadville, Colorado, and it was a fantastic experience. Days were spent learning wilderness medicine and in the evening I’d link up with the local Leadville mountain bike club for some evening rides on the copious trails surrounding that wonderful town. Alas, I let my three-year grace period expire, so to get re-certified I needed to take the full ten-day course again. And besides, Elaine and I wanted to take it together since we’re in these adventures together.


This go-around was a little different from the 2008 Leadville course. We decided to take the course in Boulder which allowed us to save money on lodging and make the whole experience a little less expensive. In retrospect, I might question that decision. While it was nice to come home to our own bed every night, the setting – Williams Village in the middle of residential Boulder – left a bit to be desired in terms of authentic wilderness feel. Will Vill as it’s commonly called was actually my freshman year dorm at C.U., and while I enjoyed (somewhat) the nostalgia of being back under the shadow of Stearns East, the constant drone of construction and lawn mowers was aggravating.


Whatever. Small problems in the big scheme of life. The course was outstanding. Our instructors, Bethany and John, knew their stuff and were incredibly inspirational. I like being surrounded by people who just live their lives in a quality fashion, and Bethany in particular gave me a standard to up my game to. Extremely aware of other people, almost always positive, funny…just a good, genuine human being.

The course moved through a series of lessons, from a patient assessment system to various ways of identifying and doing what you can to fix a variety of problems including simple lacerations, separated shoulders, compound fractures, heart attacks and shock (and much more). Some of these things – like separated shoulders – you can do a lot for. Some you can’t do much for other than make the patient comfortable, call for help and hope they don’t die on your watch. It was a sobering class, but a valuable one at that. We are fragile, and life is finite.

Elaine and I both passed with aplomb, which in some ways was a bit anti-climactic as I find a test where you circle A-thru-D on a hundred questions does little to really “test” what you know. The highlight of the class was a night scenario held in the foothills just north of Boulder. I was one of the victims – a compound tib-fib fracture was my hypothetical injury, and they went to the nines to make it look authentic, included a stick glued onto my leg and copious amounts of red dye where the hypothetical bone popped out of my leg.


I was required to fake stepping into a hole and then scream bloody murder so my group would use their learned skills to help me out. All was going well -there was some academy award winning acting complete with copious swearing – until we heard shouting from the nearby hillside, “THIS IS REAL LIFE – EVERYBODY COME BACK TO THE TRAIL. STICK TOGETHER.”

Apparently a mountain lion had stalked our instructor John and was sitting about ten-feet away from him on a rock staring him down. John started yelling and the mountain lion SLOWLY backed away. Nevertheless, it was a clear choice…better to cut the nighttime scenario short than have a bunch of WFR students end up being lion dinner. Honestly, dusk in the foothills is about as prime as you can get for seeing mountain lions, so it’s not particularly surprising one paid us a visit during the night scenario.

Beyond the course itself, a major highlight was the people we took it with. Great folks from all walks of life, and more than once I realized that my current world is fairly limited to like-minded and like-doing people. Nothing wrong with that at all, as those folks are my brothers and sisters, but it was neat to talk to people from different walks of life. There is a reunion hut trip being planned already, so I suspect a few friendships will come of the 2016 WFR class, which in the end is more valuable than the certification we got!

Bottom line…I recommend a WFR for anybody who spends a lot of time in the backcountry. NOLS and the Wilderness Medicine Institute are top notch and would be my choice for taking any wilderness first aid course. For more info visit https://www.nols.edu/wmi/.


Photos taken by Karen and Heather.

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