Wilderness First Aid

NOTE: In this blog post I will not be giving specific details of how to administer First Aid as I am not a trainer. I will only be sharing my classroom and hiking experiences. 

 

NOTE: This post is in no way sponsored by NOLS. The thoughts and experiences of the author belong to her alone. 

 

A couple weekends in June I wanted to go hiking with a friend who lives in Cheyenne. We made plans to meet up at Vedawoo to do the Turtle Rock Trail. As both weekends approached, the National Weather Service said severe weather and possible flooding were to hit the area. One of the first rules of Wilderness First Aid is prevention, so we called our hike off. 

It ended up not raining much in Saratoga. I don’t know about Cheyenne. While I’m bummed we didn’t go hiking, I’m glad we both made the smart decision to not go hiking, because the weather could have been as predicted. And we could have put ourselves in a dangerous situation. 

 

 

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I got to wear some fake blood during my training. The story was I was playing Frisbee with some friends and ran into a tree while going to fetch the disc.

On June 1st I took a course on Wilderness First Aid taught by NOLS, which is a nonprofit global wilderness school that seeks too help people “step forward boldly as a leader.” In addition to wilderness first aid, they offer courses on wilderness first responder, medicine and rescue, etc. 

 

I took Wilderness First Aid for a couple reasons. First, it is a requirement to be an ambassador for Women Who Hike. (Oh yes! I’m an ambassador for Wyoming now!) Second, I just felt like it would be good knowledge to have under my belt. 

Wilderness medicine has several differences from urban medicine. First time. Contact time with the patient is greater. Additionally, time from the onset of illness or injury to definitive care is greater, often more than one house. A patient’s condition and needs may change over the course of times. Finally, the patient’s injury may merit a different treatment approach than it would in an urban context to improve long-term outcomes. 

The environment may cause a primary problem or could exacerbate injuries or illnesses. Cold, heat, wind, rain or altitude can play a huge role. Other factors include long and rough distances for evacuation and increased stress on rescuers. 

In the wilderness, rescuers also need to improvise equipment needed for treatment and evacuated. They must also make independent decisions regarding patient treatment and evacuation, often without any outside communication.  

During the course, I learned about patient assessment, emergency and evacuation plans, spine, head, musculoskeletal and cold injuries. I also learned about shock, heat and altitude illness, chest and abdominal pain, and wilderness wound management. 

In emergency and evacuations plans, pre-planning can go a long way in supporting an efficient emergency response. You should always research local search and rescue, sheriff’s office or emergency services and know how to contact them. Tell someone trustworthy where you plan to go and when you plan to return. If I’m by myself I also leave a note on my car giving an approximate time I will return. I’m more concerned about someone knowing I’m out in the wilderness than somebody stealing something from my car. Besides, I don’t keep valuables in there. I also heard from another woman that she takes a picture of what she’s wearing on her hike and sends it to the person she told her travel plans too. I’m going to start implementing this as well. 

You should also pack a communication device and a signaling device. Also pack navigation tools and a first aid kit. With these items, MAKE SURE YOU KNOW HOW TO USE THEM! 

67146836_713897419062225_5374133281442758656_nI DID NOT learn about using plants to cure illnesses or symptoms. After I took my class I had a few people send me links of “medicinal plants.” I was not taught by an expert to use plants, so I will absolutely not do that. 

I’d say the summary of the class is to determine whether or not a person needs to be evacuated from the wilderness. If so, you evacuate them in the safest way possible. 

When first analyzing a person, those who are certified in Wilderness First Aid are to inform the individual and ask permission to assess their injuries or ailments. After a FULL analysis a certified person stops any bleeding, checks the usability of any injuries, splints any unusable injuries, etc. and evacuates, if needed. 

Thus far, I’ve only had to deal with blisters. I’m glad I have moleskin in the my first aid kit, because it is the thing I use the most. This material is for hot spots, to keep them from turning into blisters. As soon as I start feeling some pain in my feet I look for hot spots and address them with the moleskin. 

 

If you’re interested in talking a Wilderness First Aid course from NOLS, you can click here. 

 

67099790_817857828609878_2989170862898282496_nAre you looking to fill your first aid kit? Here are some suggestions for items to carry from NOLS. 

 

For Blisters
Moleskin
2nd Skin dressings
Tincture of benzoin swabs
Blister bandages 

For Small Wounds
Gloves
12cc irrigation syringe
Povidone-iodine solution
Tweezers
Antiseptic towelettes
Antibiotic ointments packets
1×3 fabric bandages
Knuckle and fingertip fabric bandages
3×4 non-stick gauze pads
3-inch conforming roll gauze
Wound closure strips
Transparent dressings 

Other useful items
Safety pins
SOAP forms
Oral thermometer
Rescue mask
Coban wrap
Athletic/medical tape
4-6 inch elastic wrap
Wire or SAM splint
Triangular bandages
Water disinfection device/chemicals 

Note: You should re-pack your first aid kit for each trip. Check for expiration dates on medications, for sterile items that have been torn open, damaged or dampened. KNOW HOW TO USE EVERYTHING IN YOUR FIRST AID KIT. 

 

What’s next for That Solo Hiker Chick? 

I’m looking into getting CPR certified. This will enhance my abilities if I am to ever come across an unconscious patient. 

Over the 4th of July weekend I went to the Adobe Town Wilderness Study Area. I’m working on putting together a blog post and video on my adventure. This landscape is in jeopardy of oil and gas development, and I want to shine a light on the beautiful area. 

Later this month I’ll be taking part in Wyoming Moose Day where I will hike a trail and log signs of moose.

Wyoming’s Public Lands Initiative

Throughout the past two years I followed the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative. The Wyoming County Commissioners Association started the initiative in 2016. Their goal was to address the status of 45 Wilderness Study Areas (WSA) in the state encompassing 700,000 acres.

encampment river
Encampment River Canyon Wilderness Study Area

A WSA is a designation that applies to lands that federal agencies manage to protect wilderness characteristics. Congress set these lands aside about 30 years ago. They intended to evaluate the undeveloped lands for significant wilderness characteristics. The evaluations would have allowed Congress to decide how to designate the land. This could range from wilderness areas to multiple uses. Of Wyoming’s 45 WSAs, the US Forest Service manages three. The Bureau of Land Management maintain the other 42.

In the entire nation, the BLM has 545 wilderness study areas with a total area of 12,790,291 acres. The US Forest Service manages 26 wilderness study areas.

When the initiative started, Carbon, Fremont, Johnson, Washakie, Teton, Park and Sublette Counties signed up to take part. After two years of work, Teton, Park and Sublette Counties couldn’t come to a consensus on how to designate their wilderness study areas.

The Wyoming County Commissioners Association is drafting the bill for the counties that completed the initiative.  Former executive director Pete Obermuller is heading up the project with a few others individuals. Once the counties approve the draft, it will be introduced to Congress.  Obermueller’s goal for having the recommendations to Congress is within the first quarter of 2019.

Obermueller commended the work of the counties who partook in the WPLI process.

“We knew that we wouldn’t solve every single acre,” Obermueller said, “And we knew we wouldn’t have 100 percent agreement in all places.”

1102_Seminoe View
Bennett Mountain Wilderness Study Area as seen from Seminoe State Park

In Carbon County, Committee Chair John Espy contributed the success of the process to the other committee members. From the beginning, he said they agreed to not put their personal feelings at the forefront of their job. Instead they focused on the people who use the land, getting comments from recreationalists and local ranchers.

“We started out from the beginning with an open mind as a rule,” Espy said. “We learned to trust each other and work together. We didn’t let our personal biases cloud our thinking from the start.”

I also appreciated how every person on the Carbon County committee saw the importance of preserving the landscape of the areas they were talking about. While not everyone agreed on the best practice to preserve the land, their intentions were pure.

I also talked to Fremont County’s WPLI Chair Doug Thompson. He too contributed the success of his group to having open minds and considering public input.

“We had a lot of public input,” Thompson said. “We tried to consider it. It came down to a use or no use decision. We tried to find wording that would accommodate those who wanted to prevent the more destructive aspects of development but also allow for appropriate economic development in the continuation of activities taking place on the land.”

You can find the recommendations for the Wilderness Study Areas here. County led committees recommended four WSAs throughout the state for wilderness. These include the Encampment River Canyon and Prospect Mountain in Carbon County, Sweetwater Canyon in Fremont County and Bobcat in Washakie County.

While I didn’t witness it, I heard “horror stories” about the process in Teton County. As the committee started to fall apart, the members weren’t even talking to each other anymore. In October the Teton Board of County Commissioners decided to abandon any recommendations for the WSAs. The dirt bikers, snowmobilers, mountain bikes and heli-skiiers fought against everyone else. They created a group, the Advocates for Multi-Use of Public Lands, to fight against any new wilderness. In the end, the Teton County Commissioners dropped the committee because they couldn’t come to consensus.

I find it unfortunate that the Teton, Park and Sublette committees couldn’t come to a consensus, but I’m glad they tried working through the initiative. Hopefully someday the residents and interest groups can try again.

 

Lincoln, Bighorn and Sweetwater Counties didn’t take part in the initiative at all. This puts their public lands at jeopardy and takes the public involvement away. Instead, they decided to join a legislative bill proposed by Representative Liz Cheney. This bill is titled “Restoring Public Input (insert scoffing here) and Access to Public Lands Act of 2018.” It doesn’t take into account an in depth public review and would lift all protections on the Wilderness Study Areas on about 400,000 acres in those three counties. It also would restrict future designations of wilderness areas.

Cheney claims that the wilderness study designation “prevents access, locks up land and resources, restricts grazing rights and hinders good rangeland and resource management.”  She further noted in a September 27th statement that the bill she introduced will “provide citizens and local officials in Big Horn, Lincoln and Sweetwater counties more authority to determine how best to manage the federal land within their counties.” While that part sounds good, I don’t like that she didn’t ask all interest groups on the best way to address the landscape.

The bill passed the House Natural Resource Committee on November 15th. Nineteen republicans on the committee backed the bill while 11 democrats opposed it. This also annoyed me because public lands and conservation should NOT be a bipartisan issue. However, the bill will now move to the full U.S. House for possible consideration.

 

adobe town
Adobe Town Wilderness Study Area

Several people criticized the county commissioners who decided to team up with Cheney. They said this route didn’t allow the public to be part of the process on their lands. Cheney’s critics scoff at the bill, starting with its title’s nod to public input, which they called misleading.

The biggest concern was over a Wilderness Study Area in Sweetwater County. The Adobe Town WSA is a treasured place among those who have visited, myself included. Rare species, badland features, fossils, and surrounding vistas make Adobe Town a special haven.

Adobe Town has garnered significant citizen support for Wilderness designation by Congress. It was part of the 2011 Citizen Wilderness Proposal for BLM Lands in Wyoming. This proposal had the support of thousands of Wyoming citizens and many conservation groups across the state.

But Adobe Town is rich in oil and gas resources, making the region one of the most threatened landscapes in Wyoming.

 

The Wyoming Wilderness Association has taken steps to try to protect Adobe Town. They plan to make a documentary film to bring national awareness to the landscape. The film will help educate the public about the extensive oil and gas leasing taking place near and near into the sacred corners of Adobe Town. It will also provide ways for the public to influence management decision, such as leasing, on areas that should be off limits to extraction. Finally, the film will be the first step toward including Greater Adobe Town and the Adobe Town WSA as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. You can donate to the cause here.