Wilderness First Responder Training w/ Clare

Clare was a recipient of the fall 2022 scholarship for outdoor education and completed her WFR through Remote Medical Training. It involved 40 hours of online coursework during the month leading up to the 5 day in-person course. 

Some of my earliest memories of growing up in Alaska are of romping around on sandbars and napping in my parents’ canoe while they navigated long stretches of river. There was such bliss to outdoor adventure as a kid because I so deeply believed that my parents had it under control there would always be cookies on-demand, I would always be warm, and the boat would never flip. As we’ve all experienced, reality comes crashing down once you realize that your parents are also regular people and I started to understand the level of thought that went into making these remote trips go smoothly.

Fast forward 15 years and I was in school at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. In my second year, I started working with a research lab on campus that studied snow algae blooms in alpine regions all around the world with a focus on the North Cascades. This work was exciting for someone like myself who is comfortable on snow and knows how to care for my body in the backcountry, but we also welcomed lab members who had never been on snow in their life. I watched as our professor, Dr. Kodner, took care to make people feel prepared and led us through the backcountry with an abundance of caution and communication. As I became more seasoned in our lab group, I found myself as crew lead multiple times. Dr. Kodner was always careful to run through the risks of leading the group to the destination and reminded me of some quick field fixes for things like rolled ankles and what I would do if someone couldn’t hike out. Some of this was news to me, and she suggested that I consider Wilderness First Responder (WFR) training if I wanted to feel more comfortable dealing with backcountry emergencies.

This idea floated around in my head for several months while I prepared for a bikepacking expedition from San Diego, CA to the bottom of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. This was an 8-week self-supported ride and pushed me to consider as many mechanical and personal disasters as possible while maintaining the lightest setup I could. I rolled out of San Diego feeling nervous, but confident (as any 21- year-old living out her dream might) and managed to only sit on one cactus and fly off my bike one time throughout the trip. As I rode through the desert, I had plenty of time to consider how I lacked the skill to help myself or my partner if any medical emergency occurred, and this thought led us to wear our helmets at all times no matter the terrain or heat. All of these remote experiences had gone quite well considering that I was mostly operating on common sense, but I felt uneasy knowing I lacked some basic knowledge that could make or break me if I made a wrong move. It was at this point in the middle of the Baja Peninsula that I decided I would look into WFR training as soon as I got back to the US.

A WFR course turned out to cost too much for me to consider paying outright, but it was still something I wanted to pursue. It was around this time that I saw on the Backcountry Squatters Instagram that it was scholarship season. I applied and was excited to learn that I had been chosen. I eventually found a course with a hybrid option that worked with my school calendar. It was offered by Remote Medical Training and involved 40 hours of online coursework during the month leading up to the 5 day in-person class.

Looking back, I totally got my money’s worth with this class. I now know how to identify a huge range of medical emergencies and how to manage a variety of trauma injuries in the backcountry. Every day we ran through multiple scenarios that resembled emergencies we might run into as hikers, bikers, mountaineers, and regular people on the street. I learned how to do so much each day that my brain felt like it was going to explode by the time 5pm rolled around. One challenge I found myself facing was how realistic each scenario felt and how stressful that can become. I had to power through a lot of anxiety when I would arrive at my patient who had been attacked by a bear or had been caught in an avalanche. My logical brain knew these things weren’t real and I was just treating fake wounds on a classmate, but the lizard part of my brain believed that I was actually making choices to save someone from bleeding out. The adrenaline involved in this was exhausting, but it was also amazing to see myself and my classmates progress in our ability to push through the anxiety and start making decisions. As the days went on and the scenarios started getting trickier, I started to feel more confident in using the tools we’d been taught to move through a patient assessment and make a decision about calling for help. By the end, I feel like I really connected the dots about the role of a WFR in being able to identify an emergency early, treat life threats, and call for professional help using information that I gather. The skills and system we learned feel logical and comforting in the face of a disaster.

I feel so grateful for the opportunity to get my WFR certification and am glad to feel more confident in my ability to keep myself and my adventure partners safe. It was very bittersweet to end our 5 days of class because the cohort had really started to bond over the experience. Even our instructors pointed out that we were a particularly cohesive group. It was very gratifying for me to try something completely out of my comfort zone with a group of strangers of all ages and varying motivations for being there and find that we all had things in common. I plan to use this knowledge to prove my qualification for future field science and outdoor education positions and to make calculated decisions about my own adventures in the backcountry. Thank you so much to everyone at Backcountry Squatters for making this experience possible for me – it has been a highlight of my year!


2022 Backcountry Squatters Non-Profit Scholarship Recipient

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