The Importance of Wilderness Medicine

In my climbing career I have been lucky enough to walk away from even the worst falls with only minor cuts, scrapes, bruises and sprains. Your first thought after reading that sentence might be “oh, well thats just because nothing bad has ever happened to you”. I am going to prove that wrong right now; I have taken multiple 40 foot whippers, I have punted off the top of highball boulder problems and landed on my back, I missed a pad one time in J-tree and landed fully on my elbow directly on to rock from 7 feet up, and my personal favorite, a ground fall from five clips up. So yes, I have had my share of bad things happen to me, and I am incredibly lucky to still be climbing today.

When I think back to all those events, I wonder what would have happened if things had been different. What if missing the pad in J-tree resulted in smacking my head on the ground instead of my arm? What if my leg was behind the rope during one of those massive whippers? How would my partners have reacted? How would I have reacted had one of those things happened to my partner? Climbing is a scary sport. We feel safe while climbing in the gym, and we forget how controlled that environment is when we get out on real rock. On real rock the consequence is real, and rescue is not 2 minutes away. This is why wilderness medicine is one of the most important skills a climber should posses (yes boulderers, even you).

I took my first Wilderness First Responder Course (WFR) in 2012 while attending school in Colorado. Up to that point I had no formal medical training. The class was 10 days long, and not only did it scare me and make me realize how easy it is to become completely debilitated while climbing, but it also gave me the skills to feel like I could manage an emergency should one arise.The course helped me to recognize and treat common backcountry injuries ranging from temperature related injuries such as frostbite, hypo and hyperthermia and trenchfoot to common trauma such as sprains, strains and fractures. Most importantly, the course taught me how to improves treatments with the gear I would actually be carrying while climbing, not with things I could find in my home. Having the skills and knowledge needed to be able to help myself, my partners and my clients in the worst case scenario gives me a peace of mind while I am climbing and guiding. I have since taken my education a step further, I am currently enrolled in a W-EMT course with the hopes of becoming National Registry of EMT certified.

While I do not recommend (nor is it necessary) for everyone who enjoys the outdoors to follow in my footsteps and take an EMT course, I HIGHLY recommend some type of first aid training. Wilderness First Aid and Wilderness First Responder courses are great. They are geared towards the outdoors and tend to be taught by outdoorsy people who, like myself, geek out on medicine. It is amazing how much more confident you will feel after taking a course, and how much more prepared you will be should the unthinkable happen. My other suggestion is to purchase and learn how to use everything in a first aid kit. Much like the idea that carrying a raincoat scares the rain away, carrying a first aid kit tends to scare injury away. It doesn’t have to be anything big, you’re not going to be performing backcountry open heart surgery, but your first aid kit should have enough to handle most common ailments.

Now boulderers, I know exactly what your thinking “I dont need any of this information, I can’t get that hurt bouldering and if I do I’ll just call for help”. You are so wrong my friends. I’ll have you know I have tapped more ankles, fingers and wrists while bouldering than any other type of climbing. The worst injury I have patched up on a personal trip happened while bouldering. My good friend nearly severed the tip of his big toe off while bouldering in Joe’s Valley. Thanks to my medical training and the first aid kit I had (yes I had a first aid kit while bouldering), I stopped the bleeding and prevented infection from forming.

The moral of the story here is that climbing is scary and dangerous, but with enough education and preparation we can keep each other safe and handle any situation that comes our way. If reading this post has made you want to learn more about wilderness medicine and where to find courses or what to carry in a first aid kit, shoot us an email, we are more than happy to answer questions and guide our followers in the right direction.
Be safe out there!