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Tod Schimelpfenig

Tod Schimelpfenig
As a NOLS Instructor since 1973 and a WEMT, volunteer EMT on ambulance and search and rescue squads since the 70s, Tod Schimelpfenig has extensive experience with wilderness risk management. He has used this valuable experience to conduct safety reviews as well as serve as the NOLS Risk Management Director for eight years, the NOLS Rocky Mountain Director for six years, and three years on the board of directors of the Wilderness Medical Society, where he received the WMS Warren Bowman Award for lifetime contribution to the field of wilderness medicine. Tod is the founder of the Wilderness Risk Manager’s Committee, has spoken at numerous conferences on pre-hospital and wilderness medicine, including the Australian National Conference on Risk Management in Outdoor Recreation, and has taught wilderness medicine around the world. He has written numerous articles on educational program, risk management and wilderness medicine topics, and currently reviews articles for the Journal of Wilderness and Environmental Medicine. Additionally, he is the author of NOLS Wilderness Medicine and co-author of Risk Management for Outdoor Leaders, as well as multiple articles regarding wilderness medicine. Tod is currently the Curriculum Director of NOLS Wilderness Medicine.

Recent Posts

Case Study: Hiking through a Thunderstorm

By Tod Schimelpfenig on 4/11/18 9:07 AM


Photo by Jessie Long

The Setting

You are hiking with a friend through the Uinta Mountains in Utah, heading toward an 11,600-foot pass. Dark gray clouds are building in the west, hinting at an approaching thunderstorm. You ignore them: your itinerary does not allow for delays. As you move quickly up and over the pass, you and your friend are exposed to gusty winds, deep low rumbles of thunder, and occasional spits of rain. You speed your pace. On the other side of the pass is a broad alpine meadow—there are two miles of grass and wildflowers between you and a low forested area.

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Topics: Lightning Safety, wilderness medicine, case study

Case Study: What to Do about Snakebites

By Tod Schimelpfenig on 2/26/18 12:22 PM

The Setting

You and a friend have been rock climbing at the local limestone climbing area outside of Lander, Wyoming. While walking along the base of the cliff, your partner drops a piece of climbing gear and reaches to retrieve it. You hear a buzzing noise, a cry of surprise, and then your partner falls backward and tumbles down the sloped hill.

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Topics: wilderness medicine, Wilderness First Aid, case study

Case Study: Falling Through the Ice

By Tod Schimelpfenig on 1/24/18 9:08 AM

Editor’s Note: This case study is based on a real-life incident from the early 1980’s.

The Setting

You and three friends are on an early winter ski trip. To shorten the route, the group decides to cut across a lake, despite previously agreeing to avoid the lakes due to thin ice.

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Topics: wilderness medicine, case study, winter, NOLS Wilderness Medicine, hypothermia

Case Study: How to Manage Frostbite

By Tod Schimelpfenig on 12/14/17 10:49 AM

Editor’s Note: We developed this hypothetical scenario to represent a common and plausible situation on winter backcountry trips.

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Topics: wilderness medicine, case study, NOLS Wilderness Medicine, frostbite

5 Things to Check in Your First Aid Kit

By Tod Schimelpfenig on 6/27/17 8:53 AM

Be honest—when was the last time you looked inside your first aid kit? Was it just last week, or was it long enough ago that you couldn’t confirm whether a family of packrats had made a home in it or not?

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Topics: wilderness medicine, Wilderness First Aid, First Aid Kit, NOLS Wilderness Medicine

To Drink or Not to Drink?

By Tod Schimelpfenig on 6/21/16 9:22 AM

"When you find yourself in an emergency situation, is it better to resort to drinking unfiltered and possibly contaminated water or drinking no water at all?"

It’s a question, or as we like to say at NOLS, a judgment call, of which is the greater risk: dehydration or waterborne illness.

If this is an emergency, you need your wits and your health; both deteriorate when you are dehydrated. You need to consider how well hydrated you were at the start of this emergency, how fast you are losing fluids, how hard you are working, and how long you expect to be without a reliable water source. Perhaps you have the experience and self-awareness to anticipate how long you can function without fluid intake.

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Topics: wilderness medicine, education, NOLS Wilderness Medicine, Wilderness Medicine

Using Wilderness Medicine Training as a Recipe for Decision-Making

By Tod Schimelpfenig on 1/14/16 2:00 PM

One of NOLS founder Paul Petzoldt’s endearing habits was challenging students to explain their choices and the principles behind their decisions and techniques. He wouldn’t settle on one best way to do something; he sought the practical and effective way.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for students of first aid and pre-hospital medicine to be taught in absolutes; practices that supposedly work all the time, practices framed as being based on solid evidence but in reality often founded on bronze, not gold standard, science.

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Topics: wilderness medicine, WMI, leadership, NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute, Wilderness Medicine

Does the Lightning Position Really Keep You Safe in a Storm?

By Tod Schimelpfenig on 8/4/15 8:00 AM

 

Being in a building is the safest place when lightning is near. In the backcountry, seek lower ground first, then use the lightning position. 
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Topics: Expedition Prep, risk management, education, wilderness, backcountry

Case Study: Anxiety or Cardiac Episode?

By Tod Schimelpfenig on 7/10/15 3:39 AM
Preparing to rappel. Photo by Jared Steinman.
 

The Setting

You're leading a team building day for a group of business people. Today's plan includes rappelling practice.

One participant, fearing the heights and exposure, is reluctant to participate. It took convincing from his co-workers to get him on the rappel over the cliff edge.

He is now 15 feet below the lip of cliff and looks awful. He's red, sweating, breathing hard, and says he is going to pass out. You engage the belay line to take control of his lowering, and try to get him to release the death grip he has on his brake line. This triggers drama: you hear swearing from below as he grabs the main line above his rappel device with both hands. Eventually he lets go and you lower him to the ground.

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Topics: wilderness medicine, WMI, Backpacking, case study, Wilderness Medicine, psychological first aid

Hydration Tips for Camping

By Tod Schimelpfenig on 6/26/15 8:00 AM

Adapted from the 2005 issue of The Leader.

Now that summer has officially arrived, we can enjoy the hot temperatures, lush wildflowers and rivers full with snowmelt. It brings to mind the need to stay hydrated.

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Topics: WMI, Backpacking, backcountry, Wilderness Medicine

Snakebites: Here's What to Do [Video]

By Tod Schimelpfenig on 6/19/15 9:23 AM

When the weather warms up, that means the reptiles are out of their winter dens and ready to enjoy some sunshine—just like you, your friends, dogs, and everyone in between.

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Topics: education, backcountry, Wilderness Medicine

Prevention and Self-Awareness: Medicine and Leadership Intertwine

By Tod Schimelpfenig on 5/26/15 2:00 AM

I once heard lightning expert Mary Ann Cooper, M.D. say that the primary risk factor in lightning danger is not the lightning itself; it's the inconvenience of risk mitigation, the unwillingness to change plans in the face of inopportune weather. I've heard altitude illness expert David Shlim, M.D. say that to prevent altitude illness, ambition and schedules must be tamed.

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Topics: leadership, wilderness medicine, WMI, backcountry

To Thaw or Not to Thaw

By Tod Schimelpfenig on 5/19/15 2:00 AM

What should you do if you have to spend the night in the field with frozen toes? Thaw the frostbite or keep it frozen?

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Topics: wilderness medicine, WMI, backcountry

Urine, a Fix?

By Tod Schimelpfenig on 5/1/15 12:00 AM

Rarely does a wilderness medicine class go by without someone asking about using urine as a wound irrigating solution, to cool hot people and for who knows what else.

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Topics: wilderness medicine, WMI, backcountry

Two People in a Sleeping Bag

By Tod Schimelpfenig on 4/24/15 1:00 AM

If you teach a class on hypothermia in the wilderness, you are bound to be asked about the value of a warm person snuggling with a cold person in a sleeping bag. Actually, "snuggling" may not be the best word, because, putting aside the giggles, it’s not easy or fun to hug a physically cold person. Snuggling is a necessary task, not a recreational experience.

I’ve been told two people in a sleeping bag to treat hypothermia is the “standard of care” in the wilderness. Actually, it’s not. The science isn’t strongly in its favor. The limited research into body-to-body warming says that it doesn’t help much, but also that it probably doesn’t harm.

Snuggling is better when used for fun rather than as a treatment for hypothermia.
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Topics: wilderness medicine, NOLS Wilderness Medicine