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Thankful for Wilderness Medicine

By Audrey Goral on Nov 22, 2019
Audrey carrying her mother and her blistered feet across a river. Photo courtesy of Audrey Goral.

Preparing for family adventures

My mom and I go backpacking frequently in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Our typical playground is the western Sierras between Yosemite and Kings Canyon, ranging from quick weekend to two-week trips. We’ve also section hiked the John Muir Trail and hiked rim-to-rim-to-rim in the Grand Canyon. 

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Topics: first aid, wilderness medicine, Wilderness First Aid, NOLS Wilderness Medicine

Wilderness Medicine and the Zombie Apocalypse

By Colleen Kelley on Oct 31, 2019
Illustration by Kayla Lopez.
 
To get into the Halloween spirit, NOLS is exploring how wilderness medicine skills apply in an apocalyptic setting. You may be surprised to learn that you're prepared to survive the walking dead (and also to remove impaled objects when it’s not the end of the world)! Have a spooky, happy Halloween!
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Topics: Wilderness First Responder, first aid, wilderness medicine, NOLS Wilderness Medicine

Case Study: Anaphylaxis in the Backcountry

By Tod Schimelpfenig on Oct 30, 2019

Photo courtesy of Deborah Sussex.
 

The Setting

You are hiking with a group of friends deep in a wilderness area. It’s lunch and everyone’s stomach is rumbling, but no one wants to stop long term.

Luckily, you have trail mix within arm’s reach. You feel comfortable passing it amongst your hungry group members because it doesn’t contain nuts.

However, soon after one of your friends becomes acutely ill. With a tingly and tight throat, your friend seems to be having an allergic reaction.

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Topics: first aid, summer, wilderness medicine, case study, heat illness

How Backpacking Sparked a Love for Wilderness Medicine

By Jack Johnson on Oct 9, 2019
Foggy hike in the Bighorns. Photo courtesy of Jack Johnson.

Hiking to Head Injury

During the summer of 2017, when I was 14 years old, I took part in a 21-day NOLS backpacking course in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. Just halfway through the course, I watched what (at the time) I considered to be an incredible feat of medicine. Another student on my course tripped and fell while walking across a burned-out section of forest and—under the heavy weight of his pack—hit his head on a rock. In the days that followed, I watched my two incredible instructors treat a possible concussion.

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Topics: Wilderness First Responder, first aid, wilderness medicine, NOLS Wilderness Medicine

Wilderness First Aid: 5 Steps of a Scene Size-up

By Tod Schimelpfenig on Aug 19, 2019

Photo by Jared Steinman.

You’re out for a hike, enjoying a beautiful day in the mountains. Pausing to take a sip from your water bottle, you survey your surroundings—and suddenly notice the fallen hiker up ahead. You put your water bottle away and start walking toward the crumpled figure beside the trail.

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Topics: patient assessment, first aid, wilderness medicine, Wilderness First Aid, NOLS Wilderness Medicine

ABCs of Wilderness Medicine: The Initial Assessment

By Tod Schimelpfenig on Aug 19, 2019

NOLS Wilderness Medicine students participate in a hands-on scenario. Photo by Lena Conlan.

Your weekend adventure in the mountains takes an unexpected turn when you spot a fallen hiker beside the trail. Fortunately, after a brief moment of panic, your wilderness medicine training kicks in and you complete a thorough scene size-up.

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Topics: patient assessment, first aid, wilderness medicine, NOLS Wilderness Medicine

Case Study: When Heat Stress Hits an Entire Group

By Tod Schimelpfenig on Jul 23, 2019

Photo by Pascale Gulick
 

The Setting

You’re the supervisor for several crews doing volunteer trail maintenance in a local national forest.

Since your crew leaders are new, you decide to head out to their work sites to check on their work. (Plus, it’s a good reason to get out of the office, away from email, and enjoy a hike in the hills.)

The weather has been unusually hot and humid, with daytime temperatures in the 90s °F (30s °C).

You find one of your crews around lunchtime resting under a few trees. They look lethargic and tired.

One crew member is lying on his back with his feet elevated and a wet bandanna on his forehead. Your crew leader gives you a SOAP report on the patient.

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Topics: first aid, summer, wilderness medicine, case study, heat illness

Case Study: Treating a Feverish Patient

By Tod Schimelpfenig on Jun 13, 2019
Photo by Nicholette Hilbrich.

The Setting

You’re a biologist working out of a remote ranch on the sagebrush plains of southern Idaho. It’s early May. You ride and walk daily to survey herds of pronghorn as part of a research program. One of your classmates goes to bed feeling lousy—achy, nauseous—and wakes up feeling worse.

Knowing you have training as a Wilderness First Responder (WFR), your colleagues ask you to take a look at this poor fellow.

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Topics: Wilderness First Responder, first aid, wilderness medicine, case study, NOLS Wilderness Medicine, flu-like illness

Wilderness First Responders: #lowkeysuperheroes

By Eric Johnson on Jun 3, 2019

Practicing splinting a broken bone. Photo by Taylor Bach.
 

At age 41 I have repented of some of the bad behavior of my youth. No longer will I leave fish around the tents of my friends when we camp in bear country. Nor will I begin my pre-trip safety talks with the phrase, “What could possibly go wrong?” And, if possible, I will read the rapids and then run them instead of running them and reading about them later in camp when I finally find the guidebook. 

To this end, or rather, new beginning, I enrolled in a Wilderness First Responder course with NOLS this spring.

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Topics: Wilderness First Responder, first aid, wilderness medicine, NOLS Wilderness Medicine

Case Study: Bucked off a Horse

By Tod Schimelpfenig on May 15, 2019
 
 
Photo Credit: Kelsey Wicks

The Setting

You and a companion, both proud and confident Wilderness First Responders (WFR), are hiking a wilderness trail when you are passed by a horse pack string led by a young cowboy. You exchange pleasantries and fishing tips.

Suddenly, one horse nips at another, a horse kicks, and then horses seem to be going everywhere. The rider’s horse rears and bucks; he falls off and lands on his head and shoulder.

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Topics: decision making, Wilderness First Responder, first aid, wilderness medicine, case study

Case Study: An Abandoned Patient High in the Alpine

By Tod Schimelpfenig on Apr 18, 2019

Photo by Ashley Wise
 

The Setting

You are on a Search and Rescue (SAR) team whose members are Wilderness First Responders (WFRs). You and your team members hike on a rugged trail into Wyoming’s Wind River Range, responding to a vague report that came in at midnight of a “very sick person” camped “near the trail near tree line.” Your team’s role is to sweep the trail in the dark in the hopes of finding out exactly what is going on. A second SAR group is gathering to hike up the trail later in support.

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Topics: Wilderness First Responder, first aid, wilderness medicine, case study

Why You Should Take a Wilderness First Aid Course

By Ben Lerman on Mar 21, 2019
NOLS Wilderness Medicine student practices caring for a patient in the outdoors. Photo by Jared Steinman.
 

You love the outdoors. The beauty. The adventure. The chance to unplug. The quality time with family and friends, or even by yourself. Whether you choose to explore the wilds by hiking, on the water, with a fishing rod in hand, or up a mountain road with your camper, the remoteness and rawness of it all is likely part of the appeal.

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Topics: first aid, wilderness medicine, Wilderness First Aid, Wilderness Medicine

Case Study: A Blow to the Head

By Tod Schimelpfenig on Mar 14, 2019

Photo by Matt Heaton

The Setting

You are the leader of a hiking group at a summer day camp. Today, you allowed some of your campers with good navigation skills and expedition behavior to walk 3 miles back to your camp on a well-marked trail without a camp leader present.

When the campers arrive, you notice one of them has a bandage on their forehead. You learn that about an hour ago and a mile back on the trail this camper tripped, fell, and knocked their head.

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Topics: Wilderness First Responder, first aid, wilderness medicine, case study, NOLS Wilderness Medicine

9 Wilderness Medicine Acronyms You Need to Know

By Ben Lerman on Mar 11, 2019
NOLS students practice skills during a scenario on their course. Photo by Kyle Wilson.
 

You’ve taken your WFA, WFR, or WEMT and learned about PAS, ABCDE, and MOI. So many abbreviations, so little time!

Whether you’re filling out a SOAP note for a real-life patient or reviewing your skills with a NOLS case study, wilderness medicine’s plethora of abbreviations and acronyms can be a lot to remember.

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Topics: patient assessment, first aid, wilderness medicine

Case Study: A Backcountry First Aid Mystery from the ’80s

By Tod Schimelpfenig on Feb 13, 2019

Fashion trends might change, but some things don't! NOLS students backpacking in the mountains. Photo from the NOLS Archives.


This is a tale from the early 1980s. Reagan was President, the internet and cell phones only a dream, and disco thankfully on its last legs. Two friends and I had recently learned wilderness medicine skills through an advanced first aid course, which was an early generation of the Wilderness First Responder (WFR).

Read along to see how you would react to a similar first aid situation today.

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Topics: Wilderness First Responder, first aid, wilderness medicine, altitude illness, case study, NOLS Wilderness Medicine