Other Things I Learned at Wilderness First Aid

I expected to learn first aid in the Wilderness First Aid course, but I did not expect to learn so much about planning and teamwork.

I first took Wilderness First Aid (WFA) in 2009 and I’ve taken the course again three times since then to recertify. The material hasn’t changed much, but I always learn or re-learn something.

Our WFA class uses a lot of practical scenarios. All of them require teamwork, and they are planned to stretch your skills. That means that you kill the patient most of the time. We learn a lot more from failure than from success.

A lot of our older Scouts have taken WFA. They are high-achieving youth and are not used to failing, so killing the patient every time was really unsettling for them. It made them think and made them more aware about risks in the backcountry.

WFA taught me that you can always evac. If you don’t like the situation, pack up and walk out, even in the middle of the night. We’ve aborted a few outings, for example at Sky Camp in Point Reyes, an exposed location on the side of Mount Wittenberg. It was planned as a two-night outing with a hike to the summit. A storm came in during the night with 40º temps and 40 mph winds. The lighthouse recorded an 80 mph gust. We had trail food for breakfast, packed up, and headed home. Afterwards, I put a dozen patches on my Walrus Aero Tarp 150 because it had pulled out stakes and banged against the charcoal grill all night.

WFA in the field uses incident command skills—organized decision-making and teamwork in a high-stakes situation. A back-country emergency often means choosing the best among several bad options. Open communication can save lives, another important message.

A good WFA course is a great team-building course. Half of our 2010 Philmont crew was WFA-trained and it was the best shakedown we had.

I practice incident command skills in other areas. I volunteer in amateur radio emergency communication (ARES/RACES), where we are always part of an incident command structure. The Incident Command System (ICS) was developed in response to failures fighting California wildfires. It is now a national system for responding to any emergency, whether there are three or three thousand responders. Learn more with the online FEMA ICS-100 course. Hint: The person wearing the white hat is the Incident Commander.

What happens when there is an earthquake and you are at work? ICS is a good first step.

I’ve learned confidence. On a 50-mile Sierra trek, one of our Scouts had a neck injury. They’d tied a rock to a rope, thrown it into a tree for bear-bagging, and the rock got stuck. When they pulled it loose, it slammed into the neck of one Scout. The other Scout ran to me, panicked. I took time to grab the first aid kit, hustled over there without running, determined that it was a soft tissue injury (a bad bruise), and started treating for shock. I deputized the Scout’s tent-mate to watch over him while he recovered in his sleeping bag. I checked on him every 15 minutes.

This could have been a lot worse if the rock had hit somewhere else on his neck or head. Even so, we had a shocky Scout for the evening and he couldn’t turn his head for a couple of days. Later, the injured Scout (now a Philmont Ranger) told me how impressed he was with my calm response. Of course, I had been full of adrenaline, but I had practiced what to do, so I could go down the checklist.

The scariest part about the first course was being retroactively terrified at how unprepared I had been for previous outings. Please, take WFA as soon as possible to spare yourself this grief.

Any time that I did the right thing, I owe it to the course. We usually don’t perform up to our potential, but rather down to our training. Get trained.

Mushroom Spaghetti (Vegitarian)

OK, so I broke our Vegan September by adding (excellent, imported) Parmesan, but this was a tasty backpacking meal and still vegetarian. I’d use fresh mushrooms and spices for guests at home, but this is a tasty, filling meal on the trail.

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This recipe is from Teresa Marrone’s The Backcountry Kitchen.

Mushroom spaghetti is not tomato spaghetti sauce with mushrooms. It is a mushroom sauce over pasta, in this case, spinach pasta.

For two people, I used six ounces of pasta, half the box. This is a pretty light meal, because the dried mushrooms are only an ounce. Add an ounce or so of parmesan and you are at nine ounces for two people. Because of the pasta box size (12 oz.), this is a slightly better meal scaled up to four people.

Because it is so light (about four ounces per person), it would be a great meal towards the end of a longer trek. Everyone is hungrier later in the the trek and this is a filling meal.

It does require two pots, one for the mushroom sauce and one for cooking the pasta. That is extra weight, but on a longer trip a second pot is handy, since you’ll be washing dishes every night. I hope you rinse them with boiling water, since I would hate for you to get the runs on the trail.

But back to the positive: tasty, light, and nutritious. Hint: if you are serving linguine, bring forks.

Tina was reading the first Longmire book, so I forgive her for reading during dinner. Also, that really is a kids cereal bowl with the alphabet all around. Lightweight and nearly indestructible, so a great choice for backpacking.

How I Pack

I feel more relaxed at the trailhead when I pack in a methodical fashion. I use our bed. The pack goes at the head, empty, and everything that will go into it is laid out in front of it.

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This gives me an overview of what I’m taking and lets me run through the whole checklist.

This is also the time for a last-minute weather forecast check, eyeballing the amount of food, and one more thought about the goals for the trip. Do I take the big camera? Are we teaching plant and animal identification.

Today’s overnighter includes a fancier meal than usual, so I need two pots. I chose my ancient Evernew set. It is soft aluminum, but it is a lot lighter than the Sigg cookset. It is plenty big enough to make mushroom spaghetti for two. I’m also packing the crew-sized first aid kit, which weighs two pounds. I need to make a smaller first aid kit.

This is my first trip with my Gossamer Gear Mariposa, and Tina is taking my old Six Moon Designs Starlite. It is also the first trip with the Big Agnes Slater UL2+.

I’m pretty happy with the pack weights. Including extra pots, the heavier tent, the bit first aid kit, and with all the food packed (no water), my pack is 20 pounds and Tina’s is 15.

Solo Stove Campfire

This looks really interesting as a patrol-sized wood-fueled backpacking stove. I have the smallest model, which is great for one or two people. This is sized for more people and should work great for a Boy Scout patrol (around eight).

The design is about 7″ in diameter and about 9″ tall. That is roughly the size of a squared-off gallon milk jug, if you make a cylinder around the outside edges. It weighs two pounds, which is substantial, but not bad for a stove to feed a patrol. Remember, no fuel weight, only firestarter material.

If the milk jug analogy doesn’t work for you, it is smaller and lighter than most bear canisters. It would almost certainly fit inside a BearVault BV500.

It is also smaller and lighter than any synthetic sleeping bag. For example, the Cat’s Meow from The North Face is 2 pounds 10 ounces, and packs down to 8″ in diameter and 17″ long. The Solo Stove Campfire is an inch smaller in diameter and half as long when the fire ring is inverted for packing.

This is a “wood gasification” stove, with air feeds at two levels to promote secondary combustion and efficient use of the wood. It can be a real blowtorch if you need that, or you can moderate the heat by limiting the fuel. You get it started, then keep feeding it small stuff. The shell and bottom stay cool because there is outside air drawn in at the bottom. No scorched fire rings, and just ashes to dump out after it is done.

The Solo Stove Campfire Kickstarter level to get a stove is $99. Very tempting. I’m guessing it will be about $120 once they get to full production.

Planning a Vegan Backpacking Menu

Tina and I are going vegan for September, and we have a backpacking outing planned for the last weekend of the month. Teresa Marrone’s The Back-Country Kitchen is, once again, looking like the best resource.

Breakfast and lunch are not a challenge. I often have a Lärabar for breakfast at home. Oatmeal, bars, dried apricots (only Blenheims), figs, cashews, whatever, will get us through until dinner. But dinner is a challenge.

I pulled out a few backpacking cookbooks and a stack of Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador cards for bookmarks.

My first resource was Glen McAllister’s Recipes for Adventure, especially because of Philip Werner’s glowing recommendation of his ratatouille.

Ratatouille is almost all vegetables, so it is easy to make vegan, but does not have a lot of calories for feeding hikers. I need to at least add rice. Plus, McAllister’s recipe uses fennel seeds, which my wife doesn’t like.

Red Beans and Rice from McAllister looked good, and since I grew up in Louisiana, it goes on my list of possible meals.

So, I went back to my go-to cookbook, Teresa Marrone’s The Back-Country Kitchen.

Lentil-Bulgur Chili from this book is fantastic, and trivial to vegan-ize (don’t top with cheese). But we might hike with another couple and I made this the last time the four of us went backpacking, so I’d like to make something else.

Teresa’s “Weetamoo” Stew looks good with rice, bulgur, onions, other veg, but the leek soup mix probably has milk. Dang.

Mushroom Spaghetti looks like a winner. Use a mix of tasty dried mushrooms with a tomato sauce over spinach noodles. We only need to omit the cheese. Maybe I’ll bring parmesan for our friends.

Ratatouille, hmm I like her recipe better. She sweats liquid from both the eggplant and the zucchini and uses a more traditional spice mix of parsley, basil, thyme, and oregano. Maybe I could use this as a veg with the mushroom spaghetti.

Risi e Bisi (Rice and Peas) looks good, too, and easy to adapt. Use olive oil instead of butter buds and vegetable bouillion. I don’t really need another starch, but I’ll keep this on my list.

Many Beans Salad from Packit Gourmet looks tasty, especially with some rice.

I’m leaning towards the Mushroom Spaghetti, maybe with Ratatouille on the side if I get fancy and want to carry the pots. Or I could repeat the Lentil-Bulgur Chili. Red Beans and Rice would be nice too—I could dehydrate some okra for that. The Packit Gourmet meal is good to have in my pocket if time gets tight. Nice to have choices, and I’m pleasantly surprised that I can find four nights of vegan dinners with only an hour of research in the cookbook library.

We’re Already There

In the summer of 1971, my dad and I headed out on our first wilderness backpacking trip in the Pecos Wilderness. The first person we met on the trail was from our home town, Baton Rouge! Of course, we asked him how far it was to our destination, Beatty’s Cabin. He told us, but he added a bit of wisdom. When he went backpacking in the wilderness, he didn’t worry too much about specific spots. His destination was the wilderness, and he was already there. I still remember that—as soon as I leave the trailhead, I’m already there.

This was our first stop on the trail that year, before the meeting. And yes, it was at Noisy Brook Creek, an odd name.

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And, if you are still thinking about destinations, this is our tent, a Gerry Year-Round, set up in the meadow at Beatty’s Cabin. I believe this area has been closed to camping due to overuse for a few decades now.

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I scanned these photos from my dad’s slides.

38 gram Selfie Kit

Feel the need for more trail selfies? Instead of a heavy tripod, support your iPhone for 38g (1.3 ounces) or your small camera for 30g (1 ounce). This kit goes on top of regular bottles like the 1 liter sparkling water bottle that is always in my pack.

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There are two basic parts: a water bottle camera mount and a tripod adaptor for an iPhone (or other phone). If you have a lightweight camera, you can skip the phone mount and save 8 grams.

Bottle cap mount: $10, 30g. This fits on the top of a regular small mouthed bottle. I carry a one liter sparkling water bottle (stronger than still water bottles), so I always have one of these. I wouldn’t support my DSLR with this, but it is fine for a light camera or phone camera. I got my bottle cap camera support from Photojojo.

Bottle cap tripod

Glif: $20, 8g. This is how an iPhone is mounted on a tripod screw. The Glif Original is sized for a bare iPhone 4/4s or 5/5s, depending on the size you order. Mine is for an iPhone 4/4s, but fits my thinner 5s with the Apple leather case (see the photo above). If you have a different phone or want an adjustable mount, get the New Glif for $30. I don’t know how much the New Glif weighs, but I expect it isn’t much heavier than the Glif Original.

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Here is the New Glif (adjustable).

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The final touch is a camera app that has a self timer, unlike the built-in Apple camera app. I use Camera Plus, which costs a whopping $1.99 and adds more features than you probably need, though it does have that essential selfie feature, the self timer.

How good is it? I took this selfie during a ham radio activation on Black Mountain. Looks good to me, good enough to put on my QSL card after I cropped it a bit.

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