[The 2-day wilderness course I took last weekend is a far cry from the kind of thing I normally write about in my blog, but since this enormously fun yet also thought-provoking weekend is something I’ll want to remember in years to come I’m recording it here with all my hikes and explorations. ]
Whether it’s by accident (so to speak) or by design, good sense or pure luck, after twelve years of leading hikes with what I now call the Taipei Hikers, the worst accidents we had were a mildly twisted ankle (on the stone stepped paths of Yangmingshan of all places) and a chipped tooth, plus countless harmless silver grass scratches, leech bites and similar diversions. I’m not (quite) so naïve though to believe that our relatively spotless safety record to date can be expected to last another twelve years, so when those resourceful guys at Taiwan Adventures announced that they’d be scheduling a two-day Wilderness First Aid course on the third weekend in November, I put myself down for some WFA education.
WFA (Wilderness First Aid) is exactly what it says it is: this two-day course teaches techniques that hikers can use if they come across a casualty in the mountains, far away from medical help. And by “first aid” they don’t mean putting a Band-Aid on a cut or icing a bruise! Right from the get-go the course emphasizes how to deal with some very serious issues such as how to keep someone alive if they’ve stopped breathing or are losing blood quickly.
Twenty of us were on the course – the TA quartet, Matt from Hualien Outdoors and 14 other mostly expat outdoors enthusiasts. Getting straight down to business (there’s a lot to cover in just 16 hours) we were plunged into practical, hands on experience at working out just what was wrong with our fallen buddies, and then trying to fix the problem, which involved everything from fishing pretzels (which did duty as ‘obstructions to the airway’) out of mouths to carrying unconscious bodies over obstacles such as over picnic tables and through (yes through) trees. My (lack of) self-confidence has always been a handicap in these kinds of situations (way back when I was 18 I joined a scuba diving club back in England and took nearly six MONTHS of Monday evenings to pass my second practical test (of seven! although I sped up a lot after that bad start) and the first day was a bit of a struggle at times. My attempts at splinting broken arms in particular were hardly crowned with success, and during that scenario (treating Matt H, who’d apparently been hit by a stampede of barking deer) I only succeeded in pissing off my fellow first-aider, Regina.
After a good night’s rest though, day two was slightly more successful, and by the afternoon we were flying into action as various new cases sprung up without warning – fellow course member Devra dropping to the ground with a seizure, a killer bee attack, and – as our graduation exercise – a nasty rock climbing accident, complete with impaled body parts and nasty head injuries.
The main feeling once the weekend was over, apart from how much fun the whole experience was, was just how little I still know about the subject. Now although we know how to assess injuries and have a much better idea how to go about treating some of them and hopefully keeping someone alive, the only way to really get better is to practice.
On the other hand I sure hope none of us have to actually do any of this stuff for real in the future…!
We did the course with US instructors from SOLO (NOLS is the other big WFA educator). Taipei Adventures set up the class through English-speaking Taiwanese instructor Sam from local outdoor activities outfit called ZA Adventure, which organizes WFA courses here in Taiwan (among lots of other interesting outdoor activities).
The photos were all taken by instructors Matt, Sam and Ben: thanks for sharing!