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My First Time Mountaineering (and Other Firsts from Expedition #BeSafeGannett)

Thursday, August 30th, 2018

I’m not a mountaineer. I want to start off this post telling you that, because if there’s one thing this mountaineering experience taught me, it’s that you are stronger and more capable than you think.

The First Time I Heard of Gannett Peak

The first time I heard of Gannett Peak was about 9 months ago. Sometime around Christmas, I got called into a meeting, having no clue what we’d be discussing. The people around me start talking about awesome trips, mountaineering expeditions, and this remote mountain Frank (my boss) hiked in Wyoming, called Gannett Peak. Then they pulled up some images on Google. Wow.

Google image results for gannett peak

Some Google image results of Gannett Peak

This is where I need to pause and give a bit of background on me: I’m a 23-year old 100% New Englander. I was born and raised in New Hampshire, and I grew up hiking the White Mountains with my dad. The 4,000 footers have been my summer romance almost since before I can remember, and recent years have seen me moving deeper into winter hikes as well (Mt. Jackson = best winter day hike).

My point is that I’m a huge outdoor lover and hiker, but my glacier, rock-climbing, and mountaineering experience at this point were non-existent (though I did at least get some wilderness first aid training in last year). I’d never summited or attempted to summit anything higher than Mt. Washington (and that one was in the summer). I had never done anything that felt close to mountaineering, and I was not a mountaineer.

So I’m sitting in that meeting, staring at pictures of remote, gorgeous, breathtaking mountains, mountains like I have never seen before, and my mouth is watering, because it looks like hiking heaven. Not, of course, the kind of hiking heaven I pictured myself in, as I had no outdoor aspirations beyond finishing my 4,000 footer list and re-hiking all my favorites until I was over 80. But as they talk about Gannett Peak and decide they want to send a team up it, this crazy but totally impractical idea starts to go through my head though: I wish I could go on this mountaineering expedition.

That’s the moment Frank says, “Hey Jenny, would you be interested in going on this trip?”

Against my better judgment and all reason, I said yes.

My First Time in Utah

So flash forward through 9 months of training with my amazing team members (Joe, Chelsea, and Ben), and I’m stepping out of an airplane and standing in Utah for the first time. We’re headed to Wyoming (obviously), but we flew into Salt Lake City.

Taking my first step out the airport into SLC (I’m in the back)

At this point, I’ve already encountered a bunch of “firsts”:

  • First time holding an ice axe
  • First time successfully self-arresting with an ice axe
  • First time carrying more than 30 lbs. on a hike
  • First time tying an alpine butterfly, tying a retraced figure eight, and walking as part of a rope team.
  • First time wearing crampons (I hadn’t historically needed more than micro-spikes.)
  • First summer where I hiked more with other people than with my dad
  • First time working out more than 10 hours in a week

Regarding all of the firsts still ahead of me, I had no idea what to expect. Needless to say, I was nervous and even a bit afraid of what lay ahead, as my complete lack of anything to base the upcoming experience on made me wonder if I would like mountaineering, if I had trained enough, and if I would let my team down.

My First Time in Wyoming

We grabbed a rental car and started driving towards Pinedale, WY, which eventually brought me to Wyoming for the first time. The first hour or so of driving, the state did not look at all what I expected it to look like. As the miles passed, the landscape slowly transformed, and a mountain range appeared in the background. THIS was why I had said yes.

My first view of the Wind River Range as seen from the car – mountaineering lies ahead!

The First Day on the Trail

A bunch of firsts happened for me during Day 1 on the trail, though I’m glad to say they were all good ones, overall.

My First Time Hiking with 45 lbs.

I’m 5’1” and not what you’d call built or even muscular, so needless to say when Joe said something along the lines of “everyone is going to carry at least 40 lbs., probably more,” I was internally thinking, “I am not physically capable of this.”

Training tip: take the thing you fear the most and make it your focus. Instead of avoiding it, face it head on. During training, I spent hours walking on rolling terrain with my hiking pack full of my sister’s workout weights, slowly building up how much I was carrying.

We put together our packs at our hotel in Pinedale and weighed each of them. Mine weighed in at 45 lbs., which may not sound so bad until you realize that’s over 35% of my bodyweight.

All our packs stuffed full and ready to hit the trail the next day

Difficult does not mean impossible though! My hours of training 100% paid off, and any worries I had about carrying the weight were gone by the time we made camp after our first day on the trail. I was tired and had a headache (more on that below), but I felt strong and excited for what lay ahead, not weighed down by what was on my back.

Day 1 on the trail we had the heaviest packs – they got lighter as we ate!

My First Time above 10,000 ft.

I broke my elevation record with almost every step I took on this mountaineering expedition, but a few times were especially noteworthy, and this is one of them. Altitude was one thing I hadn’t been able to train for, and it definitely did affect me, though thankfully not for long.

The first day on the trail, I immediately experienced shortness of breath, which lasted the first mile or so before my body seemed to adjust. We went about 10 miles that day, and in the last couple miles I experienced an increasing headache, which Chelsea and Ben also experienced. Although I continued to have an above-average struggle during the first mile of each day after that, I’m glad to say the headache never returned.

My First Steps in the Wind River Range

Western hiking is not the same as Eastern hiking, from the trails to the terrain. We started down the trail through a pine forest (not at all an unfamiliar sight to me), but after a few miles we emerged into a giant natural clearing absolutely covered in wildflowers. I’m a wildflower nut and (no pun intended), it was a field day!

I took a moment to enjoy the wildflowers (without my pack)

We passed through that field back into the woods only to come across an even bigger, more beautiful meadow. And so the hike went – although eventually we left the forest behind for good and passed into more open, rocky terrain, I will never forget stepping into those first few meadows or how, no matter how far along the trail we were, we never went far without being able to see the trail wander off in front of us. (In NH, you hike blind to what’s ahead of you 80% of the time.)

The First Day in Titcomb Basin

Two days of steady hiking brought us into Titcomb Basin, where we would camp for the next several days and from which we would launch our Gannett summit attempt. If you’ve never been to Titcomb Basin, you should go.

I jumped for joy when we made it to Titcomb Basin!

Looking one direction from our campsite, I could see Upper Titcomb Lake, Fremont Peak, and the Wind River Range fading off into the distance. The other direction, we were surrounded by rocky peak after rocky peak, almost all of which had snow on them somewhere.

The view from our campsite looking back towards Titcomb Lake

Cradled among these peaks, I could see Bonney Pass. I can’t say this was my first time seeing the pass, as we’d been staring at the mountains ahead of us the past two days, and I’m sure I saw it at one point – I just didn’t know what it was. From the perspective of a girl on her first mountaineering trip, all I can say is it looked steep. Really steep. I won’t say impossible, because I refused to close that door as I stood there, but it was certainly a lot steeper and snowier than I had imagined.

The view from our campsite looking towards Bonney Pass

My First Time in the Backcountry for Over 3 Days

We spent 3 days at our camp in Titcomb Basin. The day after we arrived we took as a rest day to review our skills, then the next day we went on a side adventure as we waited for the weather to clear up (more on that below), while the third day was our summit attempt. By this time, I was completely covered in a strange mixture of sweat, Natrapel bug spray, and sunscreen that I could no longer smell.

I had never been on such a long backpacking trip before, and needless to say I was rather dirty (as were my companions – I think Joe and Ben wanted to see who could be the dirtiest). I wasn’t sure what I’d think of being in the wilderness for so long, but I can safely say I loved it.

Spending 7 days in the backcountry proved refreshing and invigorating!

The deeper we want into the wilderness, the more my excitement grew. The views were amazing, but more than that there was something refreshing about being completely surrounded by nature, getting plenty of exercise, and spending all day outdoors, completely tech-free. I obviously prefer using toilets to tree stumps, but the trade was worth it on this trip, and I suspect I’ll find it worth it on any lengthy trips to come.

My First (Mini) Experience with (Real) Rock Climbing

Our second day in Titcomb Basin, Joe, Chelsea, and I decided to warm our legs by attempting to summit Fremont Peak, the third highest peak in Wyoming. The mountain was almost completely bare of snow, and the route consisted of what seemed to be a never-ending talus field.

Having spent some time in the Presidential Range of NH, I was not unfamiliar with rocky routes. However, this was by far the rockiest route I’d ever been on, as well as the most time I’d ever spent on a talus field, navigating my way through scree. Definitely watch your footing!

Chelsea and me scrambling up Fremont Peak’s rocky slope.

We must have been over two thirds of the way up when we ran into some dangerously-loose terrain. Joe went ahead to see if he could scope out a better route and came back with a sturdy but more technical option. In college, I tried my hand at the rock wall a few times, but most of my experiences with rocks came from the White Mountains, where I’d never gone on a trail above a class 3 scramble.

Fremont Peak was the longest I’ve ever spent going through a talus field

Joe said the route he found was great, but had one class 4 spot. If you asked any real rock climber, I’m sure they tell you that me pulling my way up and over that small cliff (which I successfully did!) was not rock climbing, but it’s the closest I’ve ever gotten!

My First Time above 11,000 ft.

Around that time, Chelsea checked her watch and said we were above 11,000 ft. My record was broken! We pressed on for another fifteen or so minutes only to run into a cliff – literally. Since we didn’t bring any rock protection, we headed back down to camp to do final preparation and get to bed early for summit day.

Right before we went to sleep around 5 pm, I also experienced my first hailstorm in a tent – we were glad the hail didn’t get any larger than it did!

The hail came out of nowhere and lasted 10-15 minutes

My First Time Bivvying (& Being Above 12,000 ft. & Being Belayed Down a Couloir)

We hit the trail at 1 am on summit day. Titcomb Basin was pitch black, lit only by our headlamps. We turned off our headlamps for a moment over our rushed breakfast and saw the most amazing view of the Milky Way I have ever seen.

After a mile or so of trekking to the base of the pass, we started up the steep slope of ice and snow. In the pitch black, we ended up veering too far to the right and getting off route. We came up off the ice field onto some rocks on a ridgeline, with a steep upward slope to our right and steeper downward slope to our left, where we were relatively sure the correct route up Bonney Pass was. After a quick discussion as a team, we decided our best course of action was to bivvy until there was enough light to see if we could lower ourselves down the slope to the left.

Though rather rocky, our bivvy perch had a great view!

Needless to say, it was cold. We were above 12,000 ft. (the highest I’d even been up to that moment!), sitting in the pitch dark on a windy, rocky ridge. I pulled on my extra layers and pulled myself into my Survive Outdoors Longer Escape Pro Bivvy. Straight up honesty here: This was the first time the whole trip I was truly scared. Something about not knowing where I was, sitting in the pitch dark, and losing feeling in your feet just sucks the sense of adventure right out of you. My bivvy kicked in though and my feet regained feeling as the light increased.

Packing tip: ALWAYS bring a heat-reflective bivvy or blanket, even on day trips – we would have been in a real pickle without ours!

With the light, Joe could see that we were just a steep couloir away from the route, so he took out the rope and got to work belaying us down. Having never been belayed before, I managed a not-so-graceful decent that involved smacking the rocks once and some nervous tears. Not all firsts are fun, but I’m happy to say that the 3 other times I got belayed that day, I quickly found myself moving from being nervous to totally enjoying it!

The second time I got belayed was on the side of Gannett – super fun!

My First View of Gannett Peak

Back on the right route, we soon found ourselves on the top of Bonney Pass, where I saw my first view of Gannett Peak (which was blocked from view the whole way in from being so deep within the range). Wow.

This was our first view of Gannett Peak

This was the moment all my enthusiasm that I’d lost while bivvying came rushing back in. Mountains are definitely my happy place, and all I can say of Gannett Peak is that the view is worth the wait.

My First Time on a Glacier

I didn’t realize I was on a glacier for the first time till I’d probably been on it several minutes, as the Dinwoody Glacier at first just looks like the other side of Bonney Pass – a field of snow and ice on a steep slope! Once we had made the initial descent down the back of Bonney Pass though, Joe stopped us so we could rope up.

After reaching the top of Bonney Pass, we headed down the Dinwoody Glacier

On our way up to the Gooseneck Glacier, we had to jump over one crevasse, skirt around another, and ascend a steep snow bridge over two large crevasses. Needless to say, those were all first for me.

Our rope team on the Gooseneck Glacier

If you followed our expedition, you know that shortly after reaching the end of the Gooseneck Glacier, we ran into a hanging snowfield that was quickly deteriorating. Joe sank up to his waist after just a couple steps, and he’s not a short guy. As a team, we came the difficult conclusion that we needed to turn around, especially as our current speed meant we’d be cutting it close to make it back to camp before dark.

Gannett Peak descent

Joe and Ben starting the descent of Gannett

Looking back on that moment, I’m glad to say we all know we made the right decision. It would not have been safe to continue with the glacier and snow in the condition it was in, and we made it back to camp just in time to gobble down our Thanksgiving-themed dinner as the last rays of light disappeared. I’m pretty sure I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.

My First Time Mountaineering – It Won’t Be My Last!

I won’t go into the details of our hike out and other happenings from this mountaineering trip (though you should definitely check them out on our trip report!). But despite not reaching the summit, I walked out of the wilderness two days later and felt like I was glowing, despite having rather sore feet. I think if you’d asked me if I wanted to go do the whole trip again, I would have said “Give me 24 hours off my feet and eating burgers and ice cream, then YES – LET’S GO!”

What made my first time mountaineering so amazing? Obviously it didn’t hurt that I spent seven days in one of the most beautiful, remote places I’d ever been, but I think it was more than that.

Team Tender – from left to right, Joe, Chelsea, Ben, and myself – in Titcomb Basin 

I had an amazing, supportive, and fun-loving mountaineering team. I can’t convey how truly great they were, but I want to share at least one thing about each of them.

  • From rapping in the backcountry to belaying us down couloirs to making us stay ridiculously hydrated, Joe was everything you could ask for in a trip leader. If you’re headed out on a “first,” it’s vital you trust the experienced members of your team. Joe took his role seriously and always made sure to put our safety first, while also helping us have a good time.
  • The best tent-mate award goes to Chelsea! Not only was she an amazing backcountry chef who made sure we all had the nutrition we needed, but she also had a positive, can-do attitude perfectly coupled with a realistic look at our current circumstances, helping us to make smart decisions as a team when it counted most. If you’re going to sleep in the same tiny enclosed space with someone for seven days, make sure you pick someone as awesome as Chelsea! (Plus, she liked to go to bed early, so we both got waaaay more sleep than the boys did.)
  • Let’s just start with the fact that Ben has the best vision of anyone I’ve ever seen – he could spot wildlife or other hikers from miles and miles away! From reminding me to get all the points of my crampons in the snow to helping us lift the bear bags into a tree, Ben added a steady presence and relentless good humor to our team that made him a pleasure to travel with.

So here’s to first time adventures – I hope my story has encouraged you to pick one of your own! You will in all likelihood have to work harder and prepare more than you ever have in your life, but difficult is not impossible, and with a lot of preparation and a solid group of people, there’s not much you can’t accomplish.

That was my first time mountaineering, but if I have anything to say about it, it definitely won’t be my last! After all, there’s a whole lot of world out there, and Gannett Peak is definitely still waiting for me…

my first time mountaineering

My first time mountaineering on Gannet Peak is an experience I’ll never forget

About the Author

Jenny Hastings fell in love with hiking from spending hours in the White Mountains with her dad. She spends most weekends in the summer and quite a few weekends in the winter out on the trails. The #BeSafeGannett Expedition was her first experience mountaineering, and she was excited to rise to the challenge with the training and by developing her technical skills. She’s always looking for a new summit and ways to spend more time outdoors, whether on the trail or reading in her hammock.

Surviving the Backcountry: Tips on Training, Gear, & First Aid Supplies from Expedition #BeSafeGannett

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018

#BeSafeGannet – 3 Days to Go!

This Friday, July 13th, #TeamTender will board a plane with all their gear and head out for Wyoming on the #BeSafeGannett Expedition up Gannett Peak. To say we’re excited would be an understatement! Although our expedition won’t physically begin until we reach the trailhead on July 14th, for our team the journey began over 8 months ago, and each day of training and preparation has taken us one step closer towards reaching the summit, a goal we hope to have achieved in less than 10 days from today.

Team lead Joe Miller here to give you a snap shot of how our team has prepared themselves to #BeSafe on this expedition with months of planning, including everything from physical training to gear considerations to choosing a medical kit. I’m going to give you a look at what questions, criteria, and rules I use to help me and my team travel safe and prepared.

8 Months of Preparation

#TeamTender has put in a huge amount of effort preparing for this expedition. Trip logistics planning kicked off 8 months before the expedition start date, and training plans were initiated 6 months prior. If you have read my previous blog post on trip safety, you know just how much effort should go into any backcountry excursion. A trip this remote forces you to perform a lot more preparation in order to #BeSafe.

One of the most important pieces of our preparation was building and executing our training plans, as the best thing you can do to ensure safety on the expedition is to be fit and fast.  If you’re looking for a good resource on building your first training plan, I highly recommend “Training for the New Alpinism” by Steve House and Scott Johnson.  In addition to the physical training, a lot of preparation has gone into choosing our gear, building our first aid kit and preparing for emergency scenarios.

Gear Preparation

Besides fitness, gear is the next piece of preparation in trip safety.  I love gear. I mean I really really love gear. You should check out my truck: its gear central. From packs, to sleep systems, climbing gear, boots, layering, biking supplies, avalanche travel necessities, cooking systems, fishing supplies, first responder gear, and especially first aid and survival gear, my truck is a rolling closet of anything you could ever want on any adventure. I love to be prepared for everything.

New gear for two of our team included investing in a large pack capable of hauling 40+ lbs.

When picking out gear I look for a few specific criteria:

  1. How well does the gear support your goal?
  2. How much effort does this gear take to use?
  3. How reliable is this piece of equipment?

Criterion 1: How well does the gear support your goal?

Look at everything you are bringing and determine how well it supports and/or limits your achievement of your goal. The latter is fairly easier to determine. Does it weigh a ton? How much “just in case” logic did you use to justify that in your pack? How does it directly support your goal? Your goal should be 1) whatever objective you’re gunning for, and 2) getting back out alive. As the great Ed Vestures said “Getting to the top is optional – getting down is mandatory.” However, while “what if” thinking is sometimes helpful, it shouldn’t encourage you to pack for every extreme.

Criterion 2: How much effort does this gear take to use?

“Ultra-lighters” live by this one. Ounces add up to pounds, and that weight ends up on your back (or your adventure buddy’s pack). The lighter the better, but also refer to criterion number 1. Some things are absolutely worth their weight. If you’re trekking across a glacier like we will be, a rope and other glacier gear is mandatory weight (falling in a crevasse doesn’t need to be life ending). That being said, if you can minimize weight and/or use items for multiple purposes, you can cut weight elsewhere. For instance, I know I will need some cordage for anchor building material in crevasse rescues; this can also double as tent tie downs, splint material, and gear straps.

#TeamTender getting in some post-work rope training in preparation for glacier travel.

This criterion also holds true for ability to use – simple, easy-to-use items work better for a team. For example, while some super-duper ultralight stoves can shave grams off your base weight, it can take over an hour to cook dinner.  When you’re in need of some necessary food and cook time prevents you from going to bed earlier, is it really that helpful?  Everyone will have different views and gear priorities, and as with anything in life, a good balance is key.

Criterion 3: How reliable is this piece of equipment?

This is really a combination of criteria 1 and 2, but it warrants its own attention. On one of my earliest trips as a leader, I remember hauling back an old stove which had definitely seen many years of abuse. 3 days into the trip the stove stopped working in spite of copious amounts of fuel. Five hungry and tired boys waited impatiently as I stressfully dismantled, fixed, and reassembled our stove in an attempt to feed us all. Emergencies don’t happen when you’re alert and ready for them; they happen when you are tired, hurt, or have already made one or many bad decisions.

When heading out on a big trip like #BeSafeGannett, you should already know you can rely on your gear. This is not a time for testing out new products or systems.  You should know how your gear works, inside and out, and have relied on it before.  This way, you will know how to use it when you’re tired, injured, or just plain hungry.  I like to slowly work changes into my backcountry systems one at a time so nothing feels too foreign. If you’re going on a big trip, you better have your systems (and your teammates’ systems) figured out well in advance.

First Aid Kit Preparation

Because I want to know everything in my pack and limit my gear to the essentials, I personalize and rationalize everything I’m bringing with me – this also applies to my first aid supplies. I start with a base kit (for this trip I used the Mountain Series Explorer) and customize it out from there based upon what my team needs for a specific trip – in this case to safely climb Gannett Peak.

The Mountain Series Explorer kit contains first aid supplies to equip a team of 4 headed out for up to 7 days, which exactly fits our expedition.

When building a kit, it’s essential to consider the gear criteria I detailed above, but it’s more important to remember – you have to get out of this alive. Remember:

  1. Your #1 goal is getting out alive
  2. Your medical is important enough to be heavy, but not unnecessarily so
  3. Your first aid supplies need to be reliable

1. Get Out Alive

In the backcountry, medical support is very limited, and your #1 goal needs to be to get out alive. You should categorize every medical situation as life threatening, long-term debilitating, or minor. The first two categories should yield an immediate decision to evacuate and get to better medical attention. During anything life threatening, the goal is to support life until front country medicine is available. For life threatening scenarios, knowing CPR and what supplies should work to combat major bleeds, circulation problems, allergies, and environmental issues is imperative.  Any potential long term debilitation from an injury should be minimized. This includes spinal issues, preventing infection, and immobilizing fractures to prevent more harm. Anything minor should be addressed quickly so it doesn’t escalate into a bigger issue. I’m speaking in broad terms here, but looking at your first aid kit and analyzing whether its contents will help you get out of a bad situation alive is a useful exercise.

2. Weight vs. Contents

How heavy does a medical kit have to be? This tends to be the hardest part of building a first aid kit; it’s truly a balancing act. Often, first aid kits are too large, and used by those with little understanding of how to properly use the components of the kit.

Recently, I vetted my personal first aid kit with a combat medic.  Through this, I learned that proper training allows greater resourcefulness. As with athletic training, if you have proper medical training you can do more with less. Anyone intending to spend time in the backcountry should take a Wilderness First Aid course, such as those offered by SOLO Wilderness Medicine. For those wanting to peruse further backcountry medical knowledge, the Wilderness First Responder and Wilderness EMT courses are intensive and thorough.

Regardless of what medical training you have, ensure that you know how to use the items in your kit and that you are prepared to use them to take care of potential medical issues on your trip. Basic, easy-to-use supplies are often best, as you (or your team) may be able to use them without much training and for a variety of issues. Beware of having a single, bulky item that will only help you in a very specific scenario, especially if it is easy to misuse. Building your kit is a balancing act, and only you know what will work best for you.

3. Reliable Contents

You need to rely on your first aid kit more than any other piece of gear in the back country. You need to audit and refill your kit before and after your adventures. It takes a lot of thought and practice to maintain a reliable kit to ensure that you and your team know how to respond if any life threatening or debilitating event happens. Everyone on your team should know where the first aid kit is and how to use the supplies inside. Ensuring your components are worthwhile is very important; sterility for wounds, strong bandages that hold in place, and non-expired medications are key. Having quality medical components is something Tender Corporation takes great pride in.

Building a First Aid Kit for #BeSafeGannett

As I said before, I took the Adventure® Medical Kits Mountain Series Explorer kit and customized it for the specific risks we will encounter in the Wind River Range. I prioritized supplies that will address life-threatening issues and found ways to use those same supplies for minor issues. I also added some items for more specific scenarios because I’ve personally justified their use-to-weight ratio.  Here’s some of what I’m packing for the group kit for the Wind River Range:

Emergency Plan: The first thing that goes into my first aid kit is a documented Emergency plan. I put this in a zip lock bag so it is still legible if it rains. This holds route information, evacuation routes, individual medical information, and primary insurance information. For Gannett, everyone has secondary backcountry rescue insurance as well. (If you’re an American Alpine Club member you get this with your membership!) Creating an emergency plan helps keep everyone on the same page.  Leave a copy of your emergency plan with a loved one, so that they can give it to the responsible rescue parties should they need to. Having an emergency plan should stimulate a conversation with your team on any pre-existing medical conditions that might impact care on the trail. This will also help you decide on any other specific items for your kit.

Gloves: Providing medical assistance can get messy.  Clearing an airways and dealing with other bodily fluids should not be done without a pair of gloves.

Diphenhydramine: Having Diphenhydramine medication is important for any allergic reactions which cause swelling to close airways. If someone is seriously allergic, they should have an epi-pen and you should know where they keep it. I also have some NSAIDs in my kit in case a patient’s personal preference is to take them. Having some form of anti-diarrhea medication is key for overnights. For longer backcountry trips, I also carry a few days’ worth of antibiotics in case something does get infected. You’ll need a prescription for these and should use under the direction of your doctor.

Dressings: Supplies to stop bleeding take up most of the space in my kit. Any major bleeding will cause issues in circulation, so it needs to be addressed immediately. I pack a few sets of rolled gauze, a couple triangle bandages with safety pins, self-adhering bandages, elastic bandages, medical tape, Easy Access Bandages®, tincture of benzoin, moleskin, and an Advanced Clotting Sponge. With this, I can take care of any major or minor bleeding issues. I’m not going to go deep into the intricacies of wound care, but here’s a reminder of the basics: apply direct pressure to stop bleeding, (if you need to go hands free create a pressure dressing), clean the wound to prevent infection and protect the wound from further risk of infection.

Support for Sprains and Strains: For major sprains and strains I utilize triangular bandages (remember, the ones I can also use to stop bleeding?) and straps from my pack. Beyond that, you can use your hiking poles, or sticks to splint and stabilize. I abide by the “RICE” approach for most issues that are not life threatening: Rest, Ice (or cool), Compress, and Elevate. More major issues that require immediate hospitalization are splinted, immobilized, and evacuated.

Shelter and Warmth: In case of hypothermia or for a make shift shelter, I have a Survive Outdoors Longer® Emergency Blanket. I can hypo wrap a patient with this, or create some shade or protection from rain if necessary. I’ll also have some strike anywhere waterproof matches for quick fire starting. If I’m not already on a climbing trip, some p-cord makes good use for splints and traction. Other survival gear includes a compass and water purification.

Signing Off

We hit the trail July 14th and will be sending updates from the trail whenever we can, which our trip coordinator will be sharing on social media. Make sure to be checking our hashtag #BeSafeGannett for the latest updates. We can’t wait to put all our training to good use and share this experience with you! – #TeamTender

 

Treating Hypothermia with the SOL All Season Blanket at the AR World Championships

Friday, March 2nd, 2018

During the 2017 Adventure Racing World Championships, Team Adventure® Medical Kits‘ captain and team medic Kyle Peter helped save a racer’s life using the Survive Outdoors Longer® All Season Blanket. When one team came into the transition area he was at with a racer suffering from severe hypothermia, Kyle jumped into action to treat him until medical help could arrive. 

On the Last Leg

It was the final night of the 2017 Adventure Racing World Championships.  The sun had just set, and I was sitting at the final transition area just outside Casper, WY.  The top 5 teams were coming off of a relatively easy paddle leg in their pack rafts and onto their bikes for a simple ride over Caser Mountain to the finish line.  Teams were smelling the barn and moving quickly to finish the race and battle for the top 5 spots.

Team Adventure® Medical Kits getting their bikes ready after finishing the paddle leg

“The athlete was completely unresponsive…”

I was cheering on a team from France when I quickly realized one of their 4 teammates was bundled up in the front of a 2 person raft in soaking-wet emergency blankets.  Running to their assistance, I found the athlete was completely unresponsive to slaps on his face.  Severe hypothermia was in play here, brought on by a combination of 4 days of racing hard, sleepiness, wet conditions, and 55 degree temperatures.  My Wilderness First Responder skills kicked in!

Team Adventure® Medical Kits’ captain and medic Kyle Peter was the first responder

We carried his limp body up the boat ramp and put him into the back of a trailer.  I knew we need to call for help and get him as warm as possible.

Teammates gathered around their friend

“The All Season Blanket really helped save this man’s life”

Folks started to spring into action.  Some were boiling water, others called 911, while others ran to get warm supplies.  His teammates and I removed his wet clothing, put him in dry clothes, and got him in a “burrito” hypothermia wrap.  We had multiple sleeping bags, hot water bottles, and his feet warming on my stomach all to help him regain heat.  We used a proto-type Survive Outdoors Longer® All Season Blanket that I had with me to reflect back any body heat that started to return. The heat reflectivity and durability of the All Season Blanket really helped save this man’s life, as he slowly began to regain consciousness.

Kyle used  a prototype of the All Season Blanket as the outer layer of the burrito wrap to reflect any heat back to the patient

After 30 minutes, the ambulance arrived and took the patient to the hospital, where he spent the next 2 nights recovering from a near fatal case of hypothermia.  I am so thankful that I was prepared with the All Season Blanket and was able to help the racer come back from the hypothermia and recover 100% with no permanent damage.

Emergency personnel arriving at the race to take the patient to the hospital

About the Author

Kyle Peter, captain of Team Adventure® Medical Kits, has captained teams to 1st place finishes in 4 consecutive United States Adventure Racing Association’s National Championships (USARA) and to 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place finishes in the World Championships. Since 2003, he has raced in over 140 adventure races with more podium places that he can count, making him one of the most experienced and successful USA adventure racers on the circuit today.  Whether Kyle is paddling his surf ski in the American River or mountain biking in the Sierras, he strives to get outside every day to maintain his physical fitness as well as his mental sanity. Also the team medic, Kyle is a certified Wilderness First Responder so he’s prepared to look out for the health of his teammates or other adventurer racers whenever emergencies occur.

The Survive Outdoors Longer® All Season Blanket is now available for purchase at www.SurviveOutdoorsLonger.com

Cold Water Immersion Survival

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Spring boating season may be here, but water temperatures are still cold enough to cause problems for boating enthusiasts. Adventure Medical Kits’ marine medicine consultant Dr. Michael Jacobs provides tips for surviving cold water immersion.

Comp Guide to Marine Mediciine

AMK's A Comprehensive Guide to Marine Medicine inlcudes tips for treating hypothermia.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking the cold water you sail over is dangerous only when it contains pancake ice and glacial runoff; you could be dead wrong. In fact, water temperature as high as 60ºF can kill you just as easily. Fall into cold water without a personal flotation device (PFD; see sidebar below), and you could drown in the span of a few minutes, often within 10 feet of safety. Statistics indicate an incapacitating response that is rapid in onset and prevents individuals from swimming 10 feet to save their lives. Swimming ability does not improve survival.

We now appreciate that sudden immersion in cold water (less than 60ºF) initiates a series of incapacitating reflexes that increase the risk of drowning. Indeed, the most common cause of death from accidental cold-water immersion is drowning, not hypothermia.

The initial response, which affects breathing, heart function, and muscle strength, is called the Cold-Shock Response. This is a series of reflexes that begin immediately upon sudden cooling of the skin following cold-water immersion. The initial phase of the cold-shock response peaks during the first 30 seconds, and lasts just 2 to 3 minutes. During this time, blood pressure, heart rate, and the workload of the heart all increase, making the heart more susceptible to life-threatening rhythms and heart attack. Simultaneously, gasping begins, followed by rapid and deep breathing. These reflexes can quickly lead to accidental inhalation of water and drowning. This rapid and seemingly uncontrollable over-breathing
creates a sensation of suffocation and contributes to feelings of panic. It can also create dizziness, confusion, disorientation, and a decreased level of consciousness.

It is important to realize that this initial phase of the cold-shock response is brief and that your actions during this time can vastly improve your chance for survival.

If you fall into cold water, it is imperative you try to bring your breathing under control while keeping your head above the water; your life depends on it! Try to calm yourself, do not panic, and realize these reflexes will pass. Just keep your head above the water and consciously slow your breathing. Swimmers experience difficulty synchronizing their swim stroke with these breathing changes and can easily inhale water and drown, even in calm seas. It is safer to tread water and maintain airway freeboard – distance from the water level to the mouth and nose. Breath-holding time is also reduced in cold-water immersion, making escape from beneath a capsized vessel more difficult; kayakers have less time to set
up and roll their craft upright.

Over the next 30 minutes, the muscles and nerves in the extremities cool. Swimming becomes arduous, weak, and ineffective. Loss of muscle strength makes it difficult to perform basic survival procedures. Boaters who fall overboard are often too weak to reboard their craft, get into a life raft, climb the ladder of a rescue boat, or simply grasp a rescue line. Victims in cold water quickly lose the ability to rescue themselves or assist in their own rescue. In icy water, you have only 10 to 15 minutes of effective
muscle strength.

If you fall into cold water, be prepared for violent shivering and intense pain. You can help slow your rate of cooling, and increase your survival time, by following these guidelines:

Do not undress. The added weight of clothing and boots will not impair your ability to float. Clothing traps water next to the skin where it is warmed, retarding heat loss; this is similar to the protective effect of a diver’s wet suit. Clothing also traps air, which provides some insulation and buoyancy. If a short swim is your best chance of survival, then remove any extra clothing and footwear to reduce drag and improve agility.

HELP. If wearing a life jacket, assume the Heat Escape Lessening Posture: cross your hands over your chest and press your arms closely to your sides; draw your knees up toward your chest and cross your ankles. This position facilitates maximum heat retention by protecting the most vulnerable areas of the body.

Tread Water. If you don’t have a life jacket, move slowly and tread water using slight movements. Exercise wastes precious energy and accelerates the rate of cooling by increasing blood flow to the extremities. Activity also flushes cold water through protective clothing, increasing heat loss. Avoid long swims. You have a 50-50 chance of successfully swimming half a mile in 50º F water. If you must swim, pace yourself with an easy stroke, such as the breaststroke, that keeps your head and face out of the water.

Get out of the water. Always reboard or climb on top of a swamped or capsized boat and await rescue. Once out of the water, stay out, no matter how cold the air temperature or how chilled you may feel. You’ll survive longer out of the water because the rate of cooling in water is 25 times greater than in air at the same temperature.

Wilderness Medical Society (WMS) member Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, a noted hypothermia expert, summarizes the sequence of events and how much time you have after sudden unplanned immersion in frigid water:

ONE-TEN-ONE

ONE minute of gasping, when you need to control your breath.
TEN minutes of meaningful strength to pull yourself out of the water.
ONE hour before you lose consciousness.

Sudden immersion in cold water need not be a fatal event. Understanding the physiology and exercising appropriate actions for self-rescue will greatly improve your chances for survival. Do not be intimidated by cold water, but respect the challenge it presents.

Treatment
Victims who avoid drowning still face the risk of acute hypothermia as the body’s core temperature decreases. If the victim is fully awake and shivering, then treatment for mild to early moderate hypothermia is reliably effective and evacuation is unnecessary. The victim is capable of generating internal rewarming heat by sustained vigorous shivering if given fluids and carbohydrates, but fuel is required for continued shivering. If dry, and insulating clothing is not available, provide an extra windproof vapor barrier by dressing the victim in foul weather gear to minimize heat loss. When practical, wrap the victim like a burrito in blankets, sleeping bag, sails, or sail bag.

Treat hypothermic victims by wrapping them in blankets

Treat hypothermic victims by wrapping them in blankets.

After prolonged cold-water immersion, generally more than 2 hours, it is prudent to evacuate the victim to a medical facility. These patients are perilously close to losing both consciousness and the shivering reflex. They are incapable of rewarming themselves, and they require more aggressive and sophisticated rewarming methods. Careful monitoring is required because of the many metabolic complications arising from advanced hypothermia. Some sailors have been rescued at sea after prolonged cold-water immersion in an apparently stable and conscious state, only to later collapse while walking around the rescue craft or while taking a hot shower. These people are severely hypothermic and have low blood pressure. Their condition will rapidly deteriorate with activity and during any attempt at external rewarming. They must be kept still, in a supine position, and handled gently in order to avoid physically stimulating the heart to change its rhythm or stop beating. During helicopter evacuation, use a litter with straps so the person can remain horizontal and securely bundled. The rotor blades create a wind-chill from the downwash and can increase the level of hypothermia. Dress and wrap the victim properly during transfer.

Types of PFDs

I: Off Shore Life Jacket: Turns most unconscious people face up in the water even in rough seas, often found on ocean-going boats and commercial watercraft.

II: Near Shore Buoyant Vest: Turns some unconscious people face up in the water in calmer water.

III: Flotation Aid: Common for all purpose boating but will not turn unconscious person face up.

Requires treading water to keep face/head out of water; often these are kayaking, waterskiing, or fishing vests.

IV: Throw Device: Usually a boat cushion or life ring.

V: Special Use: This includes devices that don’t fit in other categories, such as some kayak
or windsurfing vests not approved as Type II or IV.

Special note: for kids, vests should have a groin strap to prevent vest flying off when jumping in water. They should also be sized correctly.
For more info: http://www.uscg.mil/ or http://www.usboating.org.

Michael Jacobs, M.D., is the Medical Consultant for AMK’s Marine Series of medical kits. He is also the MedSail Founder and Program Director: Safety at Sea and Medicine for Mariners Conferences; Medical Director, Vineyard Medical Services, Martha’s Vineyard, MA; a USCG Licensed Captain; co-Author of A Comprehensive Guide to Marine (included in most Marines Series kits) and author of MedicineSurvival at Sea, Textbook of Wilderness Medicine.

HYPOTHERMIA: THE COLD HARD FACTS ABOUT WINTER’S DEADLY KILLER

Monday, December 29th, 2008


HYPOTHERMIA: THE COLD HARD FACTS ABOUT WINTER’S DEADLY KILLER
By Christopher Van Tilburg, M.D.

Rescue mission for a lost snowboarder: a bitter-cold, raging midnight storm high above timberline. That was the scene of my first search and rescue call to Oregon’s Mount Hood as a young doctor. After another team located the snowboarder, I scurried from the tempestuous black night to the ski patrol room, where I examined a shivering, huddling young man. He clutched a blanket draped over soaked ski clothes, and held a steaming cup of hot chocolate, too scalding to drink. Fortunately, the snowboarder had been found. But from across the room I could see he suffered from hypothermia and dehydration.

RECOGNIZING THE SYMPTOMS

Hypothermia is a cooling of the body’s core temperature. Every year 600 people in the U.S. die from hypothermia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mild hypothermia begins with shivering and progresses to lethargy. Moderate hypothermia is dangerous: one has slurred speech, poor concentration, and a staggered gait. Severe hypothermia is a critical condition: the heart, lungs and other organs start to shut down, and extreme mental status changes occur such as the inability to talk coherently, walk properly, or even process thoughts. Bizarre behavior like paradoxical undressing — when a person discards articles of clothing, even though doing so hinders their chances for survival — can occur when the brain gets confused. A well-known example of this condition involved the CNET reporter James Kim. After being stranded for several days with his family in a remote forested area of southwestern Oregon, Kim set off on his own to find help. He was later found in the snow, having succumbed to hypothermia. Media reports said he had removed several pieces of clothing, including his pants. Paradoxical Undressing not only speeds death but it can also put an entire group at risk, because the person suffering from it will inevitably require more attention and resources – at a time when both may be in short supply. Death by hypothermia doesn’t occur instantly, but it does occur rapidly. And often it is the hypothermic person’s partner who notices a problem first.

IMPROVING YOUR CHANCES OF SURVIVAL

Exemplified by snow burial studies, we know that with today’s fleece and nylon-laminate clothing and a well-built emergency shelter, a person can spend an unexpected night in the winter mountain wilderness, even in below freezing temperatures. But beyond one night without proper clothing, food, water and shelter, your odds of survival plummet even if the thermometer doesn’t. And once you get hypothermic, the basic tasks of survival become difficult to complete.

Before you head into the wilds, always make sure you have enough food, water and clothing for an unexpected night out. And carry the tools to build an emergency shelter such as a shovel to dig a snow cave and a space blanket like the Heatsheets Emergency Survival Blanket to act as a covering.

TREATING HYPOTHERMIA

If you do notice even mild hypothermia—you are more likely to see it in your partner—treat it immediately. Change into dry clothing and put on all extra layers. Insulate yourself from the ground. Chemical heat packs do help, if you place them on your torso. Drink lukewarm fluids and eat a snack: calories and fluids are important to generate internal heat, no matter if they are hot or cold. Seek shelter right away and try to keep active. If you can, build a fire. Make sure you pack a survival kit, with a reliable fire starter and signaling mirror for alerting rescue craft. Above all, get help and evacuate from the backcountry as soon as you can.

Also, watch for coexisting frostbite — when your skin actually freezes — which usually occurs on the face, nose, fingers and toes. To prevent frostbite, make sure that all exposed skin is covered and you have proper boots, socks, gloves and a hat. Frostbite is treated by immediate evacuation then rapid re-warming, usually with 40-degree water or fluids. But be extra cautious if you re-warm an extremity in the backcountry to make doubly sure it doesn’t refreeze, which can cause worse damage than walking out with a frozen finger or toe.

To treat the snowboarder in the ski patrol room, I had his friends help him change in to dry clothes then covered him with dry blankets. And I gave him two large cups of lukewarm hot chocolate, which he guzzled down with gusto and perked up. I checked him for frostbite and we fed him whatever snacks we could find. He finally warmed up and we sent him down the mountain.

Chris Van Tilburg, MD, is the editor of Wilderness Medicine Magazine and is also a member of Crag Rats Mountain Rescue, in Hood River, Oregon. Started in 1927, Crag Rats is the oldest mountain rescue unit in the nation.

Backcountry Grub: What’s Safe to Eat and Drink?p

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Dr. Chris VanTilburg

BACKCOUNTRY GRUB: WHAT’S SAFE TO EAT AND DRINK?

Christopher Van Tilburg, M.D.

In October, a solo climber on Washington’s 12,276-foot Mount Adams fell on Suksdorf Ridge, and broke his ankle. It’s just what every climber fears: being alone on a high mountain with a disastrous injury. Unable to walk, he dragged himself down the snowfields. After five days and nights, he was found at 6,200 feet suffering from frostbite and dehydration. He survived on creek water and an eclectic mix of creepy crawlers: ants, centipedes, spiders, mushrooms, and berries.

Sooner or later, if you spend time outdoors, you may find yourself without food or water on a wilderness outing; hopefully it’s just a short distance to your car and you are uninjured. But in survival mode, if you are lost and injured, you may need to eat and drink from the wilds.

You can live several weeks without food. But you won’t last much past five to seven days without water, even fewer if you are in the desert or at high altitude. Finding water is a paramount priority.

Drinking from creeks, like the Mount Adams climber, is probably a risk worth taking in prolonged survival situations. Yes, you can get protozoa infections like Giardia and Cryptosporidium, as well as bacteria and viruses. However, it takes just one day for you to begin to become incapacitated from dehydration.

When you find a source, ideally you should have a means to purify water before drinking. That means boiling, filtering, or chemical treatment. I carry water purification tablets for emergencies: they are compact, light, and easy to use.

Remember, when in the mountains, eating snow can cause hypothermia, because you need to use vital calories to melt it in your mouth first. So you should carry a lightweight backpacking stove to melt water. When in the desert, locating water can be extremely difficult, so if you find a source, consider staying put until you are rescued. If you do get a gastrointestinal infection from drinking backcountry water, see your doctor A.S.A.P.

As for food, if you can’t identify it, don’t eat it. You can get seriously ill from toxins and infections. My friend Greg Davenport, a survival expert, said critters with eight or more legs like centipedes and millipedes are often toxic. He recommends sticking to insects, which have some nutrition, but not much. A typical 100 gm (3.5 ounce) serving of fish, for example, yields 22 g protein, 1g fat and 0g carbos. The same weight of crickets yields 13 g protein, 6 g fat, and 5 g carbos. But that’s a big pile of crickets to scrounge for.

Wild plants—leaves, roots, bark, nuts, seeds, and berries— can be energizing or deadly. Use caution: even a small bite can cause stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and rashes. Mushrooms can kill you. Davenport said aggregate berries, like thimbleberries, raspberries, and blackberries, are generally safe to eat. Purple, blue and black berries, such as wild huckleberries and cranberries, are 90% edible. Red berries are about 50% edible, so it’s probably best to avoid those, as well as any berry white, green or yellow, which are not edible.

Remember: always take enough water and food (an extra bottle of water and a few extra energy bars) to spend at least one unexpected night in the wilderness. And stash some water purification tablets in your survival kit.

Christopher Van Tilburg, MD, is the editor of Wilderness Medicine and author of Mountain Rescue Doctor: Wilderness Medicine in the Extremes of Nature now available in paperback.

Consumer Comment – AMK Thermo-Lite Bivvy

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Sent to us 4/25/07 from Peter, NY

I wanted to advise you of a recent accident that I had while hiking in Northern New York State. I have attached a news article from the New York State Department of Conservation. The article does not specifically mention one of your products but I want to advise you that it helped save my life. I purchased the Thermo Lite Emergency Bivy Sack at Eastern Mountain Sports, and I stayed in this shelter during my long night out. Please read the article attached and be advised that I truly can say that I was glad that I had this with me. This item along with food and staying hydrated kept my body temperature at 97 degrees for almost 18 hours while I was stuck outside, in temperatures that dropped to -23.

http://www.dec.state.ny.us/website/environmentdec/2007a/hikerrescue020107.html

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