It had been a disastrous day on Mount Rainier and night was falling. I keenly felt the loss of the sun as a chill seeped through my light down jacket and my teeth began to chatter. A few feet away, my climbing partner lay on the ground with a life-threatening chest wound that our rescuers had sealed with a nitrile glove and some tape. My own broken ankle was snugly ensconced in a makeshift splint fashioned from a backpack, various articles of clothing, and an elastic bandage. It wasn’t pretty, I thought, noting the sleeve, sock, and other bits and pieces that poked out, but it would certainly do.
“Okay, everyone. Evacuate your patients to the classroom.”
With those words from one of our instructors, a tall and not-quite-lanky Wyomingite whom I’d correctly pegged as a climber the moment I saw him, “Mount Rainier” morphed back into a University of Utah courtyard dotted with spindly trees and aluminum picnic tables. Day three of our NOLS Wilderness First Responder (WFR — pronounced “woofer”) course was winding down.
Two days earlier, brisk morning air meandered through the open windows of a University classroom. Plain brown desks that had been pushed up against the walls contrasted starkly with a rainbow of daypacks and water bottles as a motley crew of college students, firefighters, EMTs, outdoor guides, and travelers formed a closed shape that looked less like the intended circle and more like a single celled organism.
Each of us had our own reasons for taking the course. As we introduced ourselves, I spoke of time spent alone in the backcountry and other remote locations around the world, and of my wish to be prepared. I left out that I knew what it looked like when Nature wreaked havoc. And I left out that I knew the infuriating powerlessness of reaching the limits of my first aid knowledge when there were people who needed help. That last feeling, more than anything else, was why I was there.
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