Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wilderness Advanced First Aid....check!

Alec eating lunch, single-handedly.
Alec just returned from a four-day Wilderness Advanced First Aid class, offered by Rutabaga and attended by 20 paddling instructors, guides and other people who work in outdoor recreation, particularly with kids.

This is follow-up course to the basic two-day Wilderness First Aid course many of us take to meet the requirement for maintaining certification as an American Canoe Association instructor. It can also be used as a recertification for Wilderness First Responders, of whom there were eight in this course, or as the first step toward becoming a Wilderness First Responder (the next being the four-day Bridge course). 

Like other training and certification programs we've undergone, each of these first aid courses raises participants' level of skill and scope of practice (or remit). Wilderness First Aid teaches basic skills for diagnosing and treating maladies we might encounter; Wilderness Advanced First Aid provides more depth and breadth for people with a higher level of responsibility for groups of people on longer trips into more remote areas.

Wilderness Medical Associates lead instructor Sawyer Alberi places a tornaquet on assistant instructor John Browning.
The course teaches patient assessment, a system that guides the process of diagnosing and making decisions about treating people who are ill or injured. It also teaches CPR, interventions (treatments), and procedures for stabilizing and evacuating patients. There are some classroom lectures and discussions, but the emphasis is on learning through experience by means of carefully designed scenarios. 

Mary, stabilized and ready fora helicopter evacuation after a mountaineering incident.
Trainings like these cost money and take time, but they're well worth it. The knowledge we gain helps us prevent some incidents and handle others if they arise. We hope to do more of the former and less of the latter.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Rough water and rocks test kayaking skills

Many paddlers make a false distinction between flat-water and rough-water skills. They practice maneuvers in calm conditions that would never work in dynamic water, thinking they will learn "advanced" skills for more challenging conditions.

Dave Olson puts boat handling skills and timing to the test.

This past weekend at The Gales Storm Gathering, participants discovered that there are no such things as advanced skills. There are simply solid skills applied to advanced conditions.

Leon applies his tidal race skills to the Menomenee currents.

The wind, waves, current and rocks put everything to the test. If a rescuer didn't hold on tight to a swimmer's boat, the wind swept it away. If a bow rudder wasn't effective, a rock was decorated with gel coat. Choosing the wrong edge in current led to immediate feedback from the river.

Incident management has urgency if you are drifting towards rocks.

As Shawna and Leon told us, a five-star paddler is just applying three-star skills in five-star conditions.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Gales Storm Gathering premiers

The view from Middle Island looking toward Marquette on a calm day.
We just returned from the first annual Gales Storm Gathering, a Great Lakes rough-water symposium based this year in Marquette, Michigan. We write "based" and not "held" because while all the coaches and participants stayed in Marquette, class locations depended on conditions. One of the unique aspects of this symposium was the night-before planning: Depending on the forecast, classes would be offered on surfing, rough-water rescues, incident management, rock gardening, navigation, and long boats in current. Even the scenic tours offered opportunities to learn boat control in wind and waves.

We expected rough water on Lake Superior in early October, but were instead treated to a classic Indian summer. The days were warm and sunny, and the winds generally light. The coaches scouted the two key locations: the nearby coast of Lake Superior, with its rocky islands and shoals, and a stretch of the Menominee River that offers current, eddies and rapids.

Scouting the Menominee to find the right line.
When the symposium began, the winds picked up, but they were off-shore instead of on-shore, creating no surf. So day one began with a drive through the Hiawatha National Forest--a visual feast of fall leaves--to Manistique, where Lake Michigan was delivering waves to five feet.

A pre-surf session talk about launching and landing.
Another unique aspect of this symposium was the ratio of instructors to students. With 12 instructors and 36 students, it was possible to safely take people out in dynamic conditions and keep class sizes small. This also meant that instructors and students got to know one another well over the course of the weekend, and everybody benefitted from working with guest coaches Shawna Franklin and Leon Somme of Body Boat Blade

Shawna debriefing with her class after an incident-management scenario. 
Even though we never got rough conditions on Lake Superior, the symposium managed to deliver on its promises, thanks to trips to Lake Michigan and the Menominee and creative use of rocky shorelines. It was a pleasure to work with participants who had substantial paddling skill and experience and were eager to be challenged and learn. 

Cliff jumping, kayaker style.
This symposium will happen again next October, based in Wawa, Ontario--another place known for rough water in the fall, but that also has a river to ensure conditions no matter what Mother Nature delivers. We're looking forward to it already.