In early October of 2017, Kyle and I traveled to the Adirondack high peaks to spend a long weekend with the fall foliage. We parked at the ADK Loj and walked a few miles to a lean-to just beyond the old Marcy Dam. That day, we hiked to Avalanche Lake, sandwiched between two gigantic rocks (one belonging to Mount Colden and the other to Avalanche Mountain). We planned to return in the morning to climb the Mount Colden Trap Dike, the most difficult climb I’ve attempted without ropes.
To climb the Trap Dike, you first scramble, climb, and hike up, over, and across the rocks, ladders, and hitch-up-matildas that are nestled along the west side of Avalanche Lake. From across the lake, you can see the first part of the trap dike’s climb–as mountains often do, it looks impossible.
We had a relatively easy time getting through the first half of the climb. There were several groups of climbers hiking behind and in front of us as we battled the rain and hail. Trail guides warn hikers to avoid exiting the trap dike too early–this will put you on a too steep section of the Colden Slide where people often get stuck and need rescued. Of course, we made this mistake.
I was terrified, but it was doable. Upon turning around to look down, I was greeted by a sky full of fog and clouds. I couldn’t see the ledge that spilled into a 3 hundred foot drop. Kyle and I were wearing virtually new trail runners with excellent grip. Unfortunately, I couldn’t say the same for the friendlies that surrounded us. One group, a bachelor party of 6-8 men, were wildly under-dressed wearing tye-dye graphic muscle tees for the occasion. Many of them did not have proper foot wear. At one point, a man in his late 30’s was laying down flat on his stomach. He was trying to traction himself up the rock, but his boots were of no assistance. I got to a place of secure footing and braced myself as he pushed against my hand with his foot. It made no difference.
In the best conditions, the Colden Slide is a difficult ascent. I would never recommend it to a beginner hiker. On this day, we battled wet rocks, cooler than normal temperatures, and hail. Any one of these guys could have fallen at any moment. Any one of them could have succumb to mild hypothermia.
By the time we reached the top, I was frozen, bleeding and exhausted. I was genuinely concerned about the other hikers that lagged behind. When you’re out there, challenging yourself, the strangers who surround you become your lifeline. It is not rare to find a new friend on the trail, whether it be an hour-long or lifelong relationship.
Kyle and I have spent the better part of the last 2 years seeking out new challenges in the mountains. We have hiked and slept outside in temperatures well below zero. We have battled ice, waist deep snow drifts, white-outs, thunderstorms, hailstorms, and torrential rain. We have fallen and we have watched others fall. We have been stung by bees, broken out in hives, and found ticks attached to our skin. If you ask me, it’s insanity that we waited this long to complete a WFR course.
Becoming a WFR (Wilderness First Responder — often pronounced “woof-er”), takes at least 7 days of intense training. Most people take a break from their lives to completely immerse themselves into the experience. When you graduate the WFR course, which not everyone does, you are trained in remote medicine. Wilderness Medical Associates pride themselves on their ability to “educate, train, and consult to both medical and non-medical professionals and recreationalists for practical health and patient care in low resource and unconventional settings.”
On Sunday, June 3rd, 2018, I walked into the East Valley Ranch of the Frost Valley YMCA with no more than a CPR certification scheduled to expire in August 2018. When you take a 2-hour CPR course, you learn and practice the nationwide standards for CPR. That being said, if a lifeless human needed CPR, I would have certainly looked around for someone more qualified. In the instance that I was the only “trained” individual, I would have been frightened that I was causing more harm than I was doing good. Let’s not even talk about infant CPR, I would have preferred to be the one in respiratory arrest.
On Sunday, June 10th, I left the East Valley Ranch in Claryville, NY with a completely new set of skills. As a community of students, 31 of us (ages 18-45) learned and practiced most if not all of the possible scenarios we might encounter in the remote locations where we spend our free time. I learned to identify major problems in the body’s critical systems. While in the late stages, I probably can’t fix those problems, I can do everything in my power to sustain life, facilitate a speedy evacuation, and more importantly, catch the problem before it gets to the later, more serious stages. When it comes to the critical systems, “air goes in and out, blood goes round and round, and oxygen is good.” The patient’s critical systems (circulatory, nervous and respiratory) could fail due to their current environment, any medical conditions, or accidental trauma. When one critical system fails, the other two begin to decline (often rapidly). A person who is having critical systems failure is having a REALLY bad day.
There are also whole host of less urgent, but still very important health concerns a hiker/backpacking/adventurer could face. I’m proud to say, I could treat and request evacuation for anyone who needed it. The ability to decide whether a patient problem warrants an emergent evacuation, slow evacuation or no evacuation is one that I put almost not thought into before. We operated under that “safety first” mentality: make a plan, be prepared, cross your fingers, and whisper “no whammies, no whammies, no whammies” quietly to yourself.
In the community of students who participated in Frost Valley’s 2018 WFR course we found something similar to what you might find out on the mountain. Some of the other students, who are mostly summertime hikers and camp counselors, were surprised at the fact that we came together as a group of “just really good people.” Honestly, I’m not surprised. In the front country, if 30 random people of all ages, nationalities, and sexualities were grouped together, I would be bracing for conflict. In the back country, the wild wins, love wins, hope wins, adventure wins.
These people are my people, and maybe that’s why I race into the woods every weekend: so that I can be with the trees and the bugs and the flowers and the aminals (as I like to call them), but most importantly, so I can be with my people.
So, my people, I can’t wait to meet you–hopefully you won’t need medical assistance, but if you do, The Mitteneers are here to help.