Having completed my SOLO Wilderness First Aid course this past spring I was on the lookout for more learning opportunities to help me if I ever found myself in an emergency situation in the backcountry. Not having the time off or money to do the SOLO Wilderness First Responder course I jumped at the chance to take part in Killington Mountain Guides‘ two day Backcountry First Aid and Evacuation Course up in the Green Mountains of Vermont. The course was, “Designed for the backcountry adventure athletes who participate in long distance adventure races, and athletes who spend time in the wilderness. Participants will learn base level backcountry first aid, leave no trace, land navigation, emergency communications, how to improvise a temporary shelter, and construct an improvised litter for patient evacuation.”
I arrived at Killington Mountain Guides on Friday night and trekked a half mile up the mountain on their property to the lean to and camping area. This is a calf burning 1000 feet of elevation gain. Here I set up the Marmot Bivy tent I was borrowing from Jason and threw in my Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad and Marmot Scandium 20 degree sleeping bag. The night got down into the upper 30s and I was up with the sun on Saturday. The six of us that stayed the night packed up our stuff and headed down the mountain to meet the rest of our classmates and instructors. Bob Giolito, the founder of Killington Mountain Guides, was our head instructor. Not only does he do guiding, he is a retired Vermont State Trooper who served as a SAR Trooper and K9 handler, still works in state law enforcement, and is a member of Killington Search and Rescue (KSAR). He brought along fellow KSAR members Dave and Murray along with Search and Rescue police officer Chris. We had a stacked team of instructors for the weekend.
After introductions and some house keeping we got right into first aid. We went over the different types of emergencies that we might come across in the backcountry and how to treat them. Our instructors talked about signs and symptoms of common backcountry aliments including heat exhaustion and hypothermia. In each situation it seemed that at least one of the instructors had first hand experience with treating or responding to these injuries and aliments.
We headed back up to the camping area to have lunch and learn about the different types of litter carries that are used for evacuation in the backcountry. Our instructors talked about clearing the spine to make sure a patient is safe to move and getting the patient on their back and in a position to be moved. First we did beam carries, when seven people lift an individual with no assistance. One person is always on the head and three were on each side. After beam carries we learned about rolling a patient to get them on a camping mattress for comfort. We talked about how back boards have been used in the past for evacuation but many states are getting away from using them. As it turns out, just two days after the course, Vermont changed their protocol so that EMS no longer use backboards. Vermont is not the first state to do this as being on a backboard for more than 20 minutes can cause nerve damage.
Bob taught us how we can use a set of trekking poles and 25 feet of one inch webbing to make an improvised litter. This could be used to transport someone who hurt their foot or ankle. You wouldn’t want to use this if you suspect a back injury. We were getting ready to practice with the Stokes Litter when a real call came in for KSAR. With four members of KSAR up on the mountain with us it meant our learning was changing from simulation to real life. We all hiked down the mountain with our gear, hopped in cars, and headed for the Long Trail.
Upon arrival at the trailhead KSAR was briefed by Killington Fire Department who was already on scene. We hung back since our role would be moving gear and assisting in a litter carry if needed. Once the initial assessment was made, more gear was called in. Five of us grabbed the gear from the fire truck, checked in with command, and headed onto the trail. We dropped the equipment at staging and backed off to observe. A little while later command gave the okay for the rest of our class to come up and observe.
While the team was working we got a briefing on what was going on. We found out more about the situation and what steps KSAR was taking to rescue the individual. For the privacy of the individuals involved I’m not going into details of what happened. For me, it was an extremely invaluable experience. KSAR worked together with the Vermont State Police and Killington Fire Department for a successful rescue.
We helped pack up equipment before heading back to Killington Mountain Guides for dinner and warming up by the fire. Had KSAR not been called out on a rescue we were going to work on making improvised shelters and then sleep in them. As much as I had originally wanted to make and sleep in my own shelter I was happy to hike back up the mountain and slip back into my sleeping back and tent for the night. We had another full day ahead of us Sunday and I wanted to be rested up for it.
Find out how Day 2 went here.