Sitting around a camp fire at night swapping adventure stories is one of the most wonderful things about the outdoor community. Everyone has hundreds of tales about the perfect sunrise, an amazing powder day, the stars in the river canyon, a mentor that changed their life’s path, or the day that they learned to love kayaking. With all those stories of the great experiences in the great outdoors though, come the epics. That one time you were skiing and a slab broke loose under you. That one time when backpacking turned into bushwhacking turned into being lost all night. That one time your friend fell on the approach to a climb and broke their leg. That one time your kayak got pinned on a log jam. The tales that you lived to tell, either because you were lucky or because you were with someone who knew what they were doing.
It’s concerning that almost everyone has at least one of these epics to share, yet all that most people come away with is that story and maybe that lesson learned. Few people reflect back on how that situation could have been avoided, or what someone did right to help mitigate it. Would an avalanche course have helped you to identify the poor snow conditions? Would a Wilderness First Responder course have helped you stabilize and transport a broken leg? Would a River Rescue course have helped extract your kayak?
Last spring, Wet Planet staff, Klickitat County Search and Rescue, and the Klickitat County Sheriff’s Department all found themselves standing on the river bank at Steelhead Falls on the White Salmon River, responding to one of these very incidents. Following a series of unfortunate events, some boaters had ended up stranded on the far bank, thankfully uninjured, and needed to be relocated to the opposing shore. As we reviewed the events that led up to the incident, and in looking around at the 20 trained professionals who had been summoned to assist in their rescue, it really brought about the questions of if this incident would have happened in the first place if the boaters had been better prepared, and when is the right time to start acquiring that emergency scenario education?
If you’re reading this, the answer is probably now. Not when your job requires it, and certainly not after you’ve realized that it would have been useful. It will give you the opportunity to practice scenarios in controlled environments, and to come up with solutions to problems before they happen in real life. It will help you begin to think in a different manner, balancing risk/reward ratios, making educated decisions, helping to educate others, and making you much more aware of your surroundings, peers, and resources. As an added bonus, it will also open up the door to some really awesome jobs!
So where do you start?
A Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course is a no brainer if you ever find yourself with boots that have dirt or snow on them, on moving water, hanging on a rope, or somewhere without cell phone reception. It is generally taught in 7-10 day courses, and will leave you with more questions than you started with and a desire to have the best first aid kit ever. It covers an incredible amount of information, from wound maintenance, identifying issues with and sustaining vital systems, to making educated decisions regarding evacuations and how to successfully execute one, and so many things in between. Wilderness Medical Associates and the National Outdoor Leadership School are two great programs to take this course from.
River Rescue courses (RRC) are full of important tools for anyone who enjoys being out on a river. They cover basics like how to swim a rapid and how to use a throw bag, using mechanical advantages, how to unpin a boat and find someone lost on the river at night. We also teach an RRC PRO for whitewater professionals. Swift Water Rescue (SRT) courses are taught for professional rescuers, specifically for fire and SAR personnel who need an NFPA compliant river rescue course. Wet Planet Whitewater Center teaches these throughout the spring, summer, and fall months. Plan ahead and sign up for one of our spring 2018 RRC courses or SRT courses! If you’re not from the Pacific Northwest, check with your local whitewater center on area course availability.
A big part of being in the outdoor community is responsibility. Responsibility to the place that we’re in and to take care of it. Responsibility to be a steward of those sacred places. A responsibility to take care of ourselves; to make good decisions and not get in over our heads. We also have a responsibility to those that we’re with, to all watch over one another and to be a resource when those epics do come along. Whether you are in outdoor education, boating class V canyons, or simply wandering out of the range of immediate medical response, waiting until you witness an epic is too late to think about being responsible.
Meet our Instructors
Todd Collins has been teaching rescue courses for a majority of the last two decades. With a reputation as a leader in the industry, he enjoys sharing his skills and experiences with others to help increase the standards and practices throughout the whitewater community.
Dave Seal values helping people to gain and solidify skill sets, and began teaching because he wants to make sure that people know how to do things right. Dave’s first season guiding was in 2010 and provided a quick transition into being involved with rescue scenarios, both on the water as well as on mountain with ski patrol.
Jeff Clewell believes that an education in swiftwater rescue is a necessary part of being a life long member of the whitewater community. Jeff is a natural teacher in any classroom, especially those with moving water. He particularly enjoys helping people work out scenarios, so they can be better prepared for when they happen.
Jonathan Blum had an epiphany when he took his first rescue course, realizing how much he didn’t know as a 5th year guide and how lucky he’d been in certain whitewater situations. That got him fired up on sharing that knowledge and responsibility with others, and he began teaching in 2005.
Author Courtney Zink is a part of the Wet Planet guide staff and office team. Her fourth favorite thing about rafting is a tie between midnight runs and sandwiches. She loves using medical acronyms to describe things in everyday life.