I write this blog from Southern California, that part of the United States that is somewhat infamous for burning up at the drop of a match. If you have to resort to starting a fire in an area where fires are prohibited, be very, very careful as there is a good chance of burning down the entire forest around you.
That said, there are times when the choice is start a fire or freeze, there is a strong argument in favor of starting a fire. Fire can be a method to warm yourself and others, it can provide the means to disinfect water, it can help cook food. The ability to start a fire in an emergency can easily save your life when done properly.
The best way to be able to start a fire is to carry some waterproof matches along with a small bit of fire starter. For fire starter, many people will purchase specific things made for that, but even carrying some dryer lint in a ziplock bag can do the trick. If you don’t have waterproof matches, a regular lighter is an acceptable alternative, although they tend to be more sensitive to wind and rain.
Overall, use fire cautiously, especially when you are in an area that tends to burn easily. Always follow the rules and regulations that are in play for the area you are in. Fire, when used properly, can be a great tool.
If you have seen someone having a very bad day on the trails, you may have seen the rangers/SAR/whoever come up with a giant orange or red first aid kit that probably weighs 10 pounds by itself. You don’t need one of those. Most first aid you will need to do in the field is going to be dressing small cuts and scrapes, and immobilizing injured joints. In the first aid kit I use, I carry ibuprofen, some bandages, gauze, topical antibiotics, ace bandages, scissors, pen and paper and other miscellany. I carry far more than most people really need, but I tend to bring bigger groups out, so I like to be ready.
Probably the most essential thing you can do in regards to first aid, is simply make yourself knowledgeable. I went through National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Wilderness First Aid (WFA) certification process. The course cost about $130 and took a weekend at a local REI store and is good for 2 years. While the course may be overkill for someone who is only interested in doing very small day hikes, as soon as you start doing bigger hikes, the knowledge and confidence that comes with it are indispensable, and may even save yours or someone else’s life.
One of the big takeaways from the course was the concept of the SOAP report which stands for
- This is basically a high level report of what the injury is and any relevant details about the person. A SAMPLE history is good here.
- These are measurements, such as vital signs, medications taken, findings from physical examination (if you know how to properly do one)
- As assessment of what is likely wrong with the injured person. Sometimes this is obvious, sometimes it isn’t.
- A plan for how to proceed. If someone has broken their wrist, a good plan is to immobilize it, and quickly, but safely exit the backcountry.
One thing to remember about backcountry medicine is that it is generally not focused on fixing serious injuries long-term. It’s focus is on ensuring that whoever is injured can be patched up enough to survive transport to a front country medical facility.
- Signs and Symptoms
- Relevant past medical history, injuries, illnesses
- Last Meal Intake
- Events leading to the injury/illness
To recap: bring first aid essentials, and know how to use them. If you are starting to do bigger adventures, learning what a SOAP report is and how to collect a SAMPLE history is a good skill to get into. These reports can make the jobs of first responders go much more quickly, and in some cases the time saved may save someone’s life.
Bring light, and plenty of it. A headlamp only weighs a couple of ounces, and spare batteries only a few more, so bring them anytime there is any chance of being stuck out after dark (even if you intend on being back before the sun goes down). There is often an argument between flashlight and headlamp users, and while both have benefits, headlamps tend to win out, especially for people who use trekking poles.
The one big advantage with a regular flashlight is that it can give better spot illumination when you are scouting trail in the dark. For example, I tend to carry both when I do tricky trails like Cactus to Clouds, as there are portions at the beginning where the trail is very easy to use.
Remember though: your headlamps and flashlights are only good so long as they have energy. Bringing extra batteries is essential if you are going to be using your lights heavily. Getting stuck and lost in the dark is no fun at all (been there, done that).
By popular demand, Adventures with Luke will be doing the 6 pack of peaks as made popular by The SoCal Hiker. The order will be slightly different, due to permit availability.
- Mt. Wilson – 5,710 feet
- Cucamonga Peak – 8,859 feet
- Mt. Baldy Loop – 10,068 feet
- Mt. San Jacinto – 10,834 feet
- Mt. San Bernardino – 10,649 feet
- San Gorgonio – 11,503 feet
Normally San Jacinto and San Bernardino peaks would be switched around, but the permitting application for San Bernardino and San Gorgonio is much more complex than for all of the other hikes.
One nice thing with all of these hikes except Wilson is that they are great in the summer time as the trails are high enough where even on a warm day most of the trail will be moderate to warm.
Due to the permit availability concerns on the last 2 hikes of the series, invites for those will be done based on attendance: if you attend all the hikes, I’ll do everything in my power to make sure you get a spot on the permit. Second priority will be given to people who miss one hike, third priority to those who miss two and so on.
For people looking for a few extra hikes in the mix, we’ll probably make trips to Ontario Peak (8,696 feet), Mount Islip (8,250 feet), and Mount Baden-Powell (9,400 feet).