First Aid Third: A Lesson from Colorado

As I learned recently on the West Coast Trail, life doesn’t always go as planned. It’s important to plan for the unexpected so when things inevitably go sideways, you’re ready. Of course like most lessons in life, I came to learn this the hard way!

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I’ve always loosely maintained that failing to plan is planning to fail, however in the past year or two I’ve taken a somewhat laissez-faire attitude about some of my activities, allowing adventures to carve their own course.

A week away in Estes Park to tackle my first 14,000er in Colorado was on the agenda and I was positively chomping at the bit for a 2 a.m. tackle of Longs Peak to the summit. Unfortunately the weather had something different in mind and it became quickly apparent that daily thunder and lightening storms were expected for the full week. Bummer! Getting stuck above the treeline in the Rockies during gnarly weather contributes to 11 deaths per year in Colorado, thanks but no.

Fortunately there are many shorter hikes in the area that hug the treeline and, if started early enough, you can finish before afternoon storms set in. Kara and I tackled two before our fateful third!

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Trail #fail
We were looking for a shorter distance, more challenging hike and came across an interesting route requiring some bushwhacking along Lake Haiyaha (a Native American word that means ‘big rocks’ or ‘lake of many rocks’ depending on the translation) to the top of Hallett Peak. There was some mention of class 2 scrambling, but nothing we couldn’t easily put behind us. Off we went!

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After an hour of progressively more difficult off-trail scrambling among boulders the size of houses (we passed class 2 long ago), we realized that we bit off a touch more than anticipated. I’ll spare you the details, but will summarize the outcome:

  1. Kara’s only goal while hiking was to “not fall off the mountain”; and
  2. Kara fell off the mountain.

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First Aid #fail

Naturally the first thing you do when someone gets injured is to get them out of harm’s way, and then you reach for your first aid kit. We got the first part down no problem, but after wading through to the bottom of our packs pushing aside some impressive snacking supplies we came up empty — and had a grizzly remote crime scene on the side of a mountain to escape from.

Instead of turning this into a post about how alarmingly deep Kara’s leg gash was and a detailed explanation of how we macgyvered our way out of the situation (spoiler: a knee support brace, eye glasses wipes and a hair tie), we’ve created a first aid shortlist of crap you need to have with you when you’re outdoors — no excuses.

It’s easy to think that nothing will happen on a modest hike that’s close to home with ideal conditions, but I would argue that when you assume nothing will happen and you don’t take usual precautions, you open yourself up to injury, accidents and ______ (fill in the blank with other bad thing).

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Handy things for emergencies

There are two ways to secure yourself a standard first aid kit:

  1. The lazy way — buy yourself a kit on Amazon (that usually has extra crap you will never need which goes against my religion of ultralight, practical packing); or
  2. The exciting way — piece together an ultra practical sexy first aid kit!

I’m advocating for the second option, and have compiled short a list of things you need to provision. But, first things first, get yourself a fun little bag (a cosmetics bag or large coin purse will do) to put your safety supplies in!

  • Antiseptic wipes and antibiotic ointment — necessary for cleaning wounds.
  • Wound closure strips and bandages — for closing and protecting wounds.
  • Antihistamine and ibuprofen — to manage pain and allergic reactions.
  • Tensor bandage with clips — for breaks, sprains and putting pressure on injuries.
  • Duct tape — to deal with everything else.

This is the absolute minimum you should have with you. For a more comprehensive list check out the Washington Trails Association Building a Hiker’s First Aid Kit  page.

Close call

We managed to get out of the boulder field just as an afternoon storm rolled in, and looking back I think we’re lucky that things ended up the way they did given how unprepared we were. When Kara went to emergency for twelve stitches, the doctor removed our makeshift pressure bandage and apparently remarked “we’ve got a gusher!” as blood sprayed on the walls 😐

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In a weirdly timed turn of events, we came across this article when we got home from our adventurous hike/doctor visit. Earlier that very week some poor French bloke was ambitiously boulder hopping in the same spot and got his leg lodged between some rocks, resulting in emergency services spending the night with him before he could be freed and evacuated the next day. Eerily 127 Hours-esque.

Everyone came out on the other end just fine, albeit with a few war wounds to show off at cocktail parties. As with everything in life though, it’s important that we learn from our mistakes. I made a commitment to myself that from that day forward I will be more prepared for challenges, as let’s be honest — I don’t want anything slowing me down!

BRB just doing stuff for a bit k?

x V
PS — spoiler alert… I’m adventuring internationally in a week! Any guesses where? Mountains, south and a multi-day trek that’s called one of the most picturesque in the world!

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2 Comments

  1. Hey another great story. Always waiting to see what happens next. Hope Kara is off the injured list before your next adventure. In that Kit, don’t forget the emergency fire starting supplies..in case the storm gets there first. I totally agree the homemade custom kits are way better. Safe Travelsl.

  2. As always, a worthwhile and enjoyable read. As a hiker I’ll be making that kit up. One just never knows. Thanks for this.
    Hope Kara is well recovered from this experience. And you too Verity.
    Great stuff xo

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