Minute Mysteries: Wilderness First Aid - Appalachian Mountain Club

Minute Mysteries: Wilderness First Aid

July 2, 2018
The view across Franconia Ridge from Mt. Liberty on a pristine, early summer day
The view across Franconia Ridge from Mt. Liberty on a pristine, early summer day

As we head into the summer season, it is important to refresh those Wilderness First Aid (WFA) skills, which are essential to every outdoor excursion, big or small. As we all know, anything can happen out there so let’s take a moment to think about how you may handle common situations you might encounter in the great outdoors.


Scenario #1:  Après Summit Assessment

You are out with a friend for an overnight backpacking trip in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Both of you are avid hikers who try to get out as much as possible. Your friend, Jerry, just got a new pair of trail runners and decided to break them in on this trip. You have all the gear you need for your trip and you decided to bring extra food, just in case. There are places along the trail to access water, if needed, and you have a method for treating it.

You camp overnight at an AMC shelter and have great weather for your summit day. Blue skies, a light breeze, and great visibility from the top! After summiting, as you start the descent, Jerry steps just the wrong way on his ankle, thinks he hears a “POP!” and goes down. Jerry is tough, but he has never sprained an ankle before. He is a little freaked out and in pain. It is 4:30 pm. You think the injury is a sprain but Jerry is having trouble comfortably bearing weight on that leg so you aren’t certain. You check the map. You are about 3 miles from the car and roughly half a mile from the shelter you stayed at last night. How do you proceed?

Take a moment to think about your response to this scenario before reading on . . .

You take a moment to assess the situation. You are safe and your patient is stable. You both eat a snack and drink some water. Unsure of Jerry’s ability to hike out, you consider options. You are much closer to the shelter than to the car. The shelter’s caretaker may have some additional first aid supplies and resources to help, in case Jerry’s injury worsens. Your best bet is to get him to the shelter where you can spend the night in reasonable comfort and reassess things in the morning. It may be more beneficial to let Jerry rest and see how he feels tomorrow versus trying for the 3 mile hike out and then getting stuck on a remote trail with patchy phone service & an injured person.

So . . .

You assist Jerry back to the shelter. With help from the caretaker, you use R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) to treat Jerry’s ankle and spend a cozy night in the shelter. In the morning, Jerry is feeling better and can walk on his ankle with minimal discomfort. Way to utilize your resources!

Scenario #2: Right Place, Wrong Time

“Ahh, the Franconia Ridge . . .”

You have waited months to do this hike since you read about it in an outdoor magazine! After making sure you have the 10 essentials, you brave the traffic and head out from Boston to enjoy all the splendor this hike offers! You begin the grueling but exciting trek up the Flume Slide trail at 10:30 am — a much later start than planned.

The trail lives up to the comments you read online for sure! You finally summit Flume and enjoy a well-deserved energy bar and some refreshing Gatorade at the top. Then, you continue to Liberty, marveling at the views, and at the looming, not-so-distant clouds in the sky.

Dang, you forgot to check the weather! As you approach the summit of Little Haystack, fully exposed on the ridge, you hear a low rumble of thunder in the distance. Your instincts tell you there is a storm a-brewin’. What is your best course of action?

Take a moment to think about your response to this scenario before reading on . . .

Considering that you are extremely exposed above tree line, you are faced with a tough decision: brave a potential thunderstorm and bag those last peaks or err on the side of caution and avoid the fierce storms which sometimes rage over this ridgeline.

Better not to take the chance of getting caught in a storm. After all, the mountains will always be there, right? You linger just a little bit longer on the summit of Little Haystack and then decide to head down the Falling Waters Trail to make it below tree line before this storm hits.


As you head out on the trail, whether it is for a few hours or a few days, it is always a good idea to be prepared for unforeseen circumstances. As the saying goes, hope for the best, but prepare for the worst!

If you are interested in participating in a Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course, visit the AMC website to find courses near you!

Samantha Willsey has lived throughout the U.S. while working for various outdoor programs. She landed in the White Mountains for the past few years and worked as the AMC’s Leadership Training Assistant in 2017. She is also a Wilderness EMT and instructor for SOLO. She is preparing for a move to the Bahamas where she will practice medicine in a remote environment. Stay tuned for blog posts from the tropics!

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Samantha Willsey

Samantha Willsey has lived throughout the U.S. while working for various outdoor programs. She landed in the White Mountains for the past few years and worked as the AMC’s Leadership Training Assistant in 2017. She is also a Wilderness EMT and instructor for SOLO. She is preparing for a move to the Bahamas where she will practice medicine in a remote environment. Stay tuned for blog posts from the tropics!