Tuesday, September 13, 2011


I never realized how much smoking affected me, mentally as well as physically, until I quit last summer. It was July last year that decided enough was enough and made the commitment to become smoke free after almost 18 years. I'd smoked here and there growing up, the sneaking a smoke from one of the aunts at a family get together, the camping trip with a school friend that smoked, but it wasn't until September of 1992 that I became a regular, pack a day, addicted smoker. September of 1992 was when I moved from Alaska to Washington for college. At the time, I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do with my life, but who really does at 18 and fresh out of high school? I never say "hindsight is 20/20", I agree more with "hindsight is a bitch", because of seeing how much time I squandered with having too much freedom and not enough maturity. I was pursuing a degree in Law Enforcement, having come from a small town where police officers where trusted, respected, and more of an all around public safety officer. They were EMT's and firemen, most had some sort of higher education or extensive military backgrounds. When I was 18, they were people that anyone could approach, even if it was just to ask advice. They were our protectors as well as councilors.

Well, it didn't take long living in Vancouver, Washington to have that perception completely shot to hell. I'd only been there a month the first time I was hassled by a VPD sergeant just for walking home from a friends house at midnight, or a few months later when I was hassled by five Clark County Sheriffs deputies for the same thing. It didn't matter to them that I was studying law enforcement at the local community college, they were bored, angry, and liked to be bullies (at least that was my view of their behavior). What I had lost sight of around then was that I'd started working with the EMT's in Alaska during high school, and had an underlying desire to be trained in a field where I could help people. At the same time, I'd lost my respect for the law enforcement community as not being helpful individuals, but rather bullies who didn't care about the people as much as they cared about their arrest quota (don't get me wrong, I did get to know some fine officers with VPD and CCSO, this was just my general impression).

After bailing on college after 5 terms, I ended up back in Alaska, essentially wasting most of my 20's working crap jobs for low wages, mostly because I was comfortable and didn't really care about anything outside of my little microcosm that was "Craig, Ak.". I could already see my smoking affecting my health by this point, but what I didn't see was what it was doing to me mentally. I was learning to maintain a defeatists attitude toward life, convincing myself that there were physical challenges I would never be able to accomplish, and that was just the way it was. I was also losing interest in education, losing interest in exercising my brain, I honestly felt that I was getting dumber as time went on. Then it hit me, it is time to change my attitudes, change my perceptions, time to get off my ass and start living again!!! After I quit smoking, it was as if everything kicked into high gear, physically as well as mentally. Besides the physical endeavors, I started using my brain again, reading several books, looking at going back to school, taking wilderness medicine classes..... It was a complete attitude shift. The more I saw what others had done with their lives, the more I hated myself for wasting so many years of it.

I finally hit a breaking point. I knew I needed to be doing more, but with my current employment and financial situation, it seemed hopeless. Then it all came together, and I can continue my education without having to stress over the big picture. I have such a desire for knowledge these days, you could say a lust for it, that I almost can't sit still waiting for the next event to unfold. I haven't been this excited and ambitious about making such a tremendous life change since I left Alaska for Arizona in 2000 to work on my pilots license. Even then, I don't think I was this anxious! I feel it is because I now have figured out "what I want to be when I grow up", or at least what I want to be doing. My life has always revolved around the outdoors, but I hadn't been able to put all the pieces together until now. I can combine my love of the outdoors with my desire to help others by taking the Remote Medical Wilderness EMT course in January, as well as taking other medical and rescue classes in the meantime. After that, its back to college, and even though I dread the thought of taking Math and English classes again, it's the desire to achieve the "Bigger Picture" that is motivating me to get off my ass and do it! The "Bigger Picture" is a BA/BS in Outdoor Leadership, possibly OSU, possibly, SOU, but either way, I have goals set that are achievable. Is this my mid-life crisis? I hope so, sports cars are expensive, and at least this will benefit more than just me in the long run.

Monday, August 29, 2011

My Day With The Dirtbags

Recently I'd read an article in a glossy, over priced climbing magazine called "American Dirtbag" by Andrew Bisharat, that posed the question of "What happened to all the true dirtbags?" His point of view was that either that climbing had become fashionable, or maybe that he had become the yuppie climber he used to hate. Either way, I found out this weekend that if you want to find true dirtbags, the crags at Index, Washington is a place to look. Back in June at the RMI WFR class, I became friends with most of the class, and several there were climbers. After the class and the obligatory facebook group was started, we planned on getting together again later this summer. Plans were laid to meet in Washington somewhere, in August toward the end of the month when it looked like most of us would have free time. It all came together this last weekend, I worked some extra hours to get a few more days off, and headed to Seattle on Friday afternoon. Spent Friday night in Seattle, then took off to Index Saturday around noon having no idea who would all show up, or what was in store for me.

About halfway up, one of the guys in the class (Paul) texted me to find out where I was at, and he was about halfway from Seattle, so I at least knew that someone beside myself would be there. After I found the camping area at Index, I dug out my phone numbers and gave Chris a call, since Index was his idea. He was only a few minutes out, so I sent a few texts to people I was pretty sure who would be there and started figuring out where we were going or what we were doing. Chris came rolling up a few minutes later in his decked out mini-van full of climbing gear and Trader Joe's dumpster diving score, and starts looking for his spot to camp. I waited until Paul showed up at the public area, then Chris rejoined us on his bike and we decided to gear up and do some climbing while we waited for more people. There was no climbing really anywhere near my skill level (which is absolute amateur), so I took pics and took notes from Chris since he's a wealth of knowledge and likes to share that knowledge with others. Simple tips on belay technique or hand and foot placement, didn't matter, he was more than happy to share. After he lead climbed a route and Paul took a shot at it, I belayed Chris so he could clean the route. I thought that was cool, even just a few minutes of coaching and here the least experienced guy was belaying for the most experienced.

After we buttoned things up at that pitch, I gave Lisa and Melina a call, since we knew that they were on the way up. They'd just arrived and were making their way up to the crags. Once they made it up to us, we strolled along the trail while Chris pointed out the different named climbs and gave us descriptions of each. Then we reached Godzilla. Godzilla starts out as a 5.7 then transitions into a 5.9, or you can start off with a 5.10b face on what they called the City Park bolt ladder. Chris started his lead off the 5.7, calling back to Lisa and Melina if they wanted him to set the route as fingers or hands for which crack line he would follow. After completing the pitch and getting back on the ground, it was Melina's turn. After a few tips from Chris on clearing the crack at the bottom, she proceeded to stomp all over Godzilla. I can't recall if she had any falls, I don't believe so (she'll have to correct me if I'm wrong), and then it was Paul's turn, since Lisa would be the last one and cleaning. During all of the climbs, the conversation on the ground was fairly comical, and it was a perfect day to just relax and not really give a shit about anything besides the company and the climb. After Paul's shot, Lisa headed up to clean the pitch, and she zipped up the rock like she had glue on her hands, it was impressive to watch, but then again everyone besides Paul and I have been climbing for years already.

It was time to head back to the river and get some dinner and start drinking, which was when Brian and Angela (? I think that was her name, someone will pipe up and tell me if I'm wrong) joined us. Brian is Chris's boss on Rainier, and another hardcore climber. People started combining food and helping prep while Brian and Chris began cooking. It was an incredible feast for all, even if we were eating off of plastic lids or out of old canteen cups (I never leave home without it), and more food than we knew what to do with. Around then Abe showed up. Abe just sort of ended up at Index and became a local climber, sometimes living by the river, or sometimes house sitting for people. He jumped in and grabbed some grub while a few more people showed up, while Paul, Melina, and Lisa built a fire. Paul left shortly after since he had to work in the morning. After saying our goodbyes we all proceeded to get our drink on around the fire, I broke out the Gin and Tonic, and everyone had beer. Dave and Will showed up, a few more guys living out of their rigs, scraping together all their money for gas and gear to find the next climb. They all swapped stories of where they'd climbed, where they wanted to go next. We laughed and joked, talked relationships, talked about a previous experiences and adventures, almost all died laughing when Brian started rubbing Dave's head because he was so wasted and thought he was standing by Angela. It was a great time, and the majority of the people there live it every day.

Most of them took off into town to the house that Abe was at to hang out, and I rolled out my bag and tried to sleep between trains that flew through at 40-60mph on BNSF's main line not 100 yards away. Finally around 7am I rolled out of bed and started packing my gear to head back South and visit friends in Portland before heading home. Since nobody else was around, I just left a note on the van and said I'd catch up with everyone again later. As I rolled through Index, I see Abe strolling down the street, headlamp still around his neck, same clothes he was wearing the night before, pretty much looking like he'd been around the fire. I asked him what the hell he was doing up so early, and he told me everyone crashed out in a yurt down the road and he was headed back to the house to let the dogs out and check on things. We shook hands, and I left Index, covered in dirt and slightly hung over, but with a huge grin on my face. I'd spent a day with some of the most down to earth people I've ever met, those who would give you what ever they had if you needed it, even if it was just their great company.
Index WFR Reunion Index, Wa.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A little update.

Not much going on these days, busy with work and school, although I did make another shot at South Sister a few weeks back. It seems that my knee hasn't recovered from my little glissading oops on Mt. Adams, and it was letting me know it by the time I passed 7000'. The snow was ridiculous up there, trail was covered after about three quarters of a mile, and by the time I reached the morraine, it was socked in with fog. Took some head scratching and route finding to get back on track, but by the time I decided to head back, it still hadn't cleared up above 8000'. Oh well, I'll try again later.

In the meantime, I've been working on getting back to school, making headway on an Emergency Management degree while trying to get into an EMT-B class. Its progress either way. More mountain biking lately as well, pushing myself farther and up harder trails to drop some weight and get into better shape for the next climb. I may be in better shape than I was a year ago when I was still smoking, but I have a long way to go.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Mt. Adams Scouting 7-4-11

Took off after work to Glenwood, Wa. to my folks place last Sunday with a plan of scouting Mt. Adams on Monday. Not much of a write up, mostly pics and getting familiar with the approach. The road from Morrison Creek to Cold Springs is still snowed in with plenty of blowdown, so an extra 2.25 miles of walking to start the morning. I worked my way up to 7500' and then came back down. I still hadn't fully recovered from the McLoughlin climb the week before. Awesome clear day.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mt. McLoughlin 6-27-11

With only a few opportunities to get out hiking until the end of July, I decided to run down to Medford for the night and take a shot at Mt. McLoughlin on Monday. McLoughlin is the 16th highest mountain in Oregon with an elevation of 9,495'. The trailhead elevation is around 5,575', and its approximately 5.5 miles to the summit. Last road reports had been sketchy weather or not the roads were open, but from the date of the last report it looked like it would be doable. I drove down to Medford Sunday afternoon after work and stayed at a hotel, leaving about an hour of driving to reach the trailhead.

I should have gotten moving earlier, but didn't get going until a little after 7am, reaching the trailhead around 8:20. I didn't think the insects would be so bad right now, so I didn't bring any repellant, but I was wrong. I've never seen mosquitoes that thick in my life. I quickly geared up and got moving, thinking that once I was hiking it wouldn't be that bad. I was wrong, they stayed in a swarm around me all the way up to 7,000'! Even though the roads were open, the trail was in horrible shape. The snow pretty much started at the parking area, even though it was broken and the trail was still discernible. That lasted for about a mile, then the trail was lost. About this time I tied in with a group of four skiers and we set out on some route finding. One of them had already plotted a few map points in his GPS, so we were able to steer toward the SouthEast ridge. After another mile or so, it was just a free for all, either find old tracks or head straight up.

Again, I over thought and over geared myself, such as bringing snowshoes when I didn't need them. It was also a very warm day. so I was sweating fairly heavy and trying to keep hydrated, but even that was a challenge. I kept going for several more hours, but I was becoming increasingly exhausted. Around this time, there was a front rolling through, and the weather didn't look like it was going to hold (forecast was for thunderstorms Tuesday), so I stopped at 9,200' and made a decision to turn back. At my current rate of progress I was only making 200-300' per hour anyway at last count, so one more hour up could put me into foul weather or darkness on the descent. Coming down should have been a breeze, made great time glissading down the steeper snow fields. Problem arose back in the tree line. The snow melt had obliterated most of the tracks from earlier, and one exhausted bad decision put me to the West side of a ridge, so I had to make a hook back East to reach the car, probably adding another mile or so to the hike.

Made it back to the parking area around 7pm, right when the skiers had returned. They'd summited and skied off the North side to where they had left another car, so after a quick chat and snagging some insect repellant, I threw my gear in the car and headed out. Within minutes of pulling out of the parking lot, a torrential downpour started, so it was a good call to get out of there when I did. Notes for next climb, lighten the pack, bring insect repellant, and remember to reapply sunscreen. I sunblocked before heading up, but with sweating heavy and not realizing how long I'd be on the mountain, my face ended up a little fried. All in all, it was still an awesome climb. I know now that with a snow free approach to McLoughlin, or even the Three Sisters, I can make the summit. 4 miles of mixed snow conditions,  3,625' of vertical gain, and still packing too much gear, the 9,200' mark was still pretty impressive for the ex-smoker who's lived most of his life between sea level and 500'.

Monday, June 20, 2011

RMI Wilderness First Responder Class June 10th-19th

After taking the Remote Medical International Wilderness First Aid course back in February, I found myself craving more education and information. The next logical step was to look for a Wilderness First Responder course, and who better to train with than the group I started with. I was lucky enough to be able to get time off from work and have a place to stay (thanks to my sister and brother in law), so I ended up in Seattle for 10 days training with RMI. Since the WFA class, I'd been studying on my own time with the Medicine for Mountaineering book and a few other selections, as well as my RMI booklet and notes. Right from the first day, I knew that I'd made a wise choice. The instructors for the WFR course were just as knowledgeable and with as diverse backgrounds as the WFA course.

The ringleader of the instructors was Kate Earle ("Another bad analogy!") who comes from an EMS background as well as being a world traveler and spending several years in the Peace Corps. Working with her was  Phoebe Robinson ("No you cannot improvise that!"), who is an ER nurse and EMT with an extensive outdoor background . Rounding out the instructors for the first few days was Carrie Parker ("Oh my gosh dude! You just fell out of your rocketship! Are you ok?") who spent time as a paramedic in Las Vegas as well as being a mountaineering guide and rock climber. There is no way I could really sum up the experience, knowledge and backgrounds of the instructors, other than to say they are all amazing. From the very beginning they started training us using the same format I was already familiar with from my WFA class but now the information was being expanded on and much more in depth.

Day one consisted of defining wilderness medicine and going over the steps of primary patient care. The steps of the patient assessment were the same as the WFA class, but now they were being expanded upon. An example was in assessing vital signs, in which we learned the first day how to take a blood pressure reading. I've had it done to me hundreds of times over the years, I've seen it done hundreds of times. That day was the first time I actually did it myself, and even though it could be considered simple and routine by people in the healthcare field, to me that was a milestone! Now the process was starting to become more clear to me, these steps that were taught to me were now being expanded and explained further so as WFR's, we would be able to gain a clearer picture as to what was happening with our "patients".

Day two we started with a bit of review, just to see if we were retaining information, then on to CPR. If you haven't taken a CPR/AED class in the last 6-8 months, I highly recommend it. The protocols have change drastically, and if I hadn't taken a basic class in February, it would have all been new information to me. After CPR we transitioned to thoracic injuries, and followed the standard format: lecture, demonstration, scenario. That's what I find the most beneficial in learning emergency medicine. You can read a book on wilderness medicine, or even urban emergency medical, and unless you work hands on, you aren't going to understand fully how it all works together. If I was in the roll of the healthcare provider, I would always ask my "patients" how I was doing, was I thorough, did I miss anything, and what could I improve the next time. I've had experience with traumatic accidents over the years, and although I knew "some" first aid, I really didn't know near enough. In the "if I only knew then what I know now" scheme of things, I would have acted much differently.

We spent the next few days working through trauma scenarios, spinal injuries, and working in teams. After day three, Carrie had to leave to instruct at the RMI W-EMT class, so it was Kate and Phoebe for most of day four. It also happened to be one of the long days in the course, we were working in to the evening to all spend time on different techniques and to have some direct evaluation from instructors. After returning from a dinner break, the instructors brought with them Dee Allen, who was one of the instructors from my WFA class. It was a nice surprise to see her again, and when it was my turn to be evaluated, I ended up working with her. Up to this point, we had only been covering injuries and not illnesses, and my training partner had brought that up to Dee with a few questions. To make things interesting, when it was my turn to evaluate, she threw me for a loop by giving me a medical case instead of trauma. I had to shift my whole approach and assessment because of it, but with knowing what Dee had taught me in my previous class, I went down the medical side of the assessment triangle until it was getting too late to finish completely. She gave me valuable feedback, and told me I was doing good and was very thorough.

By Tuesday, I think everyone in the class was feeling a little overwhelmed, but I could see us all having that moment where everything started to click. Even with differing personalities, we started developing teamwork and leadership skills, but at the same time knowing when to be subordinate and let the leader do their job and lead. That was also when I received another surprise when Kate Peters from the WFA class came in to instruct. She also has a varied outdoor and urban background with powerful teaching skills. All throughout the progression of the lecture and scenarios, I was getting great feedback and encouragement from Kate Earle and Phoebe. Their lecture skills make you want to take in everything they have to say. The legal pad I brought along on day one may have had 3/4 of its pages blank when I showed up. Tuesday night on my way home, I had to stop and pick up another because of the extensive note taking I was doing through the lectures. After class concluded for the day, I spent a few minutes working with another student before finally heading out, with the promise of a much needed day off on Wednesday. 80 hours of training in a 10 day period is a touch on the intense side.

A smarter person may have actually taken a break and rested, but not me. I decided to head on out to Mt. Si and going hiking before getting another 5-6 hours of sleep and heading back to class Thursday. Day six we started discussing mass casualty incidents and triage, but also began working more into medical issues, illnesses and allergies. The high point of the day was when we reach medication administration. The lesson was how to administer an intramuscular injection of epinephrine on a patient suffering from anaphylaxis, which in a remote setting may possibly fall under our protocols. First and foremost, we had to learn and recite the 5 R's of medications: Right patient, right medication, right date, right dose, right time. Then we took turns injecting each other in the arm with sterile saline. Everyone stayed conscious, and no one screwed up..... it was a good day! Only real downside of the whole class for me started about the end of Thursday when I started catching a cold. The stress, lack of sleep, physical exertion, and sleeping on an air mattress in a house with pets was taking its toll.

Friday was the day of our mass casualty drill. We spent the earlier part of the day recapping mass casualties, and triage, but then spent the better part of the day on environmental issues such as hypothermia, frostbite, heat illness, dehydration/hyponatremia, drowing/submersion, and began to touch a bit more on psychological issues that someone way encounter. We broke for dinner around 5p.m. after a quick planning session to appoint our incident commander and begin designating roles for rescuers. We started filing back in around 7p.m., and were allowed back into the classroom while the instructors took the "victims" out into the park to set the scenario into motion. At this point, none of us know what we're in for. It could have been a bus going off a mountain road, a group of ill Boy Scouts, we had no clue.

After 8p.m., we were given a radio call of a floatplane crash in the park. Again, an event I know all too well, having lost a few friends over the years and having other friends survive crashes, it hit close to home. After finding the "crash site", we began assessing patients and doing what we were trained to do. I ended up with one of the worse off of the patients, someone who in real life probably would not have survived. I just had to do the best I could, try and keep him calm and comfortable, and wait for the IC to make the call. Around this time, Kate Earle walks by and tells me quietly that in 5 minutes I'm going to go into hypoglycemic shock and to see if the other students would see it happen, how the would react, and if they could diagnose correctly. You are taught that if one of your fellow rescuers goes down, that they become a priority. I have to say, my classmates did a fantastic job. They assumed I'd fallen, so it took a few minutes to get to my "medical history" to find that I was "diabetic", then they grabbed glucose from someones pack for me. I was back in the scenario. By this time someone else had taken over caring for my patient, so the IC grabbed me and had me start helping him decide who was going to be evacuated first, and shortly thereafter we were informed that the exercise was over.

It was an insane experience, but I think we did a phenomenal job. Given that some in the class had no medical experience or their training was years if not decades ago, we gelled as a "Team" and organized a great response to what would be a horrific incident. There was much hugging and hi-5ing going on as we all left for the night, everyone physically and mentally drained, heading home for much needed sleep and the promise of an extra hour of sleep the next morning. Saturday started with a recap of the previous night, some discussion of rescuer stress and critical stress incident meetings, terminology, dental emergencies, as well as envenomation. In the afternoon it was a review by playing a game of WFR Jeopardy, which I don't think my team won, but maybe placed second....I still never heard the final score.

Sunday was test day. I'd spent the night before reviewing my notes and preparing the best I could. At the beginning of testing day, we were asked if any of the group would want to volunteer to do the practical first to speed up the day, and for some strange reason I raised my hand. The practical was the part I was most worried about! I had this feeling "of impending doom" (have to use that in humor) that I was going to screw something up bad. Other than sweating profusely from wearing my hoodie with a face mask to keep my "patient" from getting sneezed on, I was told I passed and did an excellent job of assessing my patient. There was a few mistakes made in the order of exam steps, but I didn't miss anything and was thorough. Then it was back in to take the written test, and here I had a moment of panic. As I started reading the questions, I had, for the lack of a better term, a brain fart, and had to kick my brain back into gear. It went well, though, only missing 7 questions for a 93% score. That's a number I can be proud of. I made it through 10 days of intensive, hands on training,  knowing the fact that now I have a greater responsibility to help those who are injured or sick, but have better skills and decision making criteria than I had before. Of course it doesn't stop here. Now that I'm back home, I've already had a talk with my local EMS about volunteering once we can show the state that the 80 hour class I attended will satisfy the states requirements. I want to eventually work my way into an EMT program, followed by more training with RMI to learn even more skills.

I will say this to anyone who spends any amount of time in the backcountry, the WFA and WFR classes are more than worth it. People get complacent when they think "Oh, I'll just call 911 and the paramedics will show up", when in reality it could be hours or days before help can arrive in some cases. Having the skills to keep yourself and others alive is worth the class time regardless of who you take a course through. I will push for and advocate that you do train with Remote Medical International, not just because I have and wrote positive statements, but because these people live this and experience these situations regularly. They bring a hands on, "I'm telling you this because I've been there before" way of teaching. They are climbers, mountaineers, guides, rafters, and expedition members. They've seen the things they teach firsthand, and they love what they do.
Photo By Kate Earle
Photo By Kate Earle
MCI Victim, Photo By Kate Earle
Hypo-Wraps, Photo By Kate Earle
Photo By Kate Earle