Twenty five years ago, at a taster day at 6th form college, I spent two hours learning first aid.  I can remember learning how to put people in the recovery position, but that’s about all.  I’d never needed to carry out first aid on anyone so it was never put into practice and I forgot most of what I’d learnt.

Ten years after that I was regularly out walking, climbing, skiing etc. but I didn’t really feel that I needed to learn any first aid.  After all Michael regularly went on courses so we’d be alright, wouldn’t we?

And then in 2012 we were hiking from Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn together.  We were on a stretch of the Haute Route where you spend three days high in the mountains, crossing the mountain passes and staying in mountain huts overnight.  We had only seen two other people since we had started walking that day and it felt incredibly remote.  A real feeling of freedom.  We were walking along a rocky ridge and when I looked down to my right the ground sloped steeply down for a long, long way.  I don’t know what prompted it, but I remember thinking “If one of us loses our footing and falls, we’re going to go a long way down.  And if it’s Michael, he’s got both phones in his rucksack.  And the first aid kit”.  My thoughts then went to “And if he hits his head and can’t tell me what to do, I really have no idea how I could help him”.

We talked about it that night and I agreed to go on a first aid course when we got back, it seemed like a sensible thing to do.  Of course, I got back and life got busy again with work, friends and family commitments, and I didn’t get around to booking that course.

Until in March 2015, when at the end of the work holiday year I had some days left unused.  I sold some of them, booked the others as days off, and used the money to pay for a three day Mountain First Aid course at Plas y Brenin.

The Department of Health requires that the ambulance service reaches 75% of category A (life-threatening) calls within eight minutes. If onward transport is required a suitable vehicle should arrive on the scene within 19 minutes.

Now imagine that you have been hiking for the last three hours, most of which was uphill over loose, stony ground.  Your walking companion has slipped and cut their head badly.  How long will that ambulance take to get to you now?

In this situation it’s imperative that you know how you can assess and stabilise their condition and how you can get help.  What information you need to make the handover to the emergency services when they arrive, as smooth as possible.  This is the information you will learn on an outdoor first aid course.

Mountain Rescue poster showing a Mountain Rescue Ambulance overlooking a wide expanse of countryside, and the words Stay Safe. For Mountain Rescue call 999 and ask for Police

The following areas were all covered over the three days on my course:

Vital Signs
Emergency action
Airway Management
Unconsciousness
Choking
Drowning
Bleeding
Breathing
Rescue breathing & CPR
Shock
Fractures & Dislocations
Spinal Injury
Casualty Handling
Triage
Common Illness
Problems from heat and cold
Environmental factors
Snowblindness & eye injuries
Frostbite
Heat exhaustion
Stretchers
Remote care
Mountain practicals
Related illness
AED awareness

We watched demonstrations, discussed case studies and carried out numerous practical exercises.  It wasn’t all hard learning – we got to practice our acting skills too.  In one scenario I was a mountain biker who had lost control on a downhill stretch.  Going over my handlebars I’d impaled my arm on a branch.  In another I was a skier who collided with a tree, and I hadn’t been wearing a helmet.  That time I was going in and out of consciousness, with periods of confusion – I should have had a BAFTA for that one!

On the last exercise we had six casualties from a small plane crash, scattered in the woods.  The emergency services were struggling to get to us because roads were closed due to a local cycling event.  We had to do what we could, working as a team to assess and stabilise our casualties, getting some of them onto makeshift stretchers and ready for the rescue helicopter.  This scenario gave us a chance to practice everything we had learnt one more time, testing us and reinforcing our learning.

So the next time I was out in the hills, I felt much more confident that I would be able to help should a first aid situation arise.

As it was I didn’t need to use my new skills until 18 months later when we came across a boy who had hit a pot hole while riding his bike on a fast stretch of road and had been catapulted into a ditch.  Luckily his injuries weren’t too serious and I was able to patch him up fairly quickly and reunite him with his mum.  I was really pleased that the scenarios we had practised on the course came flooding back to me and I was able to stay calm and confident while I helped him.

As a Mountain Leader, our founder Michael Goude has to attend a relevant first aid course every three years.  So when you’re Adventuring with us, you know you’ll be in good hands should anything happen.  But when you’re out with your family and friends, could you help if they needed you?

RockRiver Expeditions is co-hosting a REC Level 2 – Outdoor First Aid course with Worsley Training on 7th and 8th September in either London or Surrey £130 per person.  If you think you could benefit from joining us, then please get in touch and build your first aid skills and confidence ahead of your next Adventure.

Oh, and did I say?  You get a certificate too 🙂

REC Mountain First Aid Course with AED Awareness certificate awarded to Paula Goude of RockRiver Expeditions in March 2015

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