Into The Wild

Wilderness first aid instructor Mike Stahlman teaches students what to do when backcountry adventures go wrong.

by Traci Hukill

Dec. 19, 2014—The fact that Mike Stahlman—master SCUBA diving trainer, climbing instructor, backcountry guide and all-around badass outdoorsman—can pull a tooth, set an IV or suture a wound in the field means he occasionally gets called on to babysit the rich and famous on their exotic adventures. It also means he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to wilderness medicine.

So on Jan. 10-11, when Stahlman, a professional wilderness medic, instructs a class in Wilderness First Aid, his students will be paying close attention. One thing he plans to impress upon them is the importance of formulating a plan of action when you’re called to the scene of a bad climbing fall or a broken ankle on the hiking trail—even if that means putting a check on your instinct to leap immediately to assistance.

“People jump into situations and do things too fast,” says Stahlman. “When you literally take that extra 3 to 5 seconds and decide what to do, that changes your physical reaction: your hands move more steadily, you speak clearer. Everything just runs so much smoother once you train someone to have a plan.

“This class, it gives you a plan. I ingrain that plan in your head, and I ingrain it in your muscle memory.”

Stahlman accomplishes this benevolent form of brainwashing over the course of a two-day, 16-hour class offered through Adventure Out (the next one is scheduled for Jan. 10-11). It will cover wilderness first aid kits; patient assessments; head, neck and spine injuries; wounds, burns and infections; and evacuation decisions. Participants, who need to have a current CPR/First Aid certificate, will leave with a Red Cross Wilderness First Aid Certification.

Who Goes There?

Stahlman says many of the people who enroll in his course are outdoor junkies who just want to know how to be safe in the backcountry. Some are professionals—like camp counselors and outdoor educators—and still others are volunteers who lead groups like Boy Scout Troops or participate in Search and Rescue organizations. “There’s a whole subculture out there of folks that want that training,” he says.

Stahlman operates from a wide base of experience. He’s worked as an EMT at a fire station, as a first aid provider for a hockey team, and is qualified to serve as a Coast Guard medical person in charge (meaning he can serve as the doctor on an oceangoing vessel). As the proprietor of Eco Expedition Educators, he leads backcountry treks, wilderness survival trainings, kayaking outings, climbing excursions—you name it. He’s led SCUBA diving trips to the Great Lakes and guided scientists and tourists on dives and adventure trips on remote islands in the Caribbean, which has put him working for “some very wealthy people.”

“And then I’ve worked with illegal Haitians down there,” Stahlman says, “where one individual had serious wounds and infections and I’m saying, ‘We need to get you off this island,’ and he can’t go because he’s illegal.

“So I’ve been fortunate to deal with some very professional environments, and then working with bare essentials.”

Stahlman also serves on the San Jose Search and Rescue Team. So we asked what one piece of advice he has for adventurers going out into the world.

“Prepare, prepare, prepare. Get your knowledge right, get your equipment right. Know what you’re getting into and how to get out of it. And if you’re going out, even for a day or a couple of hours, let someone know.”

MIKE STAHLMAN teaches Wilderness First Aid through Adventure Out on Saturday-Sunday, Jan. 10-11, 2015. The class takes place in the Santa Cruz Mountains and results in an American Red Cross Wilderness and Remote First Aid Certification. $240. Register and learn more at Adventure Out.