Why I Took the Wilderness First Responder Class

Marissa Aurora Clair Tappan Lodge studying

The Wilderness First Responder course, or WFR (pronounced “woofer”), is known in outdoor circles as the best backcountry first aid training for people not intending to become EMTs or professional rescuers. It is similar to how many ski patrol personnel are trained at resorts.


Since I’m going to be spending a large amount of time in wilderness and backcountry areas, I wanted to increase my confidence & skills. As defined by the Wilderness Medical Institute, “wilderness” means an area that is 1-hour away or more from a medical facility. That can include more places than you think!


Increased skills & confidence were exactly what I got at the 10-day WFR class at the Sierra Club’s Clair Tappan Lodge on Donner Pass. This was primarily due to the exceptional instruction from Bobbie Foster. Her passion for wilderness first aid, and dedication to learning the latest approved methods & protocols showed every day.  The class was a combination of classroom lecture, and hands-on experiential exercises, intended to enact what a real-life rescue scene might look like.


The “scenarios” really did the trick!  Every member of the class experienced the intense stress it takes to help people in an emergency situation. There were many moments when our patients “died” because of inadequate care or lack of foresight by us students. Every single person in the class had their buttons pushed or became emotionally triggered by the scenarios. By Day 7, personally, my back was against the wall. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through to the end. Several lectures in a row were very difficult topics, like seizures (my mom had one which revealed her brain tumor), child abuse, childbirth, and drug/alcohol related incidents.


What made the class so special was everybody rallied for each other. As we each had our “moment”, we supported one another, helped calm each other down, cracked a joke to lighten the mood, and gave hugs freely. I must admit, if the group wasn’t so compassionate & caring, the class would have been much more difficult. After our testing was completed, one gal even said I inspired her by getting through the class, even though I was grieving a brother, planning a 2-year travel project, and coping with my mom’s continuing ill health. Having not met me before the class, she didn’t know taking on a full plate is my daily practice. 🙂 But, it was folks like her that made me cry the last day of class, sad that the amazing bond we shared was going to dissolve.


That being said, I’d like to plug a co-student for her amazing massage skills, and her passionate new foray into leading wilderness vision quests, Polly Triplat. Polly ‘s craniosacral massage therapy really set me straight after the disappointing reaction my body had from wearing a backpack. But more importantly, she tied that physical reaction into a spiritual awareness that was very helpful. I took the information she told me & immediately applied it in the classroom. It helped me tap into the grief I was trying to pretend didn’t exist, grief that rose up from the class topics of emergencies, trauma, & being out of control. It also helped me to listen more, & be more open to feedback from my classmates. This brought me new insight into how I live every day, in a profoundly deep way.


Polly is hosting a Rites of Passage vision quest for women in transition, July 8-16. If I was in town & had the moolah, I’d take it for sure. Polly is one of those naturally understated spiritual leaders that makes a deep impact in a subtle way, without fanfare, without ego, without pressure. If you are needing a manner with which to move yourself into a new direction in your life, try Polly’s workshop. You won’t regret it.


For me, the WFR class was already a rite of passage. I learned so much about myself, and about how to better handle backcountry emergencies. Truly, I learned how to _prevent_ backcountry emergencies. I learned that even a natural born stress-case like me can learn how to remain calm during a stressful situation. Just this ability alone will grant me a lifetime of peace, especially as I travel these next two year.


So, if you want to get the best wilderness first aid training ~$800 can buy, I highly, HIGHLY recommend the WFR course, especially with Bobbie Foster. It will push you, but on the other side you’ll be a wilderness leader. The world needs more of those. In fact, I feel like if the Apocalypse comes, I’m ready! Take the class…


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