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Learning the Five W's of the Woods (7/03)

Programs Teach Who, What When, Where, and Why

Map and Compass

Knowing how to use a compass is an essential skill for experiencing a safe and enjoyable trip into the wilderness. Phil Hazen's map and compass course began with instruction at his home in Essex. Phil discussed the advantages and disadvantages of various compass types. We learned the difference between magnetic north and true north and how to adjust for declination, and then practiced taking field bearings.

We learned how to use a topographical map (map symbols, contour lines, elevation, etc.) and how to use the compass with the map. Then, with maps and compasses in hand, we embarked on a “little” 5-mile hike to test our skills. On the way, Phil pointed out foundations of old houses showing on the old geological survey map. Eventually we arrived at Colchester Pond - or was it Indian Brook Reservoir? There was no indication on the old USGS map of a body of water where we thought we were. Phil finally produced another set of newer maps that showed we were indeed at Indian Brook Reservoir. The lesson learned: look at the date of your map and be prepared for the unexpected!

The rest of the hike was quite an adventure as we maintained our compass bearing toward Colchester Pond. Taking turns, we led the group through dense woods, over beaver dams, and crashing down small cliffs with features too small to be on the map. What seemed like hours later, someone shouted, "I think I see the pond!" We had made it!

If you want to have fun, learn a valuable skill, and have an instructor who answers every question with, "What do you think?" then take this free course. It’s offered every April with a money-back guarantee that you’ll never become lost.

Why I Went SOLO

Quick! True or False?

The definition of wilderness is 1 mile or 1 hour from definitive care.


Vermont has a “Brother’s Keeper” law that obligates you to stop in an unfavorable situation to help in some way.


These are just a couple of things I learned as I began my certification course in Wilderness First Aid. This sixteen-hour course beginning on May 13th was organized by the Burlington Section Education Committee, which consists of Walter Lepuschenko and Brynne Lazarus. The course met for three consecutive evenings during the week and a full Saturday, which gave ample time to reflect and absorb the material. Instructor Andrea Kane from Stonehearth Open Learning Opportunities (SOLO) led the course with much enthusiasm, knowledge, personal experience, and humor.

Since 1977, SOLO, with head-quarters in Conway NH, has been one of the leading outdoor medicine educators. They have grown to include instructors not only in New England but also around the country and internationally. I was very impressed with the quality of this program as well as the quantity of information received during so short a time (and by the very reasonable price).

We covered such topics as anaphylaxis, burns, heat injuries, hypothermia and lightning. We also learned how to deal with musculoskeletal injuries by applying traction and making splints.

Within these topics we practiced primary and secondary surveys, how to organize pertinent information, and how to take vital signs and monitor the patient. The course had a total of eleven people, which worked well for practicing real life scenarios in smaller groups of two and three.

This course was held in part for trip leaders to become certified or to receive recertification, but was also open to folks like me who just wanted to feel more prepared when out and about.

Now, if and when I find myself in an unfavorable situation, I have the confidence and knowledge to help in a range of scenarios by simply offering some food or even setting a broken bone if need be. Thank you SOLO!

Trip Leader Orientation

Maria was growing more frustrated by the minute. She was in great shape and had been looking forward to this hike for weeks. Now Peter was going to blow the whole trip because he couldn’t keep up with the group. The trip leader struggled with the decision that had to be made. Should Peter be allowed to go back to the car on his own so the group could continue to the summit? Should everyone turn around and return with Peter?

There was no way to please everyone and ensure the entire group’s safety.

What would you do if you were the trip leader?

This was just one of the scenarios that participants dealt with during our first annual Trip Leader Orientation Trip to Butler Lodge on March 30. Many leaders had expressed a wish to hold a forum where they could share experiences and get advice from more experienced leaders. Phil Hazen felt that the best setting for such a discussion would be during a hike. He and I were co-leaders on a snowy March morning, stopping to de-construct and discuss each part of the hike with the participant-leaders as we went along. Everything from how to put on a smile when meeting hike participants in pre-dawn hours to what to do with out-of-control pets was brought up. Butler Lodge provided a dry, though chilly, space for our role-playing. Though some cringed at the thought of having to act in front of the group, we had so much fun that by the end of our session even Phil Schlosser had set free his inner thespian.

We have decided to make this orientation an annual event in our section. If you’re interested in becoming a trip leader or participating in the next Trip Leader Orientation, please contact either Paul Houchens (658-1321) or Phil Hazen (879-1302). We have recently instituted a co-leader training program that allows beginners to assist experienced leaders on a number of hikes before going solo.