UREC training helps Cougs rescue injured Grand Canyon hiker

ORC trip participants hike along a trail in the Grand Canyon.
ORC trip participants during their hike in the Grand Canyon.

The hiker was hunched over on the side of the trail. From a distance, she looked like she might be taking a break from the strenuous ascent from the bottom of the Grand Canyon, but when WSU students Alana Duvall and Johannah Ludwig reached her, it was clear she was in trouble.

Duvall and Ludwig, both skilled adventure facilitators leading an Outdoor Recreation Center (ORC) backpacking trip in the canyon, immediately put the wilderness first aid training they learned at the ORC into action to help the hiker. 

Their swift action helped her get the medical attention she desperately needed.

‘Super willing to help’

Duvall, Ludwig, and the five participants came across the hiker, named, Lauren, about two hours into an all-day hike up the six-mile trail out of the Grand Canyon. At the time, they were 4 days into a 10-day camping trip across the West.

“You could immediately tell there was something wrong, so Johannah and I jumped right into what we’ve been trained to do at ORC,” Duvall said. 

Alana Duvall (front) and Johannah Ludwig on the ORC trip they led through the West over fall break.

Duvall and Ludwig conducted assessments and gathered Lauren’s medical history. She was weak, mildly disoriented, and complaining of head and neck pain, and they quickly determined she would not be able to get out of the canyon on her own. They recommended that Lauren’s friend call for a search and rescue team. While they waited, they made Lauren comfortable and continued to monitor her condition. 

When the search and rescue team arrived, the entire ORC group worked with them to carry Lauren to a drainage in the canyon. Without that help, Duvall and Ludwig said, search and rescue wouldn’t have been able to leave the canyon that day.

“I give a huge amount of credit to participants in the program,” Ludwig said. “Even though they were so motivated to get out of the canyon that day, they were super willing to help Lauren.”

Once the search and rescue helicopter departed, the group resumed their hike out, making it to the top of the canyon just as the sun was setting. There, they received word about Lauren’s condition. She was being treated at a hospital in Flagstaff for dehydration, a torn ligament, and a concussion, but would be fine — thanks in no small part to Duvall and Ludwig.

For Ludwig, a pre-health student, having the hospital confirm the assessments she made in the field was extremely gratifying. 

“It was nice to see the hospital confirm what I found in my initial exam,” she said. “This was the first real-life scenario I’d responded to, and it was exciting to be part of something I had studied about and practiced for.”

ORC trip participants help prepare to load an injured hiker into a search and rescue helicopter. 

Taylen Howland, adventure programs coordinator with ORC and supervisor of the adventure facilitators, said he was impressed with how Duvall and Ludwig handled the situation. 

“All credit goes to Alana and Johannah for remembering their skills,” he said. “I was really happy with how they handled it, and I can’t imagine there’s any situation I wouldn’t trust them to solve.”

Duvall and Ludwig credited their many trainings with Howland and other ORC staff — including a wilderness response review conducted just before the Grand Canyon trip — with giving them the skills and confidence needed to assist Lauren.  

“When we got back from the trip I thanked the ORC staff,” Duvall said. “We might complain about the trainings, but they made us very prepared for all of this. It was nice to be able to put our skills to use to help Lauren.”

ORC training teaches essential skills

The refresher course Duvall and Ludwig took prior to their departure was just one of many that adventure facilitators take throughout the year to ensure their skills are current. But adventure facilitators aren’t the only ones who can take trainings at the ORC — courses are open to all WSU students, faculty, and staff, as well as community members, and are recommended for anyone spending time outdoors. 

“Anyone and everyone who’s going to be in the outdoors should take a training,” Ludwig said. “It’s super helpful and important because accidents can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time.”

To make those programs and trainings accessible for all, the ORC offers scholarships, funded by donors, for students who want to get involved with ORC but need financial support to do so. Through those scholarships and low-cost or free activities, ORC helps make the outdoors inclusive for all WSU students, and Duvall, Ludwig, and Howland encourage anyone with an interest in getting outside to visit the ORC and try out an activity. 

“My best advice for people who aren’t experienced in the outdoors is just to try it,” Howland said. “We have plenty of programs, so you can find something you’re interested in. The only thing that holds you back is yourself.”

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