Risk and Courses
BOSS is not offering you a risk-free wilderness experience. The wilderness is beyond our control. Nature is beyond our control. We hope that you will understand this and embrace the opportunity we are offering you: a chance to live in the moment and experience the wilderness to the fullest. (We are, of course, safety-conscious but you should understand the realities of being in remote wilderness areas.)
People are sometimes confused that we are so honest about the potential risks you might face while on the trail with us. However, this is because we respect the natural elements of the wilderness and respect your right to be made aware of them. All too often, people end up on courses or vacations and assume that everything will be perfect: blue skies, warm days, peaceful nights. And then – when it's been raining for 3 straight days, hits 35 degrees at night, and you're soaked – you begin to wonder what you've gotten yourself into. This creates a dangerous situation, and we hope to avoid these on our courses.
There's also an added element of risk to BOSS Field courses — Impact. As far as we know, there is no other program that will purposely put you in a position where you must hike under adverse conditions (hot, bright days or cold, dark nights) with little or no food and limited water. And this is done during the first few days of the course, when we really don't know that much about you or your physical fitness.
BOSS provides you with so many opportunities to experience the "wild" side of the wilderness, and we hope that you will embrace them. After all, that's what a real adventure is all about. However, because we want you to understand these risks completely, here are some thoughts to consider. Of course, it would be impossible to include ALL possible risks here in a concise format. If you have any questions, please call us to discuss them.
Medicine in the Backcountry
Based on BOSS's operating history, the majority of incidents requiring medical attention in the backcountry are straightforward and relatively simple to treat: i.e. blisters, burns and small cuts. During phases of BOSS courses in which participants are with the staff, the instructors are available to assist students with proper treatment of these and other ailments. BOSS instructors carry medical first aid and trauma kits and have the medical training to utlilize these kits when necessary. However, during phases of courses when instructors are not immediately available (during Solo or Student Expedition on Field courses, for example), it will be the responsibility of the student(s) to properly assess and treat any medical incidents. Again, most of the occurences during these phases have, historically, been fairly mild and manageable. However, if you are particularly concerned about medical risks in the backcountry and how to best treat more advanced injuries, we recommend you consider taking a medical training course prior to joining us in the field at BOSS, as BOSS does not teach any medical training beyond the very basic and likely needs of its students. For more information, please contact our office.
Risks Associated with Impact (Field Courses)
Let's take a look at the realities of Impact: Up to 12 people from around the world have made it to Boulder, Utah. Some come from humid cities at sea-level, others from mountain towns at elevation. Some work out regularly, others think this is their vacation to get in shape. Perhaps a few have been pushed physically before – in marathons, triathlons, personal expeditions. Others have never hiked more than 5 miles in a day. The group ranges from 18 to 70 years in age, and all are expecting some sort of challenge during the course.
Now, with little more than a 1.5 mile test run, we gear up and head off for a desert hike without any food being carried. Your clothing is limited to what's on your body – no blanket, no poncho, nothing really substantial. The goal is to live in the moment with a group of strangers, exploring the wilderness and what it has to offer.
As the days wear on, though, personal histories can become a risk. Perhaps you forgot to mention the antibiotics you were taking before the course and now your body is in spasms. Or you overlooked the relevance of having only one lung when you filled out the Health History page. Sometimes, people try to give up smoking cold turkey the day before a Field course, effectively putting themselves through de-tox in a remote, wilderness setting. All these risks are possible (and all these scenarios have occured at BOSS), and only you can help us reduce the damage they may cause to you and the group. Therefore, please tell us as much as you can about yourself before you take a trip with us.
Of course, some responses to Impact are expected. Nausea, light-headedness, aches, pains, hunger, cramps, thirst, etc. are all common responses to not having food while hiking. But these symptoms can be reduced through proper preparation before the course and managed with proper feedback during the course. Again, the most significant risk and the greatest unknown on the trail is you. Tell us about yourself and how you're doing on a course, and a lot of the risks of Impact can be eliminated.
Risks Associated with Trail Hiking
There are general risks that come with the territory we operate in. These can include, among other things: Slipping and falling; falling objects, falling while climbing, falling while downclimbing, water hazards; exhaustion; exposure to temperature and weather extremes which could cause: hypothermia, hyperthermia (heat-related illnesses), heat exhaustion, heat stroke, sunburn, dehydration, hyponatremia or water intoxication; and exposure to potentially dangerous wild animals, insect bites, and hazardous plant life; equipment failure; improper lifting or carrying; etc.
We ask all participants to acknowledge that camping, hiking, backpacking and backcountry activities entail known and unanticipated risks as well as inherent risks which could result in physical or emotional injury, paralysis, death, or damage to you, to property, or to third parties. You should understand that such risks simply cannot be eliminated without jeopardizing the essential qualities of the activity. Again, this isn't to scare you — it's to make you fully aware of the experience and its potential outcomes.
Do we plan to have you hypothermic on a desert course? No. Is it possible? If you really did a good job of staying cold and wet, yes. We have had snow in the middle of July on Boulder Mountain. All the possible scenarios we could create have happened at BOSS over the years. The trick is to try to prevent them as much as possible and then should something happen, deal with it as responsibly as possible. Part of that responsibility rests with you.
Risks Associated with Solo (Field Courses)
There are a handful of programs in the country that offer you the opportunity to spend time truly alone in the wilderness. Unfortunately, many of them are now considering eliminating this part of their program because of the liability exposure it presents. The risks associated with Solo – when you're sitting in your own solo site, usually along a river – are somewhat reduced at BOSS because we use the "cairn system" to monitor student status. This system will be explained to you before Solo begins, but it basically provides a daily check-system to make sure you're still okay without infringing upon the privacy of your Solo experience.
Should something happen, though, you could always leave your Solo site and go to a pre-determined Instructor campsite. Or you could go to the site of the person next to you (about a 1/4 mile away) for help. Because Solo typically comes toward the end of the course – after you've had plenty of trail time and have a foundation of skills to build on – we are confident in your being alone for a few days.
Risks Associated with Solo (Navigator Courses)
We know of no other outfitter or school that offers you the opportunity to hike for 3, 4 or 5 days alone in the wilderness the way BOSS does on our Navigator courses. The reason that no one else offers you this experience is that insurance premiums and liability concerns can make it daunting. At BOSS, however, we believe strongly in giving our students an unparallelled experience, and the solo portion of our Navigator courses present the ultimate test in competency and responsibility. Students who come on these courses must accept the risks that come with responsibility and embrace them.
Risks Associated with Skills (Skills Courses)
If you asked most BOSS staff what the greatest risk on Skills courses was last year, they'd say "improper knife use." After all, on the first day of a course, there can be a dozen people wielding razor-sharp edges around the campfire. We try to discuss knife safety and proper use early in each course, but there have been a few overanxious students who found themselves on the way to the local clinic on Day 1 of a course.
Knives present the risk of cutting yourself and/or others (yes, that's obvious, but it needs to be said). Flintknapping obsidian is an art form in the hands of a master. It's an invitation for bleeding to a novice. Obsidian is 500 times sharper than surgical steel and will cut you without your even knowing it. Be careful: wear gloves and protective eyewear if the activity merits it. See who's around you before you chop that firewood. Watch the follow-through (keep your thighs and feet out of the way). Be smart.
Risks Associated with Basecamp (Skills Courses)
There are some wonderful times to be shared in a BOSS base camp: relaxed learning, simple foods, quiet solitude. But there can also be risks associated with spending multiple days in a camp. Animals, for example, start to notice your presence. Especially if you're working with hides or deer legs — both common on our Skills Courses.
We ask that you keep all parts of the base camp clean to reduce the risk of inquisitive visitors. Is it possible for a bear to visit? Yes. Does it happen frequently? No, rarely. Most bears prefer to stay away from us when possible, but will explore our camps if they are hungry. You should be aware of the possibility and behave accordingly. Food should be stored safely away from student sleeping areas and, when appropriate, out of reach of bears.
Another basecamp risk involves your course mates — keeping clean. People often assume that everyone's hands are dirty, except their own. Make sure that your hands are washed for meals (especially kitchen work) and there won't be so much sharing of parasites with your course mates. Again, not a huge risk, but it's the little things that are often overlooked. Your staff will review this with you during the course.
Risks Associated with the BOSS Property
Risks similar to those in our basecamps can be found on courses that take place on the BOSS property. In addition, Boulder, Utah is a remote town and the 41 acre parcel of land that BOSS uses as its headquarters in town is rustic and simple in its design. Wild animals often cross the property at night, and care should be taken if you are camping outside. The ledge to the west contains loose rocks and steep cliffs so hiking up or down the ledge should be done with care. The fact that some areas of the BOSS property are under construction means that power tools, generators, and other building materials could possibly get in your way. Please do your best to stay healthy and safe while on the BOSS property.
Risks Associated with Driving
According to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the shuttle ride from Provo, Utah to our school in Boulder may be the riskiest part of the course. After all, we can attempt to control your time on the trail with us, but we can't do much about the other drivers on the road. Our driving record is excellent, but there's always a risk. Since we were on the topic, we thought we'd throw this in here.
Again, life is about living it — with risks and all. The biggest risks can produce the best adventures, and that's part of what BOSS stands for. If you can embrace this and put it all in perspective, we welcome having you on the trail with us.
With all of this in mind, BOSS does have your health and safety in mind and our goal is to deliver an exciting, adventurous trip that sees everyone home safely. We just ask that you realize it is impossible for anyone to guarantee this to you, especially in a wilderness environment that gives you so much freedom to control your experience.