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Fall 2006 Issue
    Cover Article
    Message from the Director
    Base Camp Campaign Enters the Homestretch
    Wild Side of Medicine: Lightweight First Aid Kits
    WMI at 2006 Primal Quest
    Issue Room: Light on the Western Horizon
    Creating a Climate for Change
    Internships at NOLS
    Diversity Matters: Q&A with Linda Lindsey and Flip Hagood
    A Tough Assignment: On the Fly in Patagonia
    Book Reviews
    Sailing with NOLS
    From Tent Groups to Yahoo! Groups
    (A)broad Perspective: NOLS Celebrates Diversity While Providing A Unifying Experience
    Recipe Box: The Delight
    Gear Room: The Top Five Items from the Past Ten Years
    No Need for First Impressions: Experience Says It All
    Branch Notes
    A Little NOLS Goes a Long Way
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WMI at 2006 Primal Quest
By Jake Schepps 

NOLS has made successful strides to protect Utah’s Dirty Devil Canyon and Wyoming’s Bridgter-Teton National Forest.
Photo: Steven Brutger

In June, NOLS’ Wilderness Medicine Institute (WMI) sent four instructors (Darran Wells, Iris Saxer, Jason Buchovecky, and me) to Moab, Utah to provide medical support and teach Leave No Trace skills at the 2006 Primal Quest Expedition Adventure Race. The event’s 89 co-ed teams rode horses, orienteered, hiked over mountains and through canyons, mountain biked, swam, kayaked and rappelled their way through this 450-mile race in 100-degree heat. The winning team finished this course, deemed the most challenging race in the world, in an astonishing six days.
One of our jobs was to brief the Primal Quest teams on Leave No Trace ethics as they specifically apply to adventure racing. The biggest challenge for the race was minimizing impacts on the desert ecosystem from 356 racers, 150 volunteers, and 70 media personnel. Of particular concern was the impact on the highly fragile crypto-biotic crust (or cryptogam), in which one footprint can remain visible for up to 50 years. Our advice to the masses was to stick to trails and roads if possible, travel on rock, or match footprints in large areas of “crypto.”  

Our group covered different transition areas (sites where racers switch from one discipline to another) providing medical support alongside other first aid volunteers. Each transition area was staffed with at least two advanced life support personnel and several EMTs. While we saw several serious injuries, the bulk of our time went into treating the inconceivably large blisters on the heels and feet of many racers.

Though adventure racing is far removed from NOLS’ typical expedition activities, WMI of NOLS was pleased to have the opportunity to share our technical skills with the Primal Quest teams. The entire event was filmed for ESPN2 and ABC and will also be available on DVD.
Jake Schepps is a senior WMI and NOLS Instructor and a professional banjo player. For more information on his music, visit

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Primal Quest Factoids

  • Primal Quest is the equivalent of 17 non-stop New York City Marathons (on unmarked trails).
  • Teams from 20 countries participated including Japan, Guatemala, Ireland, South Africa, Brazil and Sweden.
  • Temperature variances during the race: 25-110 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Average elevation gain: 60,000 feet
  • Eight miles of ropes were used during the canyoneering and mountain courses.
  • Over 200,000 pounds of Gatorade and water were consumed during the race.
  • Average daily caloric in-take athletes need each day: 6,000
  • Average weight lost during race: 5.6 pounds
  • Teams average less than 45 minutes of sleep each day and most competitors suffer waking hallucinations.
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