One of the points I regularly make in wilderness medicine talks, courses, and columns is the importance of drowning as a cause of death on camping trips. Wilderness medicine courses devote a lot of time to the recognition and management of rarely seen injuries and illnesses, but often gloss over drowning. Drowning is the leading cause of death in US national parks. A report from Outward Bound cited drowning as the leading cause of death in their programs as well.
Within a single week this August, two tragic examples were in the news, with one important item in common. A 19 year old man drowned on a camping trip in California (https://people.com/human-
interest/19-year-old-boy-dies- in-california-lake-during- hike/) and a 48 year old man drowned on a camping trip in Arkansas (https://www.cnn.com/2022/08/ 08/us/arkansas-judge-lake- death-jeremiah-bueker/index. html). The common denominator in both cases: although the individuals were hiking with a larger group, both men left their groups to swim alone.
Wilderness swimming is an awesome experience, and one which can be enjoyed safely with attention to a few simple steps. I outlined many of these in a recent column (https://adirondoc.com/
publication/drowning- essential-tool-or-silly- affectation/).
The fact that many outdoor programs require wilderness first responder certification (or more) of their trek leaders, but no consideration of certification in swimming or lifesaving is yet another example of the professional malpractice infecting this industry. We must do better.