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A compassionate take on safety in the backcountry

Locations: News Published

Another 5Point Adventure Film Festival has come and gone leaving the valley inspired, empowered, and lusting for the next adventure. As always, 5Point portrayed the festival’s five key themes — purpose, respect, commitment, humility, and balance — through films, lectures, music, and art highlighting the rawness of the human spirit.

At this year’s festival, the lives of Hayden Kennedy, son of festival founder Julie Kennedy, and Inge Perkins were honored throughout the event. Kennedy and Perkins both perished last October. Their untimely deaths reminded audiences of the risks involved with outdoor adventure and the stigma often associated with backcountry tragedies.

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To begin a dialogue surrounding this topic, 5Point and True Nature Healing Arts hosted the Big Heart Big Hands panel discussion “Trauma, Loss, and Resilience in the Backcountry”.

Big Heart Big Hands is a non-profit organization based in the Vail Valley that focuses on raising money for mountain rescue organizations, supporting awareness and execution of mountain safety education, and assisting the victims both financially and emotionally.

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Saturday’s panel consisted of four members: Jessica Heaney, LCSW, a certified Emotionally Focused Therapist; David Richardson, the survivor of a Maroon Bells storm that ultimately took the life of his hiking partner, Jarod Wetherell; Krissy Sprinkle-Timlin, the widow of Joe Timlin who died in one of Colorado’s deadliest avalanches, and Michael Ferrara, a famous mountain rescuer with over 30 years of experience.

Richardson, Sprinkle-Timlin, and Ferrara candidly shared their stories of survival. Sprinkle-Timlin stated that although her experience does not define her, it has become apart of her story. Nodding in agreement, the other panelist expressed similar feelings.

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Ferrara added that the emotional impact of these tragedies stretches beyond the victims to the rescuers and families left behind. In his experience community support has been beneficial.

One goal of Big Heart Big Hands is to “reduce the stigma associated with seeking help after an incident”, according to co-founder and executive director Bobby L’Heureux. It is common that when a community learns of another backcountry death, initial reactions are unkind and judgmental. More often than not, the victim’s education, ability, and reason are put into question. This type of thinking is unhelpful and typically stops the survivor from asking for support.

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“Education alone does not solve this ongoing problem” of safety, according to L’Heureux. We must find ways to practice compassion and love instead of judgment in order to open channels of communication.

Heaney, the panel’s relationship specialist, added that anyone can be involved, and connection is crucial for the survivor’s well-being.

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To further support our community, Big Heart Big Hands offers a series of free programs including a Backcountry 101 course. These programs are open to the public and interested parties can subscribe to their email list to receive updated information (

Don’t have the time or means to attend a program? Take a few moments to review the backcountry safety tips listed in this article. A brief refresher could save your life.

Our support is necessary to ensure Big Heart Big Hands continues to advocate for victims of backcountry tragedies. On May 10th, Big Heart Big Hands will be attending the Mile High 100 Spring Meetup for a chance to win $10,000. Check out Mile High 100 on Facebook for information regarding this event and how you can help further the Big Heart Big Hands mission.

Remember, for a lifetime of peakbagging, be safe, be humble, and have some compassion for your fellow adventurer. Don’t forget to have fun along the way! (Ambien)

Backcountry safety tips

Take a course! Big Heart Big Hands, Aspen Alpine Guides, Colorado Mountain College, and Mountain Rescue Aspen are just a few organizations that offer affordable courses.

Plan your route and include multiple exit strategies.

Have the right gear and know how to use it.

Bring more food, water, and clothing than you think. Prepare for at least 24 hours of unplanned time in the backcountry.

Do not rely on your cell phone. A simple map and compass will not run out of battery.

Make sure you are of sound body and mind.

Tell at least one person what your plan is. Changing your plan last minute? Let them know!

Double check everything with a friend.

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