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Out of the Purple Valley

Out of the Purple Valley

This is the sixth post in our summer series "Lessons Learned in the Woods." Find the intro here.

We had just begun the winding drive back to our campsite when we heard the familiar sound of an ambulance coming our way. There was only one thing it could mean: a climber was in trouble.

We had just completed a satisfying day of rock climbing at the poetically named Purple Valley in the Red River Gorge, Kentucky. As first-time visitors of this crag, we were exhausted from the extra miles we’d put in searching for the routes we wanted to climb. Our stomachs were rumbling for dinner and cold beer.

Usually, when an ambulance drives by, we wonder, we worry, we pause, and then we go on our merry way. Not this time. We knew that if the rescue team needed to carry the climber out on a litter, at that late hour, and across who-knows-what-kind of terrain, they were going to need all the help they could get.

So we grabbed a few handfuls of GORP and turned the van around, following the ambulance back into the woods. We were right: we found the climber about 1.5 miles up the trail, writhing in pain at the base of the route he had fallen from. He had fractured his femur.

The volunteer EMT’s were quick and it didn’t take long before the leg was stabilized. We loaded him onto the litter as darkness was approaching. Between the small team of community volunteers, his two climbing partners, and my husband and I, we carefully hauled him out to the ambulance with relative ease.

Many hands made light work.


This anecdote reveals some of my favorite things about being in the backcountry: how quickly you form strong bonds with strangers. How kindness matters. How by taking a little extra effort you can make a big positive impact on another person’s life. The same applies for regular, every-day life, too.

When I’m guiding, I always teach my groups that self-awareness and personal safety is of utmost importance. Once you’ve taken initiative for your own health and well-being, then the next most important thing is to look out for others. It is magical to watch what happens when people start thinking outside of themselves.

On wilderness trips, this can be a simple as helping each other set up camp, or as critical as helping an injured teammate towards safety.

In everyday life, random acts of kindness can be just as magical. Too often we get lost in our routines, the burden of our to-do lists creating tunnel vision. We forget to look up from our worries to notice the needs of others.

Amid our busy schedules, we must also remember that self-awareness is of utmost importance, just like in the backcountry. Once we’ve taken initiative on our own health and well-being, truly wonderful things happen when we look out for the needs of our friends, family and community.

Being considerate doesn’t have to be complicated or overly time consuming. Take your neighbor a bouquet of flowers from your yard. The next time you make a meal, double the recipe and share it with a friend who may be having a hard time. Make a video and send it to a loved one who lives far away.

Usually, the results are simple: strangers connect, friendships deepen, someone’s day is brighter. Every so often, however, the effects of your actions could save a life.

Our decision to turn the van around and help the injured climber that day in Kentucky may not have been a matter of life or death, but it could have been. We’ll never really know. What I do know is if I were on the receiving end, would I have wanted help? You bet.

So be considerate. It will take you suprising places.The time spent is well worth the effort.

Love deeply. Adventure gently. Be thoughtfully clean.

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