Safety at Journey Wilderness Therapy Program

wildernessWe feel that insuring the safety of the students in our care is a sacred trust and takes precedence over all other aspects of our program. We are passionate about making sure that risks are assessed and reduced, and everyone, students and instructors, are safe. We are concerned about all facets of the students’ safety, not just their physical safety. Therefore, we protect and maintain a safe environment for each client’s physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being.

Licensed by the State of Utah

In addition to being licensed by the State of Utah as an Outdoor Youth Program, we constantly monitor and revise our safety procedures to create the best possible outdoor learning atmosphere. Instructors use the most advanced communication devices, are trained in wilderness first aid and safety protocols, and follow stringent safety guidelines for every activity.

Research by the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Research Cooperative (OBHRC)

According to the most recent research by the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Research Cooperative (OBHRC): …”program clients were three times less likely to go to a medical emergency room for an injury than if they were at home.” (See link to research article) This is due to “extensive risk management techniques.” Add the concern that teens may be choosing risky behaviors at home, and the Journey program places them in a much safer spot than they may currently be in their communities.

Safe LocationSpiritLake4

Spirit Lake and the High Uinta’s were specifically chosen because of the safety of this location during the summer months. In our experience, there are more heat and hydration related safety issues than any other wilderness-related problem, therefore we chose an alpine setting which has cool average temperatures in the summer and abundant water available to minimize these risks. In the winter we moved to a lower elevation and dryer climate in the west desert of Utah. This is warmer and has less snow so that we can maintain safety in the wintertime. We use a base camp model which means that each week clients come into a base camp with increased shelter and an opportunity to modify their equipment or get whatever supplies they need according to the weather and the time of year.

Journey Instructor Training

The Journey has a unique instructor training regime that utilizes our residential treatment centers for training and selection. Under the tutelage of our experienced residential instructors, field instructors spend one month being trained to work with adolescents, while learning The Journey Philosophy. Then they spend the second month doing field training to gain all applicable outdoor living skills before they are allowed to go out on wilderness expeditions.

Positive Control Systemstaff

This allows for intense training modules on adolescent development, behavior modification, safe field procedures, and core beliefs. This process also allows us to determine which staff may not be suited for wilderness work and to weed them out before they begin working in the wilderness. All instructors have wilderness first aid training, and the expedition is always led by a Head Field Instructor who has either Wilderness First Responder certification or Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician certification. Additionally, wilderness training is an on-going process and instructors are required to have a minimum of 24 hours of training per year. We emphasize de-escalation techniques and train instructors using the Positive Control System to help students to stay safe. We will intervene with a student if their behavior is putting themselves or another student at risk.

Communication Equipment and Protocols

Efficient and reliable communications are essential in maintaining the safety of our students. Therefore we use Satellite Phones and Satellite Pagers for constant two-way communication. To further insure safety, we also carry Electronic Locating Transmitters, which utilize satellite uplinks to send accurate coordinates to emergency personnel, if needed. This provides a redundant system protocol to insure that communication of location and possible emergency needs can always be met regardless of the route or weather. Additionally, when the expedition groups are at Canvas Camp in the summer, or the Lodge in the winter, they have available for their use, the only cellular telephone system on the mountain.

Back-up Safety Personnel and Protocols

The Journey uses four-wheel drive vehicles for back-up and trail support. Back-up personnel are also equipped with specialized medical equipment that may be used in an emergency. They also have detailed maps and knowledge of the area resources. They maintain contact with the local authorities. Back-up personnel may transport students if needed for medical reasons.

Medical Protocols

In our location, we have the availability of local hospitals approximately an hour from the base camp. Trekking routes are planned with extraction points in mind. Our medical protocol requires that we err on the side of safety. Field instructors have access to our Medical Director 24 hours a day and we do not hesitate to take students out of the field to a doctor or hospital for emergency triage. If the need arises, we have access to helicopter extractions.


One of the advantages of operating in a water-abundant environment is that expedition teams never have to rely on water-drops from the back-up personnel. This allows us the flexibility to adapt our daily schedules to the specific needs of the students. However, all of our routes are planned to insure safer backcountry travel. Additionally, each expedition group has an up-to-date topographical maps along with a GPS device to pinpoint and report exact locations.

Real Time Weather Data

The Uinta Mountain range has an extensive network of backcountry weather stations which are controlled and monitored remotely and provide up-to-minute weather data, as well as historical records for each area. We have access to this data on a continual basis.

Field Instructor Reference Manual (The FIRM)

The FIRM provides detailed and specific policy and procedures to guide every aspect of the field operations. For example, it explains inclement weather protocols, medication disbursement protocols, camp setup and camp hygiene protocols, plant identification, etc. If there is an incident on the trail, there is a process whereby the Safety Committee reviews the incident and revises our procedures to increase safety on continual basis.

Dealing With Animals in the Wild

It is true that there are large animals in the mountains. Typically, the animals are shy and we are lucky when we get to observe them. However, to make sure our expedition groups are safe, we have Great Pyrenees Mountain dogs, which accompany every group. The dogs are friendly and well-trained and provide an added therapeutic element while making sure that no dangerous animals wander into camp.

Elevation: The base elevation at Spirit Lake is 10,200 feet. As we hike our various routes in the Uinta Mountains the students will be anywhere from 10,000 feet to 12,000 feet elevation. In order to help our students acclimatize, they spend the first three days in our base camp.

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