SOLO took root in the early 1970s and grew out of the vision of its founders Frank Hubbell and Lee Frizzell (husband and wife). As Frank recalls, pre-hospital care was in its infancy, and an organized EMS system didn’t exist yet in New Hampshire. The concept of providing emergency care to the sick and injured revolved around what is today referred to as the “Golden Hour.” “As skiers, climbers, and EMTs in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, we would respond to the call for injured hikers and climbers,” Frank remembers. “It very quickly became apparent that the skills that we had learned as “street EMTs” did not work in the wilderness environment. We had to learn how to provide care outside the golden hour. But, that information was not available—we had to learn it through experience.” Frank’s frustration with the lack of an appropriate “wilderness” standard led to the creation of one of the first, if not the first, wilderness emergency medicine courses in the country. By 1975, a basic “Mountain/Woods First Aid” course was taken on the road by Frank, and taught to the few folks who could see its value. That course outline and objectives remain the foundation of our most popular course today, Wilderness First Aid. In 1976, Frank, and his wife Lee Frizzell, a trained educator, began growing the dream of creating a school to develop and teach various aspects and levels of outdoor/wilderness medicine. They named that school SOLO, for Stonehearth Open Learning Opportunities. In the next year, 1977, Frank taught the first official SOLO course in his parents’ living room. The same SOLO team soon broke ground on Tasker Hill, just south of Conway, and began construction of the unique three-story post-and-beam structure that would become SOLO’s headquarters. Today this building houses our main classrooms and stands as the centerpiece of our expanding campus. While the Main Building (Kaila Hall) was being completed, another structure, the Octagon, was constructed as a kitchen and dining facility. The campus, although somewhat rustic, was now in full operation. Over the next two years, SOLO ran more than 30 courses for organizations like Outward Bound, the AMC, and numerous college and university outing clubs. Putting their new knowledge to the test, these groups found that SOLO offered the most valuable training in first aid they had ever been exposed to. Word of these amazing courses spread throughout the outdoor education industry, and by the end of the decade, SOLO had become a full-time passion and a full-time business.
In the next few years SOLO would develop the three-day EMT Refresher Training Program (1980) and the month-long Wilderness EMT program (1980) which both have become industry standards; and, in 1983, SOLO received full approval for its courses from both the State of New Hampshire Office of Emergency Medical Services and the National Registry of EMTs. In 1982, Frank had decided to further his medical education and entered Northeastern University’s Physician Assistant program, becoming certified in 1984. Several significant events in the annals of wilderness medicine occurred in the mid 1980s. SOLO created the Wilderness First Responder program, which seemed a logical step after having designed the Wilderness EMT program, and collaborated with a newly formed organization, Wilderness Medical Associates (WMA) to offer this brand new course at an Outward Bound site. Two students in this first class soon joined the small SOLO staff and spent the next few years learning wilderness medicine and teaching SOLO programs around the country. Expressing a desire to establish a base in the West, they left with SOLO’s blessing and established a base in Colorado to provide SOLO training to SOLO’s already established western sponsors. Soon, this “SOLO West” venture became the Wilderness Medicine Institute (WMI). Until being acquired by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), WMI offered SOLO certifications.
During this time, SOLO founded the Wilderness Medicine Newsletter, and the staff published articles in that and other major EMS journals. Lee left her teaching career to take over the role of SOLO’s director when Frank went off to the New England College of Osteopathic Medicine to become a physician. In 1988, SOLO staff helped develop wilderness medicine clinical guidelines through the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) Wilderness Medical Task Group. These guidelines were later adopted by the National Association of EMS Physicians. At this same time, SOLO was featured in a Turner Broadcasting Systems program on New Hampshire. 1990 was another busy year, highlighted by publication of the first edition of Medicine for the Backcountry by Frank Hubbell and Buck Tilton.
As if all that wasn’t enough, Frank graduated from medical school in 1991 with several academic awards and “Graduate with Distinction” honors. Shortly after graduation, Frank was appointed to a position on New Hampshire’s Medical Control Board; a position he continues to hold today.
In the mid-90s, SOLO bought and rebuilt an apartment house adjacent to the campus. The revamped building became Toad Hall, a 30-person dormitory named from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. The school also began formal outdoor leadership training with the inaugural Advanced Leadership and Emergency Care (ALEC) class. Our reputation and popularity caught the attention of the PBS television series Trailside, which featured a segment filmed at the Tasker Hill campus. Accreditation from the University System of New Hampshire was sought in 1996, and a committee from the system reviewed SOLO programs and approved credits for students enrolled in the College of Lifelong Learning (now Granite State College). SOLO continued to be represented at important conferences, including those for the Association for Experiential Education, Northern New Hampshire EMS, the Wilderness Risk Managers, and many others. SOLO was accredited to offer continuing education through the Continuing Education Coordinating Board for Emergency Medical Services (CECBEMS) for the Wilderness EMT Module. In 1998, SOLO was featured in the Encyclopedia Britannica’s Health and Medicine supplement, and in 1999, we were the focus of a Time Magazine column on Wilderness 911.
The New Millenium
The year 2000 saw SOLO’s wilderness medical protocols reviewed and formally adopted by the State of NH and the awarding of undergraduate credit for many of SOLO’s programs through Vermont’s Sterling College. In addition, several schools joined the growing number of colleges offering SOLO programs on a semester basis. 2001 marked SOLO’s official 25th anniversary and the undertaking of the development of the CARE program with the State of New Hampshire. Twelve, one-day seminars for fire, rescue, and law enforcement personnel were delivered by SOLO during 2002.
Throughout 2002, SOLO focused much energy on establishing TMC Books, and before the end of the year, their first publication, Merlin and the Black Star, was out. In early 2003, TMC published An Ice Climber’s Guide to Northern New England soon to be followed by SOLO’s Field Guide to Wilderness First Aid and Whitehorse Ledge Rock Climbing Topo Map. Several more colleges offered SOLO semester programs, and the number is still growing. Highlights of 2004, included SOLO’s providing first aid training for the staff and crew of PBS’s Colonial House; SOLO’s WEMT course receiving licensure from the State of New Hampshire’s Postsecondary School Commission; Frank Hubbell being the recipient of NH’s prestigious David J. Connor EMS Appreciation Award in recognition of his long-term dedication to NH’s Emergency Medical Services; and SOLO’s being honored with the “Educator of the Year” award at the Northern New Hampshire’s EMS Conference.
The release of TMC Books’ lavishly illustrated book, Treehouse Chronicles, was a highpoint of 2005. The book was widely praised for its literary and artistic merit, was called one of the “Best Outdoor Books of 2005” by the chairman of the National Outdoor Book Awards, and went on to win five national book awards. The Wilderness Medicine Newsletter (WMN) continued to grow, both in size and distribution, as people responded to the new online format—which made the WMN available anywhere in the world at the click of a mouse. Before year’s end, an exciting new set of courses was launched including T/E/A/M (Travel/Ecotourism/Adventure Travel/Medicine—now grouped under International Medicine), and a faith-based Missionary Medicine program. The January issue of Outside Magazine gave the nod to SOLO courses in an article entitled “50 Ways to Live Large” as one of the 50 things from around the world that you need to do before you die, and AMC Outdoors featured a piece on the SOLO WFR program in their November 2005 issue.
Repairs and renovations on the campus were our main focus throughout 2006. A new multi-function classroom, replacing the Kaila Hall deck, was the most noticeable project. TMC continued to garner awards for their book, Treehouse Chronicles, bringing the total to eight, and by the end of the year TMC had published the full set of NH State EMS Protocols.
One of the most exciting developments in recent SOLO history occurred in 2007 with the formalization of a partnership between Nantahala Outdoor Center, the premier whitewater facility in the US, and SOLO. NOC established a SOLO Southeast base with a separate office dedicated to SOLO Wilderness Medical courses. Like other SOLO centers which include San Juan EMS in the Northwest and CAMRA in the Southwest, NOC has helped continue SOLO’s strong presence in the South as it develops new sponsors throughout the region. 2008 was a year of course growth and TMC’s publication of Brian Walsh’s “Boys Should Be Boys.” SOLO was present at a number of regional and national conferences and entered into our second year of providing programs in several African countries. Also, Lee was honored with the Northern New Hampshire Emergency Medical Services Council’s Leadership award acknowledging her 30 year of service in EMS education.
After many, many years of a leaky Main Building roof and many, many attempts to patch said roof, the summer of 2009, on record as one of the wettest in NH history, was the impetus that caused the roof to finally be replaced! The new roof, which, unfortunately, had to be constructed during a WEMT course, has proven to be watertight. We appreciated the students’ forbearance with the project. Another major building project involved filling in the “pit,” creating a continous surface on the first floor. More on that in another section. The big focus in 2010 has been SOLO’s commitment to and ongoing work with Haitian relief with weekly teams going out and one instructor on the ground for almost 2 months coordinating efforts.
Thirty years after the official founding of SOLO, interest in wilderness medicine training is still growing. Eight, month-long WEMT courses are offered on our campus annually along with several dozen other programs. Since SOLO has been a licensed NH rescue unit for years, our staff and students continue to volunteer on backcountry search and rescue missions in the White Mountains. SOLO courses are increasingly offered in the West as new sites for ongoing SOLO training are being developed. Strategic partnerships with the San Juan Islands, WA, EMS, Central Arizona Mountain Rescue Association, Learn Outdoors, also in Arizona, Apex in Colorado, and Aspen Education Group have resulted in SOLO training being available on a regular basis. SOLO instructors can now be found in most western states. From a gathering in a living room over a quarter century ago, SOLO has grown into a large, diverse organization: a leader not only in medicine, but also in education and standards as well. From basic first aid—still the foundation of SOLO’s purpose—we now find instructors teaching around the country as well as internationally, reaching outdoor users, trip leaders, expeditioners, disaster relief workers, missionaries, and physicians. By the end of 2006, over 110,000 people had taken a SOLO class.