Courses — 1 March 2022 at 3:56 pm

WMT Morocco Mountain Medicine Course Review 2021

Dr Chris Grieco / Foundation Year 2 Doctor / Taunton, Somerset

Wilderness Medical Training (WMT) has provided medical training for expedition laypeople and medics alike for 30 years, and has held its Mountain Medicine Expedition course in Morocco for nearly 20 years. Morocco is a favourite destination of founder, Barry Roberts, due to the ease of access from the UK, the local culture and opportunity for mountain training in the Atlas mountains. The 2021 edition was the first trip abroad for WMT in the best part of two COVID-ridden years. The main course venue, Kasbah du Toubkal, sits below Mount Toubkal 4167 m and is just a 90 minute drive from Marrakech airport. The 2021 course was led by Barry and WMT‘s Medical Director, Dr Duncan Gray, who combined, have over 60 years of mountaineering and expedition experience.

Key Facts

Duration: A six night exotic, educational and challenging trip packed with medical tuition and practical mountain skills training

Dates: Late September (next course date: Monday 26 September – Sunday 2 October 2022)

Location: Imlil, Morocco

Cost: £1195

Qualification/Accreditation: Course certificate worth 20-30 hours CPD

Delegates: 10-20 non-medics and medics welcome

Prerequisites: Reasonable physical fitness level (able to hike up to 4167m, Mt Toubkal)

The Course

For many of us this was the first time travelling abroad since lockdown restrictions and border constraints had been eased. It felt like a dream to be able to travel again. Despite the added bureaucracy of vaccine passports and multiple separate COVID tests to arrange, we all made it to Marrakech from the UK and met with the course leaders at the airport.

We were whisked off to the Kasbah on a minibus and were out of the sweltering 30°C heat of the capital and in the idyllic mountain village of Imlil in no time at all. We hiked up from the main village to the doors of the Kasbah, accompanied by the kind local donkeys carrying our main luggage . What a sight to behold, our home for the next three nights.

“Dreams are only the plans of the reasonable“

Kasbah du Toubkal is the realised dream of two brothers, Chris and Mike McHugo. Two British men who, with the help of the local Berber (mountain) people, completed their plan to transform the former ruins into a paradise of sustainable tourism between 1989 and 1997. Mike greeted us on arrival with delicious dates and mint tea, showing us to the rooftop. Here we caught our first glimpse of the unbelievable panoramic views of the Atlas mountains, including the tallest peak in North Africa, Mount Toubkal.

Inscribed on the wooden rooftop beams were the words “Dreams are only the plans of the reasonable”. This was the McHugo moto which drove on their resilient team to transform Kasbah du Toubkal into the haven it is today.

We got to know each other chatting on the rooftop over a tasty tagine. Our team consisted of a great mix from non-medical adventurers to paramedics and doctors who all shared the ambition of summiting Toubkal; whilst learning about mountain medicine.

Example Course Contents

  • Altitude Illness
  • Heat-related Illness
  • Frostbite – Prevention and Treatment
  • Hypothermia
  • Career stories, inspiration and advice from Barry and Duncan
  • Navigation Skills and GPS basics
  • Expedition Medic Preparation – Kits and Supplies
  • Practical Leadership Scenarios
  • Human Dynamics
  • Rope Skills
  • South-African Abseiling
  • Field Medicine
  • Trauma and Wound Management

We spent the first two days building some of the essential skills listed above through a mix of evening lectures and hikes in the hills surrounding Imlil. During these hikes we acclimatised to the heat and altitude (2000+m), and tested our wilderness medicine skills on trauma and evacuation scenarios as well as and mountain leadership skills by navigating the unfamiliar terrain. Between evening talks, we enjoyed some fantastic local cuisine and the hammam – a Moroccan communal steam room.

The Summit Hike

On the third day we set off from the Kasbah well equipped for a three day out-and-back summit hike. We were split into two small groups working as a team to navigate, with the help of Barry, Duncan and our friendly Moroccan guides Hussein and Said.

We ascended roughly 1300m and 13km. Arriving at the refuge, we were greeted with more mint tea, shown to our spacious dorm room and invited to use the surprisingly hot shower for 20Dh (~£1.60).

We awoke at 5am, before sunrise, to begin our head-torch lit summit hike. As we ascended, the terrain quickly grew steeper and the temperature dropped. Now feeling very grateful for the extra layers we had carried all this way and for our hiking poles as our legs grew tired.

After about four and a half hours of hiking, the sun rose and we reached the summit. We were met by views of valleys and mountains for miles and the stark black metal tower denoting the highest point in North Africa. The journey to the top was seamless, so much so, we thought WMT had even booked in with the Moroccan weather man to have a cloud-free blue-sky day! The breathtaking views were enough to outweigh the fact one’s blood saturations read a mere 77% with a resting heart rate of well over 100bpm after half an hour on the summit! We danced, joked around and soaked in the panoramic view for an hour and then set up an emergency shelter to test how effective they are in such an exposed place.

As the descent began, we skipped down the technical terrain we had clambered up, and after a much needed rest back at the refuge, we headed outside to learn how to South African abseil and relocate a shoulder joint in the field. A demanding, satisfying and very memorable day.

The following lunch-time, we enjoyed an absolutely incredible group meal of lamb tagine with more (you guessed it) mint tea on our return at Kasbah du Toubkal. We were all still elated from the previous day’s summit and most people were grateful to have slept off altitude-related headaches. From the rooftop we were able to take in the beautiful panoramic views of the Atlas mountains and ponder the inscribed inspirational quotes one last time before continuing on to Marrakech for the final group meal, drinks and debrief.

Our city hotel was a stone’s throw from the souk – the main market square. We had time to explore before heading to a rooftop bar to provide feedback and receive our course certificates. It was a great end to a spectacular trip, sharing funny memories and a few beers with a group of truly inspiring people.

The Verdict

The passion and enthusiasm for the great outdoors from this group was clear, and fabulous to be a part of. WMT provided a platform for sharing a variety of expertise and knowledge that could not be found in your everyday life as a healthcare professional. The combined pool of knowledge was from the entire team was so refreshing – from alpine climbing to humanitarianism, novel-writing to foraging – each participant brought something unique to the group. Discussions about future WMT trips and a reunion continue on the Whatsapp group. I think I speak for everyone in saying what a pleasure and privilege it is to be a part of the WMT community.

Top Tips

  • Wear comfortable worn-in footwear – trail shoes (± gaiters) or hiking boots
  • Bring a very spacious daypack – shared group kit e.g. food, ropes and shelters
  • Go early, or stay, to explore Marrakech (or go surfing)
  • Embrace the Hammam
  • Log your CPD and add you certificate to your wilderness CV

To find out more about WMT’s Mountain Medicine Expedition course in Morocco, see WMT’s website.

Dr Chris Grieco at the time of writing is an FY2 Doctor in Taunton, Somerset. When not working as a doctor he leads educational foraging courses. @GriecoDr on twitter and @Tutti.fungi on Instagram.