Imo Young/ Final Year Medical Student/ Cardiff University
This Wilderness medicine course is run by Unique Expeditions. An organisation forged from a union of military, medicine, and survival skills professionals; with over 40 years experience traveling through earth’s most inhospitable environments. Whether it’s jungles or mountains, arctic or desert, Unique Expeditions provide teaching and experiences for adventurous souls.
Duration: Three days (Friday to Sunday)
Dates: The Cairngorms Mountain Medicine Course runs twice yearly in January when the snow is on the upper slopes.
Location: Aviemore, Cairngorms Mountain Range National Park, Scotland, UK.
Cost: £300 self-catered. Amazing accommodation with large, shared dorms, hot showers, communal areas and a drying room provided.
Qualification/ Accreditation: Wilderness First Responder (Level 3), HSE Remote First Aid at Work
The course was taught by a range of healthcare and rescue professionals (including Doctors, Paramedics, Expedition Leaders, and Mountain Rescue members). The course specialised in high-altitude and mountainous environment medicine.
- Primary survey and common altitude conditions (for example: frostbite, hypothermia and snow blindness)
- Camp craft
- Testing out kit needed for high altitude and polar environments*
- Avalanche training, including locating a casualty, using a tracker, and how to safely remove the casualty*
- Casualty handling, carries and evacuation, including radio communication
- Rope skills and handling
- Ice axe and crampon use*
- Navigation, map reading and using a compass*
I arrived in the nearby town of Aviemore the night before and was awestruck by the beauty of the Cairngorms. The mountains were still capped with snow and the scenery was incredible. I had hitched a lift with another of the group, having found each other through the Unique Expeditions networking forum, available to those attending the course.
The next morning, we made our way to the Youth Hostel where we met the rest of the group and our instructors. We were predominantly medical students from around the UK, but also paramedic students and junior doctors. The course was based in a local youth hostel with a choice of accommodation at the youth hostel or camping. The youth hostel had a fully functioning and equipped kitchen that allowed us to cook, even for those of us who were camping in the nearby forest. Access to the youth hostel meant we had other luxuries, such as a shower, a proper toilet, and a place to store our kit. The rooms were between 4-8 people in bunk beds, with shared bathrooms. On the first night, we had some downtime, and watched a movie in one of the cosier rooms. The rooms were large enough that we could all comfortably fit in them for either mealtimes or a bit of teaching.
The course started with an introduction to high-altitude and mountainous environments, including what you can expect as an expedition medic and expedition leader. There was an opportunity to try on some of the gear that you need on those types of trips, this was an exciting introduction to the weekend ahead.
The course was largely small-group scenario-based teaching. The roles of expedition medic, expedition leader, communications expert, competent helper, and incompetent helper (which isn’t as easy as it sounds!) were divided up within the team. This allowed everyone to practise the skills that are taught throughout the trip. We were provided with medical and survival equipment to assist us to complete the scenarios. An instructor was assigned to each group, allowing the opportunity for debriefs and informal lectures.
Each day, we headed to nearby peaks (Meall a ‘ Bhuachaillie and Coire Cas). The walks were jam-packed with educational opportunities, including a pitstop tour of navigation, communications, rope-work, casualty evacuation and handling, avalanche training, as well as the myriad of scenarios which kept us all entertained and ready for more. We were taught the best way to manoeuvre around the tricky mountainous environment using ice axes and crampons. The evenings were filled with games and festivities.
This course not only prepares you for being an expedition medic but also provides an abundance of tips for tackling the harsh environment. It teaches the essential qualities that make up a good team and encourages the leadership characteristics of everyone who goes on the course. Due to the structure, you get thrown in, most likely out of your comfort zone, but often find yourself capable.
The instructors are the people who make this course stand out for me among the others. Their passion and love for expedition medicine, as well as their knowledge, is beyond impressive. My favourite part of the course was accessing this knowledge. During the scenarios, they provide valuable teaching and real-life experiences for when this has applied to them. They were very happy to answer a bombardment of questions throughout the weekend about their careers, the expeditions they’ve been on, and endless tips. I only wish the course could have been longer!
I’ve done a Unique Expedition trip in the past, and before attending I was concerned that this might be a very similar trip, but the way the course ran made it a completely different experience. It’s a much shorter course, each day feels action-packed, and with a mountain focus.
If I could do this course 1000 times over and would learn something new every time. The atmosphere that the team created gave a massive base for education. In the short three days, I formed strong friendships with the rest of the group. It’s a jam-packed course that left me feeling buzzed and inspired for the future. The Cairngorms is such a beautiful area and I would recommend trying to book a few days on either side. I would loved to have stayed longer and explored more of the mountains.
Photo courtesy of Imo Young.
To find out more about Unique Expeditions courses see the Unique Expeditions website.