Dr Peter Hedley-Smith / Wine Journalist and Student / Cape Town, South Africa
Wild Medix is a wilderness, tactical, urban first aid and rescue training company based in South Africa. They offer a variety of courses in South Africa and Kenya with medical training alongside practical skills in canyoneering, wilderness and mountains. The Mt Kenya expedition course combines the expedition experience with the practical skills of wilderness and mountain medicine.
What? A practical mountain medicine expedition to Mount Kenya. Includes learning rope skills, navigation and basic glacier travel skills.
When? Usually September but due to Covid-19 pandemic interruptions the next course is 13-25 March 2022.
Where? Mainly Mt Kenya but there are plans to include the Rwenzori Mountains.
How much? The cost for a medic is USD 4250/3500/2800 per person for International/African/Kenyan citizens respectfully. The trek or climb-only option expedition fee (for a non-medic) is USD 3350/2340/1800. This includes transport from Nairobi to Mt Kenya and back, local accommodation and all meals from dinner on the evening of arrival until the course dinner on the final day before departure. It also includes all park fees, guide and porter fees on Mt Kenya. The two prescribed textbooks (Oxford Handbook of Wilderness and Expedition Medicine & Andrew Friedemann’s ‘Navigation Anyplace Wild’) are also provided. It does not include flights to and from Kenya, any covid screening costs, soft drinks/alcoholic drinks or tips for the porters and guides (recommended to budget $100-$300USD for tips for local mountain team).
Pre-requisites: Reasonable hiking fitness. You need to be able to carry a daypack and hike 4-8hrs per day over uneven terrain at altitude. If you are aiming to join the climbing team for the more advanced optional technical peaks then it is best to discuss with the trip organisers. You need the ability to comfortably climb VS (5.6) in mountain boots carrying a pack comfortably with full day multi-pitch climb and to be able to safely belay and abseil.
Qualification/Accreditation: Certificate of course completion: Wild Medix Mountain Medicine Expedition. Accredited with the Wilderness Medical Society (WMS) for credits (approx 40) towards the Fellowship of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine (FAWM)
Instructors: Ross Hofmeyr – Assistant Professor of Anaesthesia, University of Cape Town. Consultant Anaesthetist, Airway Lead. Experienced Expedition Medic including overwintering in Antarctica. Director and founder of Wild Medix. Avid researcher. Robyn Johnston – Anaesthetic Trainee with a background in Emergency Medicine and Expedition Medicine with experience on high altitude climbing trips, remote scientific sites and remote film work for Nat Geo. Julian Wright – Mountain Guide with African Ascents. He is an experienced climber and technical mountain climbing guide. He is also a member of and helps provide technical rescue training for the local Mt Kenya mountain rescue team.
Course website: https://www.facebook.com/events/950060085919951
I am a doctor albeit of Entomology and not Medicine. It was through adventure friends in the Cape Town Mountain Rescue team, South Africa, that I learned about the September 2018 Wild Medix Expedition to Mount Kenya. Ross Hofmeyr, Expedition Leader & Doctor as well as Wild Medix Founder and Medical Director – see https://www.wildmedix.com/ for more details – accepted me onto the expedition. I found myself as the only non-medic in the party, besides Hofmeyr senior.
The expedition aim – well, mine at least – was to climb the highest Mount Kenya peak (Batian at 5,199m) and to summit the ‘trekker’s peak’ of Point Lenana (4,985m). Oh, and there was some serious and relevant mountain and high-altitude medicine learning for my doctor colleagues. Throughout, we were ably supported by Julian Wright from African Ascents, a trekking company based in Nanyuki, a town in central Kenya and the gateway for Mount Kenya. Julian and his smiling porters, human ants who seemed oblivious to the effects of pack weight or altitude, could not have looked after us better. They were the last to leave in the morning and the first to arrive at afternoon end, with tents ready and a hot drink. The food was nourishing and plentiful, provided in a communal mess tent that even had a wood-burning stove that was carried by the porters.
Let us get costs out of the way here … The expedition fee for me, a non-doctor, was R30,000 which is equivalent to circa USD 2,200, Euro 1,800 or £ 1,600, amounting to around a 25% discount on the full doctor fee. That was not the total cost, of course, as flights to/from Nairobi, visas, personal gear and equipment, sundries and own spending also needed to be covered. I chose, for example, to extend my trip to include a week in Nairobi afterwards. Nonetheless, the fee included one night’s before/after accommodation, transfers to/from the airport, the return trip to Nanyuki for the expedition start, porter fees, as well as all camping accommodation and meals. This was a highly competitive rate.
Most of the party were mountaineers and climbers, fit, and already known to each other, and so there was relatively little pre-training for those going. This included a couple of days in the mountains to practice some basic safety and rope techniques as well as to get to know each other. The climbers in the party (myself excluded, as my aim was the trekker’s peak only) did some extra sessions.
The obvious benefit and strength of learning through the Wild Medix expedition was the practical nature of the experience. We all suffered the effects of altitude and displayed mountain sickness symptoms in different ways. This was no theory in the lecture theatre. Mount Kenya was our classroom. Mountain sickness is not to be lightly treated: it kills. Fortunately, improvement is straightforward following rapid descent. Safety is paramount, albeit not without risk. For this reason, the selected route was chosen to allow gradual accent for best acclimatisation (unlike the rapid and dangerous ascents so commonly seen on Mount Kilimanjaro). We checked our pulse rate and blood oxygen saturation each morning and night using a fingertip pulse oximeter. My doctor colleagues came with much more advanced medicines and equipment that became increasingly used – for our porters too – as we ascended. There was always room for a second medical opinion!
Two members of our team suffered serious altitude sickness. I saw the immense skill and care of the doctors around me, and how professionally they responded. Deterioration can be rapid so the decision was made to escort my two colleagues quickly down the mountain to safety. It was early evening and dark but there was no option other than a fast descent. I was impressed how our mountain rescue skills, together with those of Julian and his porters, kicked in. The team were gone in half an hour and needed to. One more night would have had serious implications and was potentially life-threatening. Ten days later, when we reunited at the end of the hike, they were suffering still.
Along the way, quite literally, I was privileged to assist with the daily exercises, evening lectures and training. I was always happy to be the patient, whether rescue or a medical scenario, and made things as realistic as I could. My doctor colleagues gained around 40 credits for the Wilderness Medical Society Fellowship of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine.
In sum, the Wild Medix expedition to Mount Kenya was the experience of a lifetime and completely unforgettable. The trip was very well managed throughout by Wild Medix. I was hugely impressed too by African Ascents. I thoroughly recommend both companies and Wild Medix in particular. I have made friendships that remain as well as gained a better personal understanding of the effects of altitude. I summited Mount Kenya too.