6 Essential Tips for Mountain Medicine

25 August 2023

Jim Walmsley

Jim Walmsley – Specialist Paramedic in Critical Care

Jim has spent the last nineteen years specialising in pre-hospital care and obtained his carnet as an International Mountain Leader in 2001. 

When leading climbing expeditions through mountainous terrain, ensuring the health and safety of your team is a top priority. 

Proper preparation and planning for potential medical issues before departure can prevent minor problems from ballooning into major crises on the trail. 

With this in mind, here are some key tips for stocking medical kits and addressing health concerns when guiding in the mountains:

1.Biggest hitter for medical unrest is GI dysfunction (followed by AMS and MSK issues)

Having an ability to ensure you and your clients have a ready supply of useful remedies (e.g., think softeners/ hardeners) for good bowel health can literally save an expedition.

2.Common things happen…well commonly

Blisters are obvious. Good shared knowledge on how to avoid it, can be key to a happy body/ team. Improvising and using easy to carry items such as ‘duct’ (gaffer) tape which can be applied to walking poles prior to when required, can stop or even anticipate such ailments.

3.Broaden your knowledge & skill-set as much as possible

Work with other specialists to learn how to assess, manage and extricate clients who might require specific care. However, don’t go it alone wherever possible– seek/ have ready the ability to contact ‘top cover’ in order to share a decision or to seek specialist review.

4.Look for ‘swiss-army knife’ solutions when it comes to kit/medicines

Drugs that have multiple uses, i.e., aspirin, cyclizine, adrenaline (epinephrine), and codeine have multiple indications as well as additional multi-modal benefits in prevention from medical signs/ symptoms. Access to apps like the BNF foster good practice and will not need internet access.

5.Moving drugs around the globe can cause unnecessary delays

Having multiple copies of signed prescriptions, laminated and in the various languages of the countries you anticipate to transit through. Use the same technique for medical kit bag inventories, which might just stop the opening/ re-opening of kit bags as you go through border after border.

6.Don’t improvise when you don’t need to

For a lot of planned expeditions, medicine will have gone before you. What can you glean from previous mountaineers? Go to organisations such as: Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, Royal Geographical Society, British Mountaineering Council for downloads, medical provision, guidance.

Remember, hands-on training is the best preparation for mountain medicine. Our extreme medicine courses provide a number of opportunities for you to learn through expert instruction and case simulations. Here’s where you can join to learn more:

Other expedition medicine blogs that may be of interest, include:

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