Crested Butte Outdoors - Wilderness Medicine & Backcountry Specialits
(970) 596-2999
CBO Gives Back

Crested Butte Outdoors Gives Back

Wilderness Medicine as a Second Language School (WMSL)

 A nonprofit organization founded by Crested Butte Outdoors International

Our goal is to provide free wilderness and high-altitude medicine education to indigenous peoples working in remote and dangerous conditions.

Is your hired help medically trained?

FACT--Altitude sickness kills.

According to Peter Hackett, M.D, the world’s authority on high altitude sickness, Mount Kilimanjaro at 19,430' is not the highest peak in the world, but it is one of the most dangerous peaks in the world for tourists to climb. Porters, clients and even African guides die on the mountain yearly due to Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) . All of the deaths from AMS could be avoided if the guides knew what to look for.


Those so called “trained” guides we hire to take us to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro's 19,000 ' summit have no idea how to recognize or treat the sudden onset of AMS. Often, young, strong men who live in the jungle at 3,000' are hired to escort clients or carry loads toward the top of the Kilimanjaro as a way to earn an income. They soon find themselves cold, ill-equiped, untrained and hiking in the dark in sub-zero temperatures. Their salary depends on dragging  thier sick clients and thier co-workers toward the top at any cost. These are the guides we trust to keep us safe. Some years as many as five deaths occur due to AMS. Deaths could be avoided and lives could be saved if only the guides were trained to recognize the early signs and symptoms of AMS or the more serious aliments called high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) and high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE). 

DISCOVERY- Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa

In 2002,Crested Butte Outdoor International's founder, Susan Purvis was asked  to teach a private high-altitude medical course to 20 African guides working on Mt Kilimanjaro. A few months later, CBO traveled to Moshi, Tanzania and launched the first custom high-altitude medical training course (find story under news and media). Eleven days hiking to the top of Kili with 14 clients and 60 porters and guides gave Susan opportunity to observe and formulate a plan on how she would tackle the problem of the language barrier--Swahili and English. Other challeges she faced was the simplest one: How was she going to get this normally shy culture to talk about eating and drinking and peeing and pooping, all important subjects to talk about when spending extended periods of time with clients. Following the trek,  Susan successfully taught a six day medical course with an emphasis on AMS prevention and treatment. 

Seven months later, Susan returned to Kili to teach the second high-altitude course for  new and returning students. This time she returned with texts and a top-notch powerpoint presentations. Wilderness Medical Associates and Marmot endorsed  her efforts. Despite the language barrier and the guides lack of general education (some had only been schooled to the age of 11), she found the majority of the students had retained the vital information necessary to prevent and recognize a medical emergency. Her custom high-altitude medical training course and curriculum has paid off. Students not only have the skills to recognize and prevent high-altitude sickness,they are protecting themselves and their clients. This course has set medical standards for other outfitters guiding on Mt. Kilimanjaro.


NEPAL 2005 and 29,000 feet

The friendships and course success in Africa naturally led her to another part of the world that needed her expertise—the Sherpa people living under the shadows of Mount Everest .

In 2005, Susan brought her WMSL school to the Khumbu region of Nepal for 22 Sherpa guides who regularly risk their lives guiding and carrying gear towards the 29,035 ft. summit of Mt. Everest.  Susan teamed up with world record holder Apa Sherpa (21 summits of Mt. Everest), Dr. Kami Temba, director of the local Khunde Hospital, and sponsor Roger Kehr. The course proved successful as young Sherpa guides, both men and woman started educating travelers and thier clients about the signs and symptoms of AMS. 

The need and demand for another course was so great that one year later, Susan recruited the expertise of other medical practioneers and the second annual course trained 20 new and returning students. Students learned how to manage not onlyhigh altitude medical emergencies, but hypothermia, diarrhea, frostbite, rescue consideration, radio use and common medical problems.

In 2008, Susan teamed up with the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation and the Khumbu Ice Climbing School along with fellow educators Dr. Luanne Freer, Kristen Peterson P.A., and Birgen Knoff, R.N. to teach the third annual WMSL School to 24 of the brightest Sherpa Guides.  The Local students for the 2008 school were hand-picked by the Khumbu Ice Climbing School instructors based on their achievements and skill demonstrated in last year’s climbing school.  To read more about the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation log onto With all the continued support the WMSL School is growing fast and now has permanent roots in the Khumbu Valley.




The school's goal is to provide free education to the Sherpa people working at high altitudes about wilderness and altitude medicine. WMSL is the first comprehensive high altitude medical program designed to address problems associated with Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). AMS can kill anyone including native guides, porters, and even the fittest climbing client. If one of our WMSL students can save a life by recognizing AMS then we have done our job. All of our courses are taught in the guides’ homeland.

Help us reach our Goal.  For the 2012 season, the WMSL School needs to raise $10,000.00 to provide this valuable medical course to 24 new Sherpa guides.

Whether you trek to Mt. Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, or Mt. Everest-- wouldn’t you like to know your guide is medically trained? By supporting  WMSL you can send a guide to school. WMSL is seeking partners and sponsorship to help defray the considerable cost of the WMSL program.

There are several ways you can contribute to the WMSL Program.  They include direct tax deductible donations, gear, and equipment support.

All proceeds will go to the following expenses.

Renew outdated and worn medical equipment
Money needed to rent teaching facility
Purchase teaching material and books for students
Develop WMSL textbooks and field guides
Travel expenses for instructors to teach the course
Provide warm clothing and gear for students

Please send your donations to:
Wilderness Medicine as a Second Language
PO BOX 5533
Whitefish, MT 59937 

or call us at 970-596-2999 or e mail us at


Susan Purvis, Founder and President

©1997-2018 Crested Butte Outdoors, LLC

P.O. Box 5533
Whitefish, Montana 59937

(970) 596-2999

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