Sports Medicine Specialist Discusses Ice Climbing

Posted by on Sep 28, 2016

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Volker Schoeffl climbing in Laos (source: Tanya Weidner/Green Climbers Home)

Volker Schoeffl climbing in Laos (source: Tanya Weidner/Green Climbers Home)

Volker Schoeffl, a physician and professor in Bamberg, Germany, is a leading specialist on sports medicine, with particular emphasis on climbing. He works in both Germany. He is the physician of the German national climbing team, and also serves on the medical commissions of the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation  and the International Federation of Sport Climbing.  He is an accomplished climber himself, having completed the first ascent of the south face of Batu Lawi in Sarawak, Indonesia, and having climbed more recently in Laos.

GlacierHub recently interviewed Schoeffl about his research.

Ice climbing in the Canadian Rockies (source: Pazit Polak/Flicker)

Ice climbing in the Canadian Rockies (source: Pazit Polak/Flicker)

GH: In a recent publication on extreme sports, you discussed ice climbing, and stated “Most of the acute injuries (73.4%) happened in an icefall climbing, a smaller number on glacier ice walls (11.4%), and the least on artificial ice walls (2.5%).”  Do you think that this low proportion of injuries on glaciers is due to a lower rate of injuries per hour for this activity, or to the fact that people climb more often on icefalls than they do on glacier ice walls or artificial ice walls?

VS: I would say that the latter reason is the important one. Fewer people climb on glacier ice walls and on artificial ice walls than they do on icefalls.

 

Ice climbing in the Colorado Rockiers (source: John Fowler/Flickr)

Ice climbing in the Colorado Rockies (source: John Fowler/Flickr)

GH: In this publication, you also state, “The overall injury rate [in ice climbing] published in the literature is comparable with other outdoor sports (2.87-4.07 injuries/1000 hrs, with most injuries of minor severity.” Do you think people perceive ice climbing as more dangerous than rock climbing?

VS: I personally still think that ice climbing is riskier than rock climbing. However, the study did not definitively prove that. Further evidence must be collected before we can reach firm conclusions.  We do know that there are very different risk profiles in different kinds of climbing. For example, indoor climbing lacks certain external objective dangers, such as rockfalls, which are much more common in ice climbing and traditional rock climbing.

 

Volker Schoffl climbing indoors in Europe (source: Enrico Haase/Outdoor Sports Team)

Volker Schoffl climbing indoors in Europe (source: Enrico Haase/Outdoor Sports Team)

GH: Do you have any thoughts or information on accidents and injuries that are related specifically to glaciers, such as falling into crevasses?

VS: I cannot comment on this topic, because data are not available.

 

GH: What advice would you give to ice climbers?

VS: I would give the advice that they most likely already know. Be extra cautious, because falling is not an option! Be sure to consider external hazards, such as icefalls and avalanches. And remember that not only ascents are risky; descents are dangerous as well.

Readers who would like to learn more about Dr. Schoeffl’s research and to hear his advice can read his book, One Move Too Many: How to Understand the Injuries and Overuse Syndromes of Rock Climbing. First published in 2033, the third edition of the book, with extensive new material, was published earlier this year.

Landscape in the Bavarian Alps (source: German Alpine Club)

Landscape in the Bavarian Alps (source: German Alpine Club)

Interested readers can also participate in a sports medicine clinic which he is co-organizing in Bamberg, Germany from June 22 to 25, 2017, which addresses climbing, as well as running. It includes sessions on training and on injury prevention, as well as on diagnosis and treatment of injuries. This event is sponsored by the German Alpine Club, the Bavarian Sports Medicine Association, and Bamberg Social Foundation. The program and registration forms are available here.

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