Mountain Medicine - the future

Posted by Dr David Hillebrandt on 01/07/2014
Bolzano, host to the tenth ISMM World Congress. Photo: Dr David Hillebrandt.

BMC Honorary Medical Advisor Dr David Hillebrandt reports on the largest gathering of mountain medicine experts in the world, held in Bolzano, Italy in late May.

The concept of 500 mountaineering doctors, physiologists and mountain rescuers meeting for a full week in the shadow of the Dolomites may sound over technical for most climbers but the Tenth World Congress on High Altitude Medicine and Physiology and Mountain Emergency Medicine organised by the International Society of Mountain Medicine (ISMM) was a mega fun gathering with a lot of hard-core research but an associated buzzing social scene.

This was the largest gathering of the great and the good, the bad and the ugly of the international mountain medicine world. Of the 500 delegates over 35 came from the UK but over 30 nations were represented with delegations from China, Japan, Nepal, America from Alaska to Chile and at last representatives from the African continent. The conference ran from 25-31 May at the European Academy (EURAC) in Bolzano, Italy but many delegates arrived early or stayed on to enjoy the local crags and mountains.

The first couple of days were highly physiological with the most up to date research on performance at altitude and most emphasis at the cellular and sub-cellular level. Over the next few years we can expect these concepts to be translated into lessons relevant to the active climber and mountaineer. The conference then gradually morphed into more practical concepts related to both altitude and sport climbing and mountain trauma and rescue, including avalanche burial and hypothermia.

Delegate’s accommodation varied from free camping provided by outdoor equipment manufacturer Salewa at their factory and climbing wall on the edge of town to five-star hotels but every night the town was thronged with delegates sharing ideas over beers in bars and cafes and restaurants. On one evening many made their way up to “Messner’s Castle” overlooking the city to peruse his museum and centre of mountain culture followed by a pleasantly informal but very memorable talk by both Reinhold and Dr Oswald Oltz on climbing Everest without oxygen.

The UK punches well above its weight in the mountain medicine field and some excellent papers were presented by UK research teams, but as always, it is the chats between presentations that bear the real fruits of any conference in terms of new friends made and plans for future climbs with or without a research element.

About the ISMM World Congress

The World Congress on High Altitude Medicine and Physiology is an initiative of the ISMM to share knowledge and competence in the broad field of mountain medicine including high altitude physiology and pathophysiology, high altitude illness, cold injuries, hypothermia, trauma and rescue between scientists, doctors, paramedics and mountaineering professionals. It provides a unique opportunity for mountain medicine national organisations and rescue organisations to share their knowledge and experience in the field. 

Congresses have been held approximately every two years since 1986 in mountainous regions around the globe, including La Pace in Peru, Matzumoto in Japan, Arica in Chile, Arequipa in Peru, Xining and Lhasa in China/Tibet, and Taipei, Taiwan. The 2014 congress was its first visit to the European Alps.



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