Wilderness falls: an analysis and comparison of rock climbers and nonclimbers

Matthew Bernard, Raymond Wright, Hannah Anderson, Andrew Bernard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: Wilderness travel and rock climbing are increasingly popular. Urban falls from height have been reported from trauma centers; however, there have been no trauma center reports of rock climbing or wilderness falls (WFs) in the United States. We sought to describe the injury pattern of WF and to determine whether rock climbers represent a distinct pattern of injury. Materials and methods: The trauma database from our level 1 trauma center was queried from 1/1/06 to 12/31/16 for the diagnosis of “fall from cliff” (ICD9: e884.1, ICD10: w15.xx). Demographics, injury characteristics, and trauma center care were analyzed. Data were analyzed using two sample unequal variance T-tests, two sample Z-tests for proportions, and Fisher's exact tests. Results: One hundred fifty-one falls were analyzed (40 climbers, 111 nonclimbers). WF victims were predominantly male (79%), moderately injured (mean injury severity score = 13.2), frequently intoxicated (34%), and fell from an average of 43 feet (7-200 ft). The most frequent injures were soft tissue (55%), spine (50%), head (43%), lower extremity (38%), and chest (39%). Climbers were younger, more often sustained upper extremity and soft tissue injuries, more often flown from the scene, injured during daytime, and were better insured. Helmet use was rare (one climber and one nonclimber). There were 3 (2%) deaths, including one climber. Conclusions: WFs have a distinct injury pattern and demographic and occur from a height greater than twice those reported in urban falls. Rock climbing falls involve another distinct demographic and pattern of injury. Injury prevention strategies may include helmet use and avoiding nighttime wilderness travel and drug/alcohol use.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-154
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Surgical Research
StatePublished - Feb 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Elsevier Inc.


  • Cliff
  • Climbing
  • Hiking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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