Monday, August 17, 2009

Mountaineering Deaths Summer of 2009

This was a pretty devastating summer for mountaineers and I'm not talking about people dying on Mt. Hood wearing jeans. First Pakistan: A very experienced skier died on K2 while skiing down from camp 2. Anyone with the experience to attempt skiing K2 or even climbing it has to be experienced. Next on Nanga Parbat a very experienced woman died with I think 11 8000 meter summits while she was descending. I believe a HAP also died on the same day. The fouth victim of the summer was on Broad Peak and she had four or five 8000 meter summits. Then most recently a Spanish mountaineer died on Latok II, which is not a walk up mountain. I believe him and his partner were trying to put up a first ascent. Elsewhere in Asia the season killed a number of other experienced people. Three American mountaineers died in an avalanche in China. I think they were trying to put up a first ascent. A very experienced Polish mountaineer died falling into a crevasse in Nepal. In the US a very experienced American rock climber died while free soloing in California and another very experienced climber died in Washington state just recently. In Europe Ricardo Cassin, a famous mountaineer, died at the age of 100 which doesn't sting as much as the people in their 20s and 30s that died this summer but none the less it's one less person that understands us.

I didn't know any of these people personally but I had heard of several of them. These were not weekend warriors these were people who climbed during the week and pushed the sport. There are things to learn from every accident but the major trend as I see it is that one mistake is enough. Just one mistake.

When I started climbing I was told of the risk and severity box. There are two perpendicular lines one with the label risk from high to low that something will go wrong and the other the severity of a accident from bearable to deadly. Everyone has to decide where they fit within the box. In high altitude mountaineering the chance that you will have some sort of accident is maybe only a few percent but for the most part if something goes wrong it goes really wrong. Free soloing is an extreme example. Once you're above 30 feet off the ground a fall = death. While you're hiking the Appalachian Trail the chance that you're going to hurt yourself is low and the consequences are a sprained ankle. Everyone has to decide their acceptable level of risk and you should not let anyone make the decision for you. This sport is definitely not for everyone.

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