Data on Climbing Accidents and Fatalities

by Tom Markiewicz on January 12, 2009

From what I consider to be a somewhat morbid website, I was forwarded a link from Obit Magazine (yes, a website all about people dying, I don’t care how they try to spin it) regarding a climbing death at Seneca Rocks, West Virginia last Fall. The author reflects on her death and how other climbers at the scene reacted and handled the incident.

While there’s little learning value to climbers on the accident in the main article (no real details on how it happened and the various factors involved), there’s an intriguing afterword about the relative risks of climbing versus other activities:

The American Alpine Club, in its yearly compendium Accidents in North American Mountaineering, reported 15 fatalities in the United States in all of 2007. The highest tally in the last 57 years, in 1956, was 53. The yearly average was 25.

The British government, comparing the risks of various activities, assembled these statistics:

* Maternal death in pregnancy 1 in 8,200 maternities
* Surgical anesthesia 1 in 185,000 operations
* Hang-gliding 1 in 116,000 flights
* Scuba Diving 1 in 200,000 dives
* Rock climbing 1 in 320,000 climbs
* Canoeing 1 in 750,000 outings
* Fairground rides 1 in 834,000,000 rides
* Rail travel accidents 1 in 43,000,000 passenger journeys
* Aircraft accidents 1 in 125,000,000 passenger journeys

To be honest, the data that pregnancies have a higher risk of death than climbing freaks me out since my wife is six months pregnant so I think I’ll just forget I read that piece of data.

I tend to think that while we all know how inherently risky climbing is, this knowledge is in fact the reason there tends to be fewer fatalities than other outdoor activities. My logic here is that since climbers tend to be aware of the risks in climbing, they strive to be competent by gaining training and learning from others on safety and proper use of equipment.

Realizing how dangerous the activity can be, we take the appropriate precautions in order to minimize the risk. The knowledge of the risks actually keeps us safer. Of course despite a climber’s best efforts, accidents do happen and there are sometimes factors beyond control, but overall I think we tend to be a risk aware group (which is sometimes contrary to popular belief).

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  • Max Roberts

    Some categories lend themselves to reliable records.

    But, how are all events compiled and totalled for these:

    Hang gliding
    Scuba diving
    Rock climbing
    Fairground rides.

    And what are the numbers for free solo climbing?

  • Commie Dearest

    If the rock-climbing stat is based on every climb, no matter how small, it is pretty misleading. Climbing Taylor’s Falls on the St. Croix poses a different risk than climbing the Nose of El Capitan.

  • Imuli

    By that data, if you climbed one climb a week you have about the same chance of death as a pregnancy.

    (319999/320000)^39 ≈ 8204/8205

    Note that you don’t add up the chance of death, you multiply the chances of life.

  • Ronan ONeill

    Hi everyone, any idea if I could get a website link to the figures surrounding different risks of activities, published by the British government?

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