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).

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ryan Stewart January 12, 2009 at 5:47 pm

Wow, I agree, that is freaky. Is that just the British numbers or is that aggregated across some section of the developed world?

=Ryan

2 Tom Markiewicz January 12, 2009 at 6:53 pm

Ryan, I was wondering the same, but I have to think that the second set of numbers is British only.

3 peter January 12, 2009 at 6:55 pm

Of course, that is per climb. So, if you climb 100 routes a year, now that number is one death per 3,200 climbers per year. So that is actually quite a bit riskier than almost anything on that list on a per year basis.

4 Tom Markiewicz January 12, 2009 at 7:04 pm

Hmm, true Peter, if that’s the case those numbers look very wrong compared to what the American Alpine Club found (average of 25 deaths annually). I think I read an outdoor industry association report a couple years back that had the total number of US climbers (or those who say they are climbers) at about 250k. If we use those numbers that puts climbing fatalities at 1 death for every 10,000 climbers, about three times as high the British study.

5 The Adventure Channel January 13, 2009 at 1:47 am

Wow, 1 in 8200 for pregnancy, thats allot!

6 Spacey Davids January 16, 2009 at 12:34 pm

The British rate for maternal mortality is 7.7 per 100 000. Makes you worry about the other statistics. (http://www.patient.co.uk/showdoc/40000301/#ref2)

7 Melissa January 17, 2009 at 6:13 pm

The original website to post those stats doesn’t mention the US statistics, so I’m guessing they only use UK based stats.

http://www.hse.gov.uk/education/statistics.htm

8 douglas mclellan October 4, 2011 at 3:21 pm

question please:

which climber (german?) died dangling at the end of a rope some 30 metres up from his rescuers when a knot prevented him from passing the rope thro’ his harness? his last words were “i’m finished”

thanks,

doug.

9 EmailTray August 22, 2012 at 7:13 am

Toni Kurz. He actually said “Ich kann nicht mehr” and his death in 1936 is expressed in a recent German film called the North Face.

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