Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mount Everest: King or Killer


   At 29,029ft It is the highest point above sea level and sees some of the most extreme conditions on the planet. Despite this, as many as 1400 climbers (by 2004) have scaled its Ridges to reach the top since the first successful accent by Sir Edmund Hillary and his team back in 1953. We hear so many stories such as the recent success of Bonita Norris, who became the youngest British women to reach the summit, yet the glory and triumph of a summit tends to hide the darker side to this great mountain…

   To date 1 fatality has occurred for every 10 successful accents, in total 179 people have perished on the mountain side, most accidents caused by avalanches or falls. The deadliest year was in 1996, when 15 climbers Succumb to the conditions, 11 of whom in one day as the seasons worst storm closed in on them while on their decent. Despite this, over the last 20 years the fatality rate has dropped drastically, with 37% of accents ending in disaster in 1990 compared to fewer than 5% in 2004. This is thanks to tougher control over who climbs and the window in which climbs are permitted. Many team leaders and Sherpa’s requiring at least 2 years of intense training before an accent can be considered, winter mountaineering is far from a summers stroll up Snowdon, with the need for specialist equipment such as ice crampons and axes (and much more).

   The quest to climb this mountain has become big business, with local governments requiring Licences setting climbers back thousands of pounds a go. The average climber could spend as much as £50,000 on one attempt to reach the summit, and even that isn’t a guarantee. A struggling team member or bad weather can mean an early decent, and money down the pan.

   Mount Everest is not the most deadly mountain in the world; Only 130 climbers have summated Nepal’s Annapurna, while 53 have died leaving the overall fatality rate at a massive 41%.  However the world’s tallest mountain is the most desired by climbers and armatures alike, often attracting a ‘tourist crowd’ who need to be reminded the real dangers of climber mother nature’s sky scraper.

   I could write on forever, with all the stories of training, triumph and disaster, instead I will end with a simple quote from Hervey Voge;

   “The mountains will always be there, the trick is to make sure you are too”