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CHO OYU "Killer Mountains" - an ExplorersWeb series
09:14 a.m. EDT Oct 2, 2003
In ExplorersWeb's new series, we investigate messages hidden in unique statistics compiled by AdventureStats. We look at fatality rates for the 14 8000+ mountains. We started with the dreaded Karakorum/Pakistan giants and will now take a look at the Himalayan peaks. But we are not stopping there. We compare modern and old fatality statistics, trying to determine the effects of the arrival of commercial expeditions in 1990s. AdventureStats is providing the research and later, will also look into the causes of deaths.

Today, Everest has hosted close to 2,000 successful summits. 179 people have perished giving a fatality rate of 9.3% (fatality rate is defined as successful summits compared to fatalities). However, since 1990 there has been an explosion of summiteers and fatality statistics have changed. Up to 1990 the Everest fatality rate is a whopping 37%, yet from 1990 until today the rate has dropped to 4.4%. So how does that compare to the rest of the 8000+ peaks? Let's check it out.

Today, we look at Cho Oyu (8188 m)

Of the fourteen 8,000m peaks, Cho Oyu is considered among the “easiest” to climb, and statistically, the peak has been summited many times more than several other 8000m mountains. It was the earliest expedition to Mount Everest in 1921 that brought back news and photographs of Cho Oyu. Later, Eric Shipton’s 1951 Mount Everest Reconnaissance expedition noted two possible ways of climbing the peak, by either the north ridge or the northwest face. In 1952, Shipton led a British expedition to Cho Oyu as training for the following year’s Everest Expedition. The team included Edmund Hillary; both Hillary and another climber reached an altitude of 6850m before turning back. But it wasn’t until October 19, 1954 that Cho Oyu was summited for the first time by an Austrian team including Josef Jöchler, Herbert Tichy and Pasang Dawa Lama from India. The team made the ascent without oxygen.

To date, about 1,400 climbers have summited Cho Oyu and 35 have died. The overall fatality rate is thus 2.5%, less than a third that of Everest’s overall fatality rate of 9%. A comparison of recent statistics shows that while the majority of the summits and fatalities occurred in the last decade on Cho Oyu, the rate has diminished considerably. Up until 1990, the Cho Oyu fatality rate was nearly 7%. But from 1990 until today, there have been 24 climbers who died, and about 1,236 summiteers. Thus the rate has lessened to about 2% – less than half of the modern Everest fatality rate of 4.4%.

Whilst the old Everest risk was 37% and Cho Oyu’s was 2.5%, over the last decade, both rates (summit-fatality) have lessened with Everest’s now at 4.4% and Cho Oyu’s at about 2%. In a later follow up, we will look at the causes.

At 8,188m, Cho Oyu, the “Turquoise Goddess” is number 6 on the list of the fourteen 8,000m peaks. It lies in the Khumbu Himal of Tibet and Nepal about 30 Km west of Mount Everest in the Himalayas.

With more than 110 peaks that rise over 7,000m, the Himalayan mountain range is the longest, highest mountain range on earth and home to ten of the world’s tallest mountains, including Mount Everest. It extends over 1,500 miles long and 250 miles wide as it passes through Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet and India.

As the statistics bear out, there have been multiple summits on Cho Oyu in recent years, and this year’s autumn season is still in full swing. Just over a week ago, Juan Oiarzabal stood atop the summit and broke Reinhold Messner’s record for most summits of 8,000m peaks. It was Juan’s 19th 8000er, and he was planning to climb Cho Oyu again before heading home. In addition, many commercial expeditions have sent teams to the summit this season, including Alpine Ascents, Adventure Consultants, International Mountain Guides and Himalayan Experience.

With an overall fatality rate of 2.5% and modern fatality rate decreased to just under 2%, Cho Oyu is statistically less dangerous than Everest today.

Previous Articles - Killer Mountain Series

Nanga Parbat
Broad Peak

Image of Cho Oyu courtesy of Adventure Consultants.

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