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MAKALU "Killer Mountains" - An ExplorersWeb Series
08:49 a.m. EDT Oct 7, 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.

Next up: Makalu (8,485 m)

Makalu is a stunning peak – a near perfect pyramid with four spectacular sharp ridges – located about 14 miles east of Mount Everest. Like Cho Oyu, the initial reconnaissance of Makalu was carried out by the earliest British expedition to Everest who took photographs of the peak while exploring the Kama Valley and the eastern approach to Everest. Twelve years later, additional photos were taken by air, but it would be almost twenty years more before the first Western visit to Makalu.

The peak was summited for the first time on May 15, 1955 by French climbers Jean Couzy and Lionel Terray. In the days that followed, all climbers of the expedition including leader Jean Franco, Guido Magnone, Gyazlen Norbu, Jean Bouvier, Serge Coupe, Pierre Leroux and André Vialatte succeeded in reaching the summit, a first in Himalayan mountaineering. It was France's second attempt on the peak. The previous year, the team first scaled Makalu II and then went on to reach 27,278 feet on the main peak of Makalu before high winds forced them back.

To date, 206 climbers have summited Makalu and 22 have died. The overall fatality rate is thus about 11%, a little more than Everest overall fatality rate of 9%. A comparison of recent statistics, however, shows that Makalu’s rate has diminished over the last decade. Up until 1990, the Makalu fatality rate was nearly 16%. But from 1990 until today, 12 people have died, and 142 have summited. Thus the rate diminished to 8.5% – still more the modern Everest fatality rate of 4.4%.

Whilst the old Everest risk was 37% and Makalu’s was about 16%, over the last decade both rates (summit-fatality) have lessened with Everest’s now at 4.4% and Makalu’s at 8.5%. In a later follow up, we will look at the causes.

At 8,485m, Makalu comes in at number five out of the “Big 5” of the world’s highest 8,000m peaks. Ten of the fourteen peaks lie in the Himalayan mountain range. With more than 110 peaks that rise over 7,000m, the Himalayan 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.

This year’s summits on Makalu include those from the experienced Tibetan team of Cering Doje, Rena, Bianba Zaxi and Akbu who climbed the peak via the Northwest Ridge in spring. (Collectively, these four climbers have 43 8,000m summits between them.) A Swiss expedition who went this fall is departing from the mountain now, without a summit, yet lucky to be leaving with their lives after a serious avalanche scare. There were no fatalities this year.

With an overall fatality rate of 11% and modern fatality rate decreased to 8.5%, Makalu is statistically more dangerous than Everest today.

Previous Articles - Killer Mountain Series

Cho Oyu
Nanga Parbat
Broad Peak

Image - ExplorersWeb Files.

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