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ANNAPURNA "Killer Mountains" - An ExplorersWeb Series
13:18 p.m. EDT Sep 24, 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, Annapurna (8,091 m)

Annapurna. What other mountain stirs such awe? Before the conquest of Mount Everest, and long before “Into Thin Air” motivated legions of climbers to venture to the world’s highest peak, there was Annapurna, the very first 8,000m peak ever summited.

In 1950, French climbers Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal used only a rough map as a guide, and picked their way up an untried route to the summit. Their descent turned into a hellish nightmare, leaving them near death, with their extremities completely deadened by frostbite. Lachenal lost all his toes. Herzog lost all his too, and also lost all his fingers. He immortalized the tale in the spellbinding “Annapurna,” a small book of such gripping force that it became the bestselling mountaineering book of all time and inspired generations around the world, including some of today’s best known climbers.

Herzog and Lachenal survived their ordeal, but too many others have tragically lost their lives over the years. On Christmas Day 1997, Anatoli Boukreev was killed in an avalanche, an event that shocked the mountaineering community. The strong climber had survived the deadliest season on Mount Everest the year before, and aided three other climbers to safety in a brutal storm.

In total, only 130 climbers have summited Annapurna, while 53 have died. The overall fatality rate is thus 41%, or four and a half times that of Everest’s overall fatality rate of 9%. Comparing statistics from more recent years, there’s been considerable change in the rates of both peaks. Before 1990, the Annapurna fatality rate was 66%, but from 1990 until today, there have been 14 fatalities vs. 71 summits – so the rate now stands at 19.7 % – still more than four times the modern Everest fatality rate of 4.4%.

Whilst the old Everest risk was 37% and Annapurna’s was 66%, in the last decade, both 8,000m peaks have dramatically reduced their numbers. Everest’s current rate is 4.4% and Annapurna’s stands at 19.7%. In a later follow up, we will look at the causes, but the facts are an indication of current risks.

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

At 8,091m, Annapurna I, most commonly known as Annapurna, is number 10 on the list of the fourteen 8,000m peaks, and is the ninth highest Himalayan peak in the world. It is located in north central Nepal, flanking one end of the Annapurna massif which includes Annapurna II (7937m), Annapurna III (7,555m), Annapurna IV (7,525m) , Gangapurna (7,455 meters) and Annapurna South (7219 meters).

This past spring six Japanese climbers from a Meiji University expedition together with two Sherpas summited Annapurna. They include Atsushi Yamamoto, Kazuhiro Takahashi, Atsushi Hayakawa, Shoichi Mori, Kazuaki Amano, Yoshinobu Kato, Palden Namgye, and Lhakpa Rita.

Year after year, climbers return to Annapurna despite its reputation as a difficult, dangerous mountain (a reputation earned in large part due to the high risk of avalanche.) In autumn 2002, an International Expedition team including Carlos Pauner and Silvio Mondinelli called off their attempt after heavy snows rendered the route too dangerous to continue.

Avalanche risk also prevented Ed Viesturs from summiting the peak in spring that year, his second attempt in two years. For Viesturs, whose own climbing career was inspired by reading Herzog’s book when he was 16, Annapurna remains his final 8,000m summit in his Endeavor 8000 quest to scale the fourteen 8,000m peaks.

With an overall fatality rate of 40.77% and modern fatality rate decreased to 19.7%, Annapurna is statistically four times more dangerous than Everest today.

Previous Articles - Killer Mountain Series
Broad Peak
Nanga Parbat
Image courtesy Carlospauner.com.

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