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The American Alpine Club
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Golden, Colorado 80401

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Fatalities in High Altitude Mountaineering: A Review of Quantitative Risk Estimates

By Stephan Weinbruch and Karl-Christian Nordby

High Altitude Medicine & Biology, Vol 14, 346-359, 2013


Quantitative estimates for mortality in high altitude mountaineering are reviewed. Special emphasis is placed on the heterogeneity of the risk estimates and on confounding. Crude estimates for mortality are on the order of 1/1000 to 40/1000 persons above base camp, for both expedition members and high altitude porters. High altitude porters have mostly a lower risk than ex- pedition members (risk ratio for all Nepalese peaks requiring an expedition permit: 0.73; 95 % confidence interval 0.59–0.89). The summit bid is generally the most dangerous part of an expedition for members, whereas most high altitude porters die during route preparation. On 8000 m peaks, the mortality during descent from summit varies between 4/1000 and 134/1000 summiteers (members plus porters). The risk estimates are con- founded by human and environmental factors. Information on confounding by gender and age is contradictory and requires further work. There are indications for safety segregation of men and women, with women being more risk averse than men. Citizenship appears to be a significant confounder. Prior high altitude mountain- eering experience in Nepal has no protective effect. Commercial expeditions in the Nepalese Himalayas have a lower mortality than traditional expeditions, though after controlling for confounding, the difference is not statistically significant. The overall mortality is increasing with increasing peak altitude for expedition members but not for high altitude porters. In the Nepalese Himalayas and in Alaska, a significant decrease of mortality with calendar year was observed. A few suggestions for further work are made at the end of the article.

The study may be accessed for charge at Stephan Weinbruch, Fatalities in High Altitude Mountaineering, High Altitude Medicine & Biology, 2013