The 6 Most Common Ways To Die In The Mountains

With the start of the climbing season we're already hearing about fatalities in the mountains.  On April 13th, 2014 there was an avalanche on Mt. Everest that killed 13 Sherpas.  

This week we've had two separate fatalities in the Pacific Northwest first a climber on Mt. Hood fell through a cornice and a ski/climber got swept away in an avalanche that caused a 2000ft fall off a cliff on Mt Shuksan.  This is a good time to remind ourselves to stay alert and make safe decisions.  Here are the 6 of the most common ways climbers die in the mountains and how to improve your chances of avoiding them.

  1. Falls mostly occur on the decent.  Climbers can fall and slide on icy and steep slopes picking up speed before hitting rocks and other obstacles or getting propelled off precipices.  Anchors that fail can cause you to fall, stepping on cornices or falling through crevasses.
  • Rope up and check your anchors.
  • Practice safe rope techniques.
  • Avoid stepping on cornices.  Read the cornice safety post!

  • Be especially aware of your turn around time, follow it, and stay alert on the way down.
  • Here’s some videos of falls to learn from:


    2.  Exposure.  Mainly to cold and wind, can cause hypothermia and other cold injuries.  Here’s how to   prevent it:

  • Dress properly and bring extra backup clothes that you can layer.

  • Turn around or seek shelter at first sign of bad weather.
  • Be in top physical condition and stay hydrated.


    3.  Altitude can affect different people differently. 

  • Know the signs and symptoms of (HAPE, HACE, and Acute Mountain Sickness) act on first identification by getting to a lower altitude.
  • Get acclimated and don’t climb to high to fast.

  • Don’t become over confident when using supplemental oxygen.
  • Be in excellent physical shape for climbing.  


     4.  Avalanches are deadly.

  • Recognize the risk factors and avoid unstable slopes.
  • Follow the advice of local Avalanche center.
  • Travel in groups with each person carrying an Avi Beacon.  Be trained in their use.
  • Carry Avi air bags.

     5.  Rock & Ice Falls especially to the head can cause life-threatening injuries.

  • Wear a Helmut.

  • Move quickly through unsafe areas.
  • Be alert looking ahead and listening for loud pops.
  • Be aware of other climbers above you, who can knock rocks loose.


    6.  Heart Attacks.

  • Get a checkup before you start climbing or every 2 years.
  • Be in great shape.
  • Follow good nutrition practices.
  • Get enough sleep, for most this means 8hrs a night.

  • Don’t get too stressed too often.


These are the least common ways to die but keep many people up at night:

  1. Lightning.
  2. Animal Attacks.
  3. Starvation.

Be aware and safe but don't let this stop you from living life.  You're more likely to die in a car accident or cancer.

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Comment by Mircea Murariu on June 19, 2017 at 2:39pm
I love your educational post...on my years mountaineering I have encountered almost everything from wolfs in Colorado climbing Grays Peak to bears in Romania to performing rescue on Mt Evans....You got it man.

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