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Climbing Deaths and Injuries in 2013 Taking a Toll
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By Chris Kalman
Sep 22, 2013
I donít have the numbers readily available, nor names or faces memorized of the injured and dead of 2013. I have no statistical analysis of how this year would compare to others in the past. Perhaps this year was only unique in the amount of media coverage of accidents - I donít know. Maybe losing my first friend to climbing one year ago has heightened my awareness of accidents this year. All that I know is, it seems this year there has been one accident after another, often with fatalities in the climbing community. This has spurred me to ask the following questions:
1. Is the percentage of climbers dying or getting injured from climbing rising?
2. If so, why?
3. Are we as a community ok with that?
4. If not, how do we change it?

Here are my thoughts.
1. I think so.
2. I think less experienced climbers are tackling more dangerous objectives. I think alpine climbing is becoming more dangerous due to climate change and its resultant deglaciation. More people are climbing the same difficult routes at the same time, which is inherently risky. Alpinism, and trad climbing are becoming more and more popular, which means more and more climbers are compelled to tackle dangerous objectives. Thereís also, I think, an interesting phenomenon in the climbing media emerging. To gain media coverage for a boulder or sport climb, or single trad pitch or something, it has to be balls hard, or pretty darn hard and highball or R/X. Meanwhile, to gain media coverage or an alpine adventure, I think often it is requisite that that adventure be dangerous, regardless of the difficulty. The only problem is, danger is difficult to quantify, whereas physical difficulty gets a number grade. So any climber can yawn at a 5.15 and say ďNeverĒ, but stare wide-eyed at an Alpine FA that goes at 5.10 C1 AI3 and say ďHey, I can do that!Ē The seemingly more attainable objective is actually easier in numbers because the first ascensionist did not feel at liberty to project the route - usually because harsh conditions render that unsafe, or unfeasible. It is easy to forget that the things that make a world-class alpinist world class do not fit easily into a numbering system, and often escape the public eye when you read a trip report or watch a video chronicling oneís ascent.
3. I donít know. If people are making well-informed decisions, I suppose there doesnít seem to be anything wrong with risking your life for your passion. What worries me is that young climbers may be misled about the inherent risk in climbingís most dangerous forms, and also that they may be persuaded by the glorification of high end alpinism and free-soloing to come to a conclusion that they may not have otherwise come to: namely, that it is worth risking your life, or possibly dying, for your passion. I have battled with this for years, and often doubted my motivations for some of my more dangerous climbs. I feel that for most of my climbing career I have more often questioned my own mortality, than my decision to intentionally pursue a heightened level of risk. If this is a common thread among young alpinists, I would find that disturbing.
4. I think that there would be some value to a reconsideration of how the climbing media portrays climbing - especially remote alpinism and free-soloing. I hate the idea of saying itís all doom and gloom - but I question the accuracy of our current story-telling norms. I often will read a trip report that is 99% about the quality of the climbing, how awesome the experience was, the relief of the summit, and the beer at the tripís conclusion; meanwhile 1 small sentence somewhere near the end says ďIt was the riskiest climb Iíve ever done, and I hope I never do something like that againĒ. I know from experience as a climber and published author that it is easy to paint an incongruent picture in retrospect. What felt terrifying at the time in memory is not so bad. And if you didnít die, didnít fallÖ then maybe you were never in that much danger at allÖ Thereís no way to know for sure if this argument is fallacious, but rising numbers of climbing deaths might answer the question for us.


Far from pointing any fingers, I would hope these thoughts would result in some noodle scratching. Iím not calling anybody out. As a contributor to the climbing media, I have written in defense of soloing, and other forms of climbing with heightened risk in the not so distant past. For myself, a constant questioning of my motives, and my desires in life have yielded a reconsideration of what kinds of climbing I pursue, and what kinds I donít. That said, Iíve gotten lucky more times than I care to admit. I suppose some part of me, after a year like 2013 has been, is beginning to hope that others donít have to rely on luck quite as much as I have.

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By Locker
From Yucca Valley, CA
Sep 22, 2013
...

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By Jeff Thilking
From Lynchburg, VA
Sep 22, 2013
Rap
Nice write up. I blame Reel Rock Film Tour, GoPro, and Red Bull.

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By Woodchuck ATC
Sep 22, 2013
Rock Wars, RRG, 2008
You know you might really be on to something with the GoPro thing,,so many people seem to get one and want to do something TOTALLY extreme to post up on Facebook, not just document their climbs and fun activity,but just stupid stuff and risky moves. Didn't happen as much when you couldn't get it all filmed as easily to show yourself off to the world and get your 15 min. of internet fame( and 100,000 views in a day). Sad if technology is part of the cause.

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By Chris Kalman
Sep 22, 2013
I'm not sure if I'd lay any blame, or if any is due. If the climbing media is sending a skewed story, it is in part because it is what we as consumers are buying. The questions I'd ask are why are we buying it, and what result does that have on our decision making?

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By Nick Stayner
From Billings, MT
Sep 22, 2013
Nick Stayner near the crux. Ryan Minton photo.
Chris Kalman wrote:
1. Is the percentage of climbers dying or getting injured from climbing rising?


I don't think anyone would argue that all forms of climbing have been growing substantially over the last 10 years (which is as long as I've been climbing). While I think everything you said probably contributes to the problem, I would think it has more to do with rising number of climbers than it does a rising percentage of climbers getting injured... more folks climbing=more accidents.

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By vincent L.
From Redwood City
Sep 22, 2013
First day of school
Minus this airball ...

"...alpine climbing is becoming more dangerous due to climate change and its resultant deglaciation."

You pose some interesting questions .

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By Chris Kalman
Sep 22, 2013
Nick Stayner wrote:
I don't think anyone would argue that all forms of climbing have been growing substantially over the last 10 years (which is as long as I've been climbing). While I think everything you said probably contributes to the problem, I would think it has more to do with rising number of climbers than it does a rising percentage of climbers getting injured... more folks climbing=more accidents.


This is why it is a question of percentages... If the rise in injuries corresponds to the rise in climbers, than it's arguable nothing is changing. If not - i.e., if a greater percentage of climbers are getting injured nowadays than in years past - than something is probably different about climbing/climbers today.

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By Chris Kalman
Sep 22, 2013
vincent L. wrote:
Minus this airball ... "...alpine climbing is becoming more dangerous due to climate change and its resultant deglaciation." You pose some interesting questions .


This may not be as much of an airball as you think. If climate change is significant enough to drastically reduce the size of, say, Mill's Glacier on the approach to the Diamond, it may also be significant enough to result in a rising number of loose blocks in the North Chimney. I don't know of any research done on this, or how one would go about conducting any, but I'd certainly be surprised if there was no correlation.

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By JCM
From Seattle, WA
Sep 22, 2013
vincent L. wrote:
Minus this airball ... "...alpine climbing is becoming more dangerous due to climate change and its resultant deglaciation." You pose some interesting questions .



What is wrong with the comment about climate change causing increased dangers in same alpine venues? There does, in fact, seem to be a fair bit of anecdotal evidence supporting this hypothesis. I'm interested in the reasoning behind your dismissal of it.

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By bearbreeder
Sep 22, 2013
nytimes.com/2012/07/15/us/for-...

more at link

The extremes are becoming more extreme,Ē said Tucker Chenoweth, a mountaineering ranger at Denali National Park and Preserve. Mr. Chenoweth trains search and rescue teams on McKinley from the ranger station here in Talkeetna, which oversees the mountain and its expeditions about 60 miles from base camp.

In a strange way, Mr. Chenoweth and other experts said, wild places like McKinley are getting wilder, or at least harder to predict.

Sharper seasonal variations of ice and snow and temperature are being repeated all across the world from the Himalayas to the Andes, which scientists say are driven by a higher level of energy in the atmosphere from global warming. As a result, climbers have to think twice about what they might expect one year to the next, or even one day to the next, in places they might have climbed for decades.


;)

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By Brent Apgar
From Out of the Loop
Sep 23, 2013
Me and Spearhead
2013 didn't have nearly as many accidents as a couple of years ago. So no I don't think the percentage of climbing accidents is going up. Like someone else pointed out; more people participating equals more accidents occurring.

To the other questions. That's an ethical debate... to each his own. But I would say that if you choose to roll the dice, you shouldn't expect everyone else to risk their asses to bail you out.

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By Chris Kalman
Sep 23, 2013
Brent Apgar wrote:
2013 didn't have nearly as many accidents as a couple of years ago. So no I don't think the percentage of climbing accidents is going up. Like someone else pointed out; more people participating equals more accidents occurring. To the other questions. That's an ethical debate... to each his own. But I would say that if you choose to roll the dice, you shouldn't expect everyone else to risk their asses to bail you out.


That's interesting. I'd like to see the numbers when this year's ANAM comes out and compare it to 2011 (is that the year you are talking about?) Actually, I think that a statistical analysis plotting accidents and participation against time would really be a great project to undertake. That would really be the way to see if a greater percentage of climbers are getting injured or not.

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By Nick Stayner
From Billings, MT
Sep 23, 2013
Nick Stayner near the crux. Ryan Minton photo.
Chris Kalman wrote:
Actually, I think that a statistical analysis plotting accidents and participation against time would really be a great project to undertake. That would really be the way to see if a greater percentage of climbers are getting injured or not.


I had that thought as well, when I made my original statement and tried to find stats to back up my anecdotal observations of growing numbers of climbers.

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By JPVallone
Sep 23, 2013
This is the same problem in the Ski industry and only last year did they really address it from a media standpoint. Many Professionals had been screaming at the industry for years and focusing on the problems that were growing rapidly. The main stream media and companies making all the money on the gear turned their back on the issues and didn't want to hear it. At the end of the day it was the "Pros" that were getting spanked , not the professionals if you can relate. Last year Powder came out with an issue and the Cover read, "why do the best skiers keep dying" The reality was in my eyes that they were not the best skiers, but the most covered, sponsored and well known pros, but they were not necessarily the most professional and or educated skiers in most cases.

I believe the industry blew up and the sport exploded with new gear, accessibility and over night experts faster then the main stream could be educated about the gear and the risks involved. After all the articles and education and folks pretending to be the messangers in the wake of many that were already crying wolf, Last year taught us that we still have not learned.

Is the same thing happening in climbing, I kind of believe so. The popularity is growing exponentially as is the technology and the gear available. People are going further, faster and without gaining the experience or putting in the time to learn about mountain sense, and risk management issues that are often over looked from a generation of fast learners that are physically talented, but far from experienced.

I hate to say it, but I am speculating, that climber and skier related accidents are gonna be on the rise for the years to come with the advancements in the sports, the gear available, and the backwards approach of the media to promote radness over education and wisdom.

I would agree with all the Go Pro comments, it has done the same for skiing and poses a really bad risk as well. In the world of skiing we have started to call folks wearing helmet cams TeleTubbies,

Anyway, there are so many parallels to this Post in the world of skiing and I can relate almost everything the OP has summed up directly to the ski industry.

Thanks for the great discussion and these are all valid questions that folks should bounce around because frankly the media is not going to do it when they are selling photos, movies, and gear until it's too late and it becomes the flavor of the month topic as it did in the Skiing world. A day late and a dollar short because the professionals were not being heard, only the pros.

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By vincent L.
From Redwood City
Sep 23, 2013
First day of school
"I'm interested in the reasoning behind your dismissal of it."


Many , if not the majority , of the accidents you are using to make the claim that 2013 has been worse than other years , happened at local crags and climbing areas , not high mountains where glaciers abound , or abounded.

I think the majority of accidents occur where the majority of climbing takes place , easy to access crags like Lover's Leap , Gunks , Red Rocks , etc .

When looked at on the largest scale possible , most accidents are not occurring on the Mills Glacier on the Diamond .

Here is some data from American Alpine Club...

americanalpineclub.org/p/anam-...

It's only up to 07' ... it will be interesting to see the data for more recent years if someone can find that ...

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By bking7
Sep 23, 2013
If an analysis is to be made it should be done in a bomb proof manner. The OP has an interesting hypothesis, such an analysis should test it, rigorously. I'm talking age, years experience, type of climbing activity engaged in during accident, cause of death, and, if possible what caused the accident. This last category would be most useful, yet most subjective. Was it user error, gear failure (or more subtle user error), bad weather, or sh!t bad luck? It's a blame game, but actually looking at the root of the problem can maybe be a learning event for others and decrease the likelihood of repetition.
Let's see some correlation between various aspects and actually have some level of evidence that a) deaths are on the rise; and b) that there are certain things that contribute to them.

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By Dustin B
From Steamboat
Sep 23, 2013
It's always a party.
Get an AAC membership if you don't already have one. Their 'accidents' book that comes free when you join. They have charts in the back listing types and numbers of accidents every year going back for a long time, should be a good resource for your research.

Also, there are relatively few accidents from highball bouldering and R/X headpointing climbers, and far more from inexperienced climbers, being lowered off the ends of rope, ledgefall, poor placement of protection etc... quite fascinating.

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By Tanya McGowan
Sep 23, 2013
Canine crack?
Great thread and ironic BF just sent me this link:

newswest9.com/story/23499343/w...

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By Jake Jones
From Richmond, VA
Sep 23, 2013
Me and the offspring walking back to the car after a day of cragging.
Here are my thoughts: Without numbers to confirm that there have been a significantly higher amount of accidents this year as opposed to recent years past, there probably isn't.

This year we've seen the very publicized and controversial death of a young climbing prodigy, and also a horrific and violent shooting incident in the Himalayas in which climbers lost their lives. Also another where a climber was randomly shot in Wyoming. These things are highly irregular occurences, and are likely to have drawn a lot of attention to the "danger" of climbing in general, although ironically, getting hit with a bullet isn't traditionally a danger when climbing.

Part of me wants to say that without these two very tragic but blockbuster stories (and the recent third), you might not find yourself with the same perspective regarding this year. Or perhaps you would. But it's worth considering I think.

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By The Stoned Master
Administrator
From Pennsylvania
Sep 23, 2013
Day Lily.
It could be that are planet is evolving.

Like everything else in our universe (that Ive seen or learned about so far) theres an ebb and flow, high and low, give and take. It just may be a "flow" year (influx, higher than average) and maybe next year we'll have less...or more...individually we have to accecpt the risk or dont tie in.

Wether its weather change, voodoo, karma, god, big corporations or the republican party one things for sure: we're bound to have years with more deaths than average and were going to have years where we have less deaths than average.

Great points brought up by others. maybe our climbing news sources are growing themselves and now can report more on each incident?

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By Stich
From Colorado Springs, Colorado
Sep 23, 2013
Coffee after freezing our asses off near James Peak.
Jake Jones wrote:
Here are my thoughts: Without numbers to confirm that there have been a significantly higher amount of accidents this year as opposed to recent years past, there probably isn't.


This...

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By Ben Brotelho
From Albany, NY
Sep 23, 2013
Epic free solo with a pack on
Just saw this online and thought I'd include it here:

dfw.cbslocal.com/2013/09/22/cl...

I definitely think that the overall popularity of climbing has something to do with the increase in accidents. There are probably other factors, as well. But things like the link I just posted are evidence that accidents are happening in situations where there is absolutely no excuse for them to happen.

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By Gunkiemike
Sep 23, 2013
A disturbing aspect of the GoPro phenomenon - where newb climbers try to capture their EXTREME climb for YouTube glory - is how many of them are posting their drab, incident-free videos with "death" in the title. As if that gives them instant fame or something.

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By Bill Kirby
From Baltimore Maryland
Sep 23, 2013
Me eating a cliff bar walking back from Frankenstein Amphitheater
I went into my library to thumb through AAC's 2013 Accidents after reading some of the posts here. I found out a couple things that might be of interest..

Accidents by experience level: Little/none 23% Moderate (1-3 years) 21%
Experienced 28% Unknown 28%

Reported mountaineering accidents in 1980 were 191, in 1990 there were 136 and in 2012 140 accidents were reported.

It doesn't look like there's more accidents these days. Nor does it seem that it's just beginners getting into trouble either according to AAC's Accidents 2013.

I believe the cause of so many accidents is Obamacare! If less people were uninsured they wouldn't go out and try risky sports. They would stay home, clean their guns and watch Fox news where they belong.

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By CBW
Sep 23, 2013
An estimated 23 climbers died in the Karakorum this year. 4 of these were good friends and 3 had 20+ years of Himalayan experience. While it is a stretch to blame those deaths on global warming and the resultant weather and climate changes, the Himalaya is definitely becoming more "objectively" dangerous (rock fall, more avalanches, more crevasses). Add in the # of people on the normal routes of Everest, Manaslu, etc and the subjective risks keep multiplying. The conundrum, is that if you leave the normal routes where the people are trying to kill you, you'll up the objective hazards (I was forced to retreat on two new routes on 8000 meter peaks due to good weather: the heat released boulders that had been frozen in place for thousands of years, and wet snow avalanches scoured the couliors and poured over rock bands.) Why is Denali 80 feet shorter? The snowy top melted away.
Everest may be the perfect place to witness these two factors: the Lhotse Face was a bowling alley two seasons ago, and 500+ reached the summit. At some point in the future we will see a rock fall that takes out dozens as they climb that face.

Everest Crowding
Everest Crowding


The good news: if you do a meta survey of the Accidents in North American Mountains, you'll find that the top four reasons people die while climbing is due to HUMAN ERROR. So if you are skilled, conservative and always learning, you can live to be a has been.

The bad news: if you want to be a mountaineer, the best days are behind us.

I am going sport climbing today.

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