New Study: Human Error Causes 75% of High Altitude Avalanche Fatalities

SnowBrains | | AvalancheAvalanche
Avalanche deaths in the Himalayas between 1895 and 2014

A recent analysis of avalanche fatalities on the worlds highest peaks suggests that 75% of those fatalities were the result of poor decision making and forecasting. 

The Himalayas hold every peak on Earth over 7,000 (23,000 ft) meters including 14 over 8,000 meters.  Obviously, above 8,000 meters (26,000 ft), the “death zone”, mountaineers becomes very dangerous.

Map showing all 14 of the world's 8,000m peaks
Map showing all 14 of the world’s 8,000m peaks

An avalanche expert at the University of British Colombia in Vancouver, David McClung, recently analyzed 10,000 mountaineering reports between the years 1895 and 2014.  He discovered that about 300 people died from snow and/or ice avalanches while climbing peaks higher than 8,000 meters.  These 300 avalanche fatalities accounted for one third of all the mountaineering fatalities between 1895 and 2014.

“Human judgement and decisions govern the avalanche fatality statistics in high mountains of Asia.  More avalanche awareness and better forecasting could save many lives.” – David McClung

McClung states that poor camp placement in high risk avalanche zones and poor avalanche forecasting explain around 75% of the 300 avalanche deaths between 1895 and 2014.

K2, Earth's 2nd highest peak. 1 in 4 people who summit this peak do not survive.
K2, Earth’s 2nd highest peak. 1 in 4 people who summit this peak do not survive.

McClung found that there has been 1 avalanche death for every 90 successful ascents of the 14 peaks higher than 8,000 meters (26,000 ft).

In Europe and North America, this type of avalanche fatality is rare.  In Europe and North America, 90% of the avalanches that cause deaths are triggered by the victims themselves while skiing, snowboarding, or snowmobiling.

McClung’s study was recently published in the Annals of Glaciology


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