The dangers of mountaineering

Posted: May 26, 2012 by Ben Weber in Climbing, English, Hiking, Training
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Seeing deaths in any sport is never good, and mountaineering is an activity that sees its fair share of fatalities. Last week has been bad when we look to see how there were four deaths on Mount Everest, near the summit. Happening just before our adventure into the Andes, the timing for us reading about these things isn’t great either in terms of making us nervous.

Photo by Lesley Weber at Alligin, Scotland. Beautiful region; potentially deadly without the right preparation…

Mount Everest might be the highest, but it isn’t the hardest mountain, technically speaking, in the world to climb. Hundreds of people climb it each year. Tamae Watanabe has become the oldest woman to climb the mountain, at 73 years old. Other mountains are much more dangerous – on K2 for example, around 25% of those who have attempted it have perished. But people still get killed climbing Everest, just like they do on lower mountains. The mountains in Scotland are by no means the highest in the world, but people still get killed climbing them. One of my sisters, Lesley and her boyfriend Billy frequently venture into the highlands – they can easily talk about how the conditions in the mountains can change from pleasant to terrifying there…

Things can go wrong, even for the most skilled and experienced mountaineer, no matter which mountain range they are going up.

Up in the mountains, the weather can change in the blink of an eye, and if you find yourself in a blizzard, you can quickly find yourself disoriented. Even with experience you will be in trouble, though with inadequate preparation, you could easily become lost, frostbitten or falling off the edge of an unseen precipice…

After 2,500 metres, the altitude starts taking effect. Though there are times of day and periods when the risks of avalanches are higher than others (fresh, heavy snow is always a high risk, and as the temperatures warm up, so does the likelihood of snow falling), you can always be unlucky to be on the wrong end of one….

Above 5,000 metres and you are reaching the extremes already. Couple this with the physical exertion of mountaineering, and you are taking risks. Going too high too quickly will make things even worse and increases the risks of disaster. Becoming fatigued and arriving too late in the day at the summit will increase risks of exposure to the elements… equipment problems won’t help…

A host of other reasons can contribute towards a tragic end.

Not the best thoughts to have as we start on such an expedition, huh? Maybe not, but at the same time we always need to remember how we need to always be as careful as possible. Huayna Potosi is generally considered one of the “technically easier” mountains, though in spite of this, we will not be taking it lightly in any way; we are there to climb, enjoy the experience but also respect the mountain; we are there to learn and to train for greater challenges ahead, not take unnecessary risks with our lives. Indeed, respecting the mountain and being aware of all of the risks and possibilities is a good way to start minimizing the risks as we are making our ascents.

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