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Why Climbers Die on Mount Everest

Science Daily posted an article today covering an upcoming report that examines deaths on Mount Everest.

An international research team led by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators has conducted the first detailed analysis of deaths during expeditions to the summit of Mt. Everest. They found that most deaths occur during descents from the summit in the so-called “death zone” above 8,000 meters and also identified factors that appear to be associated with a greater risk of death, particularly symptoms of high-altitude cerebral edema.

They found that mortality rates on the mountain are sitting at around 1 to 1.5% over the course of the 80+ years people have tried to climb it – which seems lower than I would have guessed.  The researchers were also surprised that avalanches and ice falls did not account for more of the fatalities.  I have to assume the reason these numbers are not as high as expected is in part due to the news reporting of those incidents.  Being swept down a mountain grabs the imagination a bit more than slowly dying due to fatigue.

Another thing that struck me while reading this was the fact that this appears to be the first time the subject matter was studied.  Seems like mortality on Everest would have drawn some research long before now.

By the way, the report also got some play on Slashdot this morning.  News for nerds?

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