Perhaps it’s like Andy Kirkpatrick wrote a couple weeks ago: “Every single summiteer will stress how ‘undead’ they are on their return, weighing their achievement by the number of ‘proper dead’ there were…deep down they love it – it makes it real – gives it that edge, like sucking on the barrel of loaded gun. If you summit in a year when no ones dies then you’re forced to go back to 1996 and tell how eight people died in one day just to prove how ‘undead’ and hardcore you are.”
Is that it, we have to measure ourselves and our commitment by the depth of perceived risk? Or is it that we just like to line our mountains up like movie villains, giving them all different evil identities? Whatever the appeal, it endures.
1. Mont Blanc massif: The World’s Deadliest Mountain, Total Fatalities
Plenty of folks will tell you that Mont Blanc is the deadliest mountain in the world, and that’s kind of true. The entire Mont Blanc massif (which includes dozens of peaks, not just the namesake 15,782-foot Mont Blanc summit) averages dozens (some say 100) fatalities per year, and estimates put the total number of people who have died somewhere on the massif at 6,000 to 8,000.
2. Annapurna: The World’s Deadliest Mountain, Deaths Per Summit Attempt
In 1950, Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal became the first climbers to summit one of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks when they stood atop 26,545-foot Annapurna I. The first 8,000-meter peak to go down is also arguably the worst. Herzog and Lachenal both lost all their toes from frostbite and gangrene on the ascent, and Herzog lost most of his fingers. In 62 years following their climb, only 181 climbers have summited Annapurna I — more than 400 people summited Everest in the 2012 season alone. Those who call Annapurna the “world’s deadliest” are most likely referring to its claim of the highest death-to-summit ratio of all the 8000-meter peaks. Through August 2010, 183 climbers had summited Annapurna and 61 had died trying.
3. K2: The World’s Most Dangerous Mountain
In 2009, David Roberts wrote a book with mountaineer Ed Viesturs and titled it K2: Life and Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain. Then in 2011, Roberts wrote in The Will to Climb: Obsession and Commitment and the Quest to Climb Annapurna — the World’s Deadliest Peak: “When I claimed that K2 was the most dangerous, I had in mind not only the technical difficulty of the mountain but the extremes to which climbers were willing to push themselves to grasp at success there.” It’s a harder climb, with unstable seracs hanging over the trade route, and it’s higher, meaning more time in the Death Zone.
4. Kilauea, Hawaii: Officially The Most Dangerous Volcano in America
The USGS in 2010 listed Kilauea as the No. 1 most dangerous volcano in the United States, given its elevated sulfur dioxide emissions and lava visible from the summit vent. One of its cones has been continuously erupting since 1983, and it’s had 35 eruptions since 1952. If the big one happens, it could be the most decidedly not-awesome thing to happen to Hawaii.
5. Mount Rainier: Potentially Deadliest Volcano in America
So there’s no “imminent danger” of Rainier erupting — but it is listed as one of the world’s 16 Decade Volcanoes because of its history of eruptions and proximity to a heavily populated area (Seattle). The real danger isn’t lava spewing out of the top, but the tremendous (up to 40 miles long) mudslides, or “lahars,” that will come down the mountain when all that ice and snow melts from the heat of the eruption — and could bury 140,000 people.
6. Mount Hood, Oregon: The Deadliest Mountain in the West
A mountain guide once told me, “It seems like if something bad is going to happen, it’s going to happen on Hood.” Although it statistically has killed approximately the same number of climbers as Rainier, Hood has a worse reputation — probably due to some of the more high-profile accidents in the past few years, including the 2002 disaster when nine climbers fell into a crevasse and a helicopter crashed into the side of the mountain during the rescue effort. But somehow we think it’s not a big deal — the trade route up Hood is a one-day climb and the legend is that someone has climbed it in high heels. The weather gets a lot of folks in trouble, and Hood has killed more than 130 people in its climbing history.
7. Mount Washington, New Hampshire: The Deadliest Mountain in the East
It seems like nobody ever talks about how great Mount Washington is — they always talk about how mean it is. Worst weather in America. Highest wind speed ever measured at any surface weather station (231 mph). You can start hiking up in shorts and a t-shirt and be freezing in the middle of a snowstorm an hour later. It’s advice, not hype — even though there’s a road to the top of this “only” 6,288-foot mountain, plenty of folks have misjudged, or just gotten unlucky, on it: More than 130 have died here.
8. Olympus Mons, Mars: Potentially The Deadliest Mountain In The Universe
Okay, Olympus Mons has never killed anyone, but it definitely would. Summit altitude is 69,459 feet. Summit atmospheric pressure is .00072 of the Earth’s at sea level. Located in one of the dustiest regions of Mars. Also no oxygen on the planet. Average temperature is -67 F. Nuff said.