As a person who is interested in getting into climbing, I started to wonder what are the dangers of mountaineering and climbing a mountain in particular. There are a few which immediately popped to my mind, although I felt it was necessary to research a little deeper. After all, once you get familiar with dangers, you will know best how to avoid them. That is why I spent half a day researching the internet about that particular subject.
- Inclement weather: low temperatures, harsh winds, thunderstorms, etc.
- Low oxygen pressure resulting in altitude sickness.
- Neurological and psychological issues caused by hypoxia.
- Unexpected rockfalls.
- Crevices and deep crevasses covered with snow.
- UV radiation due to the high altitude and reflection from snowy areas.
- Overcrowding and snow alterations due to fellow climbers.
- Accidents and physical injuries.
- Human-made hazard; trash and debris in particular.
1. Inclement Weather
The #1 danger while climbing mountains is inclement weather. It can downgrade or cancel your mountain climbing trip. Merely checking the weather before embarking on the mountain climbing trip is not enough.
The weather in the mountains can change pretty fast. When you start, it might be sunny and warm, whereas, in a couple of hours of your journey, it might shower you with heavy rainfall.
Not only that, you can experience windy conditions as well as blizzards while climbing the mountain.
A few examples of inclement weather which you can face across mountains of the world include:
- The temperature on Mount Everest can vary from 10C to -25C (source).
- Similarly, the winds can reach up to the speed of 170 mph (source).
- On Mt Whitney in the US, you can experience pop-up thunderstorms and lightning.
- Climbing Mount Logan in Canada requires you to deal with temperatures as low as -45C (source).
These are just a few examples of inclement weather which you might face while climbing mountains across the world.
Due to this very reason, when planning on climbing a mountain, it is a must to be prepared for the weather. In case you’re not ready for the weather, it can halt the trip dead in your tracks.
2. High Altitude Issues
Problems associated with altitude are a reality when climbing the mountains. At higher elevations, the air pressure is on the lower side. Similarly, the oxygen levels are low, as well. As a result, there is lower oxygen pressure available for gas exchange in the lungs (source).
Our body is usually not accustomed to low oxygen levels. That is why it requires some time to adjust. However, when climbing a mountain, you do not have that much time. As a result, you suffer from altitude sickness (source), which has symptoms like:
When you’re hundreds if not thousands of feet up in the air dangling with the help of rope and carabiners, facing such symptoms can be quite scary.
3. Neurological and Psychological Risks
The problem with hypoxia is that it affects your cognitive ability. So, you might not be able to make rational or logical decisions. As a result, going any further becomes quite risky.
Hypoxia is also known as summit fever (source). A good idea to deal with such a situation is to be predetermined when you want to return down rather than continuing your climb. When you have a predefined threshold, it will become easy for you to avoid neurological and psychological risks.
Also, the predetermined threshold should be a mutual decision of the entire group, including the climber, guides as well as leader. It will ensure that once that threshold is crossed, the whole expedition should return.
Falling rocks are a reality when climbing mountains (source). They are not a common occurrence, but they are a possibility. So, protecting your head and body with proper gear is a necessity.
Just because it is a small 4-5 hour climb or it is not that strenuous, does not mean that you should avoid helmet and the rest of the safety gear.
Falling rocks make it a necessity that you should not only wear the helmet but the entire safety gear when planning a mountain climb.
You might have seen avalanches only in movies. However, with the increasing global temperatures, ice, water, and glaciers are becoming more and more unstable. That is why; the frequency of avalanches is increasing as well (source).
Avalanches are fast-flowing masses of ice, water, and rocks along the mountainside. The triggers can be plenty like:
- Sudden movement
- Loud noise
- A heavyweight on a particular part of the mountain
- Rise in temperature
Most of these causes are not under the control of the mountaineers. That is why you can seldom take any extra steps to avoid triggering an avalanche.
However, if you’re facing one, you need to move pretty quickly. You need to get out of its way in almost no time. Avalanches can be fatal, as well. Due to this very reason, they are one of the most dangerous threats which you can face while climbing a mountain.
The good news is that not all the mountains have snow and ice throughout the year. That is why, if you choose the right peak and climb in the right weather, you can avoid this threat altogether.
6. Crevices & Crevasses
You might be familiar with crevices. These are cracks in the rock, which can fall apart as well. If the rock or stone is sturdy, they can help you climb upwards. Nevertheless, they are a risk as well.
Crevasses, on the other hand, are cracks that are in glaciers or ice sheets. The problem is that they are not visible under the snow. Any excessive pressure can expose the fissures.
If you’re standing on them, you can drop hundreds of feet below, to the actual bottom rather than the illusion which snow presents.
They can be fatal, as well. While there are a few tips to avoid these like sticking to the tried and tested paths, but they pose enormous dangers nevertheless.
Even if the height of the fissures is on the lower side, falling into them can lead to an injury. When you’re hundreds and thousands of feet above the ground level, it can take ages to get any help. Due to this very reason, they pose a significant risk.
7. Exposure to UV Rays
The general perception is that since you are so high up in the mountains, the weather would be cold. However, the air is less dense at higher altitudes. Due to this very reason, you always have the risk of being exposed to higher UV radiation (source).
Moreover, the snow and ice can reflect UV radiation, which means that in some cases, its quantum can be as high as 75% compared to the ground level (source).
The high levels of UV radiation can lead to sunburns and even cause snow blindness. Snow blindness at such higher heights can render you helpless. It can also lead to accidents.
If you’re suffering from snow blindness, you might have to halt your trip as well. Thus, the UV radiation is not only harmful to your body but also require you to abort your trip.
8. Fellow Climbers
Have you ever thought about this potential danger? Well, more and more people are trying to eclipse various mountainous peaks around the world.
However, they do not necessarily have the required experience. The problem is that they can pose a danger for the experienced climbers as well. The difficulties which other climbers can cause include:
Overcrowding is one of the main problems which you might face these days when climbing any mountain. In most cases, the oxygen cylinders that you carry with you will factor in sparse crowds near the peak.
However, overcrowding can lead to long wait times for which the oxygen cylinders running out at a higher altitude can wreak havoc on your health. That is why other climbers pose a significant risk.
Altering The Snow
Another disadvantage of the higher number of climbers on mountains is the effect on snow as well as glaciers. Due to the heavy pressure of the climbers, the snow might melt or break down at a faster pace.
The same is true for glaciers as well. In that case, you might not get a stable path to the summit. It can easily lead to accidents and even prove to be fatal.
These effects are due to the significant number of climbers trying to reach the summits of various mountains.
9. Accidents & Injuries
Mountains in themselves are risky terrain. You might not know what kind of topography you will face. Due to this very reason, the probability of an accident happening is on the higher side.
Accidents can risk not only your life but also of others who are in the expedition party with you. Besides, injuries can also impact your health in the longer term.
Many climbers are not aware of the exact posture which they have to stick to during uphill and downhill climb. In that case, as well, injuries are pretty obvious.
You might not notice them instantaneously, but over a long time, they take a toll on your health. In some cases, if you’re not able to take corrective measures right away can have prolonged side effects.
So, apart from the above dangers, you have to consider the risks of suffering from an injury or accident.
On that matter, I highly recommend that you read an article I’ve written on how to climb a mountain without getting tired. I mentioned there the right posture uphill and downhill, followed by detailed videos for a visual understanding.
10. Man-Made Hazards
Did you know that slowly but steadily, climbers are creating hazards in various mountains?
Many climbers do not stick to the rules and protocols for mountain climbing. As a result, they inadvertently end up creating such hazards. I will go into some of these issues below.
On the mountain, you seldom can carry all the waste with you. It gets dumped in sealed bags. Many countries around the world carry out expeditions to bring this trash down.
However, you cannot always be sure that every piece of waste gets collected. That is why, along the way to the summit, you might find plenty of debris (source).
You never know whether it has biological implications or even can cause diseases or not. That is why; these unnatural hazards are increasing at a rapid pace.
Accidents do happen. There are fatalities as well. Not always, the rescue teams or the authorities can clear away those dead bodies. Many times, those dead bodies are left to decay (source).
In that case, it can result in the spread of diseases in the vicinity as well. It is another hazard that is increasing due to a large number of climbers in the mountains.
These two human-made hazards can put you at risk while climbing a mountain.
Is Mountaineering The Most Dangerous Sport?
It is hard to tell what is the most dangerous sport, although mountaineering is probably playing a significant role. The average loss of life in mountain climbing is 0.0145 per 100 climbers (source).
With thousands of climbers each year, the numbers are quite worrying. Hence, it is essential to get familiar with the potential risks and know how to deal with most of them upfront.
Is climbing Mt Everest Dangerous?
When you envision mountain climbing, of course, you would be thinking about Mount Everest. However, the question which might be plaguing your mind is how dangerous it is?
Accidents do occur on Mount Everest. They are pretty common. According to some estimates, more than 300 climbers have died till date on Mount Everest (source). More importantly, they present around 6.5% of the people who actually reached the summit (source).
What Kind of Difficulties do Climbers Face While Climbing Mountains?
The problems which mountaineers often face while climbing mountains are plenty. While I have listed the dangers above, but there are quite a few other problems which they can face as well like (source):
- High altitude cerebral edema
- High altitude pulmonary edema
- Altitude sickness
Thus, when you’re thinking of climbing a mountain, you have to understand that the odds are against you. Only when you can stick to the right tools and mind your training rules and strategies, you can climb the mountain successfully.
Are you planning a mountain expedition? Do you want to scale some peaks?
If yes, mountain climbing can undoubtedly take you on an adventurous trip. At the same time, it is a good idea to keep the dangers in mind as well. Only when you are aware of the risks, you can avoid them successfully.
Instead of taking mountain climbing as a pastime, it is advisable to understand the seriousness of the sport and get proper training. It will ensure that you can reach new heights and attain your goals with ease.