It’s the highest mountain in the world, at 8,848m so naturally you would expect it to be among the most challenging. However, the number of climbers that successfully summit every year – including disabled climbers – would suggest that it’s not the most difficult climb. The number of climbers, though, can add to the danger as the congestion of 50 or more people on the mountain in a single day slows everything down and can delay others’ descent – always dangerous at a height where altitude sickness can strike down even the most experienced climber.
The commercialization of Mount Everest can lead to complacency, but events likes the 1996 Mount Everest Disaster prove that, even in modern times, the mountain is still a deathtrap. 15 people died that season, and 8 of them in storms on May 10-11. The death rate for modern times is 5.5% of all who try and summit and there have been around 200 deaths in total. It may have been conquered by the most unlikely people, but it takes nothing but bad luck to have an accident on Everest and it should not be underestimated.
When it comes to death tolls, this mountain is fearsome, with 500 deaths between 1865 and 1995. It’s an iconic and popular mountain, but its popularity is part of the danger, as paths get overcrowded. The peak is also prone to avalanches and rockfalls, making it extremely hazardous. It was first climbed by Edward Whymper in 1865, who had been obsessed by the Matterhorn for some time. But even on this first triumphant trip, there was to be disaster as one of the party slipped while descending and he and 3 other men fell down the north face, leaving only Whymper and a father and son by the name of Taugwalder alive. The accident was later depicted by the artist Gustave Doré in his work “The Matterhorn Tragedy“.
So, the mountain was tinged with tragedy from the start but but didn’t stop another party setting out just two days later. And climbers continue to tackle this symbol of the Alps, fully aware that they may not come back.
Our top 3 mountains each have their own claim to being the single most challenging mountain in the world. Kangchenjunga, the third highest peak in the world, certainly has earned a reputation for peril as the death toll has climbed in recent years rather than decreased. It stands at 22% of all attempts, and only 187 climbers have ever summited it.
At 8,586m high it was once considered the highest in the world but was replaced by Everest in 1852. There’s no direct route up it, the weather conditions are difficult and there are frequent avalanches. There is also limited access from the Indian side and it is revered as a sacred mountain, so it is largely untouched. For that reason, it’s an enticing challenge for climbers but it’s also an extremely dangerous one.
Another Himalayan peak that could quite easily take the title of “most challenging”, K2 has had a death rate of 19.7% since the 1990s and is considered one of the most technically difficult mountains in the world. There have been two disasters on the mountain in recent years – the 1986 disaster, which claimed 5 climbers during one storm and 8 in the weeks prior to the storm, and the 2008 disaster in which 11 people died, with 3 others seriously injured. One of the most dangerous areas is the Bottleneck, a narrow area which is technically the quickest route to the top but also extremely risky. 13 out of the last 14 fatalities on K2 have occurred around the Bottleneck.
Despite these risks, 280 people have summited K2 and it is regarded as the “holy grail of mountaineering”. It certainly is an achievement to conquer it.
Annapurna I is the 10th highest peak in the world, at 8,091m but it has a staggering death rate. Exact figures vary, but it is estimated that 130 people have climbed the mountain and 53 have died in the attempt. That gives a ratio of 40% summit-fatality, by far the highest of all the mountains. A number of these deaths were due to avalanches and the ascent via the south face is considered the most difficult climb in the world.
Hindus regard Annapurna as a god. Gods should be respected, and in this case it seems that they should also be avoided.