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Stewart Green

Mont Blanc: World's Deadliest Mountain?

By January 18, 2009

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Mont Blanc is dangerous. No doubt about that. Four Italian climbers killed yesterday on the Aiguille du Midi. And the two young Britons killed the previous weekend in the Gervasutti Couloir. And 58 killed last year and ten other climbers still missing and presumed dead. And the summer month in 2007 when 30 climbers died. Mont Blanc, a huge mountain massif straddling the French and Italian border, is simply the most dangerous mountain in the world. Lots of people are killed and injured on it every year, and still they come in hordes to ascend to the roof of Europe. Why? Because the climbing is that good.

As I drove west today from Colorado Springs to Grand Junction, I thought about all those dead climbers and that still the mountain remains open for climbing. If that many climbers were killed on any mountain massif in the United States, surely it would be closed to climbing to save the crazies from killing themselves. Accidents in North American Mountaineering, published by the American Alpine Club, reported only 15 climbing fatalities in the United States in 2007. The greatest number of American fatalities was in 1956 when 53 died. The average number killed climbing in the US is 25. Yet in Europe, Mont Blanc stays open for all to come and test their skills and cheat their fate.

It’s difficult to find overall statistics on climbing accidents in the Alps because stats are kept by each country and what’s included varies widely. But local guides and rescue groups say there are many reasons why so many climbers die on Mont Blanc. Many die because of subjective reasons such as unpreparedness, not bringing the right equipment and clothing, lack of experience, and bad judgment. The others die for objective reasons including avalanches, falling rocks, blizzards, and bad weather.

Some of the reasons are basically the same as those outlined in a 1902 article in the New York Times. The article cited a study of accidents from 1890 to 1901 by the Swiss Alpine Club, which found that 303 alpinists were killed in the Alps in that period. The study noted that the immediate causes of death included not employing a guide; climbing unknown routes from late fall to spring; and “ foolhardy adventurousness, vanity, the spirit of emulation, want of experience, and even absentmindedness….” Lastly, “the writer is inclined to think that many accidents have been brought about by the injudicious use of alcoholic drink, which, taken as a stimulant to counteract the exhaustion brought about by climbing, produces, owing to the rarified air, an unexpected bad effect.”

Okay, maybe the last reason is not as valid these days, but still lots of people die on Mont Blanc. Over 20,000 people reach its summit each year, mostly via the easier normal routes, which are still deadly. On peak weekends in late July and August, the local rescue services fly at least a dozen missions rescuing climbers or picking up the dead. Still they come, climbing and dying. Mont Blanc—it ain't no weenie roast.

Photograph above: Mont Blanc—most dangerous mountain in the world.

Photograph © Sylvester Adams/Getty Images

Comments

January 18, 2009 at 10:01 pm
(1) climbing says:

Sounds like a pretty sweet mountain! If only rules were so lax in the US then maybe climbing could be as free. After all each person is responsible for oneself and should accept their own responsibility. I hope one day I can join the masses in an ascent of Mt. Blanc! Until then I will be able to maintain my democratic freedom in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Hurrah and Yeah!

January 19, 2009 at 10:58 am
(2) David Rose says:

I think it’s important to point out these figures relate to the whole Mt Blanc massif – not just Mt Blanc. There are dozens of major summits in this area and thousands of routes, many of them classic, and the areas is probably busier than any mountain area in the world – hence the high casualty rate.

January 19, 2009 at 4:25 pm
(3) Kraig says:

I agree with David. The amount of traffic that the Mount Blanc Massif gets in comparison to nearly any other mountain on Earth has a direct impact on the number of casualties that occur there. I’m guessing if you took the ratio of casualties to successful summits, it wouldn’t even be close to some of the other bigger mountains, such as K2, that see a lot less traffic.

January 28, 2009 at 5:12 am
(4) Dennis says:

I have never understood, when one considers the number of climbing accidents on Mont Blanc itself, why climbers still approach the mountain with a cavalier attitude (2008). Having climbed the mountain annually since 1958, I find, for example, that the 1,800ft Gouter Ridge on the approach to the Gouter hut, as loose and exposed to rock avalanches as it is, is still ascended in the main, by helmetless climbers; these same climbers crossing and eventually recrossing the dangerous Grand Couloir whilst distaining the use of basic, safety equipment.

August 23, 2009 at 5:11 pm
(5) amir says:

“Mont Blanc … is simply the most dangerous mountain in the world.”

Simply, it’s not even close. Even Denali is MUCH more dangerous than Mont Blanc.

Annapurna, have you heard of it?
K2?
“The Man Eater” Nanga Parbat?

And as for the roof of Europe, that belongs to Elbrus.

And you write a climbing blog. OK then.

August 24, 2009 at 10:20 am
(6) climbing says:

Yes, of course many mountains are much more dangerous than Mont Blanc. Higher, bigger, colder mountains are going to be more dangerous. And logically, any mountain is dangerous. Denali, yes. K2, yes.

But in sheer numbers of people, especially inexperienced and ill-equipped climbers, then Mont Blanc is way up there. It would be interesting to compare statistics and see how they all rate. K2 would certainly rate as statistically one of the most dangerous high peaks in the world if the number of deaths versus the number of climbers was computed. The ratio of successful ascents–and descents–on K2 to deaths is very high.

As far as Mt. Elbrus being the high point of Europe…yes, it is considered by many, including those climbing the 7 Summits, to be Europe’s high point, but it’s been a long and on-going controversy among geographers if Elbrus is actually in Europe or Asia.

October 2, 2009 at 9:26 am
(7) Magnus says:

“If that many climbers were killed on any mountain massif in the United States, surely it would be closed to climbing to save the crazies from killing themselves.”

Well, Europe is a part of the free world. The US obviously not. In Europe you can do what you want.

April 2, 2010 at 3:45 pm
(8) James M says:

I say the 7 Ps = Prior Preparation and Planning Prevents Pi** Poor Performance. All Mountains are dangerous. Being properly prepared will save many lives. I’m climbing Mont Blanc in June and intend to train my ar** off to ensure I increase my odds of coming up and down in one piece.

I will say that there are risks everywhere. The Mountain is just the Mountain. Whether we go there or not, it will move and change, if we put ourselves on it, we have to respect it and live with the consequences.

Have a great weekend!

July 16, 2010 at 6:35 pm
(9) Random dude from Europe says:

I climbed mt blanc 2 years ago, and dude there are a lot of people there with no experience at all. They just stumble up and down the mountain, and when climbing from tete rousse to gouter hut there were freakin rocks flying constantly.

Very nice experience though, french people are nice and Chamonix is awesome.

December 26, 2011 at 1:06 pm
(10) Scott says:

Whats with this bashing the US? Mount washington in new hampshire has claimed over 160 lives and u can read all about it “Not Without Peril” by n. Howe. Its only 6,288 ft but also has the worlds surface wind speed record at 234 mph. Weather can change so fast, its claim to fame is “the worlds worst weather”. Its climbed daily and hell you can drive to the summit in the winter or take the cog rail. As far as number of deaths, mt fuji in japan is #1.

January 5, 2013 at 1:32 pm
(11) Vanessa says:

My cousin died on Mont Blanc in April 1981 due to an avalanche. It was a long time ago but I still ‘fill up’ sometimes when I think about it. He was a wonderful human being who loved life and completely appreciated the beauty of the Alps. In a way, I feel comforted that he died doing something he loved in an area of outstanding beauty.

January 12, 2013 at 4:11 am
(12) Tommaso says:

So let me get it straight, the Us would prevent climbers to go on a mountain to avoid crazies to kill themselves… But you allow guns in the streets to let crazies to kill other innocent?

August 13, 2013 at 4:29 pm
(13) Francois says:

Hi everybody,
I’m from France (living in Canada) and I really appreciate all those comments about this “article”. Sure, France is far to be the best country on earth and French are not perfect at all but yes in Europe you are free to practice your passion at your own risk and it’s not by forbidding everything that you are solving the security problems. if Mont Blanc would have been closed then all the climbers will climb one of the other 4000m (13000 ft) summit along the Alps chain (there are 82 summits)… Or maybe you would like to close all the Alps…?
A bon entendeur :)

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