Mountaineering is a sport that involves using skills and technical knowledge to climb mountains. It is one of the most challenging sports in the world, and it has gained increasing popularity in recent years. Participants must have athletic ability and superior climbing skills to be able to achieve their objectives. When climbing high mountains, individual climbers face many dangers. There are many cases of injury and death among mountaineers.
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The article “Mountaineering Fatalities on Denali” by McIntosh, Campbell, Dow, and Grissom, which appears in the 9th volume of the High Altitude Medicine & Biology Journal, addresses the question of fatalities in the sport. Specifically, the authors set out to provide a descriptive analysis of all the fatalities that have happened on Mt. Denali from 1903 to 2006. The authors hope to identify fatality trends and subsequently use this information to offer recommendations for improving safety.
The study is a descriptive analysis that seeks to present new findings by performing a detailed analysis of past data. The researchers reviewed the primary data contained in databases maintained by the National Park Service (NPS). This data is comprehensive since the NPS has maintained records of all events involving a rescue or fatality on Mt. Denali since 1903. This data includes “expedition details, search and rescue efforts, and any medical treatment rendered” (McIntosh et al. 90).
In addition to this information, the NPS has also maintained essential information about individual climbers and expeditions since the late 1980s. Using these data sets, the researchers were able to establish the primary cause of death for various climbers as recorded by the NPS. The study made use of statistical techniques to analyze the data collected. By using the logistic regression with climber information for the period under study, the authors were able to analyze trends in fatality rates. The software tool used to perform data analysis was SPSS 14.0.
The authors made several interesting findings. According to the study, 52% of all attempts to climb Denali have been successful. The vast majority of fatalities were males, who made up 92.7% of all deaths. The mean age of the fatalities was 33 years. An interesting observation is that 69.8% of all fatalities involved unguided expeditions. The major cause of deaths on Denali was from a climbing fall at an altitude above 4572m.
McIntosh et al. found that falls caused 93% of all deaths, and some climbing routes had more fatalities than others did (91). The second major cause of death was exposure to weather elements. This cause made up 16% of fatalities on Denali. The study also found that other factors outside the mountain environment contributed to fatalities. This conclusion was reached after discovering that some of the victims suffered from fatigue, experienced confusion, or started moving at sluggish paces before their deaths. The overall fatality rate is 3.08 out of 1000 climbers.
The study found that the fatality rate has been declining at a rate of 4% each year since 1932. The authors observed that this decline occurred even as Mt. Denali experienced a surge of mountaineers over the decades. The impressive improvement in safety can be attributed to the various safety measures imposed by the NPS. The study reveals that a decline of 53% in the rate of deaths occurred following the implementation of a registration system by the NPS in 1995 (McIntosh et al. 91). Other safety measures imposed by the NPS included climber education, pre-climbing checks, and advice on climbing routes, which increased the climbers’ safety. Combined with the registration system, the measures directly contributed to the lower fatality rates.
A number of findings made from this study make clear sense to the reader. The assertion that the measures imposed by the NPS have contributed to a safer climbing experience made perfect sense. These measures led to the elimination of mountaineers, who lacked the necessary experience. The experienced climbers allowed to engage in mountaineering were less likely to fall victim of the various hazards that could lead to fatalities while on the expedition.
Another finding that made sense was that a higher percentage of fatalities (69.8%) occurred in unguided expeditions. Guides are familiar with the terrain on Denali. They know which routes present significant dangers to the climbers. In guided expeditions, the climbers can benefit from the knowledge and experience of the Denali guides. This contributes to the lower fatality rates in guided expeditions. The findings that most of the fatalities were from North America, followed by Europe and Asia made sense since these continents contributed the highest number of mountaineers in Denali.
This research paper was intended for a wide range of audiences. The inclusion of both technical and non-technical explanations in the study shows that the authors hoped to convey the results to a mixed audience. These audiences include the various mountaineering associations whose members climb Denali, the National Park Service monitoring Denali expeditions, medical personnel involved in mountaineering, and the individual mountaineers.
For the NPS, the study aimed to identify the trends in fatalities and subsequently provide recommendations for improving the safety of climbers and rescuers. For the medical and rescue professionals, the authors hoped to provide information on various risks experienced by mountaineers. This would enable the professionals to be better prepared for rescue operations. The study provides an individual climber with information on the various accidents that commonly occur during mountain climbing.
Most of the intended audience for the study will welcome the findings made. The National Park Service will welcome the findings since they validate the various safety measures they have employed in Denali. The findings specifically declare, “The NPS contributions of educational, medical, and rescue efforts to the mountaineering community should be commended” (McIntosh et al. 94). Such declarations can be used by the NPS to highlight the success of its safety policies. The study can also be used as the justification for more safety requirements on the mountain.
Medical and rescue professionals will agree with these findings since they support the importance of the role played by these professionals on the mountain. Medical professionals can use the findings as a justification for the advanced and expensive equipment they require on the various mountain bases. The study states that advanced medical supplies and equipment enable the medical camp to support sick or injured climbers, therefore, reducing fatalities. Rescue personnel will agree with the statement that the high level of training completed with adequate rescue gear increases safety for mountaineers.
Not all groups will agree with the findings of this study. Mountaineering clubs that organize expeditions will disagree with the findings for several reasons. Traditionally, these clubs are against regulatory oversight, and they do not support a centralized body regulating the sport. For such mountaineering associations, the risk of fatalities is a reality, with which every mountaineer is willing to live. Agreeing with the research findings would require mountaineering clubs to admit that regulatory oversight is a good thing for the safety of mountaineers.
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The section of mountaineers who do not wish to be put through the climber education will also fail to agree with this study. These mountaineers might include experienced climbers who feel that they have all the skills needed and, therefore, do not need climber education. For this category, the pre-registration process is an unnecessary bureaucracy that impedes on the progress of mountain climbing.
This study will have significant repercussions for mountaineering. To begin with, it provides evidence that the screening methods used by mountain park authorities can have a significant impact on the safety of mountaineers on high altitude mountains. Based on this revelation, more mountain park authorities can be expected to implement their policies to reduce fatalities. The policies will include performing checks on climbers to ensure that they have the necessary experience to tackle high altitude mountains.
Climbers will also be required to attend orientation sessions during which they will be educated on regulations and prospective hazards of the climb. Another repercussion is that there will be a drive to implement medical and rescue services on mountains. The study highlights the importance of having highly skilled medical and rescue service personnel constantly patrolling the mountain. According to the authors, the availability of these personnel reduces the risk of fatalities.
McIntosh, Scott, Aaron Campbell, Jennifer Dow and Colin Grissom. “Mountaineering Fatalities on Denali.” High Altitude Medicine & Biology journal 9.1(2008): 89-95.