As people set out to summit Colorado’s famous fourteeners each season, concern is raised about climber safety and whether or not the objective of “peak bagging”, or attempting to summit as many fourteeners as possible, results in climbers irresponsibly pushing themselves outside of their experience level. While some fourteener routes are more straightforward, others can be challenging, at times requiring years of mountaineering experience to safely reach the summit. According to the American Alpine Journal, Colorado ranks third amongst states in the U.S. for accidents from 1951 to 2013, behind only Washington and California, in that order. It’s important to understand why these accidents happen in order to prevent them from happening as often as they currently do.

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The following charts were created by “Polar” on 14ers.com using data from recent reports published by the American Alpine Club.

This chart shows the breakdown of immediate causes of mountaineering accidents in North America using data published by the American Alpine Journal and organized by “polar” on 14ers.com.

In this first graph, we see the immediate causes of mountaineering accidents in North America, with falling or slipping on rocks or ice causing roughly half of all accidents. Keep in mind that there’s usually another contributing factor when one slips, as seen in the next graph below.

This chart shows the breakdown of contributing causes of mountaineering accidents in North America using data published by the American Alpine Journal and organized by “polar” on 14ers.com. Note that there is an error on this chart. “Placed no/inadequate” is in reference to protection and “inadequate” is in reference to equipment, as seen on the original data source.

In the graph above, we see which outside factors often contribute to North American mountaineering accidents. While slipping is often the cause of an accident, factors such as climbing unroped, exceeding abilities, not using adequate protection, having inadequate equipment, and weather are what often cause the slip to begin with.

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It’s also important to take a look at skill level of those involved in accidents. It might be easy to assume that those involved are the unskilled, but that’s far from the case. Most accidents actually occur to those that are expert mountaineers, perhaps because they’re tackling more difficult terrain. Note that in most cases experience level is not known.

This chart shows the breakdown of experience level of climbers involved in mountaineering accidents in North America using data published by the American Alpine Journal and organized by “polar” on 14ers.com.

By digging deeper into these numbers, we can see that lack of preparation with regards to proper gear and safety measures as well as exceeding abilities leads to more cases of accidents. This shows the important of educating those interested in exploring high alpine terrain on the proper techniques and the proper ways to prepare for a big climb. If you’ll be headed to the mountains this weekend, know the risks that are involved in your climb and always be prepared for the worst to happen. Preparation is a key factor in having a successful climb.

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