Conquering the deadliest mountains in the world provides one of the most difficult physical and psychological challenges that no one needs to undertake. Nonetheless, the human spirit endures, causing thousands of people to risk their lives every year in an attempt to gaze down from the tallest peaks on Earth.
Some of the most incredible human accomplishments have taken place above the “death zone” of 8,000 meters elevation, where the lack of atmospheric pressure and oxygen threatens climbers with sickness, disorientation and death, factors that complicate attempts to summit massive peaks. Amazing survival stories outline the extremes of human endurance, strength and mental toughness, stretched to the limit by near-death experiences that can occur at a moment’s notice.
Unfortunately, inspiring stories of those who beat nearly insurmountable odds are few and far between on the world’s deadliest mountains. Thousands of people have perished on their journey to the top of the world due to small slips, sudden blizzards, avalanches, falling ice and mountain madness caused by disorientation at high elevations.
Most of the deadliest mountains rise into the “death zone” while smaller mountains of extreme danger tend to offer treacherous conditions requiring immense technical skill. Some mountains even lure hikers into a false sense of security, turning a beautiful stroll into a murderous encounter with one of nature’s most immovable objects.
15. Mont Blanc – France/Italy – Fatality Rate: 0.15%
Neither the most technically difficult nor the tallest mountain in the world, Mont Blanc has nonetheless killed at least six thousand people. Approximately 100 climbers die every year on Mont Blanc, some of whom are lured to the mountain by its relatively easy access compared to other tall peaks around the world.
According to The Atlantic, one of the reasons why so many people die on Mont Blanc every year is the fact that some tour companies setting up trips through the alps advertise Mont Blanc as a long hike rather than a 4,810-meter climb that requires some technical ability, including the proper use of ice axe, crampons and ropes.
14. Denali – United States – Fatality Rate: 0.32%
The tallest mountain in North America is Mount McKinley, also known as Denali, rising 6,194 meters above sea level. Located in Alaska, Denali is a particularly difficult mountain to climb because of its location far north of the equator. Negative health effects triggered by altitude sickness are aggravated at high latitude because of a thinner atmosphere that contains less oxygen.
The success rate of climbing Denali hovers around 50% because of wild weather, thin oxygen, avalanches and earthquakes. More than a hundred climbers have passed away on Denali, with the majority of fatalities occurring while people descend the mountain.
A National Park Service registry has reduced fatalities on the mountain by 53% since 1995, reducing the number of ill-equipped climbers putting themselves at risk.
13. MurderWall (The Eiger) – Switzerland – Fatality Rate: N/A
At least 64 climbers have died while attempting to reach this summit, which has earned the nickname of “MurderWall” due to constantly falling rocks and a steep, sharp ascent to the top on its north face, which rises 3,970 meters above sea level. This is one of the few mountains that is safer to climb during the winter, because the deep freeze prevents pieces of rock from thawing and falling on mountaineers.
Even though this is the shortest mountain on this list, the technical difficulty and natural hazards, which include sudden changes in weather, prevent any novice from attempting to reach the top of this deadly peak.
12. The Ogre (Baintha Brakk) – Pakistan – Fatality Rate: N/A
Nicknamed “The Ogre” and considered one of the most difficult mountains to climb in the world, the sheer difficulty of traversing this deadly peak prevents all but the most serious and skilled climbers from even attempting this ridiculous feat.
The first time Baintha Brakk was successfully conquered was in 1977 by Doug Scott and Chris Bonington, who ended up in serious trouble during the descent when Scott fell and broke both of his legs, requiring him to literally crawl back down the mountain.
They only survived due to the help of Mo Anthoine and Clive Rowland, who helped the pair survive a two-day blizzard in a cave of snow, among other obstacles on the long journey back. Mountaineers stayed away from The Ogre for 24 years afterwards and rarely attempt climbing this 7,285-meter beast.
11. Everest – Nepal – Fatality Rate: 4%
Controversy and criticism exists among dedicated mountain climbers about an industry that has sprung up, encouraging climbers with little experience to conquer the largest mountain in the world. Statistically, Everest has become a relatively safe route due to the efforts of sherpas and other mountain workers who help open a somewhat easier path to the 8,848 meter summit.
The recent earthquake that took place in Nepal reminded everyone of the dangers of Everest, as dozens of sherpas and climbers perished in a series of avalanches sparked by the magnitude-7.8 quake. Over 250 hundred people have died in pursuit of the top of the world.
One of the most ominous bodies stuck on Everest is that of “Green Boots”, an Indian climber named Tsewang Paljor who passed away on the path to the summit. He’s become a frozen landmark, informing climbers of their proximity to the peak while providing a grim reminder of the power of Everest.
10. Broad Peak – Pakistan – Fatality Rate: 5%
This mountain, the 12th largest in the world, acquired its name due to a mile-long ridge around the summit. A debate rages about the true peak of the mountain, as climbers typically stop at one of two summits – one of them 8,015 meters high, the other 8,047 meters tall.
The legendary Hermann Buhl lead a team of Austrian mountaineers to the peak on June 5th, 1957, becoming the first to reach the top of this mountain. This was the second time Hermann became the first human to scale a peak in the 8,000-meter club. Similar to the first time he accomplished this feat, he did so without the use of porters or canned oxygen.
9. Shishapangma – Nepal – Fatality Rate: 8%
Shishapangma was the last of the 8,000-meter mountains to be conquered by humanity when a team of Chinese climbers reached the top in 1964. Despite being the last of the 8,000 club to be summited, Shishapangma is labeled as one of the less challenging climbs, even though eight percent of people who attempt to climb this mountain die on slope.
One of the most amazing feats of climbing was accomplished by Ueli Steck on this mountain, who reached the 8,013-meter peak in an astoundingly quick ten and a half hour climb. Five minutes after he started his record-breaking hike, Ueli heard one of his friends yelling at him and realized that he forgot his pants at the basecamp. Ueli quickly retrieved his down-filled pants before heading back up the slope.
8. Makalu – Nepal/China – Fatality Rate: 9%
The path to remote Makalu is a lengthy march fraught with peril. This journey to the base of the mountain is just the beginning of a 8,481-meter climb that’s sometimes compared to the treachery of the notorious K2. Makalu is the fifth biggest mountain in the world and one of the most difficult to summit.
Similar to K2, a significant portion of fatalities occur while climbers descend the mountain. Part of the lethality of the peak lies with the shape of the top – a steep, four-sided pyramid that features near-constant storm activity rife with shifting ice.
Incredibly, a pair of mountaineers, Simone Moro and Denis Urubko, managed to climb this deadly peak during winter, braving wind gusts of up to 120 kph and -40C temperature during their historic journey.
7. Gasherbrum I – Pakistan – Fatality Rate: 9%
The only reason that Gasherbrum I, which means “beautiful mountain”, doesn’t have a greater rate of death among climbers is the fact that only the very best typically dare to think about visiting and conquering this remote challenge.
Nestled among a six-pack of peaks, towering 8,068 meters above sea level, the first ascent of Gasherbrum I was completed in 1958 by an eight-man American team, with a pair of the climbers, Pete Schoening and Andy Kauffman, using mirrors to communicate success with the rest of the expedition.
The legendary mountaineer Reinhold Messner made Gasherbrum the backdrop for some of his greatest achievements, including his first climb of an 8,000 meter peak using the alpine style, which involves no oxygen, camps or extra gear. Messner and climbing partner Hans Kammerlander were the first to traverse two 8,000 meter peaks in one journey when they ascended Gasherbrum II and Gasherbrum I in the span of eight days.
6. Manaslu – Nepal – Fatality Rate: 10%
Called the “Mountain of the Spirit”, Manaslu is the eighth tallest mountain on Earth and frequently exposes its climbers to landslides and monsoons in addition to the usual danger of falling ice and avalanches.
This 8,156-meter climb was first achieved in 1956 by a team of Japanese mountaineers, a feat no one dared replicate until 1971, when another Japanese squad reached the peak.
Unlike many other routes, the technical difficulty and danger due to avalanche decrease slightly the higher one climbs. One of the deadliest incidents on this mountain took the lives of 10 sherpas and five Korean climbers when the expedition was overwhelmed by a massive avalanche that obliterated the camp at 6,500 meters.
5. Kanchenjunga – India/Nepal – Fatality Rate: 15%
Despite advances in technology that help increase safety on fearsome peaks, Kanchenjunga remains consistently deadly, with fatality rates climbing above one-in-five during the 1990s while the world’s other dangerous mountains became statistically safer.
Anyone climbing this mountain exposes themselves to one of the most dangerous environments on Earth. Weather conditions are shifty and treacherous on Kanchenjunga and predictably unpredictable avalanches take place with little-to-no warning.
Climbing any deadly mountain involves uncertainty, but this 8,586-meter death march is so volatile that less than 300 people have reached the top of the third-tallest mountain, with at least 40 passing away during their attempts to reach the peak.
4. Dhaulagiri I – Nepal – Fatality Rate: 16%
This mountain, the seventh-tallest on earth at 8,167 meters, has a habit of simply disappearing even the most experienced climbers. The south face of Dhaulagiri I has never been climbed and is considered a suicidal ascent by expert mountaineers.
Similar to most gigantic peaks, the danger of avalanches poses the greatest threat to climbers. Of the mountains taller than 8,000 meters, Dhaulagiri I was the second-last to be conquered, first ascended by a team of two sherpas with Austrian and Swiss mountaineers.
Nine years later, an American team without experience on the Himalayas attempted to climb a portion never previously attempted. Two sherpas and six U.S. climbers died after a massive avalanche; at the time it was the worst mountain disaster to have occurred in Nepal.
3. Nanga Parbat – Kashmir – Fatality Rate: 21%
Nanga Parbat is the ninth biggest mountain in the world, nicknamed the ManEater because of the severity of challenge that climbers face. Many who perished on this mountain did so before the first successful route was found in 1953 by Hermann Buhl. 31 previous attempts had ended in death.
Buhl, considered one of the best-ever climbers, ascended 8,126 meters without an ice axe or oxygen, sleeping while standing on a narrow ledge with a single handhold anchoring him to the precipice. After spending 40 hours climbing, he became the first to conquer the ManEater, and the human to become the first climber of a mountain taller than 8,000 meters on a solo trip.
2. K2 – Pakistan/China – Fatality Rate: 29%
K2 is a legendary peak and the second tallest mountain in the world, only a few hundred meters shorter than Mount Everest. However, due to the difficulty of the 8,611-meter climb and notoriously unpredictable ice, K2 is far, far more dangerous than Everest.
Most attempt to conquer K2 from the Pakistani side of the mountain rather than from the Chinese side of the rock. The Bottleneck portion of the route is the most treacherous, consisting of wild weather, shifting ice pillars and avalanches that may strike at any time.
No climber has ever summited K2 during winter, an endeavor that’s considered close to impossible. At least 31 climbers have perished while descending K2, making it one of the deadliest mountains to escape.
1. Annapurna I – Nepal – Fatality Rate: 34%
Located in the northern region of central Nepal, Annapurna I is a death wish that kills more than a third of the people who attempt to climb this lethal summit. One of the latest tragedies occurred in October of last year, when 39 souls passed away after a series of deadly avalanches and snowstorms.
The south face of this mountain is considered one of the most difficult and technical climbs in the world, made even more dangerous by the region’s susceptibility to avalanches. Only 191 people have conquered Annapurna I, while 52 climbers have passed away during the 8,091-meter ascent. Nine climbers have died while making their descent from the summit.
Planet Mountain, About.com, AdventureJournal, Alpinist, Vancouver Sun
Wikipedia, Smithsonian, The Atlantic, Climbing, NCBI