For Older Climbers, 60 is the New 40
Each spring, mountaineers from around the world make the trip to the Himalayas with the goal of summiting Mount Everest, the world’s tallest peak.
The number of climbers who successfully set foot on the summit has doubled since the 1990s, reaching as high as 60% in the past decade, according to a new study from researchers at UC Davis and the University of Washington. Meanwhile death rates have remained unchanged, despite the rise in climbers crowding the routes near the peak.
The report, led by Raymond Huey, professor emeritus at the University of Washington, with Professor Jane-Ling Wang and graduate student Cody Carroll from the UC Davis Department of Statistics, is the most comprehensive look at success and death rates on and around Everest, the authors said. The findings were published Aug. 26 in the journal PLOS ONE.
The researchers examined patterns in demographic and historical factors that may impact a climber’s chances of success or death, including age, sex and prior experience. Trends for 3,620 first-time Everest climbers from 2006 to 2019 were compared to an earlier analysis of summit attempts from 1990 to 2005. The comparison shows that success rates essentially doubled from about a 1-3 chance for 1990–2005 to a 2-3 chance for 2006–19. Older climbers are also performing better compared to previous years: 60-year-old climbers now reach the peak as often as those in their 40s did in the 1990s. Death rates remained steady, however, hovering around 1%.
Most deaths (61.7%) now occur on the descent from the peak, which marks an increase from the earlier study in which just under half of deaths occurred on the way down. More women attempted the summit since 2006 (14.6%) compared to the earlier period (9.1%), and men and women had very similar odds of success and death for both periods.
Notably, the study excluded both experienced sherpas and climbers with secondary roles, such as photographers and high-altitude porters. Climbers who had previously attempted Everest or attempted during a season outside of spring were also not considered, as were years in which natural disasters like earthquakes, avalanches and other extreme events affected the climbing season.
The results support reports of increased crowding on Everest, but crowding was not shown to have a major impact on success or death rate.
Data was provided by The Himalayan Database, a comprehensive archive of climbing data created and maintained by co-author Richard Salisbur, a climber and retired database analyst from the University of Michigan.
— Cody Carroll, UC Davis Department of Statistics