Rock climbing seems pretty safe?


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Topic Author's Original Post - Dec 9, 2009 - 07:23pm PT

During the study period, 112 of the 2237 individuals assisted by YOSAR were fatalities, yielding an overall case fatality rate of 4.8%.

The case fatality rate of individuals needing YOSAR assistance while climbing or scrambling was 1.1% and 3.7% for individuals participating in other activities, respectively.

These results suggest that, from a SAR standpoint, “safe” activities such as hiking have a higher case fatality rate than rock climbing and scrambling. In another study, however, questionnaires were given to rock climbers presenting to the Yosemite Medical Clinic or rescued by YOSAR during 3.5 climbing seasons, resulting in a case fatality rate of 6%.8 It would certainly be useful to calculate a case fatality rate for all participants in each activity, but unfortunately, specific activity census data were not available for either study.

A study of wilderness mortalities over a 13-year period estimated that alcohol was “a very probable” or “a probable” causative factor in 40% of traumatic deaths and 8.3% of medical deaths. In that study, the most common causes of traumatic death were falls, drowning, and motor vehicle crashes, with heat exposure and cardiac disease being the most common nontraumatic causes of death.9

It would be interesting to know how alcohol, substance abuse, and suicide contributed to deaths in YNP, but this information was not available.

Trad climber
Denver, CO
Dec 9, 2009 - 07:36pm PT
These results suggest that, from a SAR standpoint, “safe” activities such as hiking have a higher case fatality rate than rock climbing and scrambling

Not quite. What this really says is that if you're going to get into enough trouble that you get SAR assistance, you're better off doing it climbing/scrambling than those other activities.

This doesn't at all take into account all those people in either activity who don't receive assistance.
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
Dec 9, 2009 - 08:14pm PT
Interesting stats, Werner - thanks.

I think it bears repeating that the use of alcohol on big walls - except in the case of emergencies - is strongly discouraged.

However as the numbers above suggest, emergencies do occur from time to time, so you had best be prepared. I know I am.

Trad climber
milliken, co
Dec 9, 2009 - 08:31pm PT
Someone did well in Inferential Statistics (Forest). There's only enough data here for "descriptive" analysis, and thus falls short being able to confidently infer about what's going on. Cool study non-the less.

Trad climber
Dec 9, 2009 - 08:50pm PT
werner-- tx for posting that link.

i've been wondering about exactly that metric. not a definitive study, but very helpful.

Social climber
Dec 9, 2009 - 09:21pm PT
Unfortunately the numbers will always be subjective, we will never know how many climbers have self-rescued, and I am curious how many YOSAR calls were unnecessary? I.e. fat guy got tired on falls trail.
Ken M

Mountain climber
Los Angeles, Ca
Dec 10, 2009 - 01:05pm PT
Caution. One has to be careful about drawing conclusions.

When I was director of an ER in a rural area near a parachute zone, folks often asked me if I saw a lot of parachuting injuries. The answer was no. That is because the bodies were taken directly to the morgue.

The difficulty here as someone pointed out is that, as we statisticians say, we don't know what the "N" is. How many people were climbing? How many people were "hiking" (walking?)? Without fairly reasonable numbers, one cannot come up with a credible rate.
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Dec 10, 2009 - 01:18pm PT
I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of problems arise from cases where people simply fail to use common sense (an oxymoron if ever there was one).

This used to be how species improved themselves, survival of the fittest.

Werner thinks he is doing well by rescuing foolish people, but he is actually an agent of the gumbification of mankind!

Oh the humanity!!!
Josh Nash

Social climber
riverbank ca
Dec 10, 2009 - 01:21pm PT
I wonder how the perceived danger aspect comes into play in these cases? What I mean is because climbing is perceived to be dangerous not everyone will try it. Those who do will go to great lengths to take classes, find a mentor and read. In the "safe" activities I wonder the experience level of those in trouble? I wonder how many of those incidences occured on the Half Dome cable route? People just don't go out and buy a harness, rack and rope and have at it.(I know there are people out there who do, but who has that kind of cash?) People will go buy a backpack some crosstrainers and venture off. People will attempt the cable route in flip flops and no water.

Social climber
Dec 10, 2009 - 01:27pm PT

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Dec 10, 2009 - 03:37pm PT
May I say, just a bit more directly but not really any differently than several previous posts, that although the numbers are of interest in planning for SAR, they tell us nothing about how safe climbing is or is not and give us no meaningful way to comparing the relative safety of climbing to the other pursuits listed.


Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Dec 10, 2009 - 03:56pm PT
The perception of risk by humans is tricky business - we don't have youtube, Jackass TV, Darwin Awards, endless wrecks at railroad crossings, and outed adulterous celebs / pols because we are so great at assessing risk. Also, climbing in YNP can be a fairly intimidating deal so it's possible the demographic of climbers there is skewed a bit towards the more experienced and bold compared to your average sport crag. Yet another spin on it is the current climbing demographc is entirely different, in both numbers and skill levels, than the 1975 demographic - vastly more climbers with a much lower average skill and experience level. Personally, I find it somewhat amazing climbers aren't raining off walls nationwide. At this point I think you'd have to run stats based on climbing sub-demographics - sport, trad, aid, bouldering to draw many valid conclusions.
Josh Nash

Social climber
riverbank ca
Dec 10, 2009 - 04:15pm PT
Looking at those numbers again I think it's interesting how low the resues and fatality rates really are. It would be interesting to see the total park usage during those years. The previous post had it right, it really is surprising people arn't peeling off the walls more often. Even accidents in N.A. really isn't that thick when you think about all the people "climbing" during the year.

Social climber
Berkeley, CA
Dec 10, 2009 - 04:26pm PT
There was an article published by AAJ circa 2002 regarding the relative risk of climbing vs everything else. I thought the article was flawed, and fortunately, so did someone else, who wrote an excellent follow-up letter-to-the editor.

Anyone have AAJ easily accessible and want to dig that up?

Trad climber
Kayenta, AZ
Dec 10, 2009 - 04:32pm PT
Better watch out!

Climbing is NOT as safe as getting the Swine Flu:

The CDC reports that 1 in 6 americans have had the swine flu.
They also report 10,000 Swine Flu Fatalities.

If we can believe these numbers that is a fatality rate of only .0195% for those who get infected with H1N1.


Dec 10, 2009 - 04:37pm PT
I think the data are really clear. To stay safe, don't climb between May and September (especially July) and for God's sake never climb on Saturday!

"the majority of SAR missions occurred between May and September, with the peak being in July (Figure 3 ). Similarly, there was an increase on weekend days, with Saturday accounting for the greatest number of SAR missions"
Jeremy Ross

Gym climber
North Fork, CA
Dec 10, 2009 - 06:50pm PT
Of course its safe, its in the definition of asca, right?

Greg Barnes

Dec 10, 2009 - 07:07pm PT
Hah hah hah! Yeah, years ago Chris and I lamented the fact that it was too late to change the name...or that it would have to at least have the same initials.

Luckily, we can blame Steve Sutton, since he started the original ASCA in the mid-'90s.

Besides, it's shorter than the American Safer-than-if-we-just-let-these-dinky-quarter-inch-bolts-rust-their-way-off-the-wall Climbing Association.

Mountain climber
Dec 10, 2009 - 07:09pm PT
sorry for this in advance:
climbing has always been safe.
falling... not so much.

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
Dec 10, 2009 - 07:09pm PT
Some years ago, I read a statistic that there is one car accident for every 17 million miles of driving. It's pretty safe unless you drink.
Climbing fatalities seem to be relatively rare, considering the explosion in the numbers since the 50's and 60's.

It would be informative to get a listing of the types of injuries and fatalites for various climbing activities; trad leading, sport leading, approaches, rapelling accidents, equipment failure.

High altitude is much worse than regular climbing, look at K-2.
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