How dangerous is climbing?

Climbing seems to be in the category of extreme sports in the average person’s mind.  There are extremes within the extreme, too, though.  For example, if you’ve seen the movie “Free Solo” with Alex Honnold, that would be on the very extreme end of extreme in this sport.  If you’re talking about bouldering, then it’s not so extreme (but it can be).  Danger is a factor in climbing.  That’s a fact.  You can be seriously injured or killed doing any type of climbing.  How dangerous is climbing, though?

Let’s look at some other common activities that we engage in.  Driving, for instance.  Let’s look at the danger of driving and compare it to the danger of climbing. According to a chart by the Centers for Disease Control posted on Drive-Safely.Net (accessed at 1000 hrs on 27 Mar 2019), there were 46,030 deaths due to unintentional motor vehicle accidents nationwide last year.  Let’s look at how many drownings there were.  Nationwide in 2018, there were 580 accidental drownings.  Here are a few other unintentional causes of death: homicides by firearm – 17,770; suicides by firearm – 9196; suicides by suffocation – 119; unintentional fires or burns – 340; unintentional poisoning – 28,560; unintentional falls – 18,334; miscellaneous unintentional or unspecified incidents – 4855.  Those numbers include ages 0-65+ and, again, the numbers were put out by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).  I can tell you that, just based on the numbers of the State of Montana, those are all gross underestimations of deaths due to all of those causes, but nonetheless, those are the numbers I found, so we’ll pretend they’re real.  So, how many total deaths do those numbers add up to?  In total, that adds up to 125,784 accidental deaths in one year.  The National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHSTA) stated that two out of three motorists will be involved in an injury accident in their lifetimes!  That’s almost a full 67% of people who drive!  We drive all the time!  Those numbers don’t even account for multiple accidents and multiple injuries to the same person!  There are also all of those that go unreported to think about.

Now let’s look at climbing.  Let’s look at Boulder, Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Rescue Group (RMRG) statistics from the last 14 years.  Of the 2,198 people rescued by RMRG in Boulder County over those 14 years, only 428 (or 19.5%) of the victims were rock climbers.  Now, as in the cases listed above, that doesn’t account for unreported rescues, missing persons, and such, but that does speak to the hazards that we live with and puts the dangers of climbing in perspective.  Remember that 67%, or two out of three people who drive, will be in an injury accident at some point in their lives.  Only 19.5% of the climbers in an extremely populated and popular climbing area in Colorado got into trouble and needed rescuing.  Motorists have an almost 3.5x greater chance of injury than rock climbers have of needing rescued!

This is not to downplay the serious nature of climbing, however.  Climbing is no joke.  Have fun, be smart, stay safe, and come back in one piece with a story to tell!  I’d hate to lose you and so would your loved ones!

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