Broad Peak is considered one of the more strait forward and accessible high mountains in the world. It is about 2,500 feet shorter than Mount Everest and consequently used by a number of first time high altitude mountaineers to get an experience of high altitude mountaineering before they try to climb Mount Everest. Yet, this summer not a single person was able to get to the top.
In fact, during the summit push one person even died on the descent from the false summit. Zero summits and one death. There were also several people who acquired frostbite and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). HACE occurs when the brain gains too much fluid and expands pushing out on the skull. The victims often feel disorientated and do not know that they have a problem. If the victims do not descend to lower altitudes they can easily die.
While altitude sickness often affects people at lower elevations such as 8-12,000 feet in Colorado it affects a much larger percentage of people at elevations about 20,000 feet. Key to staying healthy are drinking lots of water (4-5 liters per day) and ascending slowly (an average of 1,000 feet per day above 8,000 feet). Those two simple suggestions can prevent most altitude sickness and HACE. Additionally, a well acclimated person functions better and has less chance of getting frostbite.
Mountain climbing routes have grading systems to describe how hard they are. For rock climbing the grading system goes from class one to class five and class five is further divided into a decimal system with ascending numbers that corresponds to harder climbing. Class one is a trail that is quite easy and relatively flat. Class five in general means that a rope is necessary for safety. Ropes are even used on class four routes often and occasionally on class three routes.
As the route gets steeper the danger of falling rocks and ice becomes greater. The danger of falling off also becomes a much greater possibility. On routes of class four or greater it is a very wise decision to wear a helmet because it can easily save your life. I have been hit in the head plenty of times by rocks and ice that would have made me bleed if I had not worn a helmet.
Another danger of climbing mountains is descending the mountain. Approximately 80% of mountaineering accidents happen on the way down. People often use all of their energy to get to the top of the mountain and then stumble down. This is very dangerous because human bodies are not as well suited to climb down as they are to climb up.
Finally, on the tallest mountains in the world it is common for stronger climbers to fix ropes on the more difficult sections to help the weaker climbers. Unfortunately, these fixed lines can get taken down or destroyed by avalanches and rock fall. Many people have died because the ropes that they ascended in the morning are gone by the afternoon when they are descending and they end up falling.
These hazards and more contributed to a rough season in Pakistan this summer. Pakistan has five of the 14 highest mountains in the world. Only 35 people got to the top of any of them this year. Besides Broad Peak, K2 had only one summit, although he did not get to the actual top but was a mere 30 vertical feet shy and retreated due to snow conditions. Nepal and Tibet by comparison had 550 summits and 13 deaths on their nine of the highest 14 mountains in the world. The numbers speak for themselves: If you want to get to the top go to Nepal or Tibet, if you want a challenge go to Pakistan.
Written by Isaiah Janzen