For those who follow Everest closely, the arrival of the official summit numbers is always a milestone. The Himalayan Database (HDB) updated the latest summit statistics on December 4, 2017.
I’ve been digging into the stats the last few weeks and found some interesting trends and trivia. This post is a nice complement to my recent post on “How Much Does it Cost to Climb Mt. Everest-2018 edition“.
Not much has changed in the content of this post but these are the latest updates for summits and deaths on both side. No new routes were climbed in 2018,
2018 was a record year for Everest summits. The previous record year was 2013 with 670 total summits by all routes. The Himalayan Database has updates for 2018. There were 802 summits and only 1 who did not use supplemental oxygen and 68 females. The Nepal side saw a total of 562 summits made up up 266 foreigners (aka members) and 296 High Altitude Workers (aka Sherpas). For the members who got above base camp, 76% went on to summit. On the Tibet (aka Chinese) side there were 110 summits for workers and 130 by foreigners for a total of 240 summits. 66% of the members above base camp summited. There were a total of 5 deaths in spring 2018, 4 on the Nepal side and 1 on the Tibet side. 1 climbing was climbing without supplemental oxygen and was on the south side.
The Himalayan Database
The HDB, which is now a free download from their site and contains the climbing records for almost all of the Nepal and Tibetan Himalayan peaks from 1905 to present day. It is maintained by a small team of devotees now lead by Billi Bierling and Richard Salisbury.
The legendary Ms. Elizabeth Hawley has officially retried and has the title of Director Emeritus. She continues to live in Kathmandu at age 94. See this wonderful video interview of her. Also a recent interview I did with Richard.
A few words on terminology before we get into this. The HDB uses the term “hired” for anyone who is paid to support an expedition. This includes Sherpas, Tibetans, porters and guides. I recognize there are several ethnicities that support the Everest ecosystem including Tamang, Magars, Rai and others. And on the north, there are Chinese workers. Some articles simply refer all of these as Mountain Workers.
The term “members” are usually the ones who are paying to climb. Also they may be referred to as westerners or foreigners. I use the word members and foreigners and westerners interchangeably with members, acknowledging that climbers from S. Korea, for example, do not consider themselves “westerners.”.
Another excellent source of Himalayan summit numbers is from Eberhard Jurgalski at research. He covers Pakistan in addition to Nepal.
If you dream of climbing mountains but are not sure how to start or reach your next level from a Colorado 14er to Rainier, Everest or even K2, I can help. Summit Coach is a consulting service that helps aspiring climbers throughout the world achieve their goals through a personalized set of consulting services based on Alan Arnette’s 20 years of high altitude mountain experience and 30 years as a business executive. Prices and services at the Summit Coach website.
The Big Picture
The headlines include that Everest summits are growing, death rates are reducing and climbing from Tibet is getting more popular. As I summarized in How Much Does it Cost to Climb Mt. Everest-2018 edition, look for Everest to become more crowded, more expensive over the next five years, regardless of which side you climb, and six to eight people to lose their life each year – more on the south side due to more people climbing that side.
- 4,833 different people have summited Everest for a total of 8,306 summits
- 288 people have died attempting Everest on all routes
2017 was good year for Everest with the second most summits at 648. Of the climbers who went above base camp, 61% went on to summit. This was the same summit results as 2016 and the second highest summit total after 658 in 2013. There were 446 from the south and 202 from the north side in 2017. 17 climbers attempted to summit with supplemental oxygen, 11 succeeded – a big number. There were six confirmed deaths – five on the south and one on the north.
Nepal: More Summits, More Deaths
Climbing from the Nepal side is more popular by far but also has a higher death total and death rate. The Nepal side has 5,280 and 181 deaths or 3.4%, a rate of 1.27. The Tibet side has 3,206 summits and 107 deaths or 3.3%, a rate of 1.15. Note the death rates are for all hired and members climbers, including those at base camp, and not just those who summited.
Tibet Regaining Momentum
One of the more interesting statistics is, for the last two years, the number of people climbing from the Chinese side is growing while Nepal is shrinking a bit. Looking broader, the trend is similar. In 2010, there were 85 member summits from Tibet and 175 from Nepal, in 2017 those numbers were 120 and 199, respectively, a difference of 34% and 13%. In a few years, the Tibet side may overtake Nepal, along with the crowding issues.
A series of events, both natural and political have had a impact on both sides. As this chart shows, the north side was gaining on the south until 2008 when the Chinese effectively closed Everest for the Olympics. This caused many in the climbing community not to risk their money with a Chinese permit and they switched back to Nepal. Russell Brice was a mainstay on the north from 1994 to 2007 putting 219 people of the summit including 53 in 2007. But he switched to south after the 2008 closure on the north contributing to the stall on that side.
The avalanche and ensuing Sherpa strike of 2014 sent people back to the Chinese side. It now appears the earthquake of 2015 had little impact on climbing from either side as it was viewed as a natural disaster not unique to one side or the other even though Everest was closed by both the Chinese and the Nepal Governments.
One wildcard that may impact the growth on the Chinese side is the recent permit fee increase to $9,500. This is close to the Nepal fee of $11,000. It remains to be seen the impact of this parity but with the bad publicity from Nepal ranging from phantom new rules to avalanches, many may see Tibet as a safer, more reliable side, contrary to what has been the case for decades.
However, the Chinese are building a huge “Mountaineering Center” near Everest that could turn Everest climbing from the north into the Disneyland of mountains thus discouraging people from climbing from that side. Time will tell.
Deaths Reducing on Both Sides
Overall 288 people (173 westerners and 115 Sherpas) have died on Everest from 1921 to 2017. A median of 4 people have died each year on Everest since it was first attempted in 1921. Focusing on modern times from 2000 to 2017 deaths have increased to 6.5 annual deaths, heavily driven by the 28 Sherpa deaths on the south side in 2014 and 2015 from the serac release onto the Icefall and the earthquake.
Looking at death rates from 1900 to 2017, they were about the same for both members and hired, 1.18 and 1.9 respectively. But when commercialization began in earnest on Everest in the early 1990’s the member death rate shot up to 2.09. In the modern era of commercialization, death rates for members and hired have lowed to 1.04 and .64.
While the Nepal side’s safety reputation eroded after the tragic 2014 and 2015 deaths, the Tibet side has also had multiple deaths. In 2004 and 2006, 6 and 8 people died respectively. The last year with no deaths on the Tibet side was 2016 and on the Nepal side was 2010. The last time Everest saw no deaths on either side was 1981.
Standard vs. Non-Standard Routes
An interesting bit of trivia is that of the 8,306 summits, only 265 (197 members and 68 hired) took a “non-standard” route in other words not the Southeast Ridge or Northeast Ridge. There were 80 (50 members and 30 hired) deaths on these climbs – 27% of the total deaths which explains partly why the standard routes are most popular with commercial operators – lower risks. The countries with the most summits on the non- standard routes are Japan (30), S. Korea (23), Russia (16), USA (26) and USSR (23).
As this chart shows, the standard routes account for 73% of the deaths with the Southeast Ridge dominating all deaths at 137 or 48%. This number is heavily driven by the 2014 ice serac release off the West Shoulder of Everest onto the Khumbu Icefall taking 17 lives and when 14 people were killed at Basecamp in 2015 after 7.8 magnitude earthquake caused an avalanche off the Pumori-Lintgren ridgeline.
Whether these were one time events or ongoing concerns have yet to be determined. Climbers must make their own decision as to the safer standard route.
Here is the summary update with 2017 statistics:
Illness (non AMS)
% of Total
Everest is actually getting safer even though more people are now climbing. From 1923 to 1999: 170 people died on Everest with 1,169 summits or 14.5%. But the deaths drastically declined from 2000 to 2017 with 7,056 summits and 118 deaths or 1.7%. However, two years skewed the deaths rates with 17 in 2014 and 14 in 2015. The reduction in deaths is primarily due to better gear, weather forecasting and more people climbing with commercial operations.
Annapurna remains the most deadly 8000 meter mountain with one death for every three summits (71:261) or 27%. The Himalaya Database puts the death rate for Everest at 1.22 compared to Annapurna at 3.91, the highest death rate of the 8000ers. Cho Oyu is the safest of the 8000 meter mountains with about 50 deaths for over 3,508 summits or 1.4% or a death rate of 0.55. Each year more people die in the European Alps than on Everest.
The bottom line is that climbing the standard routes is safer with the Northeast Ridge having less overall deaths than the Southeast Ridge and climbing with teams who charge more or field a large team will generally have more resources available to support their members thus fewer deaths.
Oxygen and Summits and Deaths
It is rare to summit Everest without using supplemental oxygen, in fact only 208 people ever have. Digging deep into the data reveals that of the 208 deaths, 168 were not using O’s at there time they perished, but this is a bit misleading because many of the deaths, 119 to be precise, were doing route preparation, mostly by Sherpas, and most would not have using Os because they were low on the mountain. Case in point were the 2014 ice serac release and 2015 earthquake that killed 31 people in all and they were below Camp 1 and not using oxygen.
I reached out to the HDB’s Richard Salisbury to help analyze the impact of supplemental oxygen both in terms of summits and deaths. He ran a few reports for success rates with and without supplemental oxygen for members above base camp on the standard commercial routes. The results were what we would expect – those climbing on O’s had less deaths and better summit results.
Taking a a look at the members who have died is more useful to evaluate the impact of supplemental oxygen. 154 members have attempted Everest not using supplemental oxygen, of those 11 died. 54 hired have summited without Os, mostly Sherpas, with no deaths.
This chart shows that climbers who do not use supplemental oxygen have almost twice the death rate than those who shun O’s, but the numbers are quite low with only 11 total members dying on their summit bid. Looking at the north side and why climbers turn back on their summit bid above High Camp, bad weather is the primary reason for both those who use and don’t use O’s. But for those who don’t use O’s, frostbite and cold ranks as the second highest reason while those who are using Os claim exhaustion as the second most common reason to turn back.
The north side of Everest is notoriously colder and windier than the south. This may explain why more climbers not using O’s turned back – a sign of wanting to live! 2017 was an exception with just the opposite characteristics on the south side when high winds pummeled climbers stopping several no O’s attempts.
Looking at the south side, and why climbers turn back on their summit bid above High Camp, bad weather again is the primary reason for both those who use and don’t use O’s. But for the who don’t use O’s frostbite and cold along with exhaustion ranks as the second highest reason to turn back.
Using supplemental oxygen is always a controversial subject that bring up ethics and style. I know for some people this is a red hot subject. I’m working on another article called “Oxygen Wars” that takes a deep look at how it is used today and what some operators are planning. It may surprise you.
A huge change in Everest over the last 15 years has been the explosive growth in the number of Sherpas summiting. This is driven by commercial operators who used to have a ratio of 1 Sherpa to 5 members but today it can easily 2 Sherpas for each member.
This increase in support has been driven by more inexperienced members, offloading gear to Sherpas, more oxygen and high-end guides who market that there will always be a Sherpa climbing by your side.
In 1992, when commercialization began on the south side, 22 Sherpa and 65 members summited. In 2017 it was 212 Sherpas and 199 members who summited. Looking the north, it is even more dramatic. In 2000 the ratio was 17:38 hired to members compared to 117:120, in 2017.
Everest – An Insatiable Allure
As the discussion above shows, the number of summits have been growing rapidly since 1990 when Adventure Consultants’ Rob Hall and Gary Ball guided four paying members to the summit that year, the beginning of commercialization.
Interest in the mountain rose steadily even after the 1996 disaster where 15 people died. The drop-off in summits in 2008 was when the Chinese closed the north side for the Beijing Olympics and effectively stalled the north and in 2014 when a Sherpa strike closed the Nepal side and in 2015 with the earthquake that stopped all summits on both sides.
But it is good to understand that after each bad year, the next year recorded record summits. It seems that bad news only increases the allure of climbing Everest, like bugs to a bright light.
In the trivia department, the Himalayan Database shows
- 1 true solo ascent
- 34 traverses
- 22 ski/snowboard descents
- 13 Parapente (paragliding) descents
- 20 disputed ascents
- 14 unrecognized ascents
I have a section on my main website called Everest for KiDs. It is based on my 2002 attempt of Everest where I did not summit and is used today in schools around the world to teach students about goal setting, geography and Everest. Part of that section contains
Everest Facts for KiDs
- Everest is 29,035 feet or 8848 meters high
- The summit is the border of Nepal to the south and China or Tibet on the north
- It is over 60 million years old
- Everest was formed by the movement of the Indian tectonic plate pushing up and against the Asian plate
- Everest grows by about a quarter of an inch (0.25″) every year
- It consist of different types of shale, limestone and marble
- The rocky summit is covered with deep snow all year long
- In 1955, the height was adjusted to 29,028 feet and is still used by Nepal
- China uses 29,015 feet as the official height today
- Using GPS technology, the summit was measured at 29,035 feet or 8850 meters in 1999
- Nepal started to remeasure Everest in 2017 due to the 2015 earthquake and will be finished by 2020
- The Jet Stream sits on top of Everest almost all year long
- The wind can blow over 200 mph
- The temperature can be -80F
- In mid May each year, the jet stream moves north causing the winds the calm and temperatures to warm enough for people to try to summit. This is called the ‘summit window’. There is a similar period each fall in November.
- It can also be very hot with temperatures over 100F in the Western Cwm, an area climbers go through to reach the summit.
- Like all mountains around the world the local indigenous people were the first to see it
- Everest is called Chomolungma by the Tibetan people. It means mother goddess of the universe
- Everest was named Sagarmatha by the Nepal Government. It means goddess of the sky
- It was first identified for the western world by a British survey team lead by Sir George Everest in 1841
- Everest was first named Peak 15 and measured at 29,002 feet in 1856
- In 1865, it was named Mount Everest, after Sir George Everest
Summits – updated December 2017
Early Attempts and Summits
- The first attempt was in 1921 by a British climbers George Mallory and Sandy Irvine from the north (Tibet) side
- Their climb remains one of the great unsolved mysteries of Everest as Malloy’s body was found in 1999 but definitive proof of a summit was not.
- The first summit was on May 29, 1953 by Sir Edmund Hillary from New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa from Nepal. They climbed from the south side on a British expedition lead by Colonel John Hunt.
- The first north side summit was on May 25, 1960 by Nawang Gombu (Tibetan) and Chinese climbers Chu Yin-Hau and Wang Fu-zhou
- The youngest person to summit was American Jordan Romero, age 13 years 11 months, on May 23, 2010 from the north side.
- The oldest person to summit was Japanese Miura Yiuchiro, age 80 on May 23, 2013
- The first climbers to summit Everest without bottled oxygen were Italian Reinhold Messner with Peter Habler in 1978
- Reinhold Messner is the only person to have truly summited Everest solo and without supplemental oxygen in 1980. He climbed from the Tibet side via the Great Couloir.
- The youngest male to summit was American Jordan Romero, age 13 years 10 months, on May 23, 2010 from the north side.
- The oldest male to summit was Japanese Miura Yiuchiro, age 80 on May 23, 2013
- Apa Sherpa (Thami Og), Phurba Tashi Sherpa (Khumjung) and Kami Rita (Topke) Sherpa (Thami) all hold the record for most summits (male or female) with 21, the most recent one in 2017 by Kami Rita.
- American Dave Hahn has the most non-Sherpa summits with 15, the most recent in 2013
- The first woman to summit Everest was Junko Tabei of Japan in 1975
- The oldest woman to summit was Japanese Tamae Watanabe, age 73, in 2012 from the north
- The youngest woman to summit was Indian Malavath Poorna, 13 years 11 months on May 25, 2014 from the north side
- 536 women have summited through June 2017
- Nepali, Lakpa Sherpani holds the women’s summit record with eight (1 South, 7 north)
- There have been 8,306 summits of Everest through June 2017 on all routes by 4,833 different people.
- 1,106 people, mostly Sherpa, have summited multiple times
- The Nepal side is more popular with 5,280 summits compared to 3,026 summits from the Tibet side
- 208 climbers summited without supplemental oxygen through June 2017, about 2.5%
- 32 climbers have traversed from one side to the other.
- 542 climbers have summited from both Nepal and Tibet
- 88 climbers have summited more than once in a single season
- 288 people (173 westerners and 115 Sherpas) have died on Everest from 1924 or 3.4%, a rate of 1.22
- Of the 288 deaths, 71 died on the descent after their summit or 25%
- The Nepalese side has seen 5,280 summits with 181 deaths or 3.6%, a rate of 1.27.
- The Tibet side has seen 3,206 summits with 107 deaths or 3.7%, a rate of 1.15.
- Most bodies all are still on the mountain but China has removed many bodies from sight.
- The top causes of death on both sides were from avalanche (77), fall (67), altitude sickness (32) and exposure (26).
- About 63% of all expeditions put at least one member on the summit.
- From 1923 to 1999: 170 people died on Everest with 1,169 summits or 14.5%. But the deaths drastically declined from 2000 to 2017 with 7,056 summits and 118 deaths or 1.7%.
- However, two years skewed the deaths rates with 17 in 2014 and 14 in 2015.
- The reduction in deaths is primarily due to better gear, weather forecasting and more people climbing with commercial operations.
- There are 18 different climbing routes on Everest
- Of the 8,306 summits, only 265 climbed on the non standard routes – SE Ridge and NE Ridge
- It takes 40 days to climb Mt. Everest in order for the body to adjust to the high altitude
- There is 66% less oxygen molecules in each breath on the summit of Everest than at sea level
- Thin nylon ropes are used to keep climbers from falling.
- Climbers wear spikes on their boots called crampons
- They also use ice axes to help stop a fall
- Thick, puffy suits filled with goose feathers keep climbers warm
- Most climbers eat a lot of eggs, rice and noodles for food
- Almost all climbers use bottled oxygen because it is so high. It helps keep the climbers warm.
- Climbers start using bottled oxygen at 26,000 feet but it only makes a 3,000 foot difference in how they feel so at 27,000 feet, they feel like they are at 24,000 feet
- You have to be 16 or older to climb from the Nepal side and between 18 and 60 on the Chinese side.
- The average expedition takes about 39 days.
- Sherpa is the name of a people. They mostly live in western Nepal. They migrated from Tibet over the last several hundred years
- Sherpa is also used as a last name
- Usually their first name is the day of the week they were born.
- Nyima – Sunday
- Dawa – Monday
- Mingma – Tuesday
- Lhakpa – Wednesday
- Phurba – Thursday
- Pasang – Friday
- Pemba – Saturday
- Sherpas help climbers by carrying tents and cooking food to the High Camps
- Sherpas climb Everest as a job to support their families
- Sherpas can get sick from the altitude like anyone
- Sherpas feel it is disrespectful to stand literally on the tippy top since that is where Miyolangsangma, the Tibetan Goddess of Mountains, lives.
- Babu Chiri Sherpa spent the night on the summit in 1999
- Apa Sherpa and Phurba Tashi both hold the record for most summits with 21, the most recent one in 2013
- Over 33,000 feet of fixed rope is used each year to set the South Col route
- You have to be at least 16 to climb Everest from the south side and 18 from the north
- Climbers burn over 10,000 calories each day, double that on the summit climb
- Climbers will lose 10 to 20 lbs during the expedition
Memories are Everything
If you dream of climbing mountains but are not sure how to start or reach your next level from a Colorado 14er to Rainier, Everest or even K2, I can help. Summit Coach is a consulting service that helps aspiring climbers throughout the world achieve their goals through a personalized set of consulting services based on Alan Arnette’s 20 years of high altitude mountain experience and 30 years as a business executive.
Everest Pictures and Video
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A tour of Everest Base Camp 2016