Over 2, 000 mountaineers have tried between 1990 and 2005, to conquer Mount Everest. Image: Richard Salisbury
Reading aloud Mount Everest claims more than sixty years of sacrifice, particularly among mountaineers: about every twentieth mountaineer beyond this age does not return alive from an expedition to the highest mountain in the world. This is about three times as many deaths as among younger mountaineers, American researchers have shown in an evaluation of the expeditions between 1990 and 2005. Of the few mountain climbing seniors who reached the summit, even one in four lost their lives during the descent. In their analysis, the scientists drew on data from today's 83-year-old journalist Elisabeth Hawley, who has meticulously kept records of every major expedition from the Nepalese capital Kathmandu for many years and has now built up a database of more than 4, 000 expeditions. For the past 15 years, the numbers have documented a veritable onslaught on the highest peak in the world, the first ascent of which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary four years ago. So tried between 1990 and 2005, a total of 2, 211 climbers their luck on Everest.

Although the summit does not demand too much from a mountaineering point of view, the high altitude and hard-to-predict weather make climbing a daring game: only one in three ever reach the summit, and about one in six dies on the mountain? Fatigue and cold are the biggest dangers in addition to altitude sickness and the risk of falling. After the highest mountains in the world have been a target of young mountaineers for many years, more and more mountaineers beyond the forty or even sixty enter the Himalayas. Many of them draw on the growing supply of organized expeditions that offer wealthy clients flat-rate tours to the highest peaks in the world.

But the experience of older mountaineers obviously contributes little to the summit, conclude the researchers from their numbers: From the age of forty, the chance for the summit decreases rapidly, and of the climbers over sixty only about one in eight reaches the summit at all. Older alpinists are on average less willing to take risks than younger ones and therefore alone would have less chance of success, explain the scientists. But surprisingly many are not up to the extreme conditions on the mountain and would have to give up or even be killed.

Raymond Huey (University of Washington at Seattle) et al .: Biology Letters, online pre-release, DOI: 10.1098 / rsbl.2007.0317 ddp / science.de? Ulrich Dewald ad

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