Aim: To estimate the risk of death associated with mountaineering in the Mt Cook National Park (MCNP), and to describe some characteristics of the fatal events.
Methods: Fatality data, including coroners' files, were obtained from the Mountain Safety Council and the Department of Conservation, Mt Cook field office. Data on occupancy of mountain huts were used to estimate rates.
Results: 33 deaths occurred among climbers using the alpine huts studied, over a period in which climbers spent 52 906 nights in the huts. The overall fatality rate was 0.62/1000 hut nights. This is estimated to equate with a fatality rate of 1.87/1000 climbing days. Fatality risk estimates varied more than 50-fold between huts serving the highest risk (6.5/1000 days) and lowest risk (0.3/1000 days) climbing areas within the MCNP.
Conclusion: The risk of death associated with mountaineering in MCNP varies greatly with the difficulty and seriousness of the climbing undertaken. The risk associated with the more serious climbing in MCNP is very similar to that reported for climbers on expeditions to extreme altitude. Even the lower risk estimates are very high when compared with those for most other recreational activities.