Nobody falls up mountains  NOV 05 2010

Four boarding school friends (the charmer, the looker, the student, and the joker) attempted to scale Mont Blanc and only two came back alive. Two of the four had previously scaled Everest at 19 (without sherpas) and followed that up by travelling from the North Pole to the South Pole using only manpower and natural power. So what went wrong on Mont Blanc?

They spent their first two days with an emphasis on safety measures. Lebon and Atkinson were well advised of Mont Blanc's singular reputation. Any seasoned climber, when contemplating the world's most dangerous mountains, looks first to the Himalayas -- to Annapurna, K2, Nanga Parbat. These monsters are as forbidding as they come, and therefore have the highest fatality rates. Four out of 10 climbers who ascend Annapurna die there.

Mont Blanc comes in somewhere after Everest, the Matterhorn, and Denali, in Alaska, but in sheer numbers it kills more climbers than the whole lot of them combined. It is the Siren of major mountains; gracious and popular, it is summited by 20,000 climbers a year -- pretty much anyone can climb the thing, if not safely. But it lures overly ambitious suitors too high or deep, then brutalizes them.

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