Since Tensing Norgay and Edmund Hilary first successfully climbed Mount Everest back in May of 1953, the feat has become the goal of a lifetime for many. Just for bragging rights that you physically climbed to the highest point (29,029 feet/8,848 meters) and took pictures at the summit, saw the sights, and felt that adrenaline buzz, it’s too much for some to pass up! But it’s not without serious dangers, even for the Sherpa (skilled natives who give mountain tours and do their best to clean the area). Not only are there accidents to worry about, but even if you are cautious and do everything correctly, death may still come. Many adventurers have perished in a storm, an avalanche, or they have simply run out of air.
It usual takes much more than a week to climb Everest (time is different depending who you ask) but the climber should take it slow to acclimate their body to the altitude. The top portion of the mountain, roughly everything above 26,000 feet, is known as the “death zone.” At this height oxygen levels are approximately 1/3 of what they are at sea level; the barometric pressure makes a body feel much, much heavier. This is known to make a climber feel fatigued, disoriented, and bodily organs can become distressed. High Altitude Sickness can affect the organs- lungs, brain, kidneys, etc. and can be fatal. Climbers who make the journey often bring canisters of oxygen with them, which can be a lifesaver. The less time spent at this altitude, the better; most don’t make it more than two days in the death zone.
If you do find yourself in trouble on Everest, don’t expect to receive help from fellow climbers. A term called “summit fever” was coined after dozens of people passed by a man in distress on their way to the summit. People saw this man, they knew he was in trouble, some even spoke with him yet no one bothered to stop. This is said to be due to the need to conquer the mountain, to the summit; in that moment literally everything else is secondary.
If you do pass away in the “death zone” there’s a really good chance that’s where your corpses will stay. Removing a body from the zone is very dangerous, and therefore very expensive – between $30,000 – $70,000. And even with the money, it’s often impossible. The Sherpa do their best to remove the dead from Everest, but many have died attempting this. Nobody knows the exact number of corpses which litter this mountain, but it’s believed there are more than 200. Some of them are nameless, others have stories. Here are a few:
George Mallory is a well known English mountaineer who made the climb back in 1924; he had an accident, fell and busted his head open. He was missing until ’99 when his body was found.
“Green Boots” is Everest’s best known marker; they say that’s because approximately 80% of those who have been to the summit have seen him, passed right by him. The identity of Green Boots has been argued, but most believe he is Tsewang Paljor. Tsewang was a Constable with the Tibetan Border Police who lost his life in the deadly blizzard of 1996; he died wearing florescent Green Boots and an orange jacket. It looked like Tsewang was destined to spend the better part of eternity by his cave nearing the summit, but something very interesting has happened. In 2014, Green Boots disappeared! It’s unknown whether his body was retrieved, maybe he’s been buried, or most likely someone rolled him right over the mountain and out of view. It remains a mystery; whoever did this, they’re not talking.
In ’06 Britain’s David Sharp died just a few feet away from Green Boots and his cave; his arms are forever wrapped around his knees. David literally froze in place after stopping to have a quick rest. Just think about that, the man froze in place! It’s such a horrific death, and one I mentioned earlier; it’s said nearly 40 fellow climbers passed him by as he was dying; they heard his groans, some even spoke to him, but not one person stopped to help. Everyone continued on to the summit instead of trying to save a fellow human’s life. Eventually some Sherpas found him, they tried to warm him up, but it was too late. By that time all David could do was tell them his name.
Sleeping Beauty, American Francys Astentiev, climbed the mountain back in 1998 with her husband, Sergei. She is the first American woman to make it to the summit without using oxygen. Francys and Sergei were descending when Francys became snow blinded; she had an accident and was separated from her husband. Francys lay terrified and mortally inured on a cliff when Ian Woodall and Cathy O’Dowd found her. Francys begged them not to leave her there alone to die, but it was too late. The couple could do little to save her; Francys passed away, alone, right there on that cliff. Sadly, her husband, Sergei, fared no better. He was last seen searching for his wife, refusing to get himself to safety even though he knew he didn’t have enough oxygen to survive. Sergei fell to his death trying to save Francys, his remains were not found until years later. It’s tragic that their corpses can’t be placed together on that mountain.
Eight years after the incident, Ian and Cathy returned to the cliff with a letter from Francys’s family and an American flag to to drape over her body. A makeshift burial, but at least it’s something – a caring gesture.
Hannelore Schmatz was Germany’s first woman to ever die on the way to the summit. She passed away from exhaustion after stopping a minute to rest. That seems awfully common, stopping for a moment and never getting back up. Hannelore passed away in ’79.
Shriya Shah–Klorfine is the one who’s covered in the Canadian flag. In 2012 she proudly made it to the summit, and spent a good deal of time rejoicing while there. As is often the case, Shriya died on her way back down. She ran out of air.
There are many more, we could be here all night discussing them. It’s an interesting subject.