Mount Everest, renowned for its towering height, holds a dark and lesser-known reputation as the world’s largest open-air graveyard. Since the historic summit of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953, over 4,000 individuals have followed their footsteps, braving treacherous terrain and harsh climates in pursuit of momentary glory. However, for some unfortunate climbers, their journey ends tragically on the mountain, leaving behind a haunting trail of dead bodies.
The Death Zone: A Harsh Reality
Above 26,000 feet, the upper portion of Mount Everest is known as the “death zone.” Oxygen levels there plummet to a third of what is found at sea level, and the intense barometric pressure makes every step feel ten times heavier. These conditions cause climbers to experience sluggishness, disorientation, fatigue, and extreme organ distress. Consequently, most climbers can only endure this zone for a maximum of 48 hours.
Those who manage to survive the death zone often suffer lingering effects. Unfortunately, those who succumb to its unforgiving nature remain exactly where they fell. To date, it is estimated that approximately 300 individuals have lost their lives while climbing Earth’s tallest mountain, leaving behind around 200 dead bodies on Mount Everest.
The Stories Behind the Mount Everest Bodies
Standard protocol on Mount Everest dictates leaving the deceased climbers where they perished, resulting in bodies serving as somber reminders and eerie mile markers for those who follow. One of the most infamous among them was the body known as “Green Boots,” encountered by nearly every climber reaching the death zone. Though the identity of Green Boots is a subject of debate, it is widely believed to be Tsewang Paljor, an Indian climber who died in 1996. His body, known for the distinctive green boots he wore, became a grim landmark and an indication of proximity to the summit.
Another tragic case is that of David Sharp, who joined Green Boots in his cave in 2006. Sharp, attempting to summit Everest alone, sought refuge in the same cave. Over several hours, he succumbed to freezing temperatures, his body frozen in a huddled position just a few feet away from the well-known Green Boots. Unlike Green Boots, whose passing went unnoticed due to the limited number of climbers at that time, at least 40 people passed by Sharp on that fateful day, yet none stopped to offer assistance.
The Culture of Climbing and Moral Dilemmas
Sharp’s death sparked a moral debate about the mindset of Everest climbers. Despite eyewitness accounts that claimed Sharp was visibly alive and in distress, those who encountered him chose not to lend a helping hand. Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to conquer Everest alongside Tenzing Norgay, criticized the climbers who passed Sharp, attributing their actions to an overwhelming desire to reach the summit at any cost. He expressed his disappointment, stating that helping someone in dire need should take priority over personal accomplishments.
Similar incidents, labeled as “summit fever,” have occurred more frequently than one might realize. The focus on reaching the top can overshadow humanitarian considerations, leading to tragic outcomes.
George Mallory, a famous mountaineer, met his end on Everest in 1924. His body remained undiscovered for 75 years until an unusually warm spring exposed his remains. Partially preserved, Mallory’s body was found with climbing equipment, dressed in a tweed suit, and surrounded by heavy oxygen bottles. It remains unclear whether Mallory reached the summit, but his determination to conquer the unconquered mountain was legendary.
Hannelore Schmatz, the first German citizen and woman to perish on Everest, met her tragic fate in 1979 Despite successfully summiting the mountain, exhaustion and a lack of oxygen proved insurmountable during her descent. Schmatz chose to set up camp within the death zone, only 330 feet from base camp. Her well-preserved body, frozen by sub-zero temperatures, remained in plain view for years, leaning against a deteriorated backpack. Eventually, fierce winds either buried or blew her off the mountain, leaving her final resting place unknown.
The Inaccessible Remains
Recovering bodies from Everest, particularly from the death zone, is an almost impossible task. Adverse weather conditions, treacherous terrain, and oxygen deprivation make reaching the bodies an arduous endeavor. Even if located, the corpses are often frozen to the ground, rendering extraction extremely challenging. Several attempted rescues have ended in tragedy, claiming the lives of rescuers themselves.
Despite the inherent risks and the haunting presence of the deceased, thousands of individuals continue to flock to Mount Everest each year in pursuit of this extraordinary feat. The exact number of bodies that rest on the mountain remains unknown, yet these grim reminders have not deterred aspiring climbers. Sadly, some of these brave adventurers are destined to join the ranks of the fallen, becoming part of Mount Everest’s enduring legacy.