Situated on the border of Nepal and Tibet in the Mahalangur section of the Himalayan Mountains, the natural beauty of Everest is unrivaled. At 29,029 feet (8,840 meters) above sea level, Mount Everest is the highest and most prominent mountain on earth based on measurement to sea level. Despite it’s beauty and majesty, danger lurks on its narrow ridges. A kingdom of snow, stone and gusting winds, hundreds of frozen human corpses stand as testament to its utter lack of mercy.
Mount Everest has claimed the lives of many climbers that have chosen to brave the harsh weather conditions and dangerous terrain for the glory of successfully reaching the summit of this impressive creation of mother nature. Some of those bodies have been recovered, but many still remain.
Most of the bodies that remain are stranded in what is known as the death zone. Standard protocol is to leave the dead where they died. These corpses remain to spend eternity on the mountaintop, serving as a warning to climbers, as well as gruesome mile markers.
To attempt to bring a dead body or a stranded climber down would take too long and likely leave the climbing team stranded overnight. This makes rescue attempts virtually suicidal.
The oxygen levels near the top portion of the mountain are only a third of what they are at sea level and barometric pressure causes weight to feel ten times heavier. Climbers who reach the uppermost portion of the mountain usually don’t last more than 48 hours due to extreme stress on internal organs. Here are only some of the stories behind the many climbers that have lost their lives in the unforgiving mountains of Everest.
George Leigh Malloy
In 1999 the oldest known body was found on Everest. The petrified, frozen remains of climber George Leigh Mallory lie on a slope of Mount Everest. The lost mountaineer’s remains were found 75 years after he and fellow climber Andrew Irvine disappeared in 1924 trying to reach the summit.
Mallory’s upper torso, half of his legs, and his left arm were almost perfectly preserved. He was dressed in a tweed suit and surrounded by primitive climbing equipment and heavy oxygen bottles. A rope injury around his waist led those who found him to believe he had been roped to another climber when he fell from the side of a cliff.
Mallory was considered a famous mountaineer in his time. When asked why he wanted to climb the then unconquered mountain, he replied: “Because it’s there.”
In 1979, Hannelore Schmatz became not only the first German citizen to perish on the mountain but also the first woman.
She was only 330 feet from base camp, having successfully reached the summit, and surviving an overnight snow storm; when she ultimately succumbed to exhaustion.
Her remains, hair blowing in the wind and eyes open, were visible from the mountain’s Southern Route until high winds eventually swept her body down the Kangshung face.
Yasuko Namba was a skilled mountaineer who was on Everest to complete the ultimate challenge of conquering the Seven Summits. The Japanese climber had just reached the top and secured the title as well as becoming the oldest woman, at that time, to have summitted. As the 47-year-old was embarking upon her descent, she found herself caught up in what is considered one of the darkest times of Mount Everest. It was the spring of 1996 and one of the most infamous disasters in the region – the blizzard of ’96, was bearing down.
Many rescuers had set out shortly after the blizzard had dissipated, Namba and her companion Beck Weathers had been passed up, assumed dead, and had been left behind as lost causes. A search party sent out the following day discovered Namba and Weathers in horrible condition and the search party felt convinced Namba and Weathers wouldn’t make it to base camp. After being abandoned twice over a span of 14 hours, Weathers crawled into Camp IV on his own.
Yasuko Namba died from exhaustion and exposure, all alone.
Prior to the body’s removal, one of the most famous corpses, known as “Green Boots”, was passed by almost every climber to reach the death zone. The body became a grim landmark used to gauge how close one is to the summit.
The identity of Green Boots is highly contested, but it is most widely believed that it is Tsewang Paljor, an Indian climber who died in 1996.
Sergei & Francys Arsentiev
Francys Arsentiev and her husband Sergei were avid climbers who sought to conquer Everest in 1998. Francys had a goal to become the first American woman to summit Everest without the use of supplemental oxygen. After two aborted attempts, she finally succeeded but was never able to celebrate her achievement.
While accounts vary, on May 23rd, a Uzbek team found Francys half-alive and unable to move on her own. They carried her down as far as they could until their own oxygen ran out and they had to leave Francys and descend to camp. Along the way they passed Sergei on his way up to her. He was never seen alive again.
On May 24th, climbers Ian Woodall and Cathy O’Dowd came across Francys who was severely oxygen deprived, frostbitten, and still attached to her climbing line. She kept murmuring, “Don’t leave me here. Don’t leave me here to die.” The team abandoned their attempt to summit and spent over an hour trying to save her. Between the perilous location, Francys slipping into unconsciousness, and their own oxygen running out, the team made the painful decision to leave her and return to camp. Francys died where she lay.
In 2006, another climber David sharp was attempting to summit Everest on his own, a feat which even the most advanced climbers would warn against. He had stopped to rest in Green Boots’ cave during his descent after a successful climb to the summit on this, his third try. Over the course of several hours, he froze to death, his body stuck in a huddled position, just feet from his famous companion.
However, David Sharp did not perish right away. Over 40 different climbers passed him on the mountain and noted he was still alive but in distress. Outrage poured from around the world at the knowledge that Sharp was left moaning and murmuring to climbers who refused to abandon their quest to the top in order to help him.
Along the Northeast Ridge Route near Everest’s summit lies a mass pit of dead bodies. This macabre scene called Rainbow Valley got its name from all of the vibrantly colored jackets and climbing gear that are still attached to the corpses strewn on that section of the mountain.
Whether anyone can contribute these deaths to summit fever, poor decision making, tunnel vision, or just the mercilessness of mother nature is anyone’s guess. Only those who have traversed the mountain and died in that endeavor can answer that question as it pertains to themselves, and the dead can tell no tales.