Everest Is the World's Highest Graveyard

Updated on January 1, 2018
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Recently married on Sept. 8, 2017, Jason Ponic works in the exciting world of Hollywood film and television by day and writes by night.

Over 200 bodies and counting

The rule of Everest is simple, "You're left where you fall." Over the last eighty years, nearly two hundred climbers have failed to return alive from the world's highest mountain. The mountain's fabled "Death Zone", or the portion above 25,000 feet, is were the majority of these deaths occur.

Many have speculated as to why few attempts are made to recover the bodies.The truth is painful, its hard enough for the living to return alive. Outcry and other incentives have finally pushed expedition leaders to begin removing some of the bodies. In addition to the bodies, discarded climbing gear, oxygen bottles and other trash have littered the mountainside, earning Everest the title of the World's Highest Dump.

Left to Die on Everest

Why is it impossible to remove the dead?

A typical dead body weighs over 200 pounds and is frozen solid. Before the body can even be moved, it must first be broken free from the mountainside. A body will freeze to the mountainside less than one hour after death and will freeze solid in less than four hours and stay frozen 365 days a year. As a result, most of the bodies are perfectly preserved, even after decades. No better example exists than the still frozen body of George Mallory, discovered in 1999. He and his climbing partner disappeared over 80 years ago. The decay of his body was minor.

Most of the dead bodies lie in what's called "The Death Zone." It is the expanse 26,000 ft and above where the air contains 1/3 the amount of oxygen than the air at sea level. As a result, helicopters cannot fly to this altitude, making airlifting the bodies impossible. Each body must be hand carried down icy rock faces and slippery slopes. Since they are frozen solid, the body is stiff and cumbersome, like trying to carry down a large tree trunk. The body comes like a giant sail, adding to the danger. Everest's notorious wind speeds can literally rip climbers clean off the mountain. Ultimately it is agreed that no body is worth the life of another. Hence why the decision is made to simply leave the bodies where they fell.

Since the count began in the 1920s with the disappearance of Mallory and Irvine, over 220 bodies now cover the slopes of Mt. Everest. The number keeps growing. On average, 1 in 4 climbers will die on Everest each year. Since the premiere of Discovery Channel's Everest: Beyond the Limit series premiered in 2006, awareness of the mounting body count has skyrocketed. In 2010, an expedition was launched with the sole purpose of addressing the dead on Everest. Bodies below 28,000 feet would be removed and brought down for cremation at Base Camp. Those above in the Death Zone would be buried in stone graves, forever hiding them from view.

Everest's Most Infamous Graves

One of the more well known bodies on Everest is that of "Green Boots" so named for the green climbing boots still worn by the body. The body was that of Tsewang Paljor, an Indian Climber who died on Everest in 1996. It still lies where it fell.

George Mallory

He vanished in 1924, declared dead when he and his climbing partner, Andrew Irvine failed to return from their Summit Bid. For 70 years the whereabouts on them remained unknown. The mystery was partially solved in 1999 when Mallory's body was discovered face down on a steep rock face. The location of the body suggested that Mallory fell and slid down the slope, breaking his right leg clean in two, a fatal injury. After the body was identified by a nametag still visible on the body's coat, it was buried where they found it. Andrew Irvine has yet to be found.


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    • jasonponic profile image

      Jason Ponic 5 years ago from Albuquerque

      Everest has fallen out of favor to most expert climbers these last few decades because of the way it's become.

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      Chris Hugh 5 years ago

      Fascinating but gory. I think this has cured me of any desire to climb Everest. Such ugliness and callousness there.

    • unknown spy profile image

      IAmForbidden 5 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

      Interesting.. You did a great work uncovering these remains. Voted UP! very nice.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

      I can certainly understand the difficulty in recovering any body from a mountain that high. I didn't know much of the information you shared in this very interesting hub. Voted up!