The Bodies of Everest, the World's Highest Graveyard
Over 300 bodies and counting
The rule of Everest is simple, "You're left where you fall." Over the last eighty years, three 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 where the majority of these deaths occur.
Many have speculated as to why so few attempts are made to recover the bodies.The truth is painful, it's hard enough for the living to return alive. Outcry and other incentives have finally pushed expedition leaders to begin removing some of those bodies. In addition to the bodies, discarded climbing gear, oxygen bottles and other trash have littered the mountainside, also earning Everest the title of the World's Highest Trashcan.
Left to Die on Everest
Why is it almost 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 will stay frozen 365 days a year. As a result, most of the bodies are nearly 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 25,000 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 bodies are stiff and cumbersome, like trying to carry down a large tree trunk. The body also becomes a giant sail in the unrelenting Everest winds, adding to the danger. These notorious wind speeds have literally ripped climbers clean off the mountain. Ultimately it is agreed that no body is worth the life of another. Hence the decision is made to simply leave the bodies where they fall.
Since the count began in the 1920s with the disappearance of Mallory and Irvine, nearly 300 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 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 25,000 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.
Clearing the Death Zone
- Team sets out to clear bodies from Everest's death zone | World news | The Guardian
Sherpa expedition plans to climb some 8,000 metres to remove bodies of dead mountaineers and clear tonnes of rubbish
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.
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.