The Morbid Side of Mount Everest

Trigger Warning: Death (Duh)

Chomolungma, most commonly referred to as Mount Everest, is known as the highest mountain on earth above sea level at 29,029 ft. It’s Located in the Mahalangur range of the Great Himalayas, arising exactly on the border line of Nepal and Tibet at (27°59’ North latitude, 86°55’ East longitudes). Since its discovery in 1853, Everest has become world renowned and just over 5,250 people have successfully scaled the mountain, but countless others have attempted and have been unsuccessful. These numbers aren’t surprising, as Everest is not only the tallest mountain in the world, but also ranked one of the most difficult climbs in history. There are several factors that contribute to its difficulty; freezing temperatures, extremely complex terrain, the length and duration of the climb, and lack of oxygen.

As one may expect, among the countless failed attempts to summit, there are approximately 300 recorded deaths. The large majority of these deaths took place on a part of the mountain, known as “The Death Zone”. The Death Zone is a term used to describe the upper portion of Everest (starting around 7900-8000 meters), where the oxygen levels in the atmosphere drastically reduce, causing any given individual to only be able to take in 30% of the oxygen they would at sea level. Obviously, this will tend to cause several problems. Once you enter the death zone, your body essentially begins to slowly expire. As you begin taking in less and less oxygen causing you to become severely hypoxic, your risk of cerebrovascular accident and myocardial infarction drastically increase, and your blood glucose levels drop, causing you to burn calories and spend energy far quicker, all of this is happening in cohesion with psychological symptoms as well. 

Your memory and cognitive function will decrease, causing everything to become fuzzy and disorienting, and your ability to make rational decisions will be essentially cut in half. Now apply everything I just told you to being on an icy, snowy, windy, freezing, vacuum-esque, nightmarishly complex geological formation, massive freaking rock, that really just wants to kill you. Once a climber enters this zone, it becomes a race against the clock to summit, then get the fuck out. Keep in mind that all of this applies with the use of supplemental oxygen, without it, you would fall unconscious within only a few minutes.

With all of that being explained, I’d like to bring up the best part of this whole situation, that being, what happens to the corpses of our fallen climbers. The first thing to be noted, is the fact that, as mentioned before, its really cold and there isn’t a lot of oxygen up there. When someone dies, their body will be frozen solidly into the ground, and oftentimes are extremely well preserved– like a terrifying extent. This in part is due to the freezing cold, but equally so, the lack of oxygen. One example of this is George Mallory, a famed british mountaineer and explorer, that began his attempted everest climb on June 4th 1924. Leaving camp Mallory stated that he was certain his climbing partner and him could summit Everest and be back at camp by night fall. He was– a little off there, as at usually takes around two months. Both of the climbers were declared missing for about 75 years until their bodies were discovered in 1999 when several climbers woking on a BBC documentary found Mallory on the northern face. Most of his clothing had degraded away, leaving his back exposed to the air. He was magnificently preserved, with his muscles, skeletal structure, and most of his skin left intact. 

While Mallory’s body was discovered, it was not excavated and taken off the mountain, in fact it continues to be standard protocol to leave the bodies of fallen climbers where they are. Attempting to remove corpses from the mountain bodes low success rates, and has lead to causing a lot more death than its worth. When you add up having to excavate the body whilst keeping it intact, managing crew members and equipment, and carrying the body down, it just becomes obviously infeasible; it’s said that even trying to remove a penny from the ground can become an ordeal. So most of the time the dead are either left exactly where they are, but occasionally pushed off a ledge or covered in snow out of respect if at all possible.

So we’ve established that confronting death whilst climbing mount everest is inevitable, but to what extent? One notable occurrence is the use of corpses for trail markers, the most famous of which being Green Boots. He gets this nickname from his plainly visible neon green boots, but is actually believed to be an Indian climber named Tsewang Paljor. He was part of a four member climbing team that found themselves severely underprepared for their journey, but it was all too late by then and only one of them ended up surviving. Because of his condition Paljor was forced to stop and rest, deciding to lay down in a limestone cave on the northeast climbing route. He soon succumbed to either his injuries or the harsh conditions, and could be seen laying on his side facing the cave wall, still holding his jacket up over his face as if to try and block out the cold. Climbers would have to step over him to pass through the passage and move on, and he remained there for a long time until his body mysteriously vanished one day. No one really knows for sure, but it’s speculated that the nearby mountaineering association removed his body and either buried it, or tossed it off the nearby ledge.  

Throughout all of Everest’s climbing routes, climbers will encounter bodies relatively frequently. But the most extreme example is a wide open snow field on the southeast ridge at the very beginning of the death zone referred to as Rainbow Valley (unfortunately not as magical and majestic as it sounds). This plane is is covered in the frozen corpses of fallen climbers that weren’t quite able to summit, their wide variety of radiant and bright colored snow gear exposed to the sun. Some of these bodies have been cut loose from the ropes holding them in place or pushed off the ledge, but most of them remain in the spots where they succumbed to the mountain. After all is said, I think we have all come to understand the reason that mount everest is known as the world’s tallest open graveyard.

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