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As of mid-2011, Mount Everest has claimed the lives of over 216 known mountain climbers. The area above 26,000 feet is called “the Death Zone”, where breathing fresh oxygen from canisters is necessary for all but the most experienced climbers.

The atmospheric pressure is about a third of that at sea level, meaning there is about one third the amount of oxygen to breathe.  The air is so thin recovery of bodies has proven impossible – and for many, Everest is where they take their last breath.

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Tensing Norgay and Edmund Hilary on Mount Everest, May 28 1953
Tensing Norgay and Edmund Hilary on Mount Everest, May 28 1953

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Sergei and Francys Arsentiev

“PLEASE don’t leave me,” the dying woman cried.  Two climbers heard the screams of Francys Arsentiev, an American climber who had fallen after succumbing to snow blindness and found herself separated from her husband.

They were in the death zone, they were low on oxygen, and the woman was on the side of a steep cliff; carrying her was not an option; the trip just to get down to her would be a risk of their own lives.

Despite the risks, the two climbers – Ian Woodall and Cathy O’Dowd – climbed down to her and did what they could to give her assistance.

But it was too late.  Ian and Cathy administered oxygen and tended to Fran, but there was nothing they could do. They returned to base camp to seek help and report their findings.

Eight years later the two climbers would return (above). In an attempt to give Francys a makeshift high-altitude burial, they would place an American flag on her body along with a note from her family.

At the time of Francys’ death in 1998, no one knew what had happened to her husband and climbing partner Sergei. He had been climbing with her and had disappeared around the same time; all that had been found were his pick axe and rope.

On the day Francys died, other climbers had last seen Sergei far ahead of Francys on the descent after the two had accidentally become separated.

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Sergei & Francys

Looking for his wife, Sergei later backtracked toward the summit despite knowing he did not have enough Oxygen to last. His exposure to the harsh conditions on Everest so far had been all he could handle, and he was beginning to suffer from frostbite. Still, Sergei would not leave his wife behind.

Sergei had made his way back to Francys, and descended toward the cliff she lay on as she screamed for help. Sadly, he fell to his death trying to reach his wife.

(Click thumbnails to enlarge)

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Francys Arsentiev before her death; Francys memorial

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Green Boots

PaljorPossibly the most famous body on Everest is that of “Green Boots” (real name: Tsewang Paljor), an Indian climber and constable with the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. Paljor’s body appeared where it is today on May 10th, 1996.

Tsewang was part of the unfortunate group involved in the 1996 Mount Everest Disaster, the deadliest single disaster in Mt. Everest’s history (update: until 2014’s Everest Avalanche Disaster).

Paljor was part of a three-man group attempting to be the first Indian team to ascend Mt. Everest from the Northeastern route. Unfortunately for the Indian team, their timing couldn’t have been worse: The weather during the 1996 season was extremely volatile; that year would ultimately become one of the deadliest on record for Mount Everest climbers.

When the storm rolled in, visibility dropped to zero and the temperature dropped. Separated from the climbers in his group and suffering from the cold, Paljor found a small cave and huddled inside for protection from the elements.

It would become his final resting place. (below)

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George Mallory

One of the more storied climbers that met his fate on Everest was George Mallory, a famous English Mountaineer.  In 1924, Mallory fell to his death during a storm while attempting to be the first to reach the summit of Everest. His body was discovered in 1999 during the Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition.

Decades earlier, Chinese climbers had reported seeing a “European body” laying face down on a shelf off the main trail. Given the description and the date of the find, experts had always assumed it was the body of Andrew Irvine.

Irvine was a fellow English Mountaineer who had attempted the ascent of Everest with Mallory, and perished in the same storm.

During a 1933 Everest expedition climbers found Andrew Irvine’s axe and rope. Because of this it was widely believed to be Irvine’s body discovered by the Chinese. When a body was found during the 1999 search expedition, it was discovered to be that of George Mallory, not Irvine.

Mallory was found face down in a bunch of shale with his arms spread out and up. His skin was in remarkably good condition, but was tanned from 75 years of sun exposure.

After examining the body experts hypothesized that Mallory’s rope had failed, their hypothesis bolstered by the short severed rope found tied around his waist.

He was also found with a golf ball-sized hole in his forehead, indicating Mallory might have suffered blunt force trauma from striking a sharp rock.

Andrew Irvine has never been found.

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Video of the Mallory Body Find on Everest:

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The morbidity of seeing hundreds of bodies along one’s ascent up Mount Everest is only trumped by the fascination of the levels of preservation of many of the bodies.  Everest temperatures are ideal for preservation; perhaps some of these brave souls will be re-discovered by future generations.

Or maybe not?

The Nepalese consider Mount Everest sacred and do not wish for it to become a graveyard. Parents of some who have perished have asked for the bodies to be left on the mountain, but there is a dilemma as this is against Nepalese law.

As soon as a body can be reached for retrieval, it is and then is brought down for identification and burial. Those too high for retrieval will have stone tombs (also known as “cairns”) constructed around the corpses to shield them from the elements and the view of other climbers.

A few corpses located on shallow ledges were rolled off to be buried in the snow below, away from the trail.

(Click thumbnails to enlarge)

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David Sharp

David was an English mountaineer who attempted ascent in 2005. Sharp was part of an organized expedition, but when the weather turned and the group wanted to head back, he instead attempted to push on by himself. He eventually reached a small cave and stopped for a rest.

He froze in place. As he lay near death below the summit, he was reportedly passed by 40 other climbers heading both directions.

Why did no one stop to help? Coincidentally, David stopped to rest in the same cave as Green Boots; one theory holds the passing climbers might have assumed Sharp was Green Boots.

David was eventually discovered by a group of sherpas from a later expedition. During an ascent they noticed Sharp just off the trail, barely alive and offering responsive moaning when queried. However when the sherpas reached David, he was not coherent, badly frostbitten, and only capable of repeating his name and expedition number.

After giving David some oxygen, the sherpas attempted to help him climb down, but in his condition he was unable to stand under his own power. Realizing Sharp was not going to be able to move, the sherpas pulled David into the sunlight, hoping the sun exposure would provide some warmth.

Below: David Sharp’s memorial and Green Boots’ Cave, where David Sharp was found

 

The sherpas left David some oxygen and a blanket and quickly retreated to basecamp to report their find. By the time they returned with help, David was dead.The sherpas were heroic in the inclement weather, brave enough to return while others retreated – but it was already too late when they first found him.

Sharp was last seen alive by a documentary crew following double-amputee Mark Inglis during his climb. The crew were had cameras rolling when they approached David, and the footage was used in the resulting documentary (see below).

“Dying for Everest” – a short documentary outlining the David Sharp case including video of Sharp next to Green Boots:

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Some die in their sleep, some fall unconscious and freeze, while others (including those who fell or became injured) were left to die slowly of hypothermia.  Until recently, the statistics were nearly one in four climbers dies attempting to reach the summit.

Advancements in technology and experience have led to a better survival rate of climbers. As of 2011 about 1,000 climbers a year attempt to reach the summit, and on average 15-20 perish.

Expeditions are the primary source of income for Nepal, and licenses to ascend start at around $25,000.

If you have lesser experience and want to ascend with an experienced group, several companies will lead you to the top with a team of sherpas starting around $40,000 per person.

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Video clip of a discovered body:  

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Satellite & Map: here

* May the climbers who have perished on Mount Everest rest in peace. *

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381 COMMENTS

  1. Out of morbid curiosity I would love to see more footage/pictures of the fallen climbers. I’m not sure why more pictures don’t exist… ‘respect’ I guess. I think if I died up there, I would like to be remembered, and even used as a land mark like ‘green boots’. Hell, if you have enough love for mountaineering as these climbers must, I’d imagine that would be a pretty cool way to go/be remembered.

    • There is a new book about the tragedy on K2 in 2008 called Buried In The Sky. I am reading it now. Fascinating. I have read lots on Everest, including Into Thin Air, and this one is right up there with Krakauer’s book.

  2. It is quite sad that people are arguing about people doing what they want! People who want to climb Everest know exactly what risks they are taking on ( to some extent.) It is obviously their ultimate dream to conquer the mountain. They are not forcing us to join them and they are not making us pay for them to follow their dream. At least ” the normal” working tax payer does not have to fund these people,,,,, but by god we are ” obliged “to pay for many that we don’t have any power over.

  3. Does anyone know what happened to David Sharpe’s body? Was it removed?

    Also, how close to the “trail” is Green Boots? I’ve read that climbers have to “step over” Green Boots, but I don’t know if this is literal or figurative.

    How come Green Boots can’t be moved? I’m not being critical, I’m just curious. If people were able to get in and out of the cave to try to aid Sharpe how come, logistically, Green Boots can’t be at least pushed out of view or down the mountain or at least covered up?

    • In the book “Dark Summit: The True Story of Mount Everest’s Most Controversial Season”, the author states that in 2007 Russell Brice arranged for David Sharp’s mother, father and brother to join his expedition to base camp. There he erected a mound for David’s memorial plaque, and gave them a chance to say goodbye, which they did in private. Then, later in the season, Brice had his Sherpas move the body and inter it on the mountain.

      From what I’ve read and watched on video, Green Boots (Tsewang Paljor) is right beside the trail and impossible to miss, but climbers do not necessarily have to step over him because he’s tucked into the alcove somewhat. I’ve never been there however, so I could be wrong. As to why he hasn’t been moved, I can only speculate that it’s because he’s been there so long, and since there was no real controversy over his death, nobody felt obligated to take on the responsibility. Had David Sharp died in relative obscurity, I doubt anyone would have moved him either since it seems to be a monumental and risky task at that altitude.

      One person did express intent to move Green Boots; the controversial climber, Ian Woodall, who had to leave Francys Arsentiev as she was stranded and dying in 1998. He went back in 2007 to cover and move her body for the family, and had originally intended to move both Green Boots and David Sharp as well. However, I’ve since read that while he was able to succeed with Francys, he was not able to move Green Boots, and Brice had already taken care of David.

      Finally, another point worth noting is that many families of Everest victims request their loved ones be left exactly where they died. Perhaps Tsewang’s family did just that, and this is why nobody has disturbed him in all these years.

  4. Liz :
    Finally, another point worth noting is that many families of Everest victims request their loved ones be left exactly where they died. Perhaps Tsewang’s family did just that, and this is why nobody has disturbed him in all these years.

    That is correct but I read on BBC (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8633058.stm) that the Nepalese government want the Everest to be cleared of both all the rubbish such as abandoned tents, oxygen bottles etc. that the climbers often leave behind and the dead bodies as far as they can be either removed from the mountain or at least moved out of sight through glacier burials or stone without risking the lifes of the Sherpas who are going to do that gruesome work.
    The reason is that the Nepalese see the Everest as a holy mountain and they do not wish to let it become an open graveyard.

  5. I do suspect that if someone were to finally fulfill a task that they had risked to death in order to complete, their feelings after the task’s completion would reach a point of satisfaction many other human beings rarely experience.

    The promise of this level of satisfaction in itself might make the entire experience seem worthwhile. I don’t have a lot of climbing or mountaineering experience so feel free to totally ignore this post if you feel like my words don’t mean anything, or that my opinion isn’t in any way valid. But my advice to anyone who wishes to climb Everest would be to not only be as fully aware as they could be of the personal risks that they take on when doing so, but to also to be fully aware of how their tragic misfortune on Everest could affect the day to day lives of the people they love.

    I say this because I imagine I would be thinking of these people in my final moments, despite the extreme conditions (although I’ve never been in such a situation before, so its hard to tell: it can’t hurt to be mentally prepared for when these thoughts arrive, if they arrive). It truly looks to me like it would be an irreplaceable journey, awesome stuff. Has anyone on here done it before and, if so, would they say the end result was worth the hardship?

  6. Inglis and his companions could have halted their ascent to assist Sharp. Some 30-40 climbers were just below the cave where Sharp lay, and they could have have worked together to take Sharp down the mountain.

  7. Assuming the wikipedia article is accurate, Lincoln Hall was left behind on the mountain while his group descended to camp (so that they would not all die on the mountain). He was found on the mountain by another group, thankfully, but a rescue team still had to be sent from the camp by his original group. That is what happened in every case listed in the article, but none were as lucky as Hall. Most importantly, none could still walk like Hall could.

    I agree that it would be truly horrible for someone to find a person on the mountain and continue their ascent. However, nothing in the article suggests that this has happened. In every case where the person was spotted, the climbers turned back toward camp to get a rescue team sent out.

  8. Correction: I watched the “Dying for Everest” and it seems the documentary crew did continue their ascent, and some others may have as well. That is terrible.

  9. I’ve thought about the individuals who climb everest and those that have perished on the mountain. My first thought was these people are nuts taking on such a risk but if you truly think about what they are after its very inspiring. These people are living there life the way they want to live, they died attempting something that most of us cannot even begin to comprehend. They are true adventures and I tip my hat to them and there ability to know what they wanted in life and the courage to go for it.

  10. People who have families, young children, wives, sons, and daughters need to think about them before they climb and risk everything. It is a very selfish and narcissistic act to do this and leave them behind. This doesn’t impress me anymore. people raising healthy families does. Try climbing that challenge, Everest is a peice of cake in comparison.

  11. ok people. First of all Nepal is not a wealthy nation, I am not a expert, but I would say that probably alot of them live in poverty. That said Mt. Everest expeditions account for a huger income for the Nepalese people. As far as people wanting to climb mountains, its built into us as humans to explore, and go places that no one has before. Sure man may have no business on the mountain, but thats exactly why he does it, to push himself to places that no one thought possible. How do you think we made it to the moon? Not by saying we have no business there. Most people die of old age, or cancer, or some other form of illness, but to die like this is to truly live.

    • I’ll take old age over suffering from hypothermia in a cave while climbers climb around you and reaffirm the fact that your are utterly hopeless and helpless, but I won’t pretend my choice is any more valid than anyone else.

  12. Good Lord folks, just chill. While I can’t condone people leaving their friends and family to mourn for what seems to some as an ego trip, I try to remember not everyone thinks as I do. There’s nothing wrong with respectful and unheated disagreement. The corpse issue is out of control; that’s an opinion (mine). Recovering the bodies risks lives; that’s a fact. Other than that, leave the heated condemnation behind and rejoice that some people have the choice to take risks like this. Freedom often means the freedom to get yourself killed.

  13. What gives anyone the right to proclaim a place “sacred” and exclude the rest of the human race? We’re just bugs crawling on the surface of this planet. None of us own it.

    That “much older civilization” makes a good living hauling stuff up the mountain for us. Why don’t you go to Nepal or Tibet and explain to them that they’re wrong, since you have so much “respect” for them. From where I’m sitting it looks like you consider them to be mere wayward children who cannot make their own decisions. If it’s “sacred” to them, then how they respect that “sacred mountain” is up to THEM, not you.

    What I cannot accept is the idea of leaving someone alive but in trouble in order to summit. I couldn’t do it. We’re all mortal, so gambling your life can be an acceptable risk. But gambling your humanity is a different matter entirely.

  14. I can’t comprehend how climbers have this attitude that if you see another climber suffering on the mountain, you just have to keep moving. Listening to climbers that have climbed Everest it seems to be less about their own survival and more about the ‘goal’ of reaching the summit. There is a narcissistic streak in most who climb everest. David Sharp was a classic example… 30 people passed him, and many agreed that they had to keep moving on. They later justified their selfish acts as just life and death at the top…Saving a life would top climbing everest a million times.

    • The problem is that even a temporary stop is enough to die. They have limited oxygen and very limited timeframes to do anything and trying to slide a stiff 200lb+ sack down a slippery, steep slope in those conditions is asking to die.

      • not to mention the thousands of dollars that would be wasted if they stopped to help someone and not summit

    • David Sharp took his hands in to his life, decided to try to conquer on his own and paid the ultimate price for it

  15. I sure would rather die up there than on my way home from work…. and its a grave with a killer view.

  16. Ed.. Sharp would have got help, he was misidentified as ‘green boots’ who was an indian climber whose body has been there since 1996. A few descending team did try to help him by giving oxygen, but he was too fatigued to even sit upright and the team was fatigued to carry him to. an ascending team which had a newzealander could have helped him but they chose against it thinking he wouldnt have survived. Also up there in those extreme conditions every man is responsible for himself. Sharp was also not equiped properly.he didnt have proper gloves nd radio.

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