Death on Mount Everest

Back in May, we linked you to the reporting of Outside's Grayson Schaffer, who was stationed in the base camps of Mount Everest, watching as the mountain's third deadliest spring in recorded history unfolded. Ten climbers died during April and May. But the question is, why?

From a technological standpoint, as Schaffer points out in a follow up piece, Everest ought to be safer these days. Since 1996 — the mountain's deadliest year, documented in John Krakauer's Into Thin Air — weather forecasts have improved (allowing climbers to avoid storms like the one responsible for many of the 1996 deaths), and new helicopters can reach stranded climbers at higher altitudes. But those things, Schaffer argues, are about reducing deaths related to disasters. This year, he writes, the deaths that happened on Everest weren't about freak occurrences of bad luck. It wasn't storms or avalanches that took those people down. It wasn't, in other words, about the random risks of nature.

This matters because it points to a new status quo on Everest: the routinization of high-altitude death. By and large, the people running the show these days on the south side of Everest—the professional guides, climbing Sherpas, and Nepali officials who control permits—do an excellent job of getting climbers to the top and down again. Indeed, a week after this year’s blowup, another hundred people summited on a single bluebird day, without a single death or serious injury.

But that doesn’t mean Everest is being run rationally. There are no prerequisites for how much experience would-be climbers must have and no rules to say who can be an outfitter. Many of the best alpinists in the world still show up in Base Camp every spring. But, increasingly, so do untrained, unfit people who’ve decided to try their hand at climbing and believe that Everest is the most exciting place to start. And while some of the more established outfitters might turn them away, novices are actively courted by cut-rate start-up companies that aren’t about to refuse the cash.

It’s a recipe that doesn’t require a storm to kill people. In this regard, things are much different now than in the past: they’re worse.

Read the rest at Outside

Image via Outside and photographer Rob Sobecki


  1. Hm . . . lessee . . . naked . . . and . . . heights . . .heeheehee

    OK, listen up alpha males. You are not doing this right. You have to grab the tiger by the tail and really challenge your fears in order to impress your inner demons. You will not be a real man until you have jumped from a plane wearing nothing at all. Believe me when I say that this scares the bejesus out of normal guys and women. You and I aren’t too afraid of this, just enough to make it fun. I challenge each of you to be the first out of your clothes and out the jump door on your way to the soft landing you deserve. Am I right! Am I RIGHT? WOO WOO WOO. 

    right this way . . .

  2. Seems like a dramatic example of risk compensation. It probably doesn’t help that there’s actually significant money to be made by dragging marginal climbers to the top of EveresPr

    1. This would also seem to feed into the stability of the more established and higher-end outfitters.

      1) The cachet of summiting Everest has as much to do with risk as it does history, maybe more to a certain type of individual. So without having to assume the risk of allowing your own clients to die you enable a system of lesser colleagues who take all the liability and maintain the deadly mistique while bolstering your rep as superior in quality.

      2) The bigger and more well-moneyed outfitters can also hire or buy up any startups assets that prove themselves.

      So you maybe have a system that allows people to profit from the failure of others at no real risk to themselves.

      Where has that concept gone wrong before?

      1. 100 million people die every year. Many of them because of bad choices. Why are these people any different?

        Why do we care?

    1. Evolution doesn’t work like you think it works. What’s the average age of the climbers on Everest? What’s the average age where people reproduce? 

      Not to mention: Is the desire to try this inborn or cultural? Good luck figuring that out.

      1.  One could argue that in our modern society, the evolution is much more an effect of financial resources than biological reproduction.  Is the world becoming more like India every day or is the human race becoming more like American and European populations?  And then all populaitons are sorting out genetics based on those that can thrive in the environments created by economic and cultural forces.  So, if rich people decide to all go die on a mountain for holiday I think it does have an effect on the future of the human species.  Even if they are 50 and have a couple trust fund babies safe at home with the nanny.

          1.  I would suggest genetics comes into play as individuals succeed or fail within society.  Standards of beauty, inteligence, mental health, etc etc.  So its both. 

      2. Evolution doesn’t require 100% selection or anywhere near that number. If one percent are prevented from having even one more child, then it will eventually have an impact.

        Also, it was just funny.

  3. ‘But that doesn’t mean Everest is being run rationally.’

    It seems like they’re fairly rationally maximizing their profits. Now the climbers…

  4. At least one quote in this story, unfortunately, makes me very nervous about the integrity of what’s being said. When discussing the Alpine Ascents team encountering and not helping a climber in distress, the author used a quote from a client’s blog saying “Since there was nothing we could do, we carried on climbing upwards.” The quote made me instantly dislike the client, and served to confirm my disgust for the ignoble attitudes of climbers on Everest toward attempting to assist others in need even if that means losing a chance to summit.

    However, after finding the blog ( ), it seems very clear that the client was referring only to corpses of climbers who had died the night before. There appears to be no mention of the living climber in distress at all. 

    Everest has major problems, and much like Hillary, I find the attitudes of many who climb it horrifying. But using this quote in what seems to be an improper context to further that view, and calling out the client by name, seems dubious.

  5. Much like a fake police car on the side of a highway causing drivers to slow down, a lot of lives could be saved by a fake Outside Magazine reporter interviewing each climber on the way up, while they can still think straight, before oxygen starvation sets in.

    Just enough to make them ask themselves “ok, what dumbass thing am I doing that people might later point to and say I earned a Darwin Award?”

    Surely most people who now summit Everest have read Into Thin Air. Maybe they could just have a cutout picture of the authors holding a sign “Please Don’t Become My Next Story.”

    1. a lot of lives could be saved by a fake Outside Magazine reporter interviewing each climber on the way up

      Now I have a vision of Doris Roberts sitting in a folding chair and reading a magazine while waiting for climbers to come along so that she can grill them.

  6. As much as I hate to pile on the Darwin award line of discussion.  What are these folks thinking?  Its not like you can’t just Google Everest and get a long list of people that have died. Treating it like a ski vacation is just crazy stupid.  I think the management seems quite rational, just lacks empathy for rich people with no sense of self preservation.

      1. People die from living all the time, so there’s not really any decent counter example. 

        If it’s accepted that dying in general is a crappy process, it seems to me that dying while doing something enjoyable would be the best way to do it. At least those moments leading up the sealing of your fate will be exciting, and hopefully when they find your corpse there’s a smile frozen on your face.

        As long as your death doesn’t put other people in danger.. it’s anything goes.

        1.  THat is stupid.

          Its clearly not that Everest is a source of inevitable death, but that it requires training and knowledge to do it safely. 

          If it brings people joy, great. just do the prep

    1. I assume that, unless the hungrier tour operators are magically more honest than other salesweasels, they assure you that the native help is ready and able to drag your flabby ass up and down the mountain if need be, allowing you to ‘climb everest’ with a minimum of real risk.

      Given that the mountain is apparently obnoxiously crowded at times, mostly by people who don’t die, they may actually be telling the truth on that one most of the time…

  7. There was an article in the Globe and Mail this past weekend about the Canadian climber who died on Everest: It’s interesting to note that the husband says she was stubborn and wouldn’t have backed down, even though she did lack experience in mountain climbing. How many of the other deaths were similar – a combination of a stubborn climber and an inexperienced guide company?

  8. “Stupidity cannot be cured with money, or through education, or by legislation. Stupidity is not a sin, the victim can’t help being stupid. But stupidity is the only universal capital crime; the sentence is death, there is no appeal, and execution is carried out automatically and without pity. ”

    – Robert A. Heinlein

  9. Instead of *Into Thin Air*, please read *The Climb* by Bourkreev instead (or, at the very least, in addition to).

  10. I have a cousin who lives in Bend, OR.  She was raised on a farm in MN.  She was a competitive gymnast throughout her youth.  Her honeymoon was spent with her spouse climbing ice faced mountains with ice picks and “ice boots” (whatever they’re called, I don’t know, I smoke cigarettes and play video games for entertainment) in Banff.  Which means that yes, she has more than earned the President’s Physical Fitness Patch.  When in Portland any peak I have been able to spot from my mother’s back porch and ask, “DIdya climb that?  How about that one?  What about that one waaaaaay in the distance?”.  The answer has always been yes. Jokingly I once said, “What’s next Everest?”.  Her reply was, “Are you crazy?!”.

    That said, what would ever possess someone who is not a mountaineer to every fucking try something like this?  WHAT!?!?  WOuld someone please fill me in?  Is it the very large crossroads of stupidity and spirituality?  And the cost?!  Maybe that is why she asked if I was nuts.   What is it?  There are much cheaper ways to kill yourself that do not involve innocent people.

  11. Call me when Disney buys the damn thing and they put a McDonald’s at the top.  I still won’t go, but it’ll be seriously snark-worthy.

  12. Those deaths on Everest could be avoided with one very simple rule: “in order to get a climbing permit for Everest (and K2 and Kanchenjunga), you have to have _summited_ another 8000m peak”. And a 7000m before a 8000m. And a 6000m before a 7000m. But that won’t happen because the chinese and nepalese govs make too much money from selling all those very expensive permits (much more expensive for Everest than for other 8000m peaks) to incompetent idiots. And of course people with experience don’t need guides, so you’ll never see guides push for something like that.. Been there, done that (no oxygen, no Sherpa, no guide).

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