What to do on Mt. Everest when you're dead

We all know that people do sometimes die while attempting to climb Mt. Everest. But it's easy to overlook what happens to those people after they've died. You can't bring a body down from the mountain. In fact, many of the people who have died there had to be abandoned before they were dead because they couldn't walk and no one could carry them safely back to a place they could get medical care. And that means Mt. Everest is littered with dead bodies.

Between 1922 and 2010, 219 people died on the mountain. In death, many of these bodies have become famous — some even serving as landmarks that help climbers gauge where they are and how far they have to go.

Smithsonian.com has a fascinating short piece about the lives and afterlives of the dead on Mt. Everest. This excerpt is about the body whose boots are pictured above:

The body of “Green Boots,” an Indian climber who died in 1996 and is believed to be Tsewang Paljor, lies near a cave that all climbers must pass on their way to the peak. Green Boots now serves as a waypoint marker that climbers use to gauge how near they are to the summit. Green Boots met his end after becoming separated from his party. He sought refuge in a mountain overhang, but to no avail. He sat there shivering in the cold until he died.

Read the rest at Smithsonian.com

Image: detail of a photograph of Green Boots by Dominic Goff


  1. I have absolutely no concept of what the terrain is like, but I have always thought “nobody could take a saucer up with them and let a body slide back down?” Hell, Abe Simpson rode one of these guys all the way down a mountain.

    Also, I don’t feel the need for a unicorn chaser mostly because the risks are so well known and the effort required to be there so great that I assume that anyone who died on the mountain contemplated that death and was fine with it.

    1. The mountain isn’t just one giant cone you could just slide down – it is covered in splines and ridges and cliffs, a sled ride from the top would be fun for about 20 seconds before you got launched into some inaccessible area, off a rocky cliff, down into a hidden crevasse, etc.

      Though there is a technique used in parts of mountain descents that are suited for it called the Glissade, where you basically sit on your butt and slide down the mountain. You use an ice-axe in the self-arrest position (held across your chest diagonally, point out) to stop yourself when the rocks are getting too close for comfort.

  2. That tears it.  I’m changing my will.  I now want to be be propped up in a prominent location on Mt. Everest.  Mirrored sunglasses, margarita glass in hand, wearing a Hawaiian t-shirt, and sporting a shit eating grin.

    1. Sadly, seven people will probably die getting your corpse up there.

      Also, rather than a Hawaiian shirt, an “I’m With Stupid” shirt with an arrow pointing up might be a little more of a warning.

        1. Helicopters actually can’t fly up at that elevation – that is why rescues are so difficult. The videos of a Nepalese hot shot chopper pilot evacuating someone from high basecamp is chilling – the damn thing can barely take off in the thin air, even with all excess equipment dumped from the chopper.

          1. He landed there, but he would not have been able to evacuate someone – the craft was operating at it’s absolute max limits already. The rescue that pilot participated in was at a much lower elevation.

  3. “Francys Arsentiev was the first American woman to reach Everest’s summit without the aid of bottled oxygen, in 1998. But climbers do not recognize this as a successful ascent since she never made it down the mountain. Following a rough night time trek to camp, her husband, a fellow climber, noticed she was missing. Despite the dangers, he chose to turn back to find his wife anyway. On his way back, he encountered a team of Uzbek climbers, who said they had tried to help Francys but had to abandon her when their own oxygen became depleted. The next day, two other climbers found Francys, who was still alive but in too poor of a condition to be moved. Her husband’s ice axe and rope were nearby, but he was nowhere to be found. Francys died where the two climbers left her, and climbers solved her husband’s disappearance the following year when they found his body lower down on the mountain face where he fell to his death.”

    This one sounds like the makings of a movie. Or is there one already made.

    1. I was thinking of an ethical dilemma more along the lines of what the survivors of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 faced.

      1.  Freeze dried broken off chunks. 
        I think in that situation one thirsts more for a hot cup of tea and a breath of air. 

    1. Brilliant! You’re on course to win today’s internets sir!
      The twist would have to be that the zombies retain some of their alpha-male, “me first” attitude.
      Don’t like the idea of them attacking Nepalese villagers though. Perhaps the zombies should be attacking some of those “climb Everest for charity” muppets.

      1.   maple syrup and jam!  love it

        The alphas would assault first by throwing away your oxygen bottles with grisly cries of thems’r fr wimps!”  Then chase you up the mountain.  They’d keep some intelligence, like the lovely nazombies in Dead Snow (DodSchno … DodSchneuoh?) which I loved, and perhaps in the final scene where our gorgeous heroine and hero are spindizzy and coughing, would attack eachother to be the first to the peak.

        Then that heli would arrive and safely carry them away (it’s a movie, ok?!)

  4. The Nepal side of Everest is where hordes of the bored rich, dahrling, go to die expensively.
    But K2, aka Godwin-Austen, sends shivers up and down my spine.  It’s like the Chinese side of Everest, from every angle.  It’s where superior athletes go to die.

  5. I’m still hoping they find Irvine’s body (died 1924 with George Mallory), since there’s some speculation that the film in their cameras might be recoverable. Possibly providing evidence they were first to summit.

  6. A hiker friend claims most of the deaths occur on the way down the mountain.  It is rare to die on the ascent.

    Can anyone confirm this is true.

    1. That’s what my physiology professor said while lecturing about high altitude physiology years ago.

      However I think it is a somewhat “duh” statistic on further consideration.  People will tend to stop going up if they are in trouble and start going down.  People who are in trouble are more likely to die.

      I personally have always found it easier to fall, and particularly to fall seriously when going down.  So that could be a factor.

    1. IIRC, you’re right (that was a good, and very sad, book). IIRC it also mentioned discarded junk (like oxygen canisters) piling up.

  7. This appears to be an engineering problem. How about packing a body into an inflated ball and letting it roll to a safer place down the hill? Make the ball out of individually-inflated slices to cut down on the inevitable pops. 

    Of course, only bring down those whose families wish them brought down (and they can pay the costs incurred).

    1.  Someone above mentioned that Everest isn’t just one peak, it’s a series, not that many obvious paths down apparently.

  8. I have said this before, but those guys should be stacked like cord wood at the summit. This way make a real and lasting contribution to the field by making the climb that much more epic. OK, you’re here now climb to the top of the stack of bodies to really get high. I mean, how dedicated are these clowns?

  9. People seem to be able to take out a camera and stand around for a few minutes to take video and photos of the bodies…strange they cant take the bodies back down? Also a lot of bodies are between camps…I think the whole deal here is people CAN take the bodies down, but they have paid a LOT of money to do otherwise (not waste their time)

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