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 Read the rest
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.
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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.
A long line of climbers follow each other up Mt. Everest. Image: Ralf Dujmovits.
1996 was the deadliest year in the history of modern climbing on Mt. Everest. In one May weekend, eight people died when they were caught on the mountain in a storm. Over the course of the year, the death toll climbed to 15 total.
In the wake of that year, people tried to make sense of what had happened—particularly when it came to the May 10/11 deaths. All the reporting brought some internal mountaineering debates into the public eye in a big way for the first time. Is it really a good idea to treat Mt. Everest as an adventure-minded tourist attraction, suitable for anyone with a little climbing experience and enough money? What are the risks of having lots of inexperienced, guided trekkers up on the mountain at the same time? Do those climbers have enough climbing instincts to make the right decisions about going on or turning back when they're exhausted and under the influence of a low-oxygen environment? What can their guides do, under those circumstances, to force a right decision? Remember: This isn't a place where help is readily available if you get into trouble. Helicopters can only go so high up the mountain. And if you collapse, the chances of somebody else being able to carry you down are pretty slim.
These questions are likely to come back into the spotlight now. Between May 18th and 20th—last weekend—four people died on Mt. Read the rest